In January 2019, Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven took on FC Groningen. In the final minutes of the match, PSV, fighting for back-to-back Eredivisie titles, made an unusual substitution: despite leading by just one goal, they subbed off Uruguayan international Gastón Pereiro for a 16-year-old attacking midfielder. His name was Mohamed Ihattaren.
Over the next few months, Ihattaren’s stock rose rapidly. By the end of the season, he had made 12 appearances, earning frequent praise from manager Mark van Bommel. He got off to a red-hot start the following season, with four goal contributions in his first four Eredivisie games and two assists in his Europa League debut. In December, he became PSV’s youngest-ever goalscorer in Europa League. The club’s prior record holder? Ronaldo Nazário.
In his first full season, Ihattaren scored seven goals and assisted nine. Clubs around the world were interested in the 18-year-old, and transfer site Transfermarkt.com valued him at €22.00 million. He became the latest client of arguably the most successful agent in history, Mino Raiola.
In September 2020, Ihattaren was even called up to the Dutch national team, although he remained on the bench in Nations League matches against Poland and Italy. However, off the field, he was having problems.
In October 2019, Ihattaren’s father died. The young midfielder later admitted that the loss of his father affected him badly, causing him to struggle with his mental health. Soon, Ihattaren started to cause problems for PSV — manager Roger Schmidt frequently called him out for his lack of professionalism, and he was regularly dropped from the squad. He played 1000 fewer minutes in the 2020/21 season than in 2019/20.
In July 2021, the situation deteriorated further after Ihattaren was spotted at the training ground of French club OGC Nice with agent Raiola despite still being under contract with PSV. Furious, PSV announced that he was done with the club and was training individually. One month later, he joined Italian giants Juventus for a reported €1.90 million.
Ihattaren joined Sampdoria on loan immediately in order to get minutes in the Serie A. However, after three months with the club, agent Raiola announced Ihattaren was considering retirement. Sampdoria refused to play the Dutchman, reportedly unhappy with his attitude and his frequent trips away from Genoa. In January 2022, he terminated his loan early after zero appearances with the club.
Ihattaren then made a surprising move, returning to the Netherlands with Ajax Amsterdam. Ajax paid all of his wages and had a €2 million option to buy, and it seemed like a smart move. However, manager Erik ten Hag was less than happy with his physical condition, and Ihattaren was demoted to the Ajax reserves.
After some decent appearances for the Ajax reserves, Ihattaren debuted for the senior team in a KNVB Cup final loss to his former club PSV. Shortly after, he returned to the reserves, scoring a hat trick against VVV-Venlo. However, the off-the-field issues continued to follow him.
Ihattaren grew up in Kanaleneiland, a problematic district of Utrecht. He was accused of having connections with the Mocro Maffia, and a criminal was reportedly spotted in his car in August. One month later, in September 2022, his Porsche Panamera was set on fire — with many believing it was arson.
Further mafia links started to appear, and everything collapsed. Ajax announced he wouldn’t join the club permanently, and, in December 2022 he left — having played a total of four minutes with the first team. Juventus started to look for a way out, and, after several months without minutes in Turin, his contract was terminated in July.
Remarkably, Ihattaren was given yet another chance to prove himself when the recently promoted Turkish club Samsunspor came calling. Now 21, Ihattaren was pictured in the club’s scarf and filmed with the club’s fans, and a move seemed inevitable — until Samsunspor pulled out. The club said he “tried to change the terms of the deal with unacceptable requests,” according to transfer expert Fabrizio Romano. Now, it’s back to square one for the former wonderkid.