Be careful what you wish for is an old adage which often proves true on the transfer market. Giancarlo Rinaldi looks at how Fiorentina’s Moroccan midfielder has struggled to make his mark in England.

Even by the surreal standards of modern football, it has been a topsy-turvy 12 months for Sofyan Amrabat. It was barely a year ago that he was at the centre of name-your-price transfer speculation after his stellar performances at the Qatar World Cup. Now it appears he is already off the menu at the giant club which finally secured his services.

Timing, of course, is everything and Fiorentina fought to hold on to their Moroccan star when his stock was at its highest. That might be a decision that the bean-counters in Tuscany will look back on with some regret. If the £100m figure that was being plucked out of the air in the last January transfer window was true then they could surely have reinvested in a heck of a lot of players to replace him. He took the Viola close to two trophies – the Coppa Italia and Conference League – but in the end, there was to be no cigar.

By the summer, it seemed that interest in Amrabat had cooled, and his standout performances on the international stage had been forgotten. It was only pretty late in the day that Manchester United finally came up with a formula that saw him quit the Stadio Artemio Franchi for Old Trafford. Cue the obligatory Instagram post about realising a dream come true in coming to the Premier League giants.

Even the most purple-painted diehard would have to admit that a move to the Red Devils was a step up the footballing ladder. One could argue about the cultural and scenic losses of leaving behind the River Arno for Lancashire but there can be little debate about the relative stature of the sides. Fiorentina are a grand old team, for sure, but the English side are different gravy. But that, as he is now finding, comes with a very different side order of expectations.

Manchester United will return Amrabat to Fiorentina

I warned at the time of his signing that it would likely take him time to adjust – as it does with most Serie A players moving to England – but his transition has been hampered by a number of factors. If he had been transferred to a well-oiled, winning machine of a side, it might have been more straightforward, but United have not been at that level for some time. They needed him to be ready immediately – and that has clearly not been the case.

He has also been asked to play out of position on a number of occasions which has hardly helped. Nobody who watched his rise in the Italian game would ever have thought he was crying out for a switch to full-back. It was admirable that he was willing to play there to help his team – but it did little to showcase his best qualities.

Watching Erik Ten Haag’s side recently appears to have confirmed that his future plans have no place for the former Verona man. He seems much happier to give younger players their chance in midfield and consign Amrabat to a spectators’ role. Any thoughts of the club using its option to buy – with a reputed price tag of about £20m – seem to have disappeared more quickly than the Manchester club’s hopes of progress in Europe.

Not many in Florence – at least among the reasonable fans – will take any pleasure in his troubles, but they should serve as a reminder for almost every player who quits a middle-tier team for a bigger one. He was at the heart of a project with the Viola but has quickly become a more peripheral figure in England. It is understandable that everyone wants to challenge themselves at the highest level in what is a relatively short career – but it always comes with a health warning. Perhaps he could have spoken to Stevan Jovetic or Juan Cuadrado before leaving Tuscany and heading north.

Assuming United no longer see him as part of their future – whatever their latest plans for that are – it leaves Fiorentina with a bit of a conundrum. Should they try to take him back into a midfield which has already found a new hero in Arthur Melo? Or can they find another buyer for a player whose reputation has definitely taken a bit of a tumble since its high point in late 2022? It certainly looks difficult to think they will be able to command an offer that runs to tens of millions of pounds.

Indeed, financial matters may yet play a role in his future as there are many who doubt that the Viola will find the resources to keep Melo – who is currently impressing on loan from Juventus. That might create a gap that Amrabat could fill although there would have to be question marks about how much he might wish to return to a club he made little secret of wanting to leave. It could be better – for the player and the team – to start a new chapter.

There is still time, perhaps, for him to convince Manchester United that he is worth keeping. Injuries, suspensions or a change of heart might yet give him the opportunity to move his way back up the pecking order. But he finds himself at a club which has used up and thrown away plenty of players in recent years and is definitely in danger of ending up on that particular scrap heap.

And yet, when in full flight, he was a glorious player to watch. A determined ball-winner at the heart of a possession-based game he was always prone to a booking or two but never gave anything less than total commitment. After a stuttering start in Florence, he found his position and never looked back. There are surely plenty of places – in Italy or elsewhere – which could do with that kind of dependable screen for their defence. Perhaps somewhere where the tempo is a little less frenetic than in England and the expectation to be a world-beater from day one is a little lower than at Old Trafford.

His story might also help the Tuscan club to keep some of its current top performers. It is the nature of the Florentine outfit to see its top talent plucked away by bigger sides but the Moroccan’s case highlights once more that it does not always work out. They could show videos of him watching Kobbie Mainoo in action to underline what fate can await a player trying his luck in the Premier League.

Whatever the outcome, hopefully it will be for the best for Amrabat and all the teams involved. Manchester United will undoubtedly move on – that’s what big clubs do – and he will be a bit-part figure in their history. Fiorentina may well choose to let him go elsewhere too, since he was so keen to move on when he got the chance. As for the player, he will surely find somewhere to get more out of his talents than they did in England. He might not be the global superstar he briefly appeared to be at the World Cup but, at 27 years old, he certainly still has plenty to offer. But it will be critical that he makes the right move this time around to ensure he gets back to the levels that everyone in Italy knows he can achieve.

One thought on “How Amrabat’s dream move to Manchester United from Fiorentina turned sour”
  1. Don’t sell Series Stars to the premiership clubs or PSG they already have the upper hand financially and Italian clubs can’t win in Europe. Either they come back to knock Italians sides out, ask Zola, Henry, Bercamp and Salah. Or they ruin their youth progress or get bans.

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