The Curious Case of Nassim Akrour

In recent decades, most physically demanding sport fields are increasing their emphasis on the longevity of their athletes’ professional career. Longevity, which generally relates to life expectancy, is also used in sports terminology to determine the career length of an athlete; doctors, teams and the players themselves monitor whether one can keep up with a healthy professional lifestyle and compete with the high mental and physical demands of his sport. As human technology and knowledge continue to grow, it is therefore not surprising to see that pro athletes are competing at a high level at older ages than we have used to see in the past. Within the football world, it is easy to think of Japanese legend Kazuyoshi Miura still plays professionally at the age of 52, while Israeli Yitzhak Hayk has recently broken the Guinness World Record by playing a match at the age of 73.

Some players decide to give up on their professional status, focus on new life directions and spend time with the family but are still passionate about playing football and are just pretty darn good at it. Meet Nassim Akrour, who at the age of 44 is still one of the deadliest strikers in the French lower leagues. Playing for FC Annecy from the National 2 (4th tier of French football), he fought with his team for promotion and finished third in the league’s Group A top goalscoring list with 12 goals, ahead of some players who are half his age. Oh, by the way, he is also three years the senior of his coach — however, more on that in a moment.

Akrour’s career path is rather unusual and exciting, and spans over 20 years full of ups and downs, as he is a typecast “late bloomer”. Born in 1974 in the Parisian suburb of Courbevoie, Akrour turned professional only in the age of 26 after signing with 3rd division side FC Istres, following years of bouncing around, even ending up in the English lower leagues. “I went on vacation to my uncle and stayed in the country. I had decided to go abroad, to discover another culture. It was an exceptional adventure, during which I had much fun”, he reminisced about his time in the UK. Playing for Woking and Sutton United, he scored 31 goals in three seasons, although admitting that he didn’t adapt to the famous local style of football: “The football was based on long balls. We did not see any action built from the goalkeeper, or passing on the ground, and also there was not a developed foreign player market as it is these days”. Back in France, Akrour experienced the joy of promotion to the second division in his first year with Istres in 2000-01 and has received the opportunity to represent Algeria on the international level, while participating and scoring in the 2002 Africa Cup of Nations. His main accomplishments in club level came in the colours of Grenoble Foot 38, where he is still the team’s most capped player and top scorer in history with 110 goals in 312 games. He is also the top scorer in Istres’ history - netting 73 times. In Grenoble, he crossed paths with another relative late bloomer, Olivier Giroud, and kept him on the bench. Akrour enjoyed two years of top-flight football in the Alpes while netting a few screamers: Such as this one vs Rennes in the first home game of the season, or this one that beat PSG in the Parc des Princes – arguably his career highlight and the biggest win in team history. Keep this fact in mind: Even ten years ago while playing in Ligue 1, Akrour was one of the oldest goalscorers in the league!

However, Grenoble was relegated one season later and suffered from extensive financial problems that led to bankruptcy in 2011 and eventually the recreation of the team in the 5th division. After another productive stint with Istres, Akrour decided to give up his professional status in 2013 for his beloved Grenoble and rejoined the club in the 4th division, and then moving to Annecy in 2016. Now in his 6th season in the National 2, Akrour produces an amazing stat sheet for a striker well into his forties: He scored in double-digits every season, as well as being the top scorer of his club in all but one season (where he was joint top scorer, mind you). In total, he amassed 78 goals in 153 games.

Yet, remarkably, Akrour and his teams never won promotion -  while missing out on this feat regularly by one spot and suffer heartbreak on the last game day. Not once, not twice, but in 4 out of the previous five seasons Akrour’s team had a mathematic chance to qualify on the last matchday, but didn’t gain the necessary stroke of luck. Even during his semi-retirement, nothing comes easy for the Algerian. Unfortunately, the 2018-2019 season was not different like the previous seasons. Annecy made a 1-1 draw in the last weekend against Grasse and missed the promotion once again, this time on the second to last match.

The town of Annecy, located nearby the Swiss border and the city of Geneva, has not experienced professional football from their local team since the early 1990s and will hope maybe the next year will be theirs. Perhaps this sort of success will lead to a process of re-professionalisation for the club, but the fascinating storyline will be that of Nassim Akrour – will he, just maybe, give the higher divisions another shot in the age of 45?