COMMENT: Here he is, Chelsea fans. Two years on. Three managers in. And now Blues fans are seeing why there’s been so much angst and frustration out of Holland over Chelsea’s handling of Hakim Ziyech…
Entertainer. Philanthropist. Just an all round good guy – on the pitch and off it. This is what those inside the Dutch game have been telling us about Ziyech for over two years. Two years of struggle. Of controversy. Of disappointment. At least, that’s from the Chelsea perspective.
But from Holland. From inside Morocco’s World Cup camp. We’re talking a different player. A different personality. And one, you fancy, Chelsea will regret not doing more to help acclimatise since his move from Ajax.
As they say in Italy, this World Cup has confirmed Ziyech. Mohammed Kudus, of Ajax, did make headlines with Ghana in the group phase. But for leadership. For impact. For pure form. Ziyech, even at at 29 years of age, is this World Cup’s big discovery. From being stuck in his civvies in the family section at Stamford Bridge, to global stardom, Ziyech has proved all his critics wrong and handed his supporters a fresh dose of credibility.
Thomas Tuchel. Graham Potter. The two Chelsea managers who shunned him, they’re not alone. John Murtough, Manchester United’s technical director, blocked Erik ten Hag from a reunion with his former Ajax star over the summer. While in Amsterdam, the view was much the same. They expressed interest, but were unwilling to go the extra mile to get a deal over the line. But look at him now…
For Chelsea, Ziyech will be the big ‘what if…?’ The midfielder is gone. He’ll sign for AC Milan in January. Probably on-loan with an option to buy. But it’ll be done. Tribalfootball.com’s Rudy Galetti, again, breaking the news almost a fortnight ago. Indeed Arrigo Sacchi, the Rossoneri’s coaching great, has already endorsed the move in the pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport.
“I saw him at the World Cup against Spain,” wrote Sacchi this week. “He has great technique and speed. I must admit that when he was at Ajax he was believed to become an authentic champion, instead his ride then slowed down. At Chelsea, for example, he is not always among the starters.
“I repeat: he is a player with remarkable qualities, but to be successful the technique is not enough, the feet are not enough, dribbling is not enough. It takes the head. I, as a person, do not know Ziyech and therefore cannot express a judgment.
“But I trust (Paolo) Maldini, (Ricky) Massara and (Stefano) Pioli who, so far, have done little, if not very little, wrong. If they have seen him and followed him, and have convinced themselves that him can be functional to the project, then they do well to buy him.”
Wanted by Paolo Maldini. Endorsed by Arrigo Sacchi. What more convincing do you need? Well, how about Marco van Basten…?
“It is sad and a shame that someone of his calibre gets to play so seldom,” said the Dutch great earlier this season. “Ziyech is a terrific player.
“We want to watch him. It’s players like him that make us want to switch on our televisions and go to matches.”
Away from London. Away from Cobham. And we’re now witnessing in front of us what the likes Van Basten has long insisted Ziyech was capable of. But what about the personality? The claimed moper? As what was discussed at those strategy meetings inside United. Doesn’t the blow-up with Vahid Halilhodzic before Morocco’s AFCON campaign say everything about why clubs should avoid him…?
“He’s incredible,” says Halilhodzic’s very grateful successor Walid Regragui.
“A lot of people talk about him as a difficult guy to manage but what I see is that, when you give him love and confidence, he will die for you. It is what I give him and he returns my confidence.”
That generosity, that sacrifice, is confirmed by Karim El Ahmadi, the former Aston Villa midfielder and an ex-Morocco teammate of Ziyech: “What many people don’t see, for example, is that he is an incredibly generous person. He was always ready at Morocco to help people who needed it.
“If we got some living money from the union during an international period, he gave it directly to those around the team who had almost nothing, such as the people who organised the kit.
“Then you only see him if he doesn’t feel like an interview for a while. But if you know what’s going on in private, you really can’t say anything negative about him.”
Indeed, it should also recalled how Ziyech opened his home to a young Tyrell Malacia when still a teen with Feyenoord. The pair had only exchanged messages online, but Ziyech invited the now United fullback across to London to experience life as a Premier League footballer. Yet still that wasn’t enough for Murtough.
United. Chelsea. The Premier League have blown it. Newcastle could yet intervene, but everything points to Maldini – again – getting his man. The Ziyech of Morocco. Not of Stamford Bridge. The artisan. The inspiration. Like in Qatar, to soon be unleashed in the Rossonero of AC Milan.
And in the process reinforcing everything that Dutch football has been telling us these past two years. Here he is Chelsea fans, just as he’s about to leave, here’s the realHakim Ziyech.