Like the Desert Fox that is the symbol of the Algerian national team he plays for, Olympiakos centre-forward Rafik Djebbour is an unassuming character with intuitive, predatory skills and an instinctive ability to take whatever opportunities come his way.
Those attributes have helped the 27-year-old goalgetter make quite an impression in his first few months with the Piraeus club, where he has cemented a reputation as one of the most feared strikers in Greek football.
A product of Auxerre’s prolific youth academy, Djebbour has been plying his trade in Greece for some time now, having decamped to the shores of the Aegean Sea in 2005 to join second-division outfit Ethnikos Asteras, this after a largely luckless maiden professional season with La Louviere in Belgium.
“I really feel at home in Greece,” he told FIFA.com. “Right from day one I found the people to be warm, respectful and very passionate about the game, which has made me even more motivated. The Greek fans care about football so much they remind me of the Algerian fans, though they’re not quite as passionate.”
Into the limelight
That instant happiness was reflected by a first-season haul of 12 goals in 18 games, which led to subsequent moves to Atromitos in 2006, and then to Panionios, the oldest club in Greece.
It was with Panionios that Djebbour got his first taste of European action, in the UEFA Europa League, and after raising his profile even further by scoring 21 goals in 47 appearances, Djebbour suddenly hit the big time, earning a move to AEK Athens and a debut cap for his country in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil in August 2007.
While the Algerian ace failed to lift a single title with AEK, his goal touch did not desert him. Remaining an ever-present with Algeria, he scored in crucial qualifying victories over Liberia and Egypt as Les Verts reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. Just for good measure, he then struck the winner in a famous friendly victory over eventual world semi-finalists Uruguay.
“We enjoyed a really good patch there and everything worked out just how we wanted,” he recalled, though Algeria’s FIFA World Cup dream would end with a first-round exit, a setback that has been followed by further disappointment in an abortive attempt to reach the 2012 CAF African Cup of Nations.
“People expected a lot from us after the World Cup, but when you get to the top the hardest thing is to stay there,” he explained. “We didn’t make it and I think it all caught up with us. There were a few players who weren’t quite with it, and as the games went by so the fatigue and the pressure increased, which just added to the doubts in our heads.”
A glance at the statistics reveals the root cause of Algeria’s recent problems. Aside from a recent and ultimately meaningless 2-0 defeat of Central African Republic, Les Fennecs have failed to score more than one goal in any game since their South Africa 2010 elimination.
“We became a very defensive team, a counter-attacking team,” said Djebbour. “That made it especially hard for the forwards to express themselves.”
Next stop Piraeus
His liaison with AEK having also turned sour, Djebbour found salvation with domestic rivals Olympiakos, signing on the dotted line for the Kokkini in January 2011 and receiving a ringing endorsement from the club’s Spanish coach Ernesto Valverde: “He’s the right kind of player for us and he’s going to be a big help.”
“The style of football Olympiakos play suits me down to the ground and that’s made it easier for me to settle in,” commented Djebbour, returning the compliment.
The wandering Algerian made an immediate impact at his new home, striking seven times in ten games at the end of last season to help Olympiakos secure Greek title number 38, a return that secured him an extension to his six-month contract. And just to make him feel even more at home, the Piraeus giants have also recruited a compatriot in midfielder Djamel Abdoun.
“I recommended him myself,” said Djebbour of his fellow Algerian. “He’s a very inventive player who has a lot to offer the club. It’s a great pleasure to have him here.”
The Fennec front man has also had an excellent start to the new league campaign, and as he explained by way of conclusion, he fully intends to keep on foraging: “The club’s goal is very simple: We have to win the lot in Greece, and that means the cup and the league. And we also need to go as far as we can in Europe.”