Hakim Ziyech has been too good for the Eredivisie for two seasons now.
But he has been patient. Roma and Bayern Munich were both reportedly close to signing him in the past, but he wanted to wait for the right move - and platform - for his talents to move to the next level, and it appears that Chelsea will provide it.
€45m is, in effect, a relatively low fee for a player whose statistics place him light years ahead of everyone else in the Netherlands, and they aren’t bad in Europe, either. Ajax are acutely aware when players have reached a level that transcends their relatively modest pond. In this case it’s believed that there has been a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ between the parties, hence the fee.
So what are Chelsea getting?
When Ziyech signed in 2016, Ajax weren’t the all-encompassing Dutch force that they are now. Indeed, PSV had won the previous two titles and Feyenoord would triumph in his first season in Amsterdam. Results weren’t always positive and the Moroccan had to cope with the ire of sections of the support.
His arrogant demeanour, ‘risky’ football and single-minded approach to the game wasn’t to everyone’s taste, and he had to maintain a strong head to cope with the intensity of the situation. It’s to his eternal credit that now, three-and-a-half years later, the fans are demanding to know why he’s been sold ‘on the cheap’.
Ziyech is a creator, a dribbler, a ball-winner, a runner, and a goalscorer. He can be whatever player Chelsea want him to be. There will be frustrations in the beginning - the ball belongs to him and, often, he’s not massively keen on sharing it - but once Stamford Bridge gets past it, they will be in for a treat.
His nine goals and 19 assists in the Eredivisie and Champions League combined works out to a direct goal contribution every 88 minutes. Domestically no-one has hit more shots P90 (5.4). He averages three completed dribbles P90 - again, the highest in the league, while he created Big Chances - ie opportunities when the receiver of the pass would be reasonably expected to score - at a rate of 1.3 per game. His through passes, too, arrive at an average of 4.7 P90. Ziyech was born to lay on opportunities for his lucky team-mates.
He has developed a signature move this season. Operating from his regular position on the right flank, he shifts the ball onto his left foot and swerves his delivery to the back post where, more often than not, Quincy Promes arrives to score. It’s easy to recognise, hugely difficult to stop. And contrary to belief, Ziyech also works extremely hard for the team, winning 1.4 tackles and 6.6 duels P90. He doesn’t need to be indulged, he won’t sulk on the wing if the game isn’t going his way, he is always present and involved in helping his team win matches whichever way he can.
Perhaps the finest example of what Ziyech is capable of was in the 4-2 win away at Zwolle in November. The 26-year-old was unplayable. His brilliant cross was headed home by Promes, then in the second half his mesmerising dribble sliced through the opposition back line allowing him to give David Neres the easiest goal he will ever score. Ajax’s other two goals in the match were also created by his whipped delivery into the area. He recorded seven completed dribbles, created three big chances and his three shots were all on target. FC awarded him a score of 9.3 for his display.
But! You say. The Eredivisie is a farmers league, or whatever derogatory comment is doing the rounds this week. Yes, the Eredivisie is not a Top Five league but the numbers Ziyech is putting up are just so superior that they become notable. And if we take the Champions League, the consistency of his brilliance remains.
Only Robert Lewandowski has more goals + assists combined. His 3.3 through passes P90 is the highest in the competition, while his 0.8 Big Chances Created P90 is third best. 4.79 Crosses P90 places him fifth, while his 0.71 xG + xA P90 puts him inside the top 10 players in Europe. The numbers he racks up in a weaker league are clearly carried into the peak club competition.
The frustration will come early if he is either not able to express himself or does so too readily, all in the name of being keen to impress. But he is strong enough to deal with this - he’s done so already.
Ziyech’s FC Rating of 88 is all the more impressive considering this score is weighted based on the quality of the competition. Given the Eredivisie’s competition ranking, it’s extremely difficult to achieve such a grade, a clear example of a player who has outgrown his surroundings.
Very few players in the world have a profile such as his and, in a crazy transfer market where obtaining value is increasingly difficult, €45m seems like shrewd spending for a wonderful player.