You pay to watch teams win but also see something special. Unique actions, goals and technical ability and I think he is that kind of player to bring something to excite people in the stands and to get people buying tickets.Gus Poyet on Hakim Ziyech
The story so far: Hakim Ziyech has starred for Eredivisie outfit Heerenveen, after a tough upbringing without his father and then a tough relationship with manager Macro van Basten. It is 2014. Ziyech has just moved to Twente, turning down heavyweights Feyenoord, ready to pursue his favoured ‘number ten’ role at a bigger Eredivisie outfit.
Schreuder and Flair
It had been a disappointing period for FC Twente. A famous Eredivisie title in 2010 under Steve McClaren was followed by seasons of failure to push on in the Netherlands and Europe. Successive sixth-placed finishes followed a heartbreaking title defence which culminated in defeat on the final day. The return of Steve McClaren failed to halt the decline, and FC Twente were in sixth position when the Englishman resigned in March. Caretaker manager Michel Jensen did oversee a renaissance of sorts, securing a third-placed finish European football for the upcoming enter.
Enter a new manager. Alfred Schreuder had been Assistant Manager in the glory years, and was tasked with bringing back the honours to De Grolsch Veste.
His first big signing? Hakim Ziyech.
Receiving the acclaimed number ten shirt on arrival, big things were expected. Dutch football has a unique history of flair. Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp. All esteemed for creativity and magic. All adored in their land of Total Football.
Alfred Schreuder was preparing Hakim Ziyech to be the next. A former midfielder himself, he immediately saw the flicker of magic in the future Wizard of Amsterdam. He recalls his first interaction with Ziyech in an interview conducted in 2020.
“He is one of the best ball-grabbers in the Netherlands, maybe even in the world. He has such quick eyes and can read it.”
Schreuder developed a deeper understanding of his background and uniquely tempestuous nature, identifying his propensity for football wizardry.
“It is important in the first meeting with such a boy that you have a lot of information from him. He’s different and that’s good too. You have to give them a certain freedom, but they have to know what the team is asking for. He shouldn’t abuse it.”
“He responds differently to certain situations and is more emotional. He also thinks differently ‘, the trainer explains further. “Those are brilliant guys who do unexpected things for you. You shouldn’t give them too many assignments in the final phase of the field.”
2014/15 – Breakout
Hakim Ziyech was not to disappoint.
He was a regular starter for Twente, and became the shining light in a team that was failing to accomplish the high expectations that were set.
Twente slumped to a tenth placed finish, falling foul of an inexperienced defence and an inefficient strikeforce. It was a disappointing season for a side from which big things were expected.
This only goes to amplify the brilliance of Hakim Ziyech.
It was amidst the chaos and failure that he stood alone. Alfred Schreuder encouraged him to invent himself, to attack and consistently create. To become the next iconic flairster in the esteemed company of the Eredivisie.
In the absence of goals, Hakim Ziyech took it upon himself to find the net consistently to prevent a slide towards a relegation dogfight. He ended the season with thirteen goals, his best haul at the time and one of the highest by any midfielder in the division. A hugely important contribution for his club.
It was as a creator where he was truly in a league of his own. Hakim Ziyech provided sixteen assists that season, the highest in the Eredivisie by four. He became the epicentre of his team, encouraged by his manager to find balls that just were not possible for other players
‘you put the emphasis on the good things [in his game], or else he may not put that risk in anymore.‘
It was his freedom on the pitch that set him apart. Freedom to express himself, freedom from the shackles of a restrictive tactical outlook. A type of freedom under adversity that distinguishes the finest.
His season was defined by a rarely-seen hat-trick of assists in the penultimate match against Dordrecht. It was a monumental display of creativity, guile and art that characterised his game.
A Battle of Identity
The eyes of the Netherlands were on Hakim Ziyech by May 2015. After impressing for Twente, Danny Blind made no secret of his admiration. Euro 2016 was fast approaching, and the Dutch were off the pace in qualifying.
Guus Hiddink had been sacked after shock defeats to the Czech Republic and Iceland, and there was a tangible danger that they would not make it to the final tournament in France.
They were lacking creativity after the retirement of Robin van Persie, and Ziyech appeared to be the natural heir in the Oranje.
He had appeared appeared for the Netherlands at Under-19, Under-20 and Under-21 level. His first-team debut was bound to follow.
It was only through a minor injury that he missed out on an inevitable call-up for a crucial qualification fixture against Latvia in Riga.
This was to be another watershed moment in his career.
Ziyech was approached by Morocco Head Coach Ezzaki Badou. Badou had had an esteemed career for the national side himself, and offered him the opportunity to represent his other native country.
It was a tough decision for the player, intertwining again his complicated background and loss of his father at an early age. He had been courted by the Oranje, and offered the chance to wear the iconic number ten by Danny Blind. Total Football beckoned, but Ziyech followed his heart:
”My heart told me to choose Morocco. I was at the Netherlands one time but I got injured. I thought of what I wanted and my mum and brothers told me to choose my heart.”
It was another fateful decision that added another layer of resilience to the man.
Find out about the fallout from his decision to choose Morocco, and his triumphant second season at Twente in Part Three of The Wizard of Amsterdam coming soon.
Check out Part One of The Wizard of Amsterdam here