A story about family, loss and belief in oneself: How Chelsea’s Hakim Ziyech made it onto the European football stage as a street footballer.
Small gestures often mean a lot. When Hakim Ziyech jerked his right hand over his mouth after his decisive 2-0 win against Sheffield United in the FA Cup to seal his lips with an imaginary zipper, it was a sign to everyone out there: Leave me alone. Shut up everyone. And damn it, let me do it.
The action is typical for the 28-year-old. Not because he is incapable of criticism. Rather, because he has always said straight ahead and does what he thinks is right. Without filters, considerations or scruples. And right now, after his late joker goal against Sheffield, he’s sick. Grumpy. Dissatisfied with his working hours, how he is dealt with, annoyed with his evaluations and lack of appreciation.
Ziyech has been wearing the blue Chelsea shirt for ten months. And does not yet have the influence on his new team, as some would like from a 40 million euro offensive player. That Ziyech did not play a competitive game for seven months before his first game for Chelsea? That the preparation was marked by a stupid knee injury? That Frank Lampard, after all Ziyech’s main reason to go to London, is no longer his trainer? For free. You can’t do it, then it’s not you.
“At ten you don’t realize what death means”
Ziyech has never been a follower who flies under the radar. “I say what I think. That’s why I’m difficult for some coaches,” he said once in the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant about themselves. “The difficult types usually prevail. Those who say yes often don’t make it.” Ziyech offends, with coaches, in the club, the fans. So he made it from the poor extended family into the great glamor world of football.
Born and raised as a small, skinny boy and the youngest of nine children of a Moroccan immigrant family in the small Dutch town of Dronten, Ziyech learned on the street that only those who are opinionated and self-confident will prevail. In street football between the houses, he has to constantly avoid the kicks and attacks of the robust, older opponents. When you fall, the ruthless asphalt is particularly painful. Ziyech developed a mentality that allowed him to persevere, and a technique and overview that he still draws on today.
However, nothing can prepare him for human loss. Ziyech is ten when his father dies. He has been speaking openly about the family tragedy for years. Papa Ziyech is ill, has multiple sclerosis, smokes a lot, works hard as a metal worker. He felt worse and worse about Christmas 2003. In his last moments, his youngest son still falls asleep on the edge of his bed, then later goes into his own room. The head of the family dies that same night. “And then you stand there as a ten-year-old child …”, Ziyech describes it in, among other things Algemeen Dagblad.
“At ten you don’t realize what death means,” he recalls. That won’t happen until a few years later. So Ziyech continues. The mother is now alone with nine children, two brothers who are also talented in football come into conflict with the law and are thrown out of the youth academy. Hakim and his gift are the last hope for a better future for the Ziyech family.