Has FC Porto talisman Yacine Brahimi outgrown Portugal?

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The Algeria international finally tasted league success last year, but is there something more for him out there?

Every season, FC Porto will compete in the Uefa Champions League. They will win the Portuguese Primeira Liga, or finish in second place at the worst; any other outcome is a major disaster and a failure, almost certainly culminating in swift unemployment for the manager.

Safe to say then that life has, over the last four years, taken on a very familiar feel for Yacine Brahimi. A dragon since joining from Granada in 2014, the Algeria international is now, at 29, a veritable veteran of the club.

So, what’s not to like about an African footballer who has been relevant in Europe’s premier club competition past the group stage in three of the last four seasons?

Well, the very economic reality of modern football!

Portugal, in the European hierarchy of leagues, is ranked (just) outside of the top five leagues: Spain, England, Germany, Italy and France. These leagues have the most influence, can pay higher wages on average, and are considered the playgrounds for the world’s most elite footballers.

FC Porto AS Monaco UEFA Champions League 06122017

It is a slightly insensitive truth, but leagues below that top stratum are considered stop-overs, waiting areas that exist to 'hold' talent until it proves itself worthy enough to be snapped up by its bigger, glitzier cousins. Stay there too long, and the perception is that you are not good enough.

It is a ludicrous verdict to reach concerning Brahimi who, in this season’s Champions League, is averaging 3.7 dribbles per 90 minutes. For context, that’s more than the likes of Lionel Messi, Raheem Sterling, Kylian Mbappe and Christian Pulisic; it is second only to Neymar. Clearly, there is no quality deficit.

However ludicrous it manifestly is, that perception persists, and is only perpetuated by the relative lack of visibility of the Primeira Liga.

There just is not as much attention paid to it, and so if Brahimi was to dribble half the length of the pitch, pirouette past the advancing goalkeeper, flick the ball up and then execute an ostentatious half-volley rabona, and no one was there to see it, did it really happen?

Yacine Brahimi Porto

Granted, that is a stretch; the video of said goal would no doubt be shared across the internet to a chorus of gasps and guffaws, and then be swiftly forgotten in an hour.

The rapidly shrinking attention span of the modern youth, yes, but also, one-off wonder goals do not hold the same thrall value as a consistent body of work, both in terms of performance and in terms of success.

In that sense, Brahimi is slightly unfortunate.

His arrival in Portugal coincided with the beginning Porto’s longest league title drought since 1984/85. Os Dragoes went five years without the title, the Algerian present for four, no manager (bar Julen Lopetegui) lasting longer than one.

So much upheaval and so little success has perhaps seen the Paris-born winger tainted by association, but even through a more objective prism, he has never quite dominated the league.

Yacine Brahimi

There is also an argument that, by sticking around for so long, even if only to deliver once more a long-awaited title last season, Portugal has become Brahimi’s comfort zone.

Wresting back top dog status was, by no means, an easy task, but was it a challenge worth giving his absolute prime years for?

Was it mutually nourishing for both parties – not just the club, but for the player himself?

His direct goal contribution numbers over his time at Porto read: 23 goals and assists in 42 matches (all competitions), 19 in 44, 11 in 31, 22 in 49. It would seem to indicate that, bar a dip in 2016/17, his output has stayed largely the same in that tenure. It does not paint a portrait of marked growth; Portugal has not quite taken him up a gear.

Yacine Brahimi

That leads to two possible conclusions.

This is either as good as Brahimi is ever going to be – he is, after all, almost 30 – or a stronger league (there is reported interest from the Premier League) could challenge him in such a way that an even higher level can be unlocked.

These are, objectively speaking, the two ends of a rapidly narrowing spectrum, with the truth perched somewhere in the middle.

With his contract set to expire at the end of the current season, Everton, Newcastle United and Watford monitoring the situation, and no renewal agreed, the wily winger stands at an important juncture.

Is there more to look forward to beyond the horizon?

There really is only one way to find out.

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