Noussair Mazraoui: Moroccan set for new chapter at Bayern Munich after 16 years at Ajax

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Morocco's Noussair Mazraoui with the Eredivisie trophyNoussair Mazraoui help Ajax win the Eredivisie title this season

On 11 May at the Johan Cruyff Arena, Dutch giants Ajax celebrated another landmark - their third Eredivisie title in a row and their 36th domestic league crown overall.

Taking it all in, for the last time, was one of the men who has played a key role in that recent success - 24-year-old Morocco international Noussair Mazraoui.

When he was substituted with 30 minutes remaining of their penultimate game of the season Mazraoui was given a standing ovation by fans.

Along with coach Erik ten Hag the Moroccan was taking his leave of Amsterdam, as he prepares to start a new footballing chapter at Bayern Munich.

It was an emotional moment for a player who has spent all but eight years of his life with four-time European champions Ajax.

"I hadn't expected to get such an ovation," he told Dutch broadcaster NOS.external-link

"It makes it even more beautiful. I want to say one thing to the fans: 'I love you all'."

As had been heavily rumoured Mazraoui joined German powerhouse Bayern soon after the end of the Dutch season, and a move to Bavaria will propel him further into the European spotlight.

With his dispute with Morocco coach Vahid Halilhodzic settled, the defender is back in the Atlas Lions squad and set to feature at the World Cup later this year.

'Not the best' youngster but committed

Noussair Mazraoui in action for AjaxMazraoui scored 10 goals in 136 appearances in all competitions for Ajax

According to those who have watched him over the years, Mazraoui's strength of character, combined with his technical skill and work ethic, are what made him a success at Ajax, and a target for a some of the world's biggest clubs.

Freek Jansen, the editor of Dutch magazine Voetbal International, has followed the Moroccan's career from the beginning and spoke to him for a farewell interview - going through 12 images telling his storyexternal-link at the Cruyff Arena, with that number selected to reflect his squad number.

He told BBC Sport Africa that Mazraoui's commitment had shown since he joined the youth set-up at De Toekomst ('The Future' - the name of the Ajax training ground) as an eight-year-old.

"He was not one of the best players in the youth," Jansen says.

"Every year the coaches would say 'maybe it's better if he goes to another club', but every season he [remained] an Ajax player. He had to work, work, work. He's a player with a great mentality."

His chance to shine, says Jansen, came in 2018, when the then relatively new coach ten Hag started playing Mazraoui as a right-back instead of a right-sided midfielder.

"That was a big surprise for everyone, including Noussair himself! In that season, 2018-19, a big season from Ajax in the Champions League, he was the biggest surprise," Jansen added.

Mazraoui's skills allowed him to fit into the dynamic, exciting team ten Hag developed, helping them to within a few seconds of a place in the Champions League final that season.

An Ajax product

Morocco's Noussair MazraouiMazraoui has been part of the Ajax set-up since the age of eight and played for their youth teams before progressing to the senior side

Further continental adventures came in the seasons that followed, along with sustained domestic success.

"I think he's a product of the Ajax style," says Jansen.

"The Ajax style is that a defender makes a lot of offensive actions and that's the style of Mazraoui. He can attack, defend, [he has] a lot of technical skills."

At the end of this season, broadcaster NOS gave him eight out of 10 for his performances and talked about his "tremendous urge to go forward".

He was, they said, an "essential link in Ajax's attacking game".

His departure leaves a big hole in the squad for new Ajax coach Alfred Schroeder to fill.

But for Mazraoui, the future is in Germany. It is a major step for a man who has played almost his entire life for one club, but Jansen is confident he will cope well with the transformation.

"I spoke with him about it, and he said 'OK, it's my big adventure, because Ajax is my home, so I'm stepping out of my comfort zone, I will go to one of the biggest competitions in the world, one of the biggest clubs in the world'," Jansen said.

"But he also said 'I am a football player and I want to reach the top level'.

"With Ajax he has a lot of trophies, a lot of championships, but now Bayern Munich is a new challenge for him to improve his skills, but also to let the world see that he's a very big player."

Bayern and Qatar beckon

Noussair Mazraoui in action for MoroccoMazraoui played for Morocco at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations finals but missed the 2021 edition

That chance could also come in Qatar later this year, after his reported rapprochementexternal-link with Morocco coach Halilhodzic ended a dispute which dated back 18 months.

As the son of Moroccan parents, growing up in the Netherlands, Mazraoui could have played for either country, but chose Morocco after call-ups to their youth set-up.

"He's very proud to be a Moroccan player," Jansen says.

It will, though, be his club performances which are likely to make the biggest impact on his reputation in the coming months, as he launches his career in the Bundesliga.

There had been reported interest in the Moroccan from both Arsenal and Barcelona, amongst others, but Jansen says it was Bayern's approach - with a clear plan for the player's development - which attracts the right-back most.

Mazraoui's move to Bayern came without a transfer fee as he was a free agent.

That is the one regret that Ajax have over the departure of a player who the Amsterdammers have nurtured from a young age, according to Jansen, but their overwhelming reaction to his move is positive.

"They're very proud, and the fans are very proud. It's a special story about his growth - they know he wasn't one of the biggest talents [when he was younger], so he had to prove himself a lot."

He will have to do that once again when he joins Bayern, but on and off the pitch Mazraoui seems well equipped to take that next step.

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