Hakim Ziyech: The street footballer set to become Chelsea’s next big-money signing

Since 2018, Ziyech has provided more assists than Lionel Messi in the Champions League

From captaining a club in crisis in his early twenties through to shining on Europe’s biggest stage, Hakim Ziyech has experienced much on his journey from street footballer to becoming Chelsea’s latest signing.

The Dutch-born Morocco midfielder is poised to head to London this summer after Chelsea agreed a fee with Ajax that could rise to more than £36m.

While any big-money transfer to the Premier League comes laden with expectation, 26-year-old Ziyech has already shown he is no stranger to adversity or pressure.

The youngest of nine children, his father died when he was 10, leaving his mother to raise a large family on a modest income.

Football became a particular focus for the family, with two of Hakim’s siblings holding aspirations of making it in the game.

But as their hopes faded, it instead fell to the youngest Ziyech to keep the dream alive.

He had honed his talents on the streets of the Dutch town of Dronten, eventually graduating to the academies of local clubs Reaal and ASV, before his big chance came when he joined Heerenveen as a 14-year-old in 2007.

He soon made an impression at the Abe Lenstra Stadium – his first-team bow coming at 19 – and before long the club was providing Ziyech with a springboard to success.

However, joining FC Twente in 2014 in the midst of the club’s financial crisis brought unique challenges, as did his 2016 transfer to Dutch giants Ajax, where he would find himself caught up in fan unrest as the club endured a five-year title drought.

“In my eyes he is unbreakable,” says Dutch football writer Marcel van der Kraan. “He’s been through a lot in his life and he then had a difficult start at Ajax, with the fans on his back and confronting him.

“Marco van Basten [his former coach at Heerenveen] didn’t see a great future for him and he let none of that affect him.

“Twente were on the edge of bankruptcy and as the captain at a young age, he had to appear in front of the press every week and answer questions that should not have been addressed to him but the club’s board.

“He let his feet do the talking and handled it all in his stride and I think that has made him.”

‘Ajax fans think he’s worth £100m’

Ziyech’s difficult relationship with Ajax’s fans peaked after a 3-0 defeat at PSV Eindhoven in April 2018, a result that confirmed their great rivals as Dutch champions.

The midfielder was reportedly singled out for criticism