OPINION: Fallen wonderkid Ihattaren gets yet another chance, but is unlikely to take it

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OPINION: Fallen wonderkid Ihattaren gets yet another chance, but is unlikely to take it
Ajax gave up on Ihattaren
Ajax gave up on Ihattaren
Profimedia
Mohamed Ihattaren (21) was not so long ago one of the most exciting talents in football, but he's now heading to the Czech Republic as a huge gamble of a signing for Slavia Prague that is unlikely to pay off.

If you went around the Netherlands this time four years ago asking Dutch football fans who the biggest talent in the country was, one of the most common answers you would have gotten, along with Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, would be Mohamed Ihattaren

At the age of just 17, he'd established himself as one of PSV's most important players and was so highly rated that the news that he'd chosen to represent the Netherlands rather than Morocco internationally was treated as an enormous boost for the Dutch national team. 

Given the talent he once possessed, Slavia Prague fans may today be excited about the fact that their club has signed him, but given what's happened between now and 2019, they'd probably be wise not to get their hopes up.

Things began to go wrong when Roger Schmidt took over as PSV manager in the summer of 2020, with the German being angered by the Dutchman's attitude and lack of professionalism throughout the season that followed, so much so that he actively pushed for the player to be sold at the end of it.

Juventus gave him his wish and immediately loaned their new player out to Sampdoria to give him playing time for his first campaign in Italy, but he returned to the Netherlands barely a month later having not kicked a ball, with reports again emerging of poor behaviour on his part.

Ajax, a club famous for nurturing and developing young talent, then decided to take a chance on him by signing him on loan, but after showing some signs of promise in their youth team, he began to make the headlines for all the wrong reasons, reportedly becoming heavily involved with an Amsterdam gang. His loan wasn't renewed or made permanent when it expired in January and Juventus terminated his contract seven months later.

He then looked set to join Turkish side Samsunspor in August, being greeted by hundreds of excited fans at the airport, but the deal fell apart at the last minute because he, according to the club, changed "the previously agreed terms and made unacceptable requests."

That brings us to the present day, where he is now a Slavia Prague player after being given a one-year contract that includes an optional three-year extension. I'm not a betting man, but if I were, I'd be comfortable putting a lot of money on that extension not being activated.

With him only 21, there's no doubt that he remains a hugely talented individual, but there haven't been any signs for the past three years that he has the mentality required to do anything with that talent. 

It's not a coincidence that each of the managers he played under at Juventus, Sampdoria and Ajax opted against even giving him a chance in their first team, and it's not a coincidence that all three of those clubs went out of their way to terminate his contract with them early. 

In Italy, he reportedly spent a huge amount of time travelling to visit people in Monaco and Milan rather than training to become match-fit. While, in Amsterdam, he spent more time with the police than playing senior football, reportedly being arrested twice amid his run-in with the gang and not even being able to train due to safety concerns. 

Simply put, he's a hugely troubled figure whose many off-field issues have held him back from doing anything at all on the pitch since 2021. There's a chance that, in a new environment, he can make a fresh start and overcome those issues, but people have hoped for that three times in the past now and have been left disappointed. 

When he joined Ajax in particular, there was widespread hope that he'd get his career back on track, but things only got worse. If a club in his home country that handles young players as well as any in the world can't turn things around, can anyone?

It's a sad story more than anything, especially with his struggles being largely caused by the death of his father, but one that, unfortunately, feels unlikely to get much happier in the Czech capital.

The talent may still be there, but as has been proven by many players countless times over the years, talent alone isn't enough.

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