Name: Baghdad Bounedjah
Club: ES Sahel
It is said that new managers bring new perspectives. In 2011, Halilhodzic claimed that he found a diamond playing under Algerian noses in the domestic league and no one was talking about the precocious talent. His claim was met with incredulous scepticism; surely this foreign coach was not going to educate us about local players?
Halilhodzic refused to disclose the name of the striker he had scouted, until training camp kicked off. Sure enough, no one recognized the new kid on the block. Baghdad Bounedjah was the player Halilhodzic had his eye on, and, at the time, he was only 19 years of age, getting occasional game time for USM El Harrach.
Bounedjah did not do enough to impress during camp to receive his first call-up, but his career has embarked on an upward trajectory since. He would spend the following two years as the starting striker for USMH. At the time of his departure, Baghdad Bounedjah was undoubtedly the best Algerian striker in the league. Modest French clubs were interested in capturing his services, but it was in Tunisia were he was really a hot commodity. African powerhouse ES Tunis and their rivals ES Sahel both made their interest known, and Bounedjah chose ESS on the basis of more playing time.
At the time of writing, he appears to have made the correct choice, as Baghdad Bounedjah is Tunisia’s leading goalscorer. The ES Sahel striker has racked up 12 goals in 14 appearances; a total that is weakened by the fact that he was suspended for 6 matches for a distasteful celebration.
The next step for Bounedjah is to win his first international cap. Though his form shows that he deserves the recognition, the Oran native is in heavy competition for Algeria’s striker roster positions. Islam Slimani is the country’s incontestable striker as he is in great form with both club and country. In reserve, Halilhodzic is able to call on Porto’s Nabil Ghilas, Inter’s Ishak Belfodil or Nottingham Forest’s Rafik Djebbour. Each older than the inexperienced Bounedjah.
But if he continues to find the mark the way he has, then a move to Europe and a national team call-up should be on the cards in the near future.