Sofiane Feghouli is a man who will be in high demand come the summer of 2016.
The Valencia star, who enjoyed an incredible 2014-15 season as Nuno Espirito Santo’s men gatecrashed Spain’s Champions League places, may see his contract out come July and be free to move wherever he pleases.
“I'm with Valencia, body and soul, the club that has allowed me to reach the level I have reached. I leave these matters to my agent because I’m focused on what happens on the pitch,” Feghouli stated back in September, per Super Deporte (h/t Football Espana).
But despite those words of commitment, no progress has been made. This season, the Algerian has been in and out of the XI, with former head coach Nuno refusing to use him regularly.
Naturally, that has created something of a quiet clamour for his signature. Calciomercato (h/t Metro) have suggested Manchester United and Chelsea are jostling for his services, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Liverpool—linked to him back in 2013, per the Express' James Dickenson—re-enter the market for him, either.
Yet despite the fact top Premier League clubs are interested and likely continental sides, too, Feghouli’s talents remain a secret to many. Those who haven’t tracked his rise can be forgiven—Los Che’s three seasons or so before the Champions League heist were pretty unremarkable—and he’s of Algerian nationality, meaning exposure to his international football is limited.
Feghouli is, in truth, a bit of an odd player. He’s that “all-round” winger; not a “jack of all trades, master of none,” but somewhere close to it. He has a very wide set of skills but has no piercing strength. In that way, he’s a bit of a “tweener,” if you like.
Operating off the right flank in a 4-3-3, last season saw Feghouli explode into form and become a constant source of creation. His statistics (six goals, six assists, per WhoScored.com) don’t quite do him justice; it is, at times, difficult to effectively measure the chaos he creates.
He’s fast, can beat players on the edge and is willing to hit the byline. He runs right at you—down your throat—and defenders hate facing up to him. He has developed a slight habit of buying fouls by throwing himself around, but he’s not the worst simulator you’ll see on any given weekend.
He’s constantly able to find space by virtue of his comfort in stretching the pitch. Whereas many wingers prefer to step inside and curl an inswinging shot or cross into the box, Feghouli will take the outside line and produce deadly cut-backs for his strikers.
Any team with a natural No. 9 who is looking for those balls will sweep home goal after goal. Feghouli may not be exceptionally fast or exceptionally tricky, but he is very productive when it comes to laying on chances; he’s got the thing so many wide players lack—a “footballing brain.”
In this respect, he’s a bit like Chelsea’s Willian: a seven or eight out of 10 in every area, without one defining trait that a player becomes known for. They play the right-winger role in a similar way—they even display the same hard-working ethic out of possession.
Feghouli streaks all the way back into his own third to help his full-back, jockeying with wingers and tracking their runs. He demands the ball deep when Valencia are building, asking his team-mates to play through him when moving forward.
He does occasionally overcomplicate things, tries to take on a little too much and loses the ball in a fairly dangerous area—a minor knock on a player willing to face up and receive the ball in tight areas.
A player like this, with such a diverse skill set, available on a free transfer, will be irresistible to most teams around Europe. He’ll be able to demand Champions League football and, for the most part, a consistent first-team role.
Consistency of playing time is key; Feghouli must carefully consider his options should he leave Mestalla and pick the one that suits him with this in mind.
One red flag this season has been the 25-year-old’s struggle to find form when dropped in and out of the XI. He needs a run—once he’s given one, he really kicks into gear—but a bitty schedule prevents him from building steam.
If you’re considering joining a club such as Manchester United and Chelsea, you probably have to accept a rotational role. Feghouli is no Eden Hazard or Cristiano Ronaldo—it’s not revelatory to say that—and he won’t be able to nail down a guaranteed role at a club such as these.
Barcelona have also been linked, but that’s the hardest XI to break into in the world. Lionel Messi, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal will all “contest” for a place on the right flank in 2016; adding Feghouli to that mix makes little sense.
Perhaps this is the reason he’s openly stated he would happily renew with Valencia: Both parties know each other well, and Feghouli believes Los Che can unlock his best. It makes his absences from the XIs this season under Santo tough to explain, though some have speculated a refusal to extend his contract has led to him being frozen out.
It’s rare a player so well-rounded drops onto the open market, and the Premier League’s top order would be missing a trick in not pursuing him. He’s a robust, physically gifted, smart wide player who can bring something to any and every setup.
From Feghouli’s perspective, though, this is a tough decision. If he departs Valencia, he needs to make sure he’s allowed to build momentum with his new club; the dream move won’t be a dream if not.