Meet Ajax star Hakim Ziyech, the Moroccan street footballer set to take his mesmerising talents to Chelsea.
|Nickname:||The Wizard of Amsterdam, The Mesut Ozil of the Netherlands|
|Born:||June 28, 1991|
|Height:||1.81 m (5 ft 11 in)|
|Clubs:||Heerenveen, Twente, Ajax|
|Titles:||3 (All Club)|
Once described as a ‘classical #10 with a golden left foot’, Hakim Ziyech’s talents have no limit. He really makes it seem so easy on the pitch. Setting the tempo, playing through balls and dribbling all come naturally to him.
The 27-year-old has spent the bulk of his career as a playmaker in the Eredivisie. In a central role, he seamlessly dictates proceedings and always creates space for his teammates. His crossing and passing abilities are also top-notch. These attributes made him the unquestioned assist king in the Netherlands, with 97 league assists to his name so far.
Over the last two seasons, though, Ziyech has transitioned into a right-winger under Erik ten Hag. The results have been impressive to see. It’s almost as if the footballer has played in the role exclusively all this time. His skill in keeping the ball glued to his feet and those lethal crosses have made him more dangerous than ever.
Born in the Dutch town of Dronten in 1993, Hakim Ziyech is the youngest of nine children. Money was understandably tight for his parents, with so many boys and girls to feed. Not helping matters was their modest income.
Otherwise, Ziyech had a relatively untroubled upbringing early on and began playing football aged five. He honed his talents on the streets while starring for local clubs, SV Reaal and ASV in Dronten. A move to the Heerenveen youth academy followed in 2004.
But tragedy struck Hakim at just 10 years old when his father, Mohamed, died of multiple sclerosis. The loss greatly shocked him, leaving his potential career in jeopardy. He even skipped training sessions occasionally.
Wat een prachtige foto. Hakim Ziyech, al jaren ondergewaardeerd in Nederland, tezamen met zijn moeder en familie waar hij zoveel van houdt, vlak voor de uitreiking voor Speler van het Jaar. Onwijs verdiend en geweldig dat hij nog een jaar het Ajax-shirt aantrekt. pic.twitter.com/xfFd6XOrgf
— Sjors van Veen (@SjorsvVeen) September 3, 2018
While two of his older brothers blew potential football careers of their own by ending up in prison for burglary.
Fortunately, Ziyech didn’t wind up on the same path following an intervention from his mother and Aziz Doufikar. The latter was the first Moroccan to play professional football in Holland. Therefore, he was a respected figure in the Dutch-Moroccan community and a mentor for young Hakim.
“We grew close to him and at 10 years old his father died,” said Doufikar.
“He then said he didn’t want to play anymore. I tried to pick him up again and said he needs to keep doing it for his father.
“He went away for a few days and he said he would start playing again. I called the club and explained the situation and they brought him back.”
The springboard to success
From 2004 to 2012, Hakim Ziyech played for the Heerenveen youth teams. He made a strong impression in Friesland, whilst developing his talents. It led to a call-up to the senior squad at 19 years old.
Little did anybody know then, though, was that the club had provided him with a springboard to success.
The Moroccan made his first-team bow against Rapid Bucharest in a Europa League qualifier on August 2012. He made a good impression by assisting Filip Djuricic’s ninth-minute opener. It paved the way towards a 4-0 victory, leading to further opportunities.
By the following season, Ziyech was an established first-team member. Everyone soon took notice, with the playmaker helping Heerenveen climb to fifth in the standings. He contributed an impressive nine goals and assists for his first full season. Therefore, FC Twente signed him in 2014 for €3.50m.
Ziyech spent the next two campaigns impressing yet again despite Twente’s financial crisis. He finished top of the Eredivisie assists charts in 2014/15, providing 16 assists. The Reds even made him the captain the following season. Although it didn’t last long after the player publicly requested a transfer.
Big break at Ajax
Twente eventually caved to Hakim Ziyech’s demands, sanctioning an €11m transfer to rivals Ajax. The midfielder finally got his big break. Gone were the days of fighting for mid-table spots. Only silverware in the Netherlands was enough for him from that point onwards.
The Moroccan continued his fine performances in Amsterdam, cementing his reputation as one of the Eredivisie’s most exciting footballers. His productivity on the goal-front improved. In fact, he has topped the Dutch league’s assists charts for the last three seasons.
Although the Ajax dream didn’t exactly get off to a fairytale beginning, with Ziyech receiving a red card in only his second appearance. There were also early doubts over his future. Fuelling them was the player’s strained relationship with the club supporters over his attitude.
“He’s got that, I wouldn’t call it arrogance, it’s a flair,” said Dutch football expert Marcel van der Kraan.
“Where he says to an opponent, ‘you can try and get the ball off me but I’m the boss on this pitch’.”
But this all became water under the bridge following Ziyech’s starring role in Ajax’s domestic double in 2018/19.
The 27-year-old was immense all season, contributing 16 goals and 17 assists to end Ajax’s five-year league title drought. But it was in the Champions League where he truly made his mark.
Ziyech pulled off some mesmerising performances alongside Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Dusan Tadic and Donny van de Beek.
Ten Hag’s side did the impossible that season to make a first semi-final appearance since 1997. Not even cup holders Real Madrid or Juventus could stop them. It was a career-defining moment for Hakim.
The 27-year-old will now take the next step of his career by joining Chelsea for next season after finalising a €40m deal.
Morocco’s ultimate star?
As a Dutch-born citizen, Hakim Ziyech played for the Netherlands at youth level in his international career. He rejected the chance to play for the senior team in 2015, though. The midfielder instead opted to represent his native Morocco.
This choice is a source of pride for the Moroccan fans, especially given the Netherlands’ strong record in major competitions.
But many feel Ziyech still has a long way to go. He hasn’t had many chances to impress yet. Although leading the national team to World Cup qualification for 2018 was a sweet moment. Especially as the Netherlands failed to qualify for football’s biggest competition.
“He is not seen as the ultimate star yet,” said journalist Jalal Bounouar.
“Supporters are looking forward to seeing him lead the team to titles. People here look back to the side that won our one and only Africa Cup of Nations in 1976 and we’ve also had the likes of Mustapha Hadji and Noureddine Naybet.
“Ziyech, though, is someone Moroccan fans are proud of because he chose to play for Morocco and has always spoken well about the country.”