Another case of the infamous YouTube clips curse, the name Hachim Mastour was once meant to set the footballing world alight after signing for AC Milan at just 14. But, now 21, the Moroccan – once seen by many as a potential world beater- now rots in Italy’s Serie C with Reggina.
A youngster not living up to the hype isn’t something we haven’t seen before as football fans, but after so much promise, Mastour completely fell off the face of the earth and into the void.
A tricky technician with silky footwork and flashy skills, the Italian-born Moroccan international quickly had eyes on him from a young age after impressing at hometown club AC Reggiana. Inter were first to recognise the talent of Mastour, but Italian rules prevented anyone from signing him at such a young age. Instead, he would represent them in youth tournaments, where his impressive performances garnered interest from Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City, as did viral clips of him showcasing his skills and footwork in viral videos online.
Mastour was seemingly trapped at Reggiana, but wouldn’t be for much longer. In 2012, AC Milan managed to fend off competition from Europe’s elite – and their rivals Inter – snapping him up for a whopping €550,000 fee at just 14 years old. Suddenly, a lot of pressure was on Mastour’s shoulders.
The expectation didn’t stop there, however. Mastour was named as a substitute in Milan’s final game of the 2013/14 Serie A season, when Clarence Seedorf promoted him to the first-team set up at 15 years old. Fifteen.
Despite not actually making his debut, the intentions were clear, and the world was the teenager’s oyster…or so we assumed.
Mastour secured a loan move to La Liga with Malaga CF in 2015, where he was meant to stay for two years. However, it was here that the cracks began to appear.
The teenager would only make one appearance for Malaga in the 2015/16 campaign, a five minute cameo as a substitute. In that same season, Mastour switched allegiances at international level, choosing to represent Morocco and become their youngest debutant ever in June 2015; a cap that remains his only senior appearance. After a year of frustration and reports that a young Mastour lacked depth and didn’t care for the squad, he was back in Italy.
With Milan at a crossroads with their hotly-tipped youngster, Mastour was sent to Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle in 2016, in the hope that the focus on young players in Dutch football would be the perfect place for him to come to terms with the jump up to first-team football.
One year and a handful of uninspiring appearances later however, Mastour was back in Milan. It had become very obvious that he was a supremely talented player with the ball at his feet, but that was it.
Mastour was raved about so ferociously by the footballing world, who had gobbled up YouTube compilations and even a Red Bull advertisement that saw him showcase his skills alongside Neymar, that viewers were blinded by obvious limitations.
In actual fact, he was very much still a child, trying to force his way into an extremely physical game with little playing, and life, experience.
While onlookers can sit and speculate about potential attitude problems or technical limitations such as a lacking end product or level of athleticism, the key thing that crippled Mastour so quickly was a lack of game time.
At no point between 2014 and 2018 – when he was quietly let go by Milan upon the expiry of his contract – did Mastour enjoy an extended spell of regular football at a level that would allow him to develop. He was thrown around various corners of Europe, with Italian media outlets ready and waiting to critique him every time he kicked a ball.
After one largely unsuccessful year in Greece with Lamia, Mastour returned to Italy, two divisions lower than the last time he played in the country. He signed with Serie C side Reggina in late 2019, a humble reset on a career that has been quickly dumped onto the everlasting flame of young footballers who were over-exposed to the man’s game and overhyped by the new era of poisonous YouTube compilations.
No matter how despairing a read it is to look back on the explosive, and admittedly destructive, career of Hachim Mastour, it feels somewhat naive to write him off as a failed talent when he remains just 21 years old. Signed to a three-year-deal in Serie C, this could finally be the extended period he needs to enjoy regular football away from the scrutiny and spotlight of football fans and media outlets.
Only time will tell if those YouTube compilations were correct to have us excited once upon a time.