Last season, StatsBomb searched for the Under-24 players in Europe that performed the most similarly to Lionel Messi. They picked out Xavi Simons, a graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia, and Burnley’s summer signing Zeki Amdouni.
“Messi is my favourite player,” Amdouni tells Sky Sports tucked away in a small room at Burnley’s training ground.
“To be compared with him is a big deal. He is, as I am, a creative player, always asking for the ball and playing in that false nine, or maybe a No 10 role. This is my style, that creativity.”
When his transfer from FC Basel was announced, Spanish publication Marca published a story with the headline ‘Burnley signs the Swiss Messi’. Such comparisons would have seemed an impossibility just four years earlier when Amdouni was playing in the Swiss fourth division, worlds apart from the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Amdouni, the joint top scorer in last season’s Europa Conference League, has emerged from relative obscurity but is now making his mark at the top level. Despite his form for Basel last season, the 22-year-old is still an unknown for many fans across the UK.
Those with a proclivity for trawling the app formerly known as Twitter will perhaps have spotted him in Teletubbyland over the summer. Burnley’s creative social media team, who are prolific with their transfer announcement videos, revealed Amdouni’s signing with the help of Tinky Winky and the rest of the gang.
Amdouni did not get the Barbie treatment like Aaron Ramsey, but he could become a blockbuster signing for Burnley. His seven goals in the Conference League took Basel to within touching distance of their first European final since 1974 before losing on aggregate deep in stoppage-time of extra-time against Fiorentina in last season’s semi-final second leg.
The forward hit a purple patch after being overlooked for the World Cup by Switzerland. Only Erling Haaland and Gift Orban bettered his tally of 17 goals in 27 games among U23s in club and European competition in that period.
Amdouni is enjoying a smooth transition to life in England. It is his first time playing outside of Switzerland but being surrounded by French speakers has helped him acclimatise. “It has been pretty easy,” he says. “I like the place and I like the people. The only thing I would say is that the weather has been pretty cold.”
The international break denied the Geneva-born forward the chance to bask in a rare September heatwave in the North-West. By the time he was sitting down with Sky Sports ahead of Burnley’s Monday Night Football trip to Nottingham Forest, the more typical grey skies had returned.
Amdouni is yet to bring his goalscoring form of last season to the Premier League. He’s blanked so far starting in Burnley’s three defeats against Man City, Aston Villa and Tottenham. But we saw a glimpse of his talent in the Carabao Cup as he struck late at Forest off the bench to send Burnley into the third round.
This was a perfect example of Amdouni’s nose for a goal. He ghosted into the box late, evading the attention of the Forest defence, before controlling calmly on his chest under pressure and volleying into the back of the net in the 90th minute. Not a bad way to score your first goal for the club, in front of the travelling away fans, too.
They will be hoping for a repeat at the City Ground on Monday night.
Zeki is such a goal threat. The way he can play the final pass creates so many assists and thanks to the work he puts in on the pitch he scores plenty himself. He’s a very intelligent footballer, technically gifted with a great work ethic. He’s a big talent.
It was not always clear Amdouni would reach this point, though. After being released by top-flight Swiss side Servette at the age of 13, he had to take a different path through the lower leagues. “It truly was a test,” he says. The rejection left Amdouni with a renewed sense of determination.
“It hasn’t been easy for me. Being dumped is a big deal when you are a young player. From that point on it became my goal to succeed and I had something to prove. It drove me forward.”
Amdouni spent the next few years at Meyrin, a third-tier club, before finding his feet at Etoile Carouge a step down. They gave him the break he needed to play senior football. He moved up the divisions, playing for Stade Lausanne Ouchy and then Lausanne-Sport – one of the club’s owned by Sir Jim Ratcliffe – before Basel snapped him up on a two-year loan.
Last season’s exploits encouraged Basel to take up their option of making the move permanent for €4m in the summer, a year earlier than required. They knew it was only a matter of time before clubs in Europe would come knocking for their highly-rated forward.
Amdouni never lost belief that he would achieve his dream, even though he did have to take the scenic route. “I can say that even at the hardest points of my journey, I always had a fixed place in the back of my mind that I would make it,” he says. “One way or another I was going to make it as a professional footballer.”
His career trajectory has been sharp over the last 12 months, but the 22-year-old has had to bide his time. “I have always had the qualities that you see today,” he says. “I am the same. But perhaps I have caught up physically and mentally as a player. This less traditional journey has taught me patience more than anything. I had to wait for opportunities to present themselves. If you rush always expecting good things to come quickly, it can be difficult.”
Amdouni’s path to success has given him a sense of perspective, a grounding which has ensured his feet remain firmly on the ground as hype builds around him. Swiss public broadcaster RTS described him as the “X factor” of the national team ahead of the international break just gone. He rejects any suggestion he is Switzerland’s new protagonist.
He said: “There are some great players in the Swiss squad. I have shown some good qualities and put in some good performances, but to say I am a star player for the team, I wouldn’t go that far. There are others among the squad that have much more game experience than I do. The main thing now is to knuckle down and concentrate on improving and see what the future holds.”
The buzz around Amdouni in Switzerland is not without cause. They sit top of qualifying Group I for Euro 2024 largely thanks to his five goals in six games. He is third in the scoring charts, on the same tally as Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane. The next chapter of Amdouni’s underdog story will likely see him pitted against them at Euro 2024.
Watch Nottingham Forest vs Burnley on Monday Night Football, live on Sky Sports Premier League, from 6.30pm; kick-off 7.45pm.