Claudio Ranieri took Mounir Obbadi from relative obscurity to Monaco's galaxy of stars.
“Toulalan, Moutinho, Obbadi - spot the mistake.” So read a text message that Monaco midfielder Mounir Obbadi sent to his friend, and former coach at Troyes, Jean-Marc Furlan, earlier this season. “I only play with great players (here),” Obbadi told L’Equipe recently. “It makes me laugh!”
You can understand why the Moroccan is pinching himself. Having barely played in the top flight before this season, he has become a key component of the high-flying and mega-rich Principality club’s star-studded line-up, at the age of 30.
Obbadi is a player for whom the epithet "journeyman" was made. Having come through the youth system at his local club Paris Saint-Germain with the likes of Lazio’s Lorik Cana, Obbadi never made it to the first team. Instead, he was released and spent a decade playing in Ligue 2 and National (the third tier), firstly for Angers and then Troyes.
Everything changed for Obbadi when Troyes visited the Stade Louis II to play Monaco in the last 16 of the Coupe de la Ligue, in October last year. They were losing 1-0 with just over half hour to go. Then Furlan brought Obbadi on for Mohamed Camara, and Troyes turned it around, winning 2-1.
Claudio Ranieri was greatly impressed and made Obbadi a priority in the January transfer window. Battling to stay in Ligue 1 at the time, Troyes were reluctant sellers, but Obbadi wanted to seize his chance. “There are some offers that are just impossible to fight against,” Troyes president Daniel Masoni told the club's official website at the time.
Masoni was keen to stress that Obbadi’s departure was no mutiny. “Mounir’s an exceptional boy and an exceptional player,” he said. “We’ll obviously stay in contact and I wish him all the best and lots of happiness. He deserves it.”
The president’s opinion is one shared by most who have crossed Obbadi’s path. Described by his former Troyes teammate Mathieu Baudry as “an anti-star,” he isn’t interested in expensive clothes or fast cars. Instead, Obbadi prefers to stay at home and feed his obsession—watching football. He can famously name the starting XI and formation of every Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 club.
The homework is paying off. Whilst recognising his importance in Monaco’s promotion last season, many doubted whether he would continue to command a main role in the top flight, especially given the club’s huge spend on midfield stars such as Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan and Geoffrey Kondogbia as they prepared for the season.
In fact, with Fabrizio Ravanelli’s Ajaccio and ambitious Ligue 2 side Lens interested in signing Obbadi in the summer, Ranieri tied him down with a contract extension to 2016, as per L'Equipe. It has thus far looked like a great piece of business, if rather under the radar given the excitement of the transfer window.
Obbadi has been outstanding this season, starting 10 of Monaco’s 11 Ligue 1 matches. His unfussy, organised style is crucial in helping Monaco maintain their shape. Only PSG’s pair of Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta have completed more passes than Obbadi this season. He’s a regular metronome.
In Sunday’s win over Lyon, which has taken Monaco level on points with PSG at the summit, Obbadi showed his value in a rather more extravagant manner than normal. The midfielder opened the scoring with a superb volley from outside the penalty area, into the top corner.
He was still upstaged—Radamel Falcao later scored the winner. Still, given that the aim Obbadi expressed to L’Equipe was “to stay in Ligue 1 as long as possible,” he’s doing better than expected. Reaching the Champions League would take his fairytale up a level further.