By Stefan Coerts
The Eredivisie has proven to be fertile hunting ground over the years, with Premier League stars such as Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen all plying their trade in the Dutch top flight before making the move to England. It is therefore little surprise that clubs from the Netherlands regularly welcome scouts from Europe's finest and AZ's AFAS Stadium in particular has been a popular destination in recent months.
The Alkmaar outfit have in recent seasons lost some high-profile names, like Mounir El Hamdaoui, Jeremain Lens, Ahmed Musa and Rasmus Elm, and once again have several interesting players on show this year. Oranje international Nick Viergever has attracted the interest of a number of bigger clubs, while Jozy Altidore's good performances this term have not gone unnoticed either. However, the club's undisputed star player is arguably attacking midfielder Adam Maher.
|FACTFILE | Adam Maher|
Attributes: Passing, vision, technique
|Height||Club||Weight||Place of Birth||Former clubs|
|1.74 m||AZ||76 kg||Ait Ikou, Morocco||Diemen, Zeeburgia|
The 19-year-old started his football career with amateur side Zeeburgia and quickly caught the attention of scouts from the professional clubs in the area. However, although Zeeburgia are located barely 10 kilometres from Ajax's Amsterdam ArenA, Maher did not leave for the reigning Eredivisie champions but joined the AZ youth academy instead at the tender age of 11.
Maher has since had little trouble making a name for himself and clubs like Manchester City, AC Milan and Lyon have all attempted to lure him away from AZ before he had even made his first-team debut. The youngster did not get carried away, though, and realised that the Alkmaar side could offer him something none of the aforementioned clubs could: a shot at first-team football at a young age.
Only months after turning 17, Maher made his official debut in the 3-0 Europa League win over BATE Borisov, netting his first goal for the club only 15 minutes after coming off the bench.
The midfielder's career has gone steeply uphill since, developing into one of the rising stars of Dutch football. An impressive 2011-12 campaign earned him one of the highlights of his career so far, his first full international cap in a 2012 friendly against Belgium. Maher now has three Oranje appearances to his name, his recent display against Italy suggesting that the youngster is here to stay.
His rise to prominence has resulted in the interest of Dutch giants Ajax and PSV, who are both keen to add the midfielder to their respective squads. Even though Maher himself has already expressed his interest in a move to one of AZ's domestic rivals, head coach Gertjan Verbeek has a different future in mind for his star player.
|"I think Arsenal are a perfect club for him. He can get the most out of himself at Arsenal with Arsene Wenger, who worked with young talents like him before"
- Gertjan Verbeek on Adam Maher
"I think Arsenal are a perfect club for him. He can get the most out of himself at Arsenal with Arsene Wenger, who worked with young talents like him before," Verbeek told Studio Voetbal. "Look at Robin van Persie, he joined Arsenal at a young age and look what he achieved."
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However, what he lacks in physique, he more than makes up for in other areas of his game.
Like accomplished stars such as Juan Mata, David Silva and Santi Cazorla, Maher's game is based largely around his technical abilities. The youngster has a superb eye for the killer pass, the passing skills to make perfect use of his vision and always remains calm on the ball as he exquisitely moves between the lines. His close control is a joy to watch, while his willingness to track back if needed makes him a dream player for any coach.
Still, Maher is not the finished article just yet and there is plenty of room for improvement. For a player with his qualities, the midfielder should be much more decisive for his team. He has scored a meagre 10 goals in 57 Eredivisie appearances, a goals-to-games ratio upon which he will have to improve if he is to make it at the highest level.
There is little doubt about his immense potential, though, and Maher could prove to be an inspired signing should he find his way to the Premier League this summer.
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