Paderborn may be bottom of the Bundesliga but in Abdelhamid Sabiri they have at least one player who looks destined for the top. The Morocco-born Germany youth international has a thunderbolt of a shot, but that's not all there is to know…
Position: Central midfielder
Country: Germany (U21 cap)/Morocco
Born in the Moroccan Berber city of Goulmima in November 1996, Sabiri moved to Germany with his family when he was three and spent his formative years in Frankfurt. After passing through the youth academies of Koblenz and Darmstadt, it was Sportfreunde Siegen who gave him his senior professional debut in the fifth tier of German football at the age of 19. A promising attacking midfielder who also lined up on the wing, Sabiri scored 18 goals in 30 appearances with the North Rhine-Westphalian club, helping them to promotion to the Regionalliga West.
Bundesliga 2 side Nürnberg had seen enough and signed Sabiri at the end of that season. Initially reluctant to fold him into their first-team picture, Der Club put the youngster into their reserves for the 2016/17 campaign, but after a return of 12 goals in 21 games he was soon promoted to the seniors. Sabiri scored five goals in nine games for the first team at the start of the following campaign before heading off to Huddersfield Town and the English Premier League in 2017.
The midfielder only featured in 13 games across all competitions during his two years in England, but his previous exploits were enough for Stefan Kuntz to hand Sabiri his Germany U21 debut in the summer of 2019. He was given 90 minutes of Die Mannschaft's 2-0 win over the Republic of Ireland at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Italy, holding his own alongside future senior caps Lukas Klostermann, Robin Koch and Luca Waldschmidt, and although Sabiri didn't feature for the remainder of the tournament, he did open his international account last November in a 3-0 win over the Netherlands.
Sabiri has been fashioned into a deeper-lying midfielder under Steffen Baumgart at Paderborn this season, but he has still scored three goals and assisted one more in 16 appearances, seven of which have been starts. Increasingly a first choice in the coach's three-man midfield, Sabiri also wins a one-on-one every four minutes he plays and completes more than 81 per cent of his passes.
Plays a bit like: Marcel Sabitzer
Not many players are deadlier from outside the box than inside it, although in Philippe Coutinho and Raphael Guerreiro the Bundesliga certainly has its share. Sabiri has more than just the first four letters of his surname in common with RB Leipzig's Marcel Sabitzer, though.
Where Bayern Munich star Coutinho uses his guile to carve out chances, Guerreiro tends to race onto them after marauding up Borussia Dortmund's left-hand side. Sabiri - like Leipzig man Sabitzer - relies more on a combination of physicality, technique and timing to find space on the edge of the opposition box. Both Sabis have that rare technique of striking down through the ball with their laces, making it swerve in more than one direction on its way to goal.
Watch: Skip to 00:22 for the pick of Sabiri's goals so far!
His most recent goal - in January's 2-0 win at Freiburg - may have been a penalty, but Eintracht Frankfurt and Fortuna Düsseldorf were previously on the wrong end of long-range thunderbolts that left Felix Wiedwald and Zack Steffen respectively with no chance. What stands out about Sabiri's technique is that he can manipulate his shots in such a way when the ball - and indeed the defenders nearby - are moving. It doesn't need to be a set piece.
Did you know?
Sabiri means patience in Arabic, and young Abdelhamid needed plenty to make it in the game. Whilst many top-flight players have been in the youth academies of professional clubs since they were children or at least young teenagers, it was by chance that Sabiri even made it into the Koblenz set-up when he was 18.
Koblenz, then in the Regionalliga Südwest, were struggling and first-team manager Evangelos Nessos was looking to dip into the youth teams to pad out his squad, but they were also underpopulated, so U19 coach Vincenzo Di Maio cast his net further afield.
"A friend of mine has an academy in Frankfurt for boys from social hotspots," he explained to Goal. "I contacted him because our squad was rather thin and we were looking for players. We wanted to have [Sabiri] and another boy and they were fired up straight away, wanting to take the next step and get out of their little club."
Now a top-flight player, family-man Sabiri gives back to his parents in Frankfurt. "I've paid their rent since I've been a pro," he told SportBild. "My thanks go to them." Despite his belated start, a house of their own might be next on the menu given Sabiri's subsequent trajectory.
What they're saying
"I'm a player who catches the eye. I play football my way. I learned it on the streets playing with my brother and the older kids. I'm not from the most beautiful corner [of Frankfurt] but that shaped me. I wanted to get out of there. I wanted my dreams to come true." - Sabiri on his determination to make it in the game
"His pace with the ball at his feet has always been impressive. He's an absolute street footballer, technically very strong. The way he learned the game, he intuitively does the right thing, especially in the final third." - Koblenz youth coach Di Maio on the player he discovered
"We're very pleased that we were able to persuade Abdelhamid of our vision. He's very fast and with his technical skills and versatility fits perfectly with what we require. The fact that we signed him to a three-year deal shows how interested we are in his long-term development." - Paderborn sporting director Martin Przondziono