Back at FC Utrecht, Labyad is almost back to his old self: ‘Just a few more percent’
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He was the last to gift FC Utrecht a European win, with his winning goal in the 2017 Europa League match against Zenit St. Petersburg. Zakaria Labyad is back in his hometown. And that raises expectations.
It should, Labyad believes. Although a knee injury kept him off the field for a long time, he is almost back to his old self. “I’m still a few percent off that,” he said.
History repeats itself
History repeats itself a bit for 29-year-old Labyad, who previously revived his career under coach Erik ten Hag (2016-2018) on the familiar ground of his hometown. He earned a million-dollar transfer to Ajax, the club that did not renew his expiring contract.
“I mainly have a desire to prove myself,” Labyad said on the eve of his return to the fields. “I am now looking forward to the first minutes in a full stadium.”
The game with Sparta Rotterdam came a little too soon on Friday, more than ten months after he suffered a serious knee injury at Ajax. Tuesday awaits Spakenburg in the quarterfinals of the KNVB Cup, Friday Fortuna Sittard visits the number seven in the premier league.
Although he signed a one-and-a-half-year contract only last week, with an option for another season, Labyad already stepped in during the final months of his rehabilitation.
“Even though I wasn’t training with the group, I was already at the trainer’s meetings with the team,” the attacking midfielder recounted. “I found that interesting. Actually, that put me one step ahead.”
Labyad immediately felt mutual appreciation, reason for him not to choose a foreign adventure. “The group also wanted me to be there. They also included me in all the processes. It gives a warm feeling to be back.”
He could also have gone to Italy, the lure from a major league certainly made him hesitate. “It was incredibly difficult. As a footballer you want to experience things, for example a new culture. The confidence they have in me here and I in Utrecht was the deciding factor.”
Coach Michael Silberbauer watched it all from a distance and gave Labyad plenty of room to integrate into the group. “He was there often. Hopefully he has already picked up some of it,” he refers to the tactical discussions.
As much as Labyad wants to, Silberbauer wants to bring him carefully. Partly because of that, he was also missing from the form on Friday. “In training we could also see that he is a good player. But he has been out for a long time so he still needs some time.”