Sofyan Amrabat has grown used to waiting this season: first for a move to Manchester United and then for his debut.
While United pursued their main summer targets and picked them off one by one – Mason Mount followed by Andre Onana and Rasmus Hojlund – Amrabat waited patiently in Italy and prepared for the new season with Fiorentina.
Possible moves away from Florence came and went, most notably a switch to Liverpool. Mail Sport revealed that it was hours away when a late hitch led to Jurgen Klopp signing Ryan Gravenberch instead.
United’s interest remained but the club had to shift players out before making their move for Amrabat after exhausting a tight budget with the £180million spent on Mount, Onana and Hojlund.
Eventually the Amrabat deal went through on deadline day at the start of this month after United agreed to pay Fiorentina £8.5million to loan the midfielder for the rest of the season with an option to buy him next summer for £21.4m.
‘After the last game with Fiorentina – the Europa Conference League final with West Ham – from that moment the window started for me,’ says Amrabat who was a standout player in Morocco’s fairytale run to the World Cup semi-finals in December.
‘There were a lot of clubs, a lot of speaking, talking, but for me it was clear I wanted Manchester United.
‘It was long, long months for me, very difficult months. But in the end it was nice on the last day that I signed here, and that I’m here is now the most important.’
Amrabat arrived with an injury which forced him to pull out of the Morocco squad. More waiting. He could only watch from the sidelines as his new team suffered three defeats in a row at the hands of Arsenal, Brighton and Bayern Munich.
The 27-year-old’s patience finally paid off when he made his debut as a late substitute at Burnley on Saturday before getting his first start and playing for an hour in Tuesday’s Carabao Cup tie against Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
It may only be a coincidence that United won both games, but already Amrabat Is showing signs that he can every bit as important to Ten Hag as the club’s three marquee signings.
United needed a defensive midfield partner for Casemiro this summer and the move for Mount raised eyebrows in some quarters. The former Chelsea man is more effective in advanced areas of the pitch, as he showed again in the 3-0 win over Palace when he had a hand in the first two goals.
Ten Hag started with a 4-1-4-1 formation with Casemiro screening the back-four on his own, having used Mount, Christian Eriksen, Scott McTominay and the promising Hannibal Mejbri in a pivot alongside the Brazilian so far this season, with varying degrees of success.
It’s the man he describes as ‘a warrior’ who may well emerge to be the ideal midfield foil for Casemiro.
‘When I step on the pitch, for me it’s normal that you give everything, that you fight for every metre and give your all for the team,’ said Amrabat when told of his manager’s comment.
‘Of course, you can make technical mistakes, everyone can have a bad game. But the most important is you fight for the badge, for the club – that’s the minimum you can do. The manager knows me very well, I know what he wants and I try to do that.
‘Casemiro is a fantastic player, maybe one of the best midfielders in his position, so it’s nice to play next to him. But we have a lot of quality, a lot of good other midfielders.’
Curiously, Amrabat’s first start came at left-back against Palace. Ten Hag remembered that he could fill in there from their time together in Holland, and the player was happy to help out.
‘It was with the manager seven years ago at Utrecht,’ Amrabat recalled. ‘I was 19 or 20-years-old and he asked me to play there and I did it, so he knew I could play there.
‘But, of course, I’m a midfielder. I said before to him, I play where the team needs me. If it’s left-back, it’s left-back.’
Amrabat popped up all over the pitch. At one point in the first half, he was on the right touchline while Mejbri filled in at left-back. After Mount was withdrawn at half-time, Amrabat moved into midfield to play alongside Casemiro and immediately looked at home until he came off in the 61st minute.
‘It was from the first second to the last minute, for me 60 minutes, amazing,’ he added. ‘It was Tuesday and the stadium was full, it’s fantastic.
‘I’m fit, but not 100 per cent yet. I didn’t have a perfect pre-season because of the transfer, but I’m working very hard now to get there. This game was good for me, the next step, and I hope to continue like this. I’ll do everything to be 100 per cent as soon as possible.
‘I think we’ve been a bit unlucky with injuries. For every team it’s difficult if you have a lot of injuries. I see a lot of quality, we have a fantastic coach, fantastic fans, so I believe we can do something big.’
It will be intriguing to see who Ten Hag picks to play alongside Casemiro when Palace return to Old Trafford in the Premier League on Saturday.
If it’s Amrabat, he is ready to take his chance. If not, he will have to wait again. His patience has already paid off at United, and he is not getting too far ahead of himself even though it’s clear he would like to make the move permanent.
‘I don’t think about that,’ he said. ‘For me, today, I am a Manchester United player. The only thing I can do is give everything that I have to do my best to try to help the team.
‘I hope we have a fantastic season. I hope we can win something, and then later we will see what will happen.
‘Of course, I would love to stay here, but I don’t look too far in the future.’