A delightful character, the news the 20-year-old suffered severe brain damage after collapsing during a friendly has stunned the Dutch club
Ajax and Dutch football had been shaking as they awaited news on the health of Abdelhak Nouri in the days after his collapse on Saturday. But, when confirmed that the 20-year-old has suffered “serious and permanent brain damage” on Thursday, the football world trembled with them.
Nouri’s cardiac arrhythmia during the friendly against Werder Bremen has come as a horrible shock, summed up by Edwin van der Sar as “the worst possible news we could get”.
To anyone familiar with the name, Nouri first conjures up images of a naturally gifted and dazzling player who amazes crowds and opponents with the ball. But what makes this tragedy even more difficult to accept is the cheeky smile ‘Appie’ always had, how sporting he always was towards fellow players and his reputation as a happy, delightful youngster.
“Everyone loves Appie,” coach Marcel Keizer said, adding that to him the midfielder represents Ajax.
Club icon Sjaak Swart told NOS: “Nouri is a great guy and a great footballer. He always comes to me, sometimes with a handshake, sometimes a hug. He is friendly with everyone.”
His team-mates adore him too. Hakim Ziyech, technically a rival for his position, has become a close friend and room-mate within his first year at Ajax and was quickly calling him his “little brother”. The Morocco international hugged him tight when Nouri scored on his first-team debut – a free-kick against Willem II – before Andre Onana came over to lift him over his shoulder with a huge grin.
It’s not just those who work with him who admire him. Ajax fans were already chanting that they wanted to see the gem of the youth system before he came off the bench.
That night, he drove home and was greeted outside his home by friends and family chanting his name. “I didn’t know they would be there,” he said later. “They were really proud and happy for me, they even had tears in their eyes, it was a magical moment.”
Everyone loves Appie.
The events surrounding it were captured in a video he and his brother made. As he turned up at training the next day and received a host of congratulations, he ended with a monologue stating his hopes for the future, adding: “I will do my best for you, for myself, for my family”.
For now, though, the support he receives is of a different kind and ‘the best he can do’ for everyone is to recover as best he can. His eldest brother, however, is pessimistic about Abdelhak’s chances of being the same person as before his collapse.
“The doctors are quite confident that he will not recover,” Abderrahim Nouri told AD. “If he were to wake up, he would not be able to think, eat, talk, walk or even recognise people. He would not be able to function normally.
“But we are not giving up, God will decide his fate. Our religion teaches us to accept things and we are praying for his recovery. We think this life is only temporary and the eternal comes after this one, but everybody would have liked to see him score goals first.”
For Ajax, a tense few days turned to devastation. They cancelled training as well as their annual open day celebration with fans and encouraged players to come in and talk about their feelings on the incident. It was clear that Nouri was the only thing on the minds of those in the Dutch capital this week.
“Abdelhak is such a huge talent, but we will never know how bright his star would have shone had this not happened,” Van der Sar added in his statement.
Nouri’s a true loss for Ajax. As well as a bright and cheerful soul, he was an exemplary player. Naturally gifted, at the age of five he was already the best in his team and had to be moved into his brother’s side, even though they were all three years older. He joined Ajax aged seven and amazed fans on his journey through the youth system.
His skill, pace and technique were obvious from first sight, his instinctive passing into space saw him open immense chances for team-mates, and he always put it into their path either by a simple through ball or a daring chip, back-heel or impeccable flick.
Nouri is just 170cm, but tough to handle because of his excellent control and quick turning ability, even when surrounded by defenders. Whether it’s with long passes, short flicks into the box or neat dribbles, he created something from nothing for his team-mates.
Having shown a knack for set pieces, long-range shots and well-timed runs into the box, he managed 10 goals last season for Jong Ajax in the second tier of Dutch football, adding 11 assists, and was named the league’s best player.
As a much-loved, bright and talented young man, there are many aspects to the despair surrounding Nouri’s condition right now.
“How bright his star would have shone”, we may never know, but just as everyone surrounding him was wishing him the best in his career, a multitude more are willing him on through this period. Stay strong Appie.