Hakim Ziyech has explained how his childhood years playing street football helped shape him into the player and man he is today.
The Moroccan international first fell in love with the sport playing during his formative years on the streets of the Dutch town of Dronten, where he grew up, and feels those experiences toughened him up and ensured he can handle even the roughest treatment dished out by defenders in the professional game.
‘The things that happened in the past when you were younger and all this stuff when you are playing on the streets, it makes you harder as a person,’ he explained. ‘Especially when you get older, you can play that hard football because when I was young and playing on the streets I always played against older guys
‘They didn’t back down and even when you’re too good for them they’re just kicking. Those kind of things make you hard as a person and helps you to grow, even on the pitch. That mentality only helps you and I think I learned a lot from my past and it’s made me become what I am now at this moment.’
His upbringing also made him very much his own man, prepared to take his own path in the sport and speak up to voice his opinion. Whether that is choosing to represent his ancestral home Morocco on the international stage or waiting until he was sure he was ready to take the plunge and move abroad in his club career, he trusts his own instincts and ignores any criticism from outside around those decisions.
‘I am not afraid to have my opinion and I always speak from my heart and what I’m feeling I’m just saying. I don’t really care what other people think about me. In the end I always have faith in myself, trust in myself, so it doesn’t really bother me what other people think. At the end of the day how you perform on the pitch is what matters in football.
‘I also took my time. I didn’t want to watch myself to go to another club early at a youngish age. I took my time to improve, to learn, to grow as a person and I’m now 27 and for me now was the time to move on.'
After making that decision to leave the Netherlands and Ajax behind for a new adventure in England with Chelsea in February, Ziyech has had to be patient. With the Eredivisie ending early because of the Covid pandemic, it was a long wait until the start of the new Premier League season, made even longer when his first competitive appearance for the Blues was delayed further by an injury picked up in our pre-season friendly at Brighton.
That meant he could only watch and wait as the likes of Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Thiago Silva and Edouard Mendy, who signed for Chelsea later, made their debuts. However, having now appeared as a substitute in our last two fixtures, the 27-year-old insists he just remained patient and was pleased to see so many other players join the club for this season, especially in attacking areas.
‘It wasn’t frustrating’ said Ziyech. ‘For me, I couldn’t be back sooner, but you also have to think realistic. The season is still long, there are still a lot of games, still everything to play for, so I’m just only looking forward and just staying calm and just doing my thing.
‘I knew already that I wouldn’t be the only one coming here. It wasn’t a surprise. For me, I think it’s also only good to have more new players, more different styles. For every player, it makes them better to have competition and I think it’s only good for you. The only thing that you have to do is to keep pushing to the best of yourself and everything will be fine, but you have a lot of competition so you have to work hard and keep pushing.’