Once described as the classical #10 with a golden left foot, Hakim Ziyech’s talents have no limit. After his glorious spell with Ajax at Eredivisie Ziyech turned to the ranks of Frank Lampard’s Chelsea.
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After a £220 million ($289 million) splashing in the last summer transfer market, Frank Lampard believes Chelsea are beginning to bear the fruits. Chelsea signed Timo Werner from RB Leipzig, Kai Havertz from Bayer Leverkusen. Malang Sarr from Nice, Ben Chilwell from Leicester, Thiago Silva from PSG, Edouardo Mendy from Rennes, and none other than Moroccan Internationale Hakim Ziyech from Ajax.
Despite having a shaky start to their campaign as they won just two of their opening six league games of the season, Chelsea have steadied their boat and now won four in a row in all competitions.
They thrashed Sheffield United 4-1 on Saturday at Stamford Bridge with Tammy Abraham, Ben Chilwell, Timo Werner, and Thiago Silva on the scoresheet. Hakim Ziyech won man-of-the-match for his two assists.
Even though missing the first few games due to injury, Hakim Ziyech announced himself at Chelsea in style. Already scoring once and assisting thrice in his first 4 Premier League games, Ziyech is proving to be the missing puzzle fit in place for Lampard’s Chelsea.
But who is Hakim Ziyech? Why is he so highly rated?
The 27-year-old has spent the bulk of his career as a playmaker in the Eredivisie. He plays in the central and right-wing positions He is an attacking winger/midfielder. His left foot is regarded as one of the best in Eredivisie. His unequal qualities in Ajax earned him the name ‘Wizard of AMS’. Rightly so, as the unquestioned assist king stands with 125 assists in 292 appearances in all competition for the top division in the Netherlands as well as in Europe since his debut in the 2012-13 season. He also netted 97 goals while his stay in the Netherlands. He will be looking to add the tally with more assists and goals with Chelsea.
Hakim is a natural. But his journey was full of ups and downs. Born in the Dutch town of Dronten in 1993, Hakim Ziyech is the youngest of nine children. They were financially not so well to do with nine mouths to feed. He had a relatively modest upbringing and began playing football at the age of five. He was a recognized talent 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. His troubling time was on the horizon. He was a tough kid. Even though he missed the better part of his early training sessions he kept ongoing. Two of his older brothers blew potential football careers of their own by ending up in prison for burglary. It was a tough time for him. Aziz Doufikar was the first Moroccan to play professional football in Holland. Doulfikar was a respectable personality in Moroccan society. He and Ziyech’s mother intervened Ziyech’s career. They inspired Hakim to continue on his path.
“We grew close to him and at 10 years old his father died. 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.” - said Doufikar.
From 2004 to 2012, Hakim Ziyech played for the SC Heerenveen youth teams. He made his presence felt before getting the call for their U19 team for the youth league in the 10/12 season. Ziyech grabbed his chance by the horns and performed well. He got his senior call up for the tier 1 team of Heerenveen. Ziyech’s fortune was about to turn. On the top division, he showed his immense quality. He contributed nine goals and assists in his first full season. He was the pivot of Heerenveen. His performance saw a move to another Eredivisie top side Twente in for €3.5m in 2014. His impact was such that he was made captain of the club. He finished top of the Eredivisie assists charts in 2014/15, providing 15 assists and scoring 11goals. 2015–16 season was the most prolific season in Ziyech's career, as he scored 17 goals and provided 12 assists in the Eredivisie. He was a sensation in all of the Netherlands.
After a dispute with the club officials of Twente, he publicly desired a transfer. He departed On 30 August 2016 for Eredivisie giants Ajax on a five-year deal, with a reported transfer of €11m.
Big break at Ajax
The midfielder finally got his big break. Gone were the days of fighting for mid-table spots at Eredivisie. He was finally with the big boys of Amsterdam. The Johan Cruijff Arena was about to witness something magical. The left foot of Hakim Ziyech was about to pull the strings of one of the magical seasons of Ajax in recent history. The Moroccan continued his fine performances with Ajax. Hakim was a player who was just so natural and so exciting to watch.
“He’s got that, I wouldn’t call it arrogance, it’s a flair” -said Dutch football expert Marcel van der Kraan in an interview.
But his Ajax dream didn’t exactly get off to a superstar beginning. But in his first season in Europa League, he scored twice and assisted 5 times to take Ajax to the final. But they lost to Manchester United in the final. That was Ajax’s first European final in 21 years. The giants were finally waking up. But they lost the league again to Feyenoord. Due to their runner-up finish in this season, they got to play qualifiers for their place in the group of UEFA Champions League 2018-19 season. They had Dutch Manager Erik Ten Hag at the helm. Hakim’s impact was visible in the 2018-19 season when Ajax won the Eredivisie after 4 seasons. He was a decisive figure contributing 16 goals and 17 assists to end Ajax’s five-year league title drought. Ajax was ready to announce their entry to Europe.
They tasted three successive victories in the qualifiers against Strum Graz, Standard Liege, and Dynamo Kiev. Hakim scored twice and assisted once in these 3 matches to thrust Ajax into the group stage. They finished 2nd in their group stage. Hakim’s presence was felt in Europe. Ziyech pulled off some mesmerizing performances alongside Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Dusan Tadic and Donny van de Beek. He scored his first Champions League goal, in a 1–2 loss against Real Madrid at the Johan Cruijff Arena. But he scored again in the famous 4–1 victory (5-3 on aggregate) over Real Madrid in the second leg. The titleholders Real Madrid were at sea after 3 long years of dominance in Europe. Ziyech was too much for every defender of Real Madrid. He ran a show, Santiago Bernebeu will remember for a long time. It was the day when he truly announced his presence in Europe. Everyone was losing out on words to describe the Wizard.
In the Quarter Final Ajax drew Juventus. Juventus who just knocked out Atletico Madrid after coming out from a 2-0 deficit in a spectacular fashion. The legend of Cristiano Ronaldo was about to witness the magic of some very talented bunch of young stars. Ziyech assisted Van de Beek in the 2nd leg when they won 1-2 (2-3 in aggregate ) at the quarter-finals and eliminated Juventus to reach the semi-finals of the competition. It was their first Champions League semi-final since 1997.
On 30 April 2019, Ziyech assisted for the solitary goal in the first leg against Tottenham Hotspur. He also scored the second goal for Ajax in the second leg of the semi-final. He was easily the best performer for Ajax in that match. But Ajax was beaten 3–2 by Tottenham and was knocked out of the tournament on away goals with a 3–3 aggregate score. Even though they scored twice in the first half but Lucas Moura scored a 2nd half hattrick to win the tie.
But Hakim Ziyech made a mark. He was an eye candy along with Frenkie De Jon, Matthijs de Ligt who eventually went on to Barcelona and Juventus the following season. But Ziyech decided to stay for the next season despite heavy linking to many Premier League clubs.
He again scored twice and assisted 5 in the Group stages of Champions League 2019/20. He also assisted thrice in the Qualifiers. He was providing assists for fun. He delivered 12 assists and scored 6 goals in the league in just 21 games he played. The season was suspended due to COVID 19 pandemic but Hakim continued to shine.
After his dreamy season, Ajax and Chelsea had reached an agreement for the transfer of him for a fee of €40 million.
International Career: Strange but Brave
The international career of Ziyech was something unique. Ziyech was originally eligible to play for the national teams of the Netherlands, where he was born and raised. He played for Dutch national youth teams. But In September 2015, Ziyech confirmed his choice to represent Morocco on the international stage because of his heritage and mother’s wish. The magician already scored 14 goals in his 33 appearances for Morocco.
The Wizard Plays
Hakim Ziyech Over the last two seasons has transitioned himself into a right-winger under Erik ten Hag. The results have been spectacular. With the likes of Dusan Tadic, Van de Beek, and David Neres upfront he provides the absorbance of frontal press from the opposition. He picks up the threads from Schone and De Jong in the midfield and links up with the front three. When De Jong and Van de Beek stride forward he usually drops deep and joins Schone in the midfield. Ajax was very flexible in the attack. Ziyech fitted in that puzzle very well. He has the pace to run havoc in wings the capacity of a holding midfielder to join passes and initiate an attack.
For his versatility in wings and midfield, he is popularly known as the Özil of AMS. He has the characteristics of the German maestro. He is lean and pacey like Özil. He gives ludicrous crosses to the box from anywhere on the pitch. He similarly has the unwanted characteristic of defensive weakness as Özil himself.
His former coaches Hans de Jong and Boudewijn Pahlpatz also expressed their concerns for Ziyech’s physicality but believes he could beat the Premier League challenge as he did at Ajax upon his arrival.
The New Dawn at Chelsea and The Wizard's Wand is Ready
“The players we brought in, we brought in to improve. People expect it to come on day one. It’s not like that, it’s a work in progress. You saw a lot of it today, there are great signs but we have to keep going." – said Frank Lampard after their impressive performance against Sheffield.
It was evident from the first minute of the game that how involved Ziyech was. He created 6 chances in the whole game which was more than all the chances created by Sheffield United. He really makes it seem so easy on the pitch. Setting the tempo, playing through balls, and dribbling all come naturally to him. He released tammy and Werner so many times to create half chances. The ball seemed to be glued to his feet. It was the day when the Wizard of Amsterdam (AMS) announced himself at Stamford Bridge. He stood up to the expectations. Despite the injury, perhaps he came back just in time for Chelsea and will be instrumental in their success this season. He will have big shoes to fill but early signs never looked more promising. Those curlers and delicious crosses to the box showed why he was so highly rated in Eredivisie.
Chelsea legend Ashley Cole was full of appreciation for the wizard.
“He is using that wand of a left foot to perfection. He is the one pulling the strings so I think he is a big player for Chelsea.”
At the post-match interview when he was asked about finding area for crosses to the box, he said, “I just always look at them before I take the ball. I think only eye contact is enough for us. I am not afraid to give a pass or whatever."
His former compatriot at Ajax and now Barcelona midfielder said something similar-
"He has always had this calmness. You could not get him crazy. He thought about things and what he wanted.”
His attitude is just right for Chelsea as they were missing a creator since Hazard and Willian.
Stamford Bridge will be expecting some more magic from the Wizard of AMS.