Get involved: send your pictures, video, news and views by texting WO to 80360, or email us
An insight into new Watford signing and Algeria international Essaid Belkalem
7:00am Thursday 22nd August 2013 in Sport
The Hornets confirmed the loan signing of Algerian international Essaïd Belkalem last week but very little is known about the 24-year-old in this country.
Belkalem, who Watford signed on loan from Granada with the option to buy, has spent the past five seasons playing for JS Kabylie in the Algerian top flight and featured for his country at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. But what is he like as a player and a person? And will he be a success in England?
We asked Walid Zekaoui and Maher Mezahi from the Algerian football website DZfoot.com to answer those questions and provide some insight into the Hornets’ latest recruit.
Essaid Belkalem has an ambitious personality and is not easily deterred by pesky obstacles that might scare off one of normal temperament.
On the field, Essaid Belkalem has the invaluable trait of contributing at both ends of the pitch. The towering centre-half has scored his fair share of headed goals, his most notable coming in the group stage of the 2010 CAF Champions League against Egyptian giants Ismaily, and we expect his heading ability to be of particular value in the Championship where goals often come from set pieces. Belkalem has also dispatched a handful of penalty kicks for Algeria’s Under-23 national team.
Defensively, Watford have acquired an aerial colossus and not much gets past the 24-year-old in the air standing at an intimidating 6ft 4in.
Where Belkalem might be said to have a weakness is in his distribution which at times can be suspect as he does not have the most pristine passing percentage. Although he’s not slow, he’s not the quickest defender either. In essence, his skill set can be said to suit the rough and tumble Championship more than the arguably more technical football you may find in La Liga for example.
Despite his quick rise to stardom, Belkalem has remained humble through the years.
Years ago, a colleague covered a training camp for Algeria’s Under-23s in the capital Algiers.
After the final day of training, all the players had a friend or family member waiting outside the stadium to pick them up; everyone, but Belkalem that is.
My colleague approached the big defender and asked him where he was going. Belkalem, boots in hand and sandals on his feet, shyly told him he was going to catch the bus to make the 120 kilometres trip back home to Tizi Ouzou. That kind of humility has undoubtedly contributed to his success as a footballer, allowing him to blossom into one of Algeria’s best defenders in recent years.
This past season, Belkalem made 22 league appearances for JS Kabylie in the Algerian Ligue Professionnelle 1, chipping in with two goals.
After a long season, Belkalem was called up in June by Algeria coach Vahid Halilhodžic for an important pair of qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup on the road against Benin and Rwanda. Immediately after returning from international duty, he signed a four-year contract with Serie A club Udinese.
Instead of taking a well-deserved summer break to prepare for the upcoming season, he accepted a call-up to the Algerian National Military team for the 2013 World Military Cup in Azerbaijan, another symbol of his willingness to make sacrifices for the greater good.
Overall, Essaïd Belkalem has all the tools to succeed at Vicarage Road, especially under the tutelage of a manager with the wealth of experience of Gianfranco Zola.
He is an extremely bright individual and English is his fourth language. He is both humble and ambitious. Though he may initially seem quiet and reserved, he often embeds himself quickly into his surroundings and begins to contribute.
If Zola plans on playing him in a 3-5-2 formation then he will have no problems as it’s a system he is already familiar with.
His experience at the continental level with Algeria and his former club JS Kabylie means Watford are getting a polished African export. He is as ready to contribute as they come, all he needs now is game time.
Who knows, maybe he’ll help guide the Hornets back to the Premier League like another Algerian did a few years ago, when a certain Hameur Bouazza featured prominently.
We would like to thank Walid and Maher for their time and insight. DZfoot.com have an English-language site which you can visit by clicking here.
This article was first published in last Friday's Watford Observer.
Comments are closed on this article.