The new Blues signing has taken a more challenging route than most to becoming a footballing superstar before his movements into the Premier League.
Hakim Ziyech could be Chelsea’s new $40 million (#37m/$43m) signing, but he almost quit the game entirely having tragically lost his dad when aged only 10.
Unbelievable cross-field balls, the ability to snap past competitions and that magical left foot will be incorporating at Stamford Bridge next year, even though Chelsea had hoped to use it in the run-in this effort. But, Ajax refused to market in January. Those talents may not have been seen on the big stages, if it weren’t for the interventions of Aziz Doufikar if Ziyech was only a kid.
Doufikar, a Morocco global, has earned respect from the Dutch-Moroccan community having played for the national team, starring overseas in the Portuguese leagues and training together with Johan Cruyff in Ajax. After retirement as a professional, Doufikar played amateur football in exactly the same club where his son played in the youth ranks with Ziyech.
The youngest of nine kids, Ziyech lost his father Mohamed to multiple sclerosis and then considered quitting the game. Doufikar stepped in to explain the situation to his trainers at Heerenveen and stays near the Morocco international for this day.
“I’m his mentor,” Doufikar said. “I became a youth worker after retiring and I have done it for 12 years now. I first met him when he became a friend of my son Roberto.
“I played with the amateur club once I retired while my son was at the youth group there. I saw Ziyech play together and I thought:’Wow!’ straight away. I thought that is a significant player and I asked my son who he is.
“It was his friend and he told me about him. I went to see him and I thought that this boy can not be here, he’s too great, he desires a professional club today. He moved to Heerenveen. He was seven, eight, nine, 10 and stayed there for 13 years.
“We grew close to him at ten years old his father died. He then said he did not want to play anymore. I tried to pick up him and said he wants to keep doing it because of his dad.
“He went away for a couple of days and he said he would begin playing again. I called the club and explained the situation and they brought him back.”
The loss of a parent was a pivotal moment for Ziyech and, at different points, it threatened to send him down the wrong path. He nearly turned his back to the game and on his return he’d have questions over his attitude and dedication. In an earlier interview, Ziyech stated he shut himself off on account of the grief.
He remembered losing his dad to Dutch paper Algemeen Dagblad, “I remember well, it was winter, just after Christmas,” he said.
“My dad was in a bed in the living area. He had been sick for a while, getting worse and worse. I needed to go to bed that night, but I wanted to remain with him. Eventually, I fell asleep on the edge of the bed.
“Around midnight, I woke up and went up to my room. A couple of hours later, around 3am, I discovered family members yelling downstairs. I went to the living room. My dad was dead.”
Ziyech’s older brothers – and Doufikar – awakened as role models and he persevered to become a world-class footballer. Such is Doufikar’s continuing impact that Ziyech sought his advice when choosing to represent Morocco before the Netherlands, just as his mentor had done in his career.
It was a decision that prompted Dutch legend and his former Heerenveen coach Marco van Basten to call the forwards’dumb’ in public but he would then be eligible for the World Cup in 2018 when his nation of birth missed out.
In the Netherlands, some still believe Ziyech a ‘bad boy’. He had been stripped of the captaincy in Twente after a falling out with his trainer Alfred Schreuder. Now, though, he’s loved at Ajax and is considered a positive influence outside soccer with his fascination with music and charity work.
Chelsea are becoming a player motivated to get to the top and having developed the power to perform it in both his professional and private life.
“I am so proud of him. To have done what he’s done is a 10 out of 10 achievements,” Doufikar concludes. “I can not believe he got to where he is currently from so little. He goes to Chelsea.”
“I wanted Arsenal for him, but Chelsea have Lampard. He was a midfielder who made a difference.
“He’s excited about joining Chelsea. It’s a big club and I think it is time for him to leave Holland as he’s 26 years old. He’s a man today; he can go do his thing and play for Chelsea. He could play anywhere he desires.”