BarcelonaThe Pere Viver i Aymerich high school, in Terrassa, has become a small nursery of athletes for several years. The promotion of sports diversity has allowed talents such as Paula Leitón (international water polo player of CN Terrassa), Arnau Fernández (handball player of Balonmano Cuenca), Marc Román (BMX rider) and two young people who try to make a career at Espanyol: Carla Sánchez (football player of the women’s subsidiary) and Wassim Keddari Boulif, Simo. The latter could live on Saturday, in the Copa del Rey match against CD Rincón (9 p.m., DAZN), the first official title as a Spanish player.
But what is this promising centre-back with the woodwork of a leader who demands a step at just 17 years old and aims to become the next leader of the white-and-blue defence? The human quality is the first thing highlighted by people who have dealt with him: “He is a very noble person, with a desire to do many things, a student boy who applied himself in everything you told him. He treated everyone very well, he was always the first to help when a colleague needed it”, explains who was his physical education teacher, Laura Soriano. A former school friend who had experienced sex reassignment even claims that Simo was one of the few who intervened when he received insults and transphobic comments.
From an early age, therefore, he has fought against any form of bullying or harassment. “He is a very calm boy who never messed with anyone or created conflicts. Of course, he can’t stand injustices. When a player was treated badly, be it teammate or opponent, he always intervened to defend the weak. He feels it very much and transmits it quickly”, they explain to the white-and-blue planter.
Can the pressure of making the jump to the first team at 17 affect him? People who have treated him think not. “He is an introverted boy, who is very sure of himself and is not affected by external challenges or emotions. I don’t think he will be affected by the pressure to play in the first team or in any stadium, he will continue to meet challenges to rise to professional football”, points out a person who has dealt with Espanyol quite a lot.
On the day of his debut, in San Mamés, the Spaniard discovered one of his most characteristic gestures when he asked his teammates, much more veteran than him, to keep a cool head after scoring 0-1. “I used to do this in primary school, I told my classmates to think. He had always shown positive leadership and his classmates followed him. There are things that are born inside you and he has this vision of the game”, comments Soriano. “We also saw it in the lower categories: he asked the rest of the team not to relax or lose focus. It is an action that he always does and that comes instinctively”, they add from the Spanish organization.
His personality is explained, to a large extent, thanks to his origins. Raised in the neighborhood of Pla del Bon Aire, in the northern end of Terrassa, and the son of Algerian parents, Simo was raised in a working family with “very humble” roots. “He had an exemplary education, at the age of 13 or 14 he already had to be responsible for taking care of his younger brothers while his parents worked, and this has made him mature before the rest and be different”, comments Àlex López, coordinator of the second club where he played, Jàbac.
Simo, an evolution from forward to central
Football-wise, the current Simo stands out for his physique (1.85) and intelligence in positioning. In his first club, the modest Pueblo Nuevo 2002, he started playing as a striker. “He had a lot of talent with the ball and defensively he was very good, that’s why we turned him into a pivot first and center later. He was always one step ahead, he sensed many situations before the rest and this allowed him to anticipate”, he adds.
“Technically he was correct to play up front, but you could see his shortcomings in one-on-one when it came to creating imbalance up top. When he switched to central we saw that he was very good in defensive duels, a central difficult to overcome who stood out in the category and in whom we saw a certain projection”, notes one of his discoverers at Espanyol. Despite the interest of several clubs, such as Cornellà, it was the white-and-blue club that incorporated him as a second-year fry. “He has always been an important player, he only suffered a little when he suffered the stretch: as it happens to other players, it caused him a certain lack of coordination. He lost a bit of speed and prominence, but that helped him to learn another role and to have patience, two elements that can help him now”.
At the age of 16, he was already a prodigy with conditional physical parameters comparable to those of some players in the first team. “Age is just a number. We try to speed up processes and give opportunities to young people who we see ready according to a few parameters”, adds an authorized voice within the organization chart of the paraquito grassroots football. Last season, as a first-year youth, he made his debut with the subsidiary and began training with the first team. A few players in the squad, in fact, asked the sports director where a guy with those conditions came from. Veterans like Diego López and Sergi Gómez were among the first to sponsor him and gave him all kinds of advice. Last year, Simo renewed with Espanyol, until 2026, with a file of the subsidiary and a clause of 9 million euros that, very soon, will have to be reviewed.
Seven Catalans in the first round
Aside from Espanyol, who will play at La Rosaleda in Malaga, six other Catalan teams will participate in the preliminary phase of the Copa del Rey, a round where up to 55 matches will be held. On Saturday afternoon it will be the turn of Olot (Second RFEF), which hosts Llevant (5 p.m., Esport3). An hour later, at 6 p.m., Nàstic (Primera RFEF) will visit Racing Rioja.
On Sunday it will be the turn of Girona, who will visit CD Quintanar del Rei (12 p.m., Champions League). At the same time, Manresa (Second RFEF) will receive Pontevedra, while Mollerussa (Primera Catalana), will look to star in one of the exploits of this first round in the duel that will confront them with Rayo Vallecano, who recently days has defeated Real Madrid. Lleida Esportiu (Second RFEF), for its part, will receive the leader of the Second Division, Alabès, from 6 p.m.