En Nesyri is outscoring Messi at Sevilla – the club where players grow | Sid Lowe

The striker’s hat-trick took him joint-top in La Liga’s scoring charts. Sevilla’s challenge is to keep polishing a rough diamond

Youssef En Nesyri didn’t see the moment he became top scorer, not properly. And no one else saw it coming either. Setting off on yet another run, long stride carrying him up the left, the Sevilla striker had just turned towards the area when Pedro Alcalá stuck a thumb in his eye. As Cádiz’s players confronted the referee – “you’re ‘right’ because you decide you’re right”, “that’s what they pay me for”, “I’m not sure they should” – he sat at the side of the pitch holding gauze to his left eye, watched by four policemen on a bench better than the players get. Then, realising this next set play was his, he got up again and scored.

Escaping Juan Cala, following the route to the near post mapped out for him, En Nesyri ducked to head Suso’s free-kick past Conan Ledesma. He turned, ran for the touchline, did a glasses gesture, skidded to his knees and went back to getting treatment. “I scored with only one eye,” he said after. “I couldn’t see.” There were five minutes until half-time and he had just scored Sevilla’s second. It was his second too, making him top scorer, level with Luis Suárez, but not his last. A little after the hour, a minute after he had raced back to rescue Jesús Navas, he leapt over Alcalá to make it 3-0, lifting him clear and Sevilla into third.

If it was momentary – the following day Barcelona climbed back above Sevilla and Suárez drew level with En Nesyri again – it was more than that. Europa League winners, European Super Cup finalists, Sevilla may be the team that’s had the least rest, not just this year but any year, yet they occupy a Champions League place. And En Nesyri left the Sánchez Pizjuán looking like a kid coming back from a kickabout, still in his kit and with a ball under his arm again. It had happened against Real Sociedad; now 14 days on it happened against Cádiz. No one else has ever got hat-tricks in two consecutive games there and the last Sevilla player get back-to-back home hat-tricks was Rafael Berrocal in 1943, almost eighty years ago.

Youssef En-Nesyri's great form continues! 🔥

A quick double from the Moroccan striker has Sevilla in complete control ⚪🔴 pic.twitter.com/MLAMVlq7r5

— Premier Sports 📺 (@PremierSportsTV) January 23, 2021

Sevilla have only ever had one Pichichi – Juan Arza in 1955 – and, truth is, they probably won’t have one now. But En Nesyri has scored 12 league goals, 16 in all competitions, more than anyone in Spain. He has seven in the last three league games and has scored eight of Sevilla’s last 10. He’s running at a goal every 91 minutes. “Put some respect on his name,” teammate Jules Koundé demanded, so Sevilla did just that, turning him into “Sir” Youssef En Nesyri, delicately raising a glass. “Hurricane Youssef,” Diario de Sevilla called him, the man who had been “touched by the goalscorer’s magic wand.”

No one expected this, not even Sevilla manager Julen Lopetegui and sporting director Monchi, the men who took a chance on him – and the fact that it has happened says a lot about them too. On Saturday afternoon, Lopetegui said: “he’s in the ideal place” and he was right.

En Nesyri once went to Chelsea on trial but only lasted three weeks, later admitting: “It was cold and I couldn’t take any more.” Born in Fez, he joined the Muhammed VI football academy in Rabat at 12. It is, as one scout puts it, “the place to be” in Morocco, with phenomenal facilities but no senior first team, and one that had close ties with Málaga: although En Nesyri was the first to join, more followed. His first touch wasn’t great, his decision-making wasn’t either. Quiet, young, there were also doubts about his application, how he looked after himself, whether he had the seriousness and maturity to make it. But physically he was outstanding, a superb athlete. Juande Ramos, who gave him his debut, recalls a player with “immense physical condition already beating established professionals, which is why I played him even though he naturally had tactical flaws.

When he joined Leganés, En Nesyri was the club’s record signing at €5m, playing alongside Martin Braithwaite. “They were a good partnership,” the coach Javier Aguirre said, not long after he lost them both. “Cabra loca y sensatez: one a bit of a loose cannon, the other very, very sensible. One like this, one like that, yet both very quick and they just looked at each other and knew what they were going to do. But then, pff!, and En Nesyri goes …”

Youssef En Nesyri
Youssef En Nesyri (R) receives medical assistance. ‘I scored with only one eye,’ he said after the 3-0 win over Cádiz. Photograph: Julio Munoz/EPA

He went to Sevilla for €20m last January and, put bluntly, some were surprised. In Málaga, there were plenty who hadn’t even been that sorry to see him leave for Leganés. Now there were doubts about him heading from there to Sevilla. Considering him limited technically, a man with a heavy touch who missed as many chances as he scored, €20m seemed high to them. Sevilla, though, needed something: Dabbur was about to depart having played just two league games and scored no goals, Chicharito Hernández followed him out having scored one, and Luuk De Jong and Munir had just two in the league at the turn of the year. It was a risk they had to take: “we dived in at the deep end.” And Monchi saw something in him, material to build with: quick, aggressive, resistant.

He scored three times in his first four league games and not again until week 36. He got six overall, often from the bench: 11 of his 19 league games were as a sub. Watching Sevilla last year, it was hard sometimes not to wonder how good they could be with a real goalscorer. That said, by the end of the season Luuk de Jong had responded when it mattered: against Manchester United and twice against Inter. En Nesyri on the other hand had scored in Rome but when his biggest moment came, he didn’t. On as a sub, with two minutes to go he was suddenly racing clean through against Bayern Munich in the European Super Cup final but missed the chance to win it. At the full-time whistle he was in tears, broken.

En Nesyri started just one of the first four La Liga games, none of the first four in Europe, not even Sevilla’s starting striker, let alone Spain’s most successful one. Yet when he scored the winning goal against Levante in the second game, Monchi wrote: “Life always offers the chance for revenge; you deserve it.” And slowly, unseen, something was happening. It is a mistake to consider Monchi just the man who signs players; he is also the man who builds an environment in which they can succeed. And there are few managers as attentive to detail and player development as Lopetegui, even if the way the fixtures are mean there’s so little time for the work that defines him.

Levante 2-2 Real Valladolid, Alavés 1-4 Real Madrid, Real Sociedad 2-2 Real Betis, Sevilla 3-0 Cádiz, SD Huesca 0-0 Villarreal, Atlético Madrid 3-1 Valencia, Celta Vigo 1-1 Eibar, Elche 0-2 Barcelona, Osasuna 3-1 Granada.

Technically En Nesyri has limitations, is one footed and has much to learn about positioning and timing, taking decisions, how to play: when to drop, when to go, which pass to choose. Yet there’s an ability to maintain high intensity sprints and to repeat them consistently that sets him apart. There’s a willingness to try, plus time to do so: at 23 he is still young, with a wide margin for improvement, and good players around him, Suso in particular has been superb lately. They have built mechanics that mean he now has 12 league goals when his previous season totals were one, four, nine, and eight.

Sevilla would admit that this run won’t last, or shouldn’t, and that one of the tasks before them is to not allow that to affect him, for the eulogies – yeah, sorry about that – not to weaken him in the way that they tried to ensure Bayern didn’t destroy him. In the media, some think the club should sell now while he’s flying and West Ham are still waving a fistful of dollars. But Sevilla need him and he needs them. Papu Gómez is en route, another reason to stay. And his 16 are just one short of Ocampos’s total last season, making him top scorer, ahead of Lionel Messi, Gerard Moreno and Karim Benzema, level with Suárez, already an achievement whatever comes next. “It’s not luck; when luck comes calling it had better catch you at work,” Lopetegui insisted. “Youssef is at a fantastic age to keep growing and he’s at the ideal place.”

“Nothing has changed; everything comes with work and concentration,” En Nesyri said, another matchball in his hand. “And I’m going to stay, I’m not going anywhere. I want to finish the season here. Sevilla is a big club too.” The club who are 131 today, that makes footballers better and where, for now at least, the one-eyed man is king.

Pos Team P GD Pts
1 Atletico Madrid 18 28 47
2 Real Madrid 19 18 40
3 Barcelona 19 22 37
4 Sevilla 19 10 36
5 Villarreal 20 9 34
6 Real Sociedad 20 13 31
7 Granada 20 -10 28
8 Real Betis 20 -8 27
9 Celta Vigo 20 -7 24
10 Cadiz 20 -10 24
11 Levante 19 -1 23
12 Getafe 18 -2 23
13 Athletic Bilbao 18 -1 21
14 Valencia 20 -3 20
15 Eibar 20 -4 20
16 Valladolid 20 -9 20
17 Osasuna 20 -10 19
18 Alaves 20 -11 18
19 Elche 18 -9 17
20 Huesca 20 -15 13


Sid Lowe

The GuardianTramp

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