With eight months between his transfer being announced and a competitive debut last weekend, Hakim Ziyech’s start to life at Chelsea has been far from conventional but the forward is now finding his fitness and rhythm as he looks to show his new side what he is capable of.
After introducing himself to the Blues supporters as a second-half substitute against Southampton and then Sevilla in the Champions League, the Moroccan was the latest of our summer recruits to face the media in an introductory press conference at Cobham on Thursday afternoon.
During the briefing, he discussed the reasons behind his move to SW6, the importance of Frank Lampard’s football philosophy and his desire to form an irresistible attacking force with his new team-mates. However, he started with an update on his current fitness status ahead of our trip to Manchester United this weekend.
‘I’ve not played for a while and the injury came at an unlucky time for me so it’s important to get the rhythm back and build up everything again,’ Ziyech began.
‘I know it will take some time but the most important thing is to come back with 100 per cent fitness and I am working hard to do that.’
A standout star in Ajax’s impressive team in recent seasons, winning consecutive Player of the Year awards and helping Erik ten Hag’s side to the league and cup double in 2018/19, it is perhaps understandable that Ziyech has faced plenty of speculation about moving to one of the top European leagues over the years.
While options were on the table for a move a couple of years ago, the 27-year-old is glad when he reflects back on his decision to stay in Amsterdam.
‘Two years ago, I almost moved somewhere else but it didn’t happen and I’m happy about that looking backwards,’ he explained. ‘From that moment I had an incredible journey with Ajax, an amazing time and I improved a lot on the highest stage in Europe.
‘This summer was the right time for me to move on and step up but I’m really happy I had the last two years in Ajax because it improved me not only as a person but also a footballer.’
Chelsea’s interest stepped up in January and, although a deal couldn’t be done between the clubs before the end of the transfer window, an agreement soon followed that Ziyech would move to London in the summer.
As with his fellow new arrivals to SW6 this year, a phone conversation with Lampard was particularly influential in sealing the deal.
‘We spoke on the phone and the way he was talking about the game of football was the most important thing for me at that time,’ explained Ziyech. ‘I come from Ajax and there we like to play football so we spoke about that and his idea of the game. After that, it was clear for me and clear that he trusted me.
‘I had my options open and it was already clear that I would leave in the summer, but not clear where I would go. In January, we spoke with the club and at that point Ajax didn’t want to sell me but after the winter window it all happened really fast and everything was done in 10 days.’
Since then, things have been far from straightforward. He expected to finish the 2019/20 campaign in the Netherlands but the Eredivisie was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic so he made the move to London earlier than expected, training with his new team-mates at Cobham even though he couldn’t feature yet in games.
A pre-season injury disrupted his introduction further but now he is back and working towards full fitness, keen to build bonds, eager to entertain and desperate to deliver.
‘I’ve connected with everybody and they welcomed me from the beginning,’ he added. ‘There are some other new faces so we bring competition, which is good for us to make each other better.
'Kai [Havertz] and Timo [Werner] are two big talents and have already proved it in the past and Christian Pulisic is one of the biggest talents, just a crazy winger!
‘It’s really exciting for me to work with them and I can't wait to be back on the pitch doing our thing together. We want to win trophies, perform well and play beautiful football.’