MEHDI Abeid is at the start of the biggest week of his career. Considering the fledgling Newcastle United midfielder is only 18 – a very mature 18, but a teenager nonetheless – that may not sound like much of a statement.
But seven days that look set to start with a shock debut at the City Ground tonight will end with him wrestling with a decision that could change the course of his professional career.
Born in the north west Algerian coastal area of Aïn Temouchent, Abeid has recently been selected to play for the under-23 team of his country of birth as they tilt for a place at the London Olympics at the African qualifying tournament in November.
But as a France under-19 international, he knows accepting that invitation would rule him out of further progress for the country that gave him – and his parents – their professional livelihood.
It is, to put it mildly, quite a dilemma for a man of his tender years. But just as he appears to have taken to a new country, a new club and another language with aplomb, it is one that he will take a measured view of.
“I have the French national team and Algerian national team to choose between,” he revealed.
“Algeria have to name their team for the Olympic qualifiers later this year and they have called me. France under-20s also want me to play for them so I don't know, I have to make a choice.
“A big ambition would be to play in the Olympics – that is in my head. But I don't know, I have to make a choice. In the next week I will make my choice – if I decide to play for Algeria I will tell them.
“It is a difficult choice. I live in France and I want to represent the French too, but Algeria is my country, it is where I am from so I really don't know. It's very difficult.
“If I play for the Olympic team, then I have to play for Algeria A-team too. It would be a great team to play for – there are lots of good footballers in the Algeria team. They are a good side.
“I know that Zinedine Zidane had the same choice, and of course he is a hero of mine. His choice was France and he was a really, really good footballer.
“My parents have told me I must do what I want. but also to make a good choice for my career. I hope to make a good choice soon.”
If Olympic dreams are firing Abeid in the long-term, it is the more prosaic charms of the City Ground that are his immediate priority.
He is in the squad to travel and United sources have indicated he is a strong contender for a starting role in a move that would be further proof that he is making waves following a relatively low-key move from Lens in the summer.
Initially scouted and signed to sit in the development squad for a few months, Abeid’s vision and confidence inspired enough faith from his new manager Alan Pardew to see him promoted to training with the seniors.
Pre-season games saw him make some eye-catching contributions, and Abeid has been able to upgrade his expectations for the season to making some sort of appearance in the Premier League following these first few encouraging weeks.
“It's a very good opportunity for everyone at Newcastle. I'm really, really hoping to play some part – it's a good challenge for me to show what I can do,” he said.
“If I play I believe I can do very, very good work – it would be a big chance for me.
“I want to show the gaffer that he can take me when he wants and if he needs me I will not let him down. It would be a big thing for me if I got a chance.
“My ambitions are to play with the first team, to play in some games. I would like to play more than now - I'm trying to work hard to get myself in the picture.
“At the moment it's something very important just to be training with the first team.”
Abeid’s summer switch came after eight years in France, where he spoke of the “danger” of stagnating at the club that gave him his break.
Bright, articulate and possessing razor sharp English, Abeid is the picture of determination as he speaks of a willingness to play “anywhere” across the midfield to break into black and white contention.
Although primarily a defensive player, he is capable of breaking from deep and says he models his game on the precision of Barcelona great Xavi.
“My idol is Xavi of Barcelona. I like how he plays, I like his movement and how he works every day and in every game,” he said.
“Every game you see him he is doing well - he's a very good player and I try to do the same things. I want to work hard and to play well every time I get the opportunity.
“At the moment it's very good for me here, I'm with the first team and I learn a lot working alongside some very good players. It's good experience and I hope to do well here.”
Representative of the changing face of Newcastle’s dressing room, Abeid is delighted to be part of a growing French contingent that is having a major say on the way forward.
“It is very good for me that we have so many French players,” he said.
“The adaptation was very good for me because of a lot of French players were already here. I am friendly with everyone - the first team, the reserve team and everybody is very good.
“The atmosphere is very good. Everyone's happy to be together, we have a really good group this season. We hope to do well because we have some very good players. I think we can be in the top eight or nine all this season. I think we will have a very good season this year.”