Once hailed as the most promising youngster of Dutch football, Ziyech is now the creative heart of Morocco’s national squad.
Rabat – Even as a series of dismal performances have raised lingering doubts on Morocco’s championship aspirations for the ongoing AFCON in Egypt, Moroccan fans’ confidence in Hakim Ziyech has remained untainted.
In fact, the 26-year midfielder has established himself as the creative mastermind of Morocco’s increasingly attack-minded team under coach Herve Renard. So significant has he become for Morocco’s Atlas Lions that his absence is immediately felt, with the most striking sign being a wobble connection between the midfield and other departments of the Moroccan squad.
Ziyech was born on 19th March 1993 in Dronten, the Netherlands. He grew up with his elder brothers, Faouzi and Hicham, both born in Berkane, in North-eastern Morocco.
His father left his native Rif region with wife and two elder sons for greener pastures in the Netherlands. Ziyech was born in the Dronten Municipality in Central Netherlands.
As his family struggled to make ends meet, the young Ziyech quickly caught the attention of the Dutch footballing with his technical prowess and attacking flair.
Ziyech currently plays midfielder Ajax, the top team in the Dutch league. And although the 26-year old footballer was already a star of Dutch football with Heerenveen and Twente before making a beeline for Ajax in 2016, there were trying times in-between.
For kids from poor-income families living in peripheric, marginalized, neighborhoods, the road to stardom is a saga of resilience, fraught with moments of self-doubt, financial difficulties, a couple of poor life choices, and the need to break away from bad company to focus on one’s passion.
Ziyech was no different, and the ordeal was often exacerbated by an extreme lack of resources to afford the needed equipment to achieve his passion. The football star has said on numerous occasions that he is “a pure product of my neighborhood,” crediting the street with his formative years despite the “many [bad] friends I had to part ways with.”
In interviews, his relatives often speak of the improbability of success despite the young Ziyech’s remarkable technical skills with the ball at his feet. But also of how, by age 10, football had become his passion, the center of his waking hours, and the ultimate route to meet the great expectations his family had for him. “Hakim was all that we had left,” his mother once said, noting that his elder brothers, Faouzi and Hicham, had already “derailed.”
Ziyech made his professional debut at age 17, and his career has since been marked by many downs and many more ups.
Success with Dutch youth team and the Ajax years
A solid debut with less glamorous Dutch clubs (ASV Dronten and SC Heerenveen among others) and equally brilliant performances with the Dutch youth team between 2013 and 2014 quickly catapulted Ziyech in the highest firmament of Ducth football. Offers flew in flocks from more accomplished Ducth clubs and, ultimate validation for a young player, the Dutch football federation began took notice.
By 2014, Ziyech secured a move to Twente, a relatively respected club. By then, the promising star was already, unmistakably, in the radar of the Dutch federation as a serious contender for the A team, especially with the brilliant generation of the likes of Arjen Robben, Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder approaching its end.
Traded by AFC Ajax with the exchange charge of €11 million on August 30, 2016, he has so far scored 16 goals in 62 appearances. Ziyech has a contract with the club which ends in l June 30, 2021.
Ziyech has won several awards for his footballing prowess while playing for the Dutch team. He was named Best Moroccan player in 2016 , AFC Ajax Player of the Year for 2017-018, and in 2018 was winner of the Golden Boot in the Netherlands.
This season the midfielder has made 24 assists and scored 21 goals for Ajax, drawing attention from other European sides.
Even though, according to Verbal International, Ziyech may leave the Dutch club this late spring on payment of his transfer clause, his Ajax years have been an enormous success story. A consistently excellent presence in the Ajax midfield has attracted interest from some of Europe’s most revered footballing powerhouses, including Liverpool, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, among many others.
International Career: Choosing Morocco
Ziyech’s double citizenship meant he was qualified to play for the national teams of both Morocco or the Netherlands. And with sustained interest from both countries, Ziyech–to the Dutch fans’ surprise and dismay–chose Morocco.
The Ajax midfielder, got his first international cap with the Netherlands on February 29, 2012, in a 0-3 win against Switzerland. Following this impressive debut, he played 3 matches for Netherlands Under 20 team and 2 goal in 3 games for Netherlands U-21 squad.
Ziyech had robust chances of making it to the Netherlands’ A team, but he made the surprising move to embrace the Moroccan Atlas LIons at the expense of the Dutch Oranje.
In 2015, Ziyech announced via social media that he wanted to represent Morocco’s national team. On October 9, 2015, he earned his senior cap with Morocco in a 1-0 triumph over the Ivory Coast in an international friendly game.
In May 2018, Ziyech flew to Russia to represent Morocco in the FIFA. While playing for Morocco, Ziyech has scored 14 goals in 25 appearances.
Fans of the midfielder are now looking forward to see him play this summer in Egypt, as he will once again represent Morocco, this time in the CAN 2019 tournament. Ziyech appeared this year on the Guardian “10 to Watch” in this year’s CAN.
Under Head Coach Herve Renard, Ziyech has established himself as the undisputed creative genius of the Moroccan team.
Even as the side boasts formidably talented players like Noussair Mazraoui, Younes Belhanda, and Achraf Hakimi, for example, Ziyech has singularly won the hearts and minds of Moroccan fans on numerous occasions. With his pace and ease with the ball at his feet, he is the heart of Herve’s team’s ball circulation.
“Zambia punishes Morocco in spite of Ziyech,” France Football recently headlined its match report on Morocco’s 3-2 loss in its last pre-Afcon friendly.
Despite Ziyech’s constantly frightful presence in the midfield and on the flanks, as well as his tactical genius, were not enough to help Morocco pass the Zambian’s defensive citadel in some crucial moments, the newspaper remarked.
Morocco, which later today takes on Namibia in the opening game of the 2019 AFCON’s most lethal group, expects to finally end more than three decades of trophy drought. And should Ziyech inspire the Atlas Lions to a continental exploit this year, he will claim a golden spot in the hearts of Moroccan fans. Now hailed as the heart of Herve’s squad, the Ajax man may well leave Egypt as one of the most important players in the history of the Moroccan national team.