Tag Archives: Fabio Paim

Ajax’s Nouri wary of pitfalls of fame

They had it all. Money and its glamorous trappings, growing fame, and the football world seemingly at their feet. But then they blew it.

The list of gifted young players who never made the grade despite early acclaim is long and includes Freddy Adu, Fabio Paim, Federico Macheda and Giovani Dos Santos to name but a few.

They were expected to one day become Ballon d’Or  contenders but instead now languish in Europe’s lower divisions.

“You should never think that you are there, that you have made it, because it’s only just the beginning”

Ajax Amsterdam’s wonderkid Abdelhak Nouri is adamant that he won’t join that starry collection of sad tales of what might have been. He knows that talent alone is not sufficient to go all the way.

“I won’t make the same mistakes, don’t worry,” says the 18-year old who is considered by many as the big hope of Dutch and European football.

Ajax are blessed with a number of youngsters with tremendous potential but there is no doubt Nouri the jewel in the crown and is already creating waves in the Netherlands.

“The spotlight and adulation from fans? I don’t care,” he told me. “I stay normal. I know that I always have to train hard, work hard, always be myself and of course stay with my feet on the ground.

“You should never think that you are there, that you have made it, because it’s only just the beginning.”

Spain or England one day

Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Olympique Marseille and Manchester United are all reportedly keen on securing the his services as they look to bolster their midfield options for next season, but Nouri is taking things step by step.

“My dream is to play at Ajax first, play good, and of course I want to be always the best player of my team. From there I’d like to go to Spain, England or France to a big club one day.”

“Stam always wants to help you. He nurtures you on and off the pitch. If you do something wrong, he says it to you but in a good way”

But that day, he’s alluding, is still far away.

In footballing terms, many liken him to Barcelona superstar Andrès Iniesta, with vision, great ball control, trickery, shooting ability, a great first touch and pace.

He is also blessed with the game management skills of a veteran, an eye for goal and intelligent movement.

Needless to say, the Adus and Machedas of this world also had many of these things. But perhaps they lack some of the other attributes Nouri has in abundance: humility, a strong personality and the right mindset. He’s also surrounded by the right people.

Ajax is run by world-renowned former stars such as Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars, Edvin van der Sar, Frank and Ronald de Boer, so Nouri knows where to turn should he ever struggle with an issue.

Nurturing

To help him achieve his ambitions, he trains under the tutelage of former Manchester United and AC Milan legend Jaap Stam, now the Ajax under-21s manager.

Now 44, the defender was propelled to global stardom after winning the treble with Manchester United in 1999. However, he was a man watched by millions but known by few.

As a player, he was every strikers’ nightmare – known for his tenacious tackles, electric pace and forbidding look. He was a leader and a disciplinarian on the field.

“Can Nouri eventually become the national team’s new fulcrum? Many in Holland believe he can”

Off the pitch, he was intensely private, and getting an interview out of him was an almost impossible mission for journalists. So what is Stam really like? Nouri is well placed to offer an insight.

“He’s a good person, he always wants to help you. He nurtures you on and off the pitch. If you do something wrong, he says it to you but in a good way and not in a bad way.

“You learn a lot from him. How we have to pressure and how we have to defend. Off the pitch he is also a great person. He always helps you.

“As a player I liked him too. Very aggressive. He was a great player, I’ve seen videos of him on YouTube… I liked him”, he said.

 The mighty have fallen

Ajax Amsterdam once belonged to football’s aristocracy but in recent years have found themselves in a seemingly irreversible decline.

Monetary issues coupled with a lack of outstanding players coming through its famed youth system, coupled with the low standards of the Dutch Eredivisie, have seen Holland’s most loved and loathed club vanish from the European map. The once-mighty have fallen.

“Nouri doesn’t embrace the compliment. He knows that Iniesta is a legend he’s a long way off from emulating”

As have the Dutch national team who finished fourth in their Euro 2016 qualifying group, missing out on this summer’s tournament in France.

The Netherlands’ struggles have raised a few eyebrows across Europe. It wasn’t that long ago that they were just a penalty shoot-out away from reaching the 2014 World Cup final, and they contested the final itself in 2010.

Can Nouri eventually become their new fulcrum? Can he be the man to build the team around? Many in Holland believe he can.

Stalwarts such as Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie and Rafael Van der Vaart are not getting any younger, and the academy graduate is by many regarded as a future pillar of the ‘Oranje’ alongside Davy Klaassen, a player Nouri rates highly.

Revival

“Klaassen is such a great player. He has the potential to become even better. He’s 22, very young, and he’s already captain at Ajax. It’s unbelievable. Wait a few years and he’ll play for a big, big club.

“However , I don’t know if I can be part of Holland’s revival. I will look step for step, there’s still far for me. It’s bad that they haven’t qualified [for Euro 2016] but maybe next time they will. With me? I don’t know.

“Nouri constantly references the fact that his career has only just started”

“That said, I am not going to support anybody at the Euros. My heart only beats for Holland. Five years ago, they reached the final of the World Cup. It was unbelievable…we were so close.

“My idol Iniesta scored the winner for Spain. He is such a great player. But at that moment I was not for Iniesta.

“People compare me to him because of the pace and dribbling, but I don’t know… I have to work hard to become like him,” he insisted.

There lies another difference between Nouri and those young players who never achieved their youthful promise. Some of them would have embraced the compliment. Nouri, on the other hand, doesn’t. He knows that Iniesta is a legend he’s a long way off from emulating.

Risks

If you were to describe him, the words that come to mind are humble, ambitious and single-minded. He is also already adept at handling the media and takes their attention in his stride.

Even at just 18, it feels as if Nouri knows how to deal calmly with everything that’s surely coming his way if his progress on the pitch continues.

Wait a few years and he’ll be the journalists’ most wanted man. For the time being, his fame is confined to the Netherlands but that won’t be the case for long.

Nouri constantly references the fact that his career has only just started. Unlike the Adus and Paims who felt they had ‘arrived’ after signing their first professional contract, Nouri doesn’t.

Stay humble, work hard, never think you are there – that is his mantra.

Yes, that list of talented young players who seemed to have it all before fading away will always grow longer – but Nouri’s name won’t be on it.

The pain of Fabio Paim

“I didn’t listen to anybody. I chose the wrong path and the wrong friends. Today all I want is to help young talented players to avoid making the same mistakes as I did.”

So says Fabio Paim, a boyhood friend of Cristiano Ronaldo whose career could have followed a similar route to trophies, acclaim and all the trappings of fame and fortune.

In fact, Ronaldo is quoted as having once said in his younger days: “If you think I’m good, just wait until you see Fabio Paim.”

But as his old companheiro de equipe  laments: “I didn’t listen to people who wanted to help me when I was younger. I was so successful that I didn’t care about the tips my mother, my uncle and my agent Jorge Mendes gave me.”

Once heralded as the golden boy of Portuguese football, Paim is a classic case of a gifted player who wasn’t comfortable in the spotlight and struggled to come to terms with the expectations placed on him.

He had talent in abundance as a skilful, pacy winger but wasn’t strong-willed and disciplined enough to go the extra mile and make the most of it.

‘Fake friends’

A succession of injuries, poor form and a lack of faith shown in him by managers at a long list of clubs all contributed, but the 27-year-old mostly blames himself.

“All I want to say to young players is: don’t make the same mistakes I did. Being talented is not enough. Regardless of your skills you always have to work and always be hungry.

“Ronaldo really grafted and always tuned out complacency. He worked his socks off. I didn’t. I didn’t work hard enough to shine”

“I was also surrounded by many fake friends who only wanted to be around me because of my money and fame and not because they cared about me. This spoiled my career.”

A graduate of Sporting Lisbon’s world-renowned academy, Paim admits that while his team-mates concentrated on football , his mind was on what he would do after training, which car he was going to buy and what girl he was going to meet up with.

Despite being two years his senior, Ronaldo looked up to the younger man at Sporting, but had the appetite for hard work and desire to improve that his compatriot lacked.

That laid the foundations for his glorious career at Manchester United and Real Madrid, but Paim has no feelings of envy or resentment towards him.

“Ronaldo? I am happy for him. He was such a great lad, and what a great player he has become. Unlike me, he was very disciplined, ambitious and a hard worker.

“He really grafted and always tuned out complacency. Day by day, he worked his socks off. I didn’t. I didn’t work hard enough to shine.

“People said that I was better than him, even Ronaldo pointed this out one day. The fact that I could have had a similar great career makes me proud.”

Rebel

Paim, who played for all of Portugal’s international age group teams from under-16 to under-21, was the driving force of a breathtaking Sporting Lisbon U21 side which also featured Nani, Joao Moutinho, Ricardo Quaresma and, of course. Ronaldo.

And yet he left Sporting in 2010 without having made a senior appearance. “Do you want to know why? Paulo Bento, the manager at the time, never showed faith in me, he didn’t like me as a person. He thought I was a rebel. Injuries? I wasn’t injured.

“Chelsea, then managed by Felipe Scolari, signed him in 2008 but in a four-month spell he failed to impress”

“I trained with the first team and despite my talent I never played, whereas less gifted players were handed the chance to impress.”

In total, he has turned out for 16 clubs, including ones in Angola, Malta and Qatar. Most recently, he found himself playing in Luxembourg’s second division.

“I might not have been disciplined enough, but honestly I didn’t make the right choices to join some clubs. In many, the managers didn’t trust me and often underestimated me.

“When I played at Torreense [in the second tier in Portugal], I was the best player and had an influential role in helping them seal promotion. But once in the top-flight, the manager discarded me inexplicably.”

Since 2007, he has made just 52 senior appearances, with lacklustre loan spells at seven clubs. However, at one of those he thought his childhood dreams had finally come true.

Chelsea, then managed by Felipe Scolari, signed him in 2008 but in a four-month spell he failed to impress the Brazilian, who he describes as “single-minded, hard, demanding but very lovely off the pitch”.

Resurrect

Maybe that experience at Chelsea is something he will tell his grandkids about one day. Not many people can say they have trained with world-class talents such as Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack and Petr Cech.

Paim reveals how compatriots Ricardo Carvalho, Paulo Ferreira and Jose Bosingwa tried to nurture him on and off the pitch. “They were always there for me. They helped me to settle down a lot, and I’m still in contact with them.”

“Since our interview, Paim has parted company with Union 05. Another chapter in his tale of what might have been…”

Four years earlier, Scolari had been in charge of the Portugal team when he called up Paim to his 30-man squad for Euro 2004.

“I was so honoured by this!” he exclaims. “I was only 17 years old back then, and being considered as one of your country’s 30 best players was incredible. I am so proud, even if didn’t make it to the Euros [as part of the final 23-man squad].”

When we spoke, Paim was hoping to resurrect his fading career at Union 05 Kayl-Tétange in Luxembourg.

“Helping Kayl to promotion is what I am here for. I know the expectations of me are many, but I know how to deal with it.

“I really love being here, unlike some other clubs I played for. Some were a real disgrace. At least I get paid and people have faith in my abilities.

“In Malta for example they didn’t pay me for six months… which was a real shock as I had to feed my family. Here so far, everything is going according to plan and I am really happy.”

Sadly, since our interview, Paim has parted company with Union 05. Another chapter in his sorry tale of what might have been…