The news is still ringing in my ears. What was supposed to have been his season after the exit of Davy Klaassen would become a horror scenario. Holland’s biggest talent at the moment will never show his magic in an Ajax shirt or Oranje shirt…or any shirt. Severe and lasting brain damage. He won’t be able to walk, talk, remember things, think even… The player with the brains of Cruyff or Iniesta or Zidane is now potentially a vegetable. Here are some thoughts…
David Endt, former Ajax player, team manager, press chef, players’ confidant…
“Like a feather in the wind, that is how Nouri plays football. With a smile on his face he dances football. His talent came up, it wen up and sideways, his talent went where it wanted to go, a sight for sore eyes to see Abdelhak play football from the heart. When he touches the ball, the straightjacket goes off, the rules of result fall by the wayside and…well not all…Nouri loves to score, or to let others score or to win, but he will do so as a free spirit.
Fans paying tribute to Appie Nouri
I admit here and now I sometimes left my office at the Youth Academy to stroll to a match of Ajax D1, C1 or B1… I admit I shirked my responsibilities because I couldn’t resist the lure to see these kids play, to see him play!
The kid that played like a feather, that only played the ball in order to get it back. The lad who was lovingly called “Appie”, an old Dutch name for a player with a Moroccan name. He was gifted by the football Gods with the gift of True Football. Light, but never lighthearted, you could tell he was shrewd, he knew the consequences of every move. He played for a higher cause. And after a while I turned around to go back to my office… but no, just 10 minutes more! “Look at that kid!”.
Look at him play, look at him go and every second of the match was used to feel complete happiness. Yes, he’s small, yes he’s thin but no one can even dare to ask whether he has enough to become a football great. Cruyff? Messi? Iniesta? All thin and small. He is all football, technique, control, timing, seeing the best solution in a split second. Light, even musical in a way, like a feather on the wind. And his heavenly game made you want the future now.
Ajax Captain Joel Veltman joins in the tribute
Like a feather on the wind, in one moment all can change. Cruelly so. It makes you mad as hell. Abdelhak’s life has been utterly and completely changed, in that one fatal moment. The horror grabs your throat, you can’t believe it, your head fills up with tears, you clench your fist. You scream at the football Gods: “Do something! Give Appie his football back!”
And Youp van ‘t Hek, Dutch comedian, writer, Ajax fan:
“I never met Appie so I won’t call him Appie. Abdelhak Nouri made his debut in September 2016 in the Ajax 1 team. Vs Willem II. And since I’ve seen him I understand why everyone calls him Appie. Appie has something careless. When a window was broken by a football, surely someone called Appie would be responsible. His eyes look through the hole, to ask for the ball back. You see the smile in his eyes and you can’t resist. You give Appie his ball back.
This is how the other Ajax players treated Abdelhak Nouri. Their Appie. I know this because during his debut, he floated smiling above the field, in between the cautiously passing team mates, these carefully moving players. Since Gerald Vanenburg’s debut, many years ago, I can’t recall having seen that.
The Ajax squad – with Lasse Schone leading the line – at the Nouri tribute
I watched him that match with bated breath. With every touch of the ball, life struck through his body. After five minutes I knew enough. This Abdelhak was a a football player who played football because that was the only thing he wanted to do. And it was sensational, as it always is a religious experience almost, to see someone live his passion.
He loves playing football. And with Ajax. Always Ajax. I went back in my memory, of players with him whom I had similar experiences, with Jesper Olsen, Tahamata, Van der Vaart of course. I wasn’t in the crowd when Cruyff made his first appearance, but… all these player played with a smile. Never afraid. Always looking for something special. I saw a player who’d put his foot on the ball – Willem van Hanegem style – and looked around. Not some triathlon dude of 110 kilo and 40 kilo leg muscles. It was all grace. Nouri enjoyed every minute of the game and you could see that, as his team mates saw it.
In his debut match there was that one special moment. Free kick Ajax. Nouri next to the veteran Lasse Schone. It’s 3-0 and Schone will use this free-kick to make it 4-0. But suddenly Nouri joins in. “Can I take it?” He wants to score at his debut. Schone says no. The camera focuses on the beautiful, touching expression on Nouri’s face. That is how I will remember him. He smiles apologetically and walks away. He tried at least. But Schone is ok with it. He accepts it but will cross the ball into the corner. Schone does get the desire of the youngster. He dreamed his whole life to play this game and he’d love to score. A dream. Scoring in front of the fans. So the next free-kick, Schone allows Nouri the ball. If he misses, he needs to pay Schone 10 euros. Nouri scores and the explosion of joy afterwards says it all. The joy of his team mates told me, these players love this lad.
Lasse Schone and Abdelhak Nouri
Daarom is Nouri’s noodlot zo vreselijk. Dat juist iemand die iedereen vrolijk maakte, iemand die onbevangen aanviel op het leven zelf, zo wreed tot stilstand is gekomen. Daarom grijpt het stilvallen van Nouri mij zo aan. Ik zag een jongen die geen problemen zag. Die door linies wilde dwarrelen. Ik zag hem lachen op clubfoto’s.
When we saw Nouri collapse on that fated Saturday, we saw ourselves. We all mean so well but in a flash it can all be different. Nouri gifted us the drive to live. He allowed us to feel what it must be like to be perfectly happy. What a beautiful gift.
Feyenoord comes onto the pitch with Nouri tribute jerseys on