When he was a 16-year-old cleaning dishes in a restaurant, the Premier League must have seemed a distant dream for Nordin Amrabat.
The Moroccan had been tipped for a bright future during his childhood in Holland, but after suffering from Osgood-Schlatter disease (inflammation of the bone near the knee) he was released by Ajax Amsterdam’s prestigious academy at the age of 13.
Three years later Amrabat was instead working in a Michelin-starred Indonesian restaurant, scrubbing dishes until he was later entrusted with making desserts; a promotion he still beams with pride about even today.
The dream of becoming a professional footballer still remained a faint hope though and the teenager continued his love of the game by playing for a local amateur side.
However as he now sits in his Watford training kit as a Premier League player, a smiling Amrabat confesses this could never have been the case.
Indeed when bluntly asked if he thought he would ever make it to the summit of English football, Amrabat says: ‘No.’
‘When I was released at Ajax I went to an amateur club and I was focusing on my school. I had an opportunity to go to another [professional] club, but then I would have to go live with foster parents.
‘My father told me: “Focus on your school and go play in the amateur club, when you are good enough you will achieve something.” Slowly it happened.’
As Amrabat explains, his route back into top-flight football after being released by Ajax forced him to be patient and the journey to the top would prove to be highly unorthodox.
Out of the traditional academy system, the 16-year-old, who was born in Holland after his parents moved from Morocco, was playing for amateur side SV Huizen in Almere – and planning to do a management, economics and law course.
Amrabat’s academic pursuits means that today he speaks Dutch, English, Moroccan and Spanish. He also knows some Turkish – ‘but only the bad words,’ he jokes.
Alongside his football and studies, Amrabat was working to earn some extra money. Two nights a week after finishing at college, he would head to the Indonesian restaurant where he was employed.
After two and a half years there, the then-18-year-old was no longer the kitchen porter but the dessert chef.
‘I went to school and played for an amateur club in my city,’ says Amrabat. ‘Two evenings in the week I was working to earn some money, some extra pocket money.’
After three years with SV Huizen, Amrabat had impressed watching scouts.
‘I started with washing dishes but I was really good and they promoted me to making desserts! I was making everything in the Indonesian restaurant close to my city.
‘I was making ice desserts and everything that was on the menu. They showed me one or two times and then it was easy to make it.’
For all his success in the kitchen, Amrabat confesses he was still uncertain as to what exactly he was going to do for a career.
He jokes that he would have never made it in the restaurant business – ‘It’s too hard! It’s really long days and nights!’ – but as the Moroccan teenager’s year drew to a close, his father’s advice that if ‘you are good enough you will achieve something’ was beginning to ring true.
After three years with SV Huizen, Amrabat had impressed watching scouts to the extent that the then-Dutch second division side Omniworld poached him from the amateur club.
The winger’s debut season with them saw him rack up 14 goals and as many assists. Unsurprisingly, the number of scouts coming to visit was growing.
VVV-Venlo had played against Omniworld that season and after being suitably impressed by Amrabat they signed him up following their promotion to the Eredivisie.
Unfazed by the step up to the top tier of Dutch football, the future Morocco international shone again and just 12 months later champions PSV Eindhoven paid just over £1m (GBP) for his services.
Nights spent washing dishes were now replaced by Champions League adventures.
‘When I was 19 or 20, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do,’ says Amrabat.
“I was 19, I played in the second division and then I focused on school but I had the second division football next to it.
‘In two years I went from being an amateur to playing in the Champions League with the champions of Holland – it went really fast.’
Since getting his big break with PSV, Amrabat has not looked back. Three years with them led to a move to Turkish side Kayserispor. From there, spells at Galatasaray and Málaga followed, and it is from the latter that Watford snapped up Amrabat for £6m in January.
It means the 28-year-old has finally achieved that ambition he had all those years ago when he washed dishes.
‘It’s the Premier League dream,’ says Amrabat, when discussing what lured him to Watford. ‘Every player wants to play in the Premier League.
‘Watford is a nice club with good fans and a nice stadium. It is not really, really big but the atmosphere is always good.’
‘I’ve played a few games now and it’s a little bit different when you compare it with Spanish football but it is a nice competition. I’m looking forward to playing more games. It is a little bit more physical, but that’s not a problem.
If Amrabat’s past experiences are anything to go by then he is more than ready to make the step up.
‘Everybody has helped me, but I don’t need a lot of help. The coach explains to me what he wants when we play. In training he has given me some time to adapt and I think I’m ready to play.’
If Amrabat’s past experiences are anything to go by then he is more than ready to make the step up to the Premier League.
Ten years on from serving up puddings, it appears as though the Moroccan is finally getting his just desserts.