Nabil Fekir walks through the door in shorts and sits on a chair and leaves the most punished feet of Europe under the table. Look for a footballer who plays like him and you won’t find it anywhere. Of all players in La Liga, of all players in all five major continental leagues in fact, he suffered the most fouls last season. But still you can’t ask if he almost prefers it this way, and today there is no complaint, no demand for protection. Instead there is only a smile. “Do not want,” he says: don’t worry.
Yes no net exactly “Sometimes it’s hard to stay calm, even though it’s part of your job,” he admits, four red cards since joining Real Betis in 2019 stressing that it’s not always easy, and His coach, Manuel Pellegrini, sounded the alarm, admitting that he had encouraged Fekir to release the ball earlier “because if not, he would fail in eight out of 10 steps”. But, Pellegrini says, “he has a certain style: he loves it run away and enjoys contact.” As a Frenchman, he always comes back for more. “It’s my game. I dribble. I need the ball. That’s why I make a lot of mistakes. No problem.”
You can’t change it, and even if you don’t want to, pollution is somewhat a byproduct of nicer metrics. There is a reason he is given some freedom. He has scored or assisted 50 goals since joining Betis, with double figures for each of the past two seasons, a season in which only three players in Europe have provided more “pre-assists”. In La Liga, only Iker Muniain created more chances and only Rubén García completed more passes in the field. Across all competitions, no midfielder in Europe has attempted or dribbled more.
There was more. A first Copa del Rey win for Betis in 17 years, only their fourth trophy – “an amazing night” – and a direct goal from a corner against Sevilla was completely taken away from him when the match was abandoned. “He has personality; He is a simple boy who does not dream of becoming a star. He listens and improves,” Pellegrini said as Betis prepared for that final. “And the thing is, playing comes so easily to him. He’s a joy to coach and I don’t see why he’s not at a really big club because he certainly deserves it.”
It was a line that demanded an obvious question and, in turn, an equally obvious answer, Pellegrini broke. Is that what you call it? Are you saying you should be in Barcelona or Bayern or City or somewhere? “No, because I don’t want him to leave Betis.”
Nor anyone else. There is something about Fekir that is different but fits in with the club’s philosophy of having fun, one of the big attractions of La Liga as the new season begins. Football is more fun with him, that’s for sure. But what about to the him? After all, this can be a very serious business. A painful one too, he knows. “A joke? Yes, yes, always,” he says softly, slowly, which is how he says most things. “There’s pressure, it can depend on the moment, but if you don’t enjoy it…”
There is a stop. Fekir is sitting on a terrace outside St George’s Park, where Betis are completing pre-season training this morning after a win over Marseille residents at Chesterfield of all places, a “friendly” that ended with a 20-man draw. “Look, I don’t necessary playing,” he continues. “For me it’s a game, it’s fun and I hope to continue like that. I play like a child. The only thing that changes is the experience: I’m 29 years old, I’ll be exactly like I was 19. don’t pretend. I’m running on my own, but in essence I haven’t changed.”
Fekir’s two brothers play amateur football, but Yasin is 4 years younger than him in the Betis B team. “I think it is people it’s alright!” he says. “I don’t know if I’m objective but he’s very good. He’s like me, but it’s true. My father worked in a metal factory. My mother worked in a kindergarten, looked after children. They always told us to work in school. The thing What was in my head was football. And thank God, I got there.”
What if you didn’t? “I don’t know. I had only one idea: to be a footballer. And after I retire, I really don’t know what I will do. I can’t see myself as a coach, but players always say that and then they get there… because we really love football. We spent all our lives in football and then we don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I will still play like Joaquín at the age of 41 but I want to. We all will. Until now , I play: but the day will come.
“I was a humble kid in Lyon who only thought about having fun on the pitch with my friends. I wanted to win but without questioning or wondering what would happen to me. We played in the neighborhood – and I think from so I have a game that is ‘street’.”
It is a profile that disappears. “Yes, maybe,” says Fekir. “When you go to an academy, there is a lot of structure. I played more in local teams where the coaches let you do what you want; it gives you a freedom which was important to me.
Fekir joined Lyon’s academy at the age of 12 – “It was very difficult at first” – but left again two years later. “I don’t remember why, there was no particular reason. And four years later they called again. What had changed? “I don’t know. Maybe they realized they made a mistake. I left, went to local teams. It’s all good. I wasn’t angry, because I love football. It didn’t matter if it was Lyon or another club; “I just wanted to play. I went to a neighborhood club and had a lot of fun.”
Fekir would end up captaining a talented Lyon squad – Memphis Depay, Samuel Umtiti, Anthony Martial – and a call-up from France’s top brass came on the same international break when he was first selected for Algeria’s squad. “It was very difficult for me,” he says. “My father came to France a year before I was born; My mother is Algerian but she lived there for a long time. Every year I went to Algeria. I feel French and Algerian.”
Are there people who do not understand this? Who is not a little… Fekir completes the question: “… prisoners? Yes. Yes. And that complicates things. Some people don’t understand that you can have dual nationality, you can love two countries at once, you know? It was difficult for me. I was young. Many people say France, many say Algeria. In the end I chose France but those were very, very difficult times. That’s life. I don’t regret anything I did.”
The first person Fekir told him was his father. “He didn’t want it. It’s normal. I understand that completely. His whole family is there, he grew up there. His whole life there. When I chose France, it hurt a bit. But that’s life: decisions there are, and it was mine. I take responsibility.”
And now you are the world champion.
There is a smile. “Not bad.”
“Faith is important for me: everything is in God’s hands, so I don’t worry,” says Fekir. About something? “The whole.” Joined the failed move to Liverpool in the summer of 2018. It was suggested that Fekir had failed medically due to a knee problem, but he says that is wrong. He also denies accusations from agent Jean Pierre Bernès that he was ruined by his family’s involvement.
“I had a problem with my agent, that’s it. Very simple. Things weren’t clear, you know. Between me and him. I don’t want to go into details, but there was a problem between me and my agent. People then They said it’s my knee or I don’t know what it is, but that’s just an excuse. I know what really happened.”
Another smile. “He is no longer my agent.”
“I believe in fate, you know. If I didn’t sign for Liverpool, it was because Betis was waiting for me here. It’s a lovely city, with that Arab spirit, a special club. That’s life. I’m from nothing. I have no regrets. I don’t think too much about the future. I just live each day and try to enjoy it. run away. Until they hit him all the way.