The news that PSV youngster Mo Ihattaren selected to play for Oranje, over Morocco brought a huge smile to Ronald Koeman’s face. And if it wasn’t for some private matters the playmaker needed to attend to, he might well have made it in the squad for the Northern Ireland and Estonia games.
After Hakim Ziyech ditched Oranje, the focus from Zeist changed. Got sharper. Apparently, Oranje lost some of its glare and glamour internationally, and it was clear we needed to make a bigger effort to keep the big talents on board.
Mo Ihattaren was the next big name prospect that was courted by Morocco. They were able to turn Mazraoui and Amrabat their way, two players that most likely could have played for Oranje, but were never considered “key”.
Ziyech is of course in the category “extraordinary” and Mo should also been seen like this.
It’s actually quite remarkable how the whole nation started to get involved with Ihattaren’s future (partly fueled by the dramatic miss of Ziyech). But Ihattaren only had a limited number of miles on the clock, of course. He made his debut this year, in January, as a sub. He played not more than 19 games as a starter in all competitions. And in those matches he left such an impression that Koeman was definitely ready to gift the midfielder his debut, at 17 years and 9 months old. What makes him so special?
Ziyech on the left (Morocco) and Mo in the middle (Netherlands)
His breakthrough tells the story. He is only 16 years old when Van Bommel uses him in the match vs FC Groningen (Cruyff also made his debut vs Groningen, but that is probably a coincidence).
Usually, young talents are introduced in teams that are in form. This allows them to try the big stage, to blend in where others can back them up and to give them confidence. But in the phase where PSV is playing lacklustre and weak, Mo goes from benchwarmer to starter. It says a lot about the faith Van Bommel has in the youngster. Ihattaren doesn’t come in to a well-oiled machine. He is actually the oil, Mark van Bommel needs to get his team playing again. With him in the team, PSV wins three games in a row after the winter break. The top talent gets a new contract (till 2022) and a fixed spot in the squad.
No. 10 – The Playmaker or Right Wing
Ihattaren can be used on two positions in the PSV system ( 4-2-3-1). As a left footed right forward he can dribble inside to open up the play with different options (shoot, dribble, pass, one-two). Van Bommel uses him here at the start of the season. This is where he can grow into the team, so to speak, as this spot demands less from him, in a physical sense.
But, after a handful of games, Van Bommel knows enough and puts him on the #10 spot. This starts in September, away against RKC. The left footer starts on the right again but when RKC leads 1-0, the PSV coach moves Mo to the axis of the field. He is key in creating the equaliser and the winning goal and proves that he is the guy who fuels the attacking machine of PSV.
This limited number of games proves that the talent does best in the axis for PSV. When comparing his stats, you’ll see that whether he plays on the right or centrally does not impact the number of dribbles. But the number of chances created explodes when Mo plays centrally: 4 times more than when he plays on the flank. He also clearly demonstrates that physically, he is very capable of holding his own.
He is also present when PSV is struggling and needs something special. PSV drew against LASK Linz (0-0) and Sparta Rotterdam (2-2) but that was not for lack of trying by him. Ihattaren created in these games 9 (!) chances for his team mates. PSV lost the second game vs LASK 4-1, but Mo created three of the four chances PSV created. Last season, his brilliance were the remedy for a sluggish PSV. This season he is one of the leading players for PSV.
Ihattaren as starter 2019/20
|Chances created *
The steps this kid makes are actually giant leaps! As a 17 year old, he is one of the first players on the team sheet for Van Bommel. In Oranje, however, he will have to settle for the spot on the right flank, it seems. And that has everything to do with how Koeman looks at his team. Koeman believes in couples, in duos.. Players that gel well. “I don’t want to take the couple Wijnaldum and Memphis apart, jut like I prefer Bergwijn with Dumfries on the right”. As Memphis is the wandering playmaker for Oranje now, Wijnaldum’s role is more a penetrating and running one. Getting in the box as a false striker. Wijnaldum and Donny van de Beek are the types Koeman is looking for there. Ihattaren plays with a striker (Malen) who himself is more a dynamic, penetrating runner, so Mo can use his through ball to bring him in position.
In Oranje, Ihattaren seems to be the solution for the problem raised by Koeman after the lost Nation Leagues final : “Defensively and in midfield, we’re ok. But up front, we could use some more creativity.” Against Estonia, Northern Ireland and Belarus Oranje was lacking creativity in the small spaces, around Memphis. The job opening of a false winger with the gift of the slide-rule through pass seems to be the ideal role for Ihattaren. Also because, like Bergwijn, he is used to play with Dumfries…
Life goes fast for the youngster. His tremendous potential was known already, both nationally and internationally. The public is now also aware of the capabilities of the kid. It only takes a view on the clip of Young PSV vs Young Barcelona in the Youth League, of November last year. He is the youngest on the pitch and gets the ball on the edge of the box. In between two defenders he turns, looks quickly over his shoulder and backheels the ball into the path of Vertessen who scores. His composure on the ball, under pressure, his vision and creativity…
Everyone who worked with him, will use the term “extraordinary”. Whether it’s Marcel Brands, Mark van Bommel, Bert van Marwijk or Kees van Wonderen. And they are not alone, as scouts and reps of Barcelona, Man City, Chelsea and Inter Milan have already knocked on the door of Mo’s agent Henk-Maarten Chin.
Kristof Aelbrecht – currently assistant coach at Fortuna Sittard – worked with him in the U16s. “In the PSV youth, it was always Little Mo this, Little Mo that. I immediately told him, that is not how I will work with you. From now on, you are Big Mo! And I need you to think and act like a pro. The kids were always looking at scoring, or assists. When you enter the U16 realm it’s also about physical, about mentality, about nutrition and rest. Are you coachable, that sort of thing. It’s about awareness. In my time, Mo always made the difference. We played away against Roda JC at some stage and he wasn’t top fit. I took him out after an hour. He wasn’t taking care of his tasks. Well, that was a first for him! I didn’t do this because I liked doing it, but I had to make a point. He was disappointed, offended and simply angry. He was so pissed off that he refused to get on the bus. His brother Yassir couldn’t even bring him to reason.
Yassir and Mo Ihattaren
Yassir: “He said: take me home now or I stay here. I couldn’t leave him so we drove back in my car. And it was a constant rant: That coach this, that coach that, etc etc. I told him: accept it! Your coach was right! it was a long drive, hahaha. But when we got close to home, I really got fed up and stopped the car. I looked at him and said: Listen!! We support you with the whole family. We do everything for your dream! And you won’t ruin it because you are a spoilt kid! This is Kanalen-eiland (the suburb where Mo lives in Utrecht). This is where the kids hang who haven’t made it. The chances for these kids to leave this behind are slim. Make up your mind. What do you want?”
And thus, both brothers made an appointment with coach Aelbrecht to ask him, what Mo needed to do to improve. Aelbrecht and his assistant Adil Ramzi grabbed some video images and showed Mo that he simply wasn’t fit enough.
So, he started with a new diet and he started to work on his lung capacity and endurance. Every morning at 6 am, Mo woke and went for a run. That was in 2017. Today, Mo Ihattaren is super fit.
Aelbrecht: “I had times that I feared I lost him. That I was too tough on him, but he picked it up. We at PSV had to stay true to our values and now you can see what an incredible player he has become.”
Yassir Ihattaren tells the story, but it could also have been told by his sister, his other brothers or his parents. Because the whole family is involved with the dream of the youngest in the family. Ihattaren Incorporated, one could call it.
His older brother gave up his job as teacher history to manage and assist his brother. Yassir and another brother were talents too but their careers ended in the top of the amateur class, as the parents were simply not capable to assist with their careers. With Benjamin Mo, it’s another story as the older brothers jump in to assist. Mo’s father passed away tragically last month.
The whole family keeps Mo in check and keep on motivating him and inspiring him. “Whenever Mo wants to buy something expensive, we will all give our opinion and sometimes we say “hey buddy, stay normal please!” hahahaha.”
Marcel Brands was PSV’s technical director for years and he remembers seeing the little Mo on the PSV youth grounds. “I’d ask him after his match: Mo, how was the match? And he’d say something like: Good. I scored three and two assists. So funny.” When Brands left for Everton, the club immediately wanted to talk about the #10 in the PSV youth. Brands: “I am happy that he’s still at PSV. Don’t get me wrong, if he wants to come here, I’d be over the moon, but I think he needs to stay. Play a couple of seasons at PSV, make your debut in Oranje and go abroad when you’re really ready. It’s a big step.”
Yassir is adamant that Henk-Maarten Chin will be their agent to stay. “We have had them all, Riola, Jansen, you name them. But Henk-Maarten is also family now. We’re loyal people. And we don’t need anyone to bring Mo to the top. Mo will bring Mo to the top.”
The experts say this.
Bert van Marwijk assisted Van Bommel last season and is quite clear about Ihattaren: “It says a lot always when the players who have arrived accept a youngster just like that. They look for him, they trust him. You see it with Frenkie at Barcelona as well. He’s already part of the key players there. And Mo is also a player that solves problems. Mo thinks ahead, like a chess player. He is always two steps ahead. His biggest enemy is complacency.”
Art Langeler used to be Head of Youth Development at PSV. “We have developed a trajectory which gives him the best chances to reach his potential. From an Oranje perspective, we also need to do all we can to give him the right vibe. I don’t even want him to doubt his choice for Holland.”
Kees van Wonderen won the European title with Oranje U17 with Mo Ihattaren in the team. “He played almost everything and was important for the team. He is very skilled, tactically shrewd and mentally strong. He is also happy to do the dirty work and make dirty yards if possible. And his family is important. They won’t put him on a pedestal. They’re critical and he is open to criticism. There are no guarantees but Mo has everything to become a top player.”