The enviable look of reverence and the admiration that Leicester City are associated with these days wasn’t at all easy to garner for the Foxes. The amount of hard-work, grafting, sweat and tears that have gone into it were the reason why Leicester’s title winning triumph was often dubbed as the ‘greatest achievement in sporting history’. Not just this, but a large amount of credit also goes to the players, who worked their socks off, day in and day out to make the impossible dream a tangible reality.
The likes of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and what seems like a never-ending list of players, are the reason why Leicester are looked at with such veneration and also jealousy by the bigger clubs. Before the duo of Mahrez and Vardy penned new deals at King Power Stadium, there was no scarcity of reports linking them to bigger clubs and there were moments when we edged ever close to admitting either of their possibility of joining a bigger club.
Mahrez, who was awarded the PFA Player of the Year owing to his scintillating contributions in their the Foxes’ bid for the title, signed a new deal just days ago. But they say, nothing’s ever built to last and with buckets of money now flowing into English football, dubbing Mahrez’s Leicester exit as inevitable won’t sound a crime. And Leicester would have to address his exit by bringing in a replacement for the Algerian. And Twente’s Hakim Ziyech could be just the man they would stop their search at.
Who is he?
Currently 23 years old, Ziyech has already faced issues regarding which national team he should represent, with the winger having represented Netherlands at the Under 21s, but has continued to represent his nation of origin- Morocco since 2015.
Born in Dronten, a city in central Netherlands, Ziyech joined the SC Heerenveen academy as an eleven-year-old in 2004. After coming through the ranks and developing himself as a player, Ziyech made his debut for the senior Heerenveen side in 2012 against Rapid Bucharesti during a Europa League third qualifying round clash, which was followed by his Eredivisie debut against NEC, as Heerenveen lost the game 2-0.
The 2013-14 campaign saw Ziyech play a breakthrough season at Abe Lenstra stadium as he recorded nine assists and racked just as many goals, displaying impressive verve and excitement in his play. With Twente and Feyenoord interested in acquiring his services in the summer of 2014, Ziyech had a tough decision to make for his future, which looked bright.
Twente’s strong financial position allowed them to offer Ziyech a better financial incentive than Feyenoord, following their sale of Dusan Tadic to Southampton and that of Leroy Fer to Queens Park Rangers. Ziyech was seen as someone who could replace the departed Tadic, who had scored 16 times in the 2013-14 season and had racked up 14 assists to help Twente finish third in the Eredivisie.
The € 3.5 million transfer fee proved far less than expected as Ziyech recorded more assists at the end of the season than Tadic had- 16, as Twente finished tenth in the table and came close to challenging for the top spot in December. Things began to go terribly wrong for Twente after January, but Ziyech kept his impressive run going.
The 2015-16 brought with it an awful financial crisis at Twente, as chairman Aldo van der Laan was forced into resigning after it was revealed that he had an illegal financial agreement with Maltese sports company Doyen Sports. Ziyech, who was Twente’s best prospect during that that time was supposedly said to be the first one to depart for greener pastures, but despite the exit of striker Luc Castaignos to Eintracht Frankfurt and that of Andreas Bjelland to Brentford, Ziyech decided to stay and repay the faith that manager Alfred Schreuder had placed on him.
Much to Ziyech’s shock, Schreuder was fired from his post in August and the youngster was given the opportunity to don the captain’s armband for Twente. The disappointment of his beloved mentor being sacked and the burden of being the skipper of a struggling side didn’t stop Ziyech from doing his best for his side. There was a time during the 2015-16 season, when Ziyech was responsible for 83 percent of his team’s goals in December, when Twente had accumulated just 13 points in 17 games, scoring just 18 goals. At that point of time, Ziyech had scored ten times with five assists to his name.
In January, with the side still grappling with deep-seated financial struggles, Ziyech had the opportunity to leave but the Moroccan decided to stay and help his side avoid relegation. At the end of last season, Twente finished 13th in the Eredivisie, 11 points clear of relegation , with skipper Ziyech finding the back of the net 17 times.
What kind of a player is he?
The above prove Ziyech’s proficiency in one of the most important aspects of the game- mental strength. Despite all the ruins that surrounded the 23-year-old, he had the mental ability to focus on what he had to do to make sure that his side could stay afloat. He could detach the world from his own surroundings to improve himself and even when odds were against him and with numerous disappointments around, Ziyech succeeded in proving to the world that he isn’t someone who will be bowed by crisis. And despite the crisis that threatens to engulf Twente, Ziyech has never ceased to carry the club that won the Eredivise in 2010, on his own back.
“As a young boy you are very impressionable,” he said as a youngster. “You cannot afford to make many mistakes [off the pitch], because then your career would be over before it’s really begun”. And this clearly brings to the fore the massive amount of maturity the youngster has towards life and towards improving himself.
More so, Ziyech is known to be a mystery off the pitch and always stays away from the censure and sensationalism of the media. He hardly attends press conferences and is someone who likes to make his on-pitch panache do the talking. It all began when he, during a press-conference, ended up launching a tirade at the club followed Schreuder’s sacking and this eventually led to an inevitable mass criticism of his in the media. This, contrary to what most would have predicted, has acted as a watershed moment in his career, transforming his personality and making him a more mentally sound individual than ever before.
“A season like we’ve had (with six points reduced and elimination of Twente from European football) I hope to never experience as a player again.” he said, following Schreuder’s axing. And his progress since the bad times, hasn’t stagnated.
A fleet-footed footballer, Ziyech is a perfect number ten in the modern-day world. Capable of playing on the right as well, Ziyech usually occupies a very central role behind the forwards to spark attacks for the team. His slender and wiry body shape makes allows him to move freely across the pitch, bringing in agility and exceptional movement to his play on and off the ball. He’s a tough player to mark and his ability to pick out spaces in the final third, which he further uses to make in-roads towards the opposition goal is special. Despite being deployed mainly as an attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation, Ziyech is found more on the flanks as he is very good in picking out half-spaces around the full-backs and centre-backs. A majority of his assists and dribbles root from those areas.
His tendency to float across those half-spaces make him a tough runner to track down and the freedom with which he approaches the game makes it all the more tougher.
Another devastating part of Ziyech’s repertoire is his blistering pace. Last season, the 23-year-old completed 2.3 dribbles per game and made just as many key passes per game too. Reminiscent of Mahrez and Arjen Robben to a greater extent, Ziyech is never scared to take players on and beat them, making him a focal point of counter-attacks for Twente, who were heavily reliant on playing on the break last season.
During the 2014-15 season, Ziyech topped the charts in terms of finding the most accurate through balls in the Eredivisie and was 6th, when it comes to picking out the most accurate crosses. The Morrocan’s got impeccable vision, that compliments him to do things for the team, which is a reason why he’s one of the most exciting players in the division.
“I don’t live for goals. I prefer to make a decisive pass than score.” says Ziyech, whose passing attributes and abilities have often been compared to those of Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil.
Although, Ziyech uses his body well to glide past the opposition defenders, but his frail body shape isn’t always an advantage for him. He can often get shrugged off the ball easily, when being handed possession in the midfield, reflective of one clear weakness in his play. And this concern of low physicality is something Ziyech is more than just aware of. nother example of how much of a determined individual Ziyech is. He can take criticism on his face, but strive to improve gleefully enough.
Quite evidently, Ziyech has something in himself that can propel him to be a better all-round player- determination and work-ethic. And his visible desire to improve his already existing skill-set is certainly commendable for a 23-year-old.
PSV were said to be interested in signing him last January, while a host of Premier League clubs including Leicester and Everton have also drawn links with the Netherlands born Moroccan. Top clubs including Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal were also interested in signing him, but his desire to lead Twente out of the currently prevailing, disastarous status quo is something which is more laudable than that. And that’s the reason why forming his side around Ziyech would be lucrative for manager Rene Hake, who has deployed Ziyech as a forward during the opening two Eredivisie games.
He’s someone who is Twente’s prized asset, alongside Enes Unal and the Tukkers would have a really polarizing decision to make, when it comes to keeping hold of Ziyech or not. They know what he’s capable of doing for the club, but selling him for a big fee would help them tide over the currently ensuing financial crisis at the club. And rightly so, apart from being one of the most enticing talents in the Eredivisie, he can also act as a figure who can’t help but bring in loads of dilemma at the Grolsch Fortress.
Leicester, who have now tied down Riyad Mahrez to a new deal, know they can’t hold onto the Algerian forever in football world as much full of money as today’s. Their capture of Polish youngster Bartosz Kapustka doesn’t solve the soon-to-be faced problem, as the former Cravocia man isn’t build in a similar mould as Mahrez. The Leicester linked Gabriel Barbosa would probably be off to Serie A, with the Brazilian well aware of the fact that Mahrez has signed a new deal and with Juventus and Inter Milan after him.
But Ziyech is someone who fits the bill perfectly for Leicester. His work-ethic, mental strength and determination seems to resemble that of the Leicester side, as a unit and his hard-working approach to life would match that of many of the Foxes players, including Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater. In terms of tactics too, he would just slot straight into the team, be it in the presence of Mahrez or in the absence of him. Ability to play just behind the forward can allow him to play alongside the nonstop running Vardy, who will certainly be licking his lips at the prospect of playing alongside someone like Hakim Ziyech.