‘I just love playing’ – 48-year-old Algerian back on French football’s biggest stage |21 January 2023
By Maher Mezahi, BBC Africa
The man thought to be the oldest outfield player in a major European league system is lacing up his boots for one of the biggest games of his (very) long career.
Because, even at the age of 48, Nassim Akrour is still finding ways to make an impact.
On January 8, the striker, who plies his trade for Chambery Savoie Football in the fifth tier of French football, made a substitute appearance in a French Cup tie at fourth-tier Aubagne.
Five minutes into his cameo, he sprinted down the touchline and served up a perfect pass for fellow striker Jordan Scarantino to shoot Chambery into a decisive 3-1 lead.
That victory set up a last-32 clash with five-time winners and regular Uefa Champions League contenders Olympique Lyonnais on 21 January.
"I played in Ligue 1, but for a lot of the younger kids playing against a Ligue 1 side is new so there's a lot of euphoria and everyone is happy to prepare for this match," the former Algeria international told BBC Sport Africa.
"The Coupe de France is beautiful."
"It gives you the possibility of winning a trophy and playing in the Stade de France, and I can attest to the emotion that it gives supporters, a city, players and families."
A mainstay of French football
Although he played only three seasons France's top division, Ligue 1, Akrour is well known across the French football landscape.
He holds the rare distinction of being the all-time top goalscorer for two separate clubs: FC Istres and Grenoble Foot 38.
He has also appeared in all of France's top five divisions - a feat he never thought would be possible when he first began playing football for fun with friends in the 1980s.
45-year-old Nassim Akrour scores on his Chambery debut
"Football was very different at the time. Infrastructure was old, things have changed, it's been decades…"
"I started in the French third division and then I went to England to play non-league football because my uncle and aunt lived there.
"I joined Sutton United, on the outskirts of London, and then I switched to Woking FC and it was great for three years."
Upon returning to France, Akrour quickly moved up the ranks with Troyes, breaking into Ligue 1 in 2002-2003.
Nassim Akrour playing for Algeria
Nassim Akrour made 18 appearances for Algeria between 2001 and 2004, scoring six goals and playing at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations.
Successive promotions won him his first caps with Algeria, a mix of highs and lows.
"At the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations, we lost 3-1 to Morocco after scoring a go-ahead goal in the 90th minute. It was disappointing," he recalls.
"Yet the worst moments of my career were always when a club I played for was relegated. That is the worst feeling in football."
Playing with Giroud and Regragui
Over the years, Akrour has seen former contemporaries go on to accomplish great things.
Olivier Giroud and Walid Regragui are just two names that Akrour shared the pitch with during his time at Grenoble during the 2007-2008 season.
France forward Giroud, now his country's record international goalscorer, and Morocco head coach Regragui made headlines when they faced each other in the semi-finals of last year's World Cup in Qatar, sharing a warm embrace after the match.
"I remember Olivier and Walid very, very well," said Akrour excitedly.
"At the time, Olivier was a young player and had come into the group and showed a lot of enthusiasm. His success boils down to all the hard work he put into it.
"As for Walid, he had a great footballing career and now he's doing so well as a coach."
Nassim Akrour playing for Grenoble
Nassim Akrour spent six years at Grenoble between 2004 and 2010, playing alongside the likes of Olivier Giroud and Walid Regragui.
Other former teammates, such as Djamel Belmadi and David Guion, now in charge of Algeria and Bordeaux respectively, have moved on to high-level management while Mali's Brahim Thiam has carved out a place for himself on television.
But as far as Akrour is concerned, it's all about being on the pitch - even if he is coming up against players almost a third of his age.
"My teammates tease me but it's nothing serious," he revealed.
"No opposing players have ever said anything to me. There's a lot of respect and goodwill and when we're on the pitch we're all concentrated on the football.
"Sometimes I think of life after my playing career but for now I just love playing the game."
Dethroning the "King"?
In a career spanning 780 matches, Akrour has set plenty of records and this weekend's encounter with Lyon presents yet another opportunity.
At 48, Akrour is already the oldest man to play and assist in a French Cup match.
But should he score on Saturday he would also reset the record for the competition's oldest scorer.
When it comes to global football, the oldest player is Japan's Kazuyoshi Miura, also known as "King Kazu".
Aged 55, the "King" is still playing in the fourth division of Japanese football for the Suzuka Point Getters.
Japan's Kazuyoshi Miura - AKA King Kazu
"I've heard of King Kazu, a few journalists told me about him last year," Akrour chuckled.
"I don't know if I'll play until 55…I'm just going to try to finish the match on Saturday and then focus on the rest of this year and then we'll see."
When asked about the secret of his longevity, Akrour points out that there is no secret - but he does pay particular attention to pre-match and pre-training preparation.
"I don't eat anything specific but I do work with physical therapists and try to fortify my muscles as much as possible to avoid injury."
And when it comes to advice for younger players? Which includes, of course, pretty much everyone else…
"The only advice I could give to those wanting to extend their career is to take care of your body. When you're young muscles are fresh, but they become more fragile as we grow older.
"It's important to really know and listen to your body, that's my impression."