Zeki Amdouni Exclusive: How the ‘Swiss Lionel Messi’ took the scenic route to Burnley

Zeki Amdouni tells Sky Sports about his journey through Switzerland’s lower leagues after being released by first division club Servette at the age of 13.

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Last season, StatsBomb searched for the European U24 players whose performances most closely resembled those of Lionel Messi.

They chose Xavi Simons from Paris Saint-Germain, a graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia, and Zeki Amdouni, the summer signing from Burnley.

“Messi is my favorite player,” Amdouni told Sky Sports, tucked away in a small room at Burnley’s training ground.

“It’s very important to be compared to him. He is, like me, a creative player, he always asks for the ball and plays in that false nine, or maybe in the number 10 role. That’s my style, that creativity.”

Amdouni, top scorer in last season’s Europa Conference League, has emerged from relative obscurity but is now making his mark at the highest level. Despite his form for Basel last season, the 22-year-old is still unknown to many fans in the UK.

Amdouni hasn’t been given the Barbie treatment like Aaron Ramsey, but he could be a success at Burnley. His seven Conference League goals took Basel closer to their first European final since 1974, before losing on aggregate to Fiorentina in extra time in last season’s semi-final second leg.

The striker suffered a purple patch after being kicked out of the World Cup by Switzerland. Only Erling Haaland and Gift Orban have surpassed his tally of 17 goals in 27 U23 matches in club and European cups during this period.

Amdouni is enjoying a smooth transition to life in England. It’s the first time he’s played outside Switzerland, but being surrounded by French speakers helped him acclimatize.

“It was pretty easy,” he says. “I love the place and I love the people. The only thing I would say is that it was pretty cold.

Amdouni is yet to bring his goalscoring prowess from last season to the Premier League. He has so far failed to score in Burnley’s three defeats against Man City, Aston Villa and Tottenham.

However, we got our first taste of his talent in the Carabao Cup when he struck late for Forest from the bench and sent Burnley through to the third round.

It was a perfect example of Amdouni’s talent for scoring. He slipped into the box late on and escaped the attention of the Forest defense before calmly controlling his chest under pressure and firing a volley into the back of the net in the 90th minute.

Not a bad opportunity to score the club’s first goal, even in front of the away fans.

Zeki is really dangerous in front of goal. The way he plays the final pass creates a lot of assists and thanks to the work he does on the pitch, he scores a lot of goals himself.

He is a very intelligent footballer, technically gifted and with a great work ethic. He is a great talent.

However, it was not always clear whether Amdouni would get to this point. After being released by Swiss top club Servette at the age of 13, he had to take a different route through the lower leagues.

“It was really a test,” he says. This rejection sparked a new sense of determination in Amdouni.

“It wasn’t easy for me. As a young player, being released is a big deal. From that point on, my goal was to succeed and I had something to prove. This is what pushed me to move forward. »

Amdouni spent the following years at Meyrin, a third division club, before finding his feet at Etoile Carouge.

They gave him the rest he needed to play senior football. He rose up the division, playing for Stade Lausanne Ouchy and then Lausanne-Sport – one of the clubs owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe – before Basel signed him on a two-year loan deal.

Last season’s performances encouraged Basel to exercise the option of making the transfer permanent in the summer for four million euros, a year earlier than expected.

They knew it was only a matter of time before European clubs came knocking for their highly rated striker.

Amdouni never lost faith that he would make his dream come true, even if he had to take the scenic route.

“I can say that even in the most difficult moments of my journey, I always had a fixed place in my mind where I would make it,” he says.

“One way or another I would have managed to become a professional footballer.”

His career trajectory has been dramatic over the last 12 months, but the 22-year-old has had to take his time.

“I’ve always had the qualities you see today,” he says. “I’m the same. But perhaps as a player I have recovered both physically and mentally.

This less traditional trip taught me patience more than anything else. I had to wait for opportunities to present themselves.

When you’re in a rush and always expecting good things to come quickly, it can be difficult.”

Amdouni’s path to success gave him a sense of perspective, a foundation that kept him grounded as the hype grew around him.

Swiss public broadcaster RTS described him as the national team’s “X factor” before the international breakthrough was just over.

He rejects any suggestion that he would be Switzerland’s new top man. He said: “There are some great players in the Swiss team.

I have shown some good qualities and made some good performances, but to say that I am a star player for the team I would not go so far.

There are others among who has much more gaming experience than me.

The most important thing now is to put our shoulders to the wheel and focus on improving and seeing what the future brings.”

The crowds around Amdouni in Switzerland are not without reason.

They are first in Group I qualifying for Euro 2024, largely thanks to his five goals in six games.

He is third in the top scorers, on the same level as Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane.

The next chapter in Amdouni’s losing story will likely see them face them at the 2024 European Championships.

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