Hakim Ziyech is set to become Frank Lampard’s first new signing as Chelsea manager this summer after the Blues agreed a deal to sign the Ajax winger.
Chelsea were keen on signing Ziyech in January, only for Ajax to dig their heels in and insist a transfer would only take place in the summer.
A deal which could eventually be worth £36.6million has now been agreed, and the move will crown a steady rise through the years by the 26-year-old.
Born and raised in Dronten, central Holland, Ziyech was given a tough start to life as his father tragically passed away when he was still just 10.
“I remember well, it was winter, just after Christmas,” Ziyech told AD. “My father was in a bed in the living room. He’d been sick for some time, getting worse and worse. I had to go to bed that night, but I wanted to stay with him. Finally, I fell asleep on the edge of his bed.
“Around midnight, I woke up and went up to my room. A few hours later, around 3:00am, I heard family members crying downstairs. I went into the living room. My father was dead.”
Ziyech was subsequently brought up by his brothers – he is the youngest of nine children – and mother, who help form part of the small inner circle with whom he surrounds himself.
“I have five good friends who I’ve known for years. We share everything. They form the small circle around me. And my family of course. I visit my mother twice a week.
“She is certainly proud of me, but she will never say it out loud. She no longer comes to the stadium to watch the games. She’s 70 years old and can’t walk and she can’t stand the tension. But when she watches my games on TV, she always tells me how she feels when I’m tackled.”
At the age of 14, Ziyech left Dronten to move in with a foster family after being signed by Heerenveen.
At one stage a potential career seemed in the balance. Two of his brothers had seen burgeoning football careers ended after serving prison spells for burglary, and there were fears Ziyech could go the same way as he developed attitude problems, smoking, drinking, dropping out of school and sometimes missing training.
His mother intervened alongside Aziz Doufikar, the first Moroccan professional to play in Holland, who became something of a mentor to the youngsters.
After five years in Heerenveen’s youth set-up, he made his senior debut in a Europa League qualifier at Rapid Bucharest in August 2012 and also made his Eredivisie bow later that month, only to play just six more times in all competitions throughout the rest of the campaign.
The following season, he established himself in the team and scored 11 times in 36 appearances in all competitions. His creativity also began to emerge as he provided nine assists in Eredivisie.
According to Dutch reports, Hakim Ziyech is on his way to Chelsea.
The man is 100% technique 🔥pic.twitter.com/zS0olrRMuX
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 12, 2020
Such form led to a £3.4million move to FC Twente in the summer of 2014, rejecting the chance to join Feyenoord in the process.
Ziyech took his performances to another level after joining Twente. He provided a combined 27 goals and assists in Eredivisie in each of his two seasons at the club, kickstarting a run of recording the most assists in the league in four of the past five campaigns.
Controversy has never been far from the attacker, however, and after being handed the captaincy for his second season, he was subsequently stripped of the armband midway through the campaign after giving an interview in which he criticised the decision to sack manager Alfred Schreuder and revealed he wanted to leave the club.
After representing Holland at youth level, Ziyech received his first call up to the senior squad while at Twente in May 2015 but failed to appear in friendlies against Latvia and the USA after suffering an injury.
Four months later, he announced his decision to switch allegiances to Morocco, despite pleas from Danny Blind to remain with Holland, and made his debut in a defeat to the Ivory Coast.
His decision to switch to Morocco prompted panic in Holland amid concerns Anwar El Ghazi and Oussama Tannane could follow suit.
A headline in one newspaper suggested Morocco were set to snatch away “possible successors to (Wesley) Sneijder, (Robin) van Persie and (Arjen) Robben”.
Tannane did indeed commit to Morocco, although El Ghazi won two caps for Holland in 2015.
After earning a reputation as one of the most exciting players in Eredivisie, Ziyech joined Ajax in a £9.2million and continued his ridiculous rate of productivity in front of goal, contributing 89 goals and assists in 109 league appearances for the club.
But once again it hasn’t all been plain sailing. In just his second appearance for Ajax, he was sent off in a Europa League clash with Panathinaikos.
He was expected to leave Ajax after one season; upon missing out on the title to PSV on the last day of 2016-17, the team bus was met by angry fans upon its return to Amsterdam and Ziyech argued with supporters before deleting all Ajax photos from his social media accounts in an extremely sassy move.
We don’t need to tell you Ziyech stayed put at Ajax, but another trophyless season followed in 2017-18.
2018-19, however, saw him truly announce himself to the rest of the world, shining as Ajax thrilled Europe by reaching the Champions League semi-finals against all expectation.
While Matthias De Ligt was Ajax’s inspirational leader, Frenkie de Jong was the brains and Dusan Tadic bagged the goals, Ziyech was credited by the New York Times’ Rory Smith as providing the team’s “imagination”.
Yet his goals and assists, which also helped fire Ajax to a league and cup double, somewhat masked his improvement in work rate and maturity.
“At Twente, Hakim was running 7km a game. Here, he is running almost 12km,” director of football Marc Overmars is quoted by The Times. “He had to adapt, he had to fight more. He now has the strength and the power.”
It was widely anticipated that Ziyech, like De Ligt and De Jong, would be on the move last summer. Despite hilariously tenuous reports linking the player to Arsenal, Sevilla came the closest to signing him.
“It was concrete,” he told DW. “Sevilla is a very big club, too, but the problem was Monchi, their sporting director. He wanted me in Rome the year before. Everything was settled, but overnight there was no more news. And then I’d have to go to Seville? It doesn’t work like that.”
Instead he remained at Ajax and already has 12 assists in Eredivisie to his name as the club sit top of the table. Chelsea came calling in January, but Ajax did not falter in their commitment to keep Ziyech until the summer. A deal has now been struck, and he now faces the challenge of carrying his remarkable form of the past few seasons into the Premier League.
“I think Hakim will certainly be in place,” team-mate Donny van de Beek told VoetbalPrimeur. “Everyone of course has their opinion about that, but I think it’s a nice club for him.”