Tunisia's Yassine Chikhaoui Boost

The talented FC Zurich midfielder has been away from the pitch for over a year with a serious knee injury but looks to be on the path of recovery following a successful procedure to remove excessive scarring by FC Barcelona medical staff.

Later this month, Tunisia’s national team will set forth on their attempt to qualify for their fourth World Cup in a row and fifth in their overall history.

The accomplishment would tie Cameroon’s continental record of consecutive and total qualifications to the event. Until yesterday, it appeared that the Carthage Eagles would have to do without the services of someone who many Tunisians believe is their most valuable element.

The player in question is FC Zurich midfielder Yassine Chikhaoui who has been out of action since March of last year due to an injury to the Patella tendon in his knee.

It is believed that Chikhaoui had been playing with pain in his knee for a significant portion of his young career, but the severity of the injury wasn’t recognized until after he underwent scans following the 2008 African Nations Cup in Ghana. It was there that the 22-year-old played a crucial role in Tunisia’s quarter final versus Cameroon.

The thrilling encounter was arguably the match of the tournament as Cameroon took a quick 2-0 lead, only for Roger Lemerre’s men to level the score through strikes from Chaouki Ben Saada in the 34th minute and Yassine Chikhaoui in the 81st.

The West Africans eventually won the match in extra time but their opponents left with their heads held high; exhibiting a great deal of heart and skill in forcing their way back in to the match when all seemed lost.

Many European scouts had traveled to watch the former Etoile du Sahel standout take part in the competition after his performances at club level reportedly drew interest from Bayern Munich, Arsenal, Juventus and countless others.

Apart from an average outing in the first match of the tournament versus Senegal that was blamed on Lemerre’s insistence on employing him as a center forward, Chikhaoui did not disappoint onlookers in the games that followed, and showcased the astounding technique that had made him the revelation of the Swiss Axpo League in the 2007/2008 season.

The Tunisian sensation took the league by storm after moving from Etoile where he captained the Sousse based side at the tender age of 17, helping them win the 2006/2007 Tunisian league and African Confederations Cup. He scored 8 goals in 18 games for the Swiss club in little more than half a season. The most impressive strike came versus city rivals Zurich Grasshopers.

Chikhaoui scored within 35 seconds of the starting whistle, receiving a pass at the halfway line and weaving through defenders with apparent ease before slotting the ball past the helpless keeper. It didn’t take long for fans of the club to start calling him “Zurich Zidane” and the Swiss and German press followed suit.

The player began amassing admirers within top clubs and even prominent figures such as Jose Mourinho mentioned the player during an interview with Eurosport, when he was discussing Tunisia’s chances of moving past the Indomitable Lions: “Tunisia possesses a player that I appreciate a lot: Yassine Chikhaoui who plays at FC Zurich. He was on the bench during their last match but he has great potential.”

Tunisia has been without their talisman for well over a year and football fans in the country had grown incredibly concerned over the prospect of forever losing a player that seemed destined to shine amongst the brightest stars in Europe. Rumors of the injury being potentially career threatening were confirmed three months ago but that thankfully for Carthage Eagles coach Humberto Coelho, that now looks unlikely.

Coelho has put together a competitive blend of local and foreign based players in his short time at the head of the team but Chikhaoui is considered to be the most talented player of his generation with world class potential. His playmaking ability in midfield and vision are unrivalled amongst his compatriots and his ability to singlehandedly improve the offensive output of the entire team is truly something to behold.

Chikhaoui had previously attempted to return to the pitch in January but experienced pain and fluid accumulation in the knee after every training session. His comeback had been indefinitely put on hold with FC Zurich preferring not to endanger the player’s career (or their financial investment) for short term gain.

However on Saturday, Chikhaoui traveled with a three person delegation for the knee to be examined by FC Barcelona’s medical staff, who have extensive experience with similar cases. As it turns out, the knee is structurally sound and the patella tendon has healed perfectly.

The problem he was suffering from was caused by excess scarring which resulted in a painful nerve irritation. The FC Barcelona medical staff performed a simple procedure they use for such special cases and are reportedly confident that he will soon be fully operational.

While it is unlikely that the midfield maestro will be fit in time to travel to Nairobi for Tunisia’s first World Cup qualifying match on March 28th, it is possible he could return in time to for the rest of the campaign.

His presence on the field of play will come as a huge boost to a Tunisian team desperately in search of a leader to guide them past their group opponents.

The player once mentioned that moving to Barcelona would be a dream, however it is unlikely that he ever thought he’d be visiting the club in a medical capacity.

The fate of the country’s qualifying hopes surely does not rest on his shoulders alone but the subject of his future availability will weigh heavily on the minds of all Tunisian football fans that consider him to be the first player to emerge from the country with a legitimate chance to become a star in Europe.

Rami Ayari, Goal.com