Hakim Ziyech is nothing if not honest. The Ajax winger may have the world at his feet but plenty about modern football and modern life leaves a sour taste in his mouth.
‘Many fake figures are walking around football fields, so I trust few people,’ he said in a recent interview. ‘It’s a big puppet show and it’s getting worse.
‘The puppet show also depends on something like social media. That has destroyed the world.’
Chelsea are closing in on the £37million signing of Hakim Ziyech, the Ajax winger
Ziyech is a classy player, full of skills and trickery plus the ability to get the better of opponents
The Morocco internationa (left) celebrates winning the Dutch title with Zakaria Labyad (middle) and Noussair Mazraoui, his compatriots at the club
With that outlook, Ziyech better steel himself quickly for the unceasing spotlight of the English Premier League after thriving in the comparative obscurity of Holland’s Eredivisie.
The 26-year-old Morocco international, regarded as one of the most exciting players in European football, will join Chelsea this summer in a deal worth £37million.
The murmurs of excitement among Chelsea fans are understandable – Ziyech is an entertainer on the pitch, capable of pinpoint cross-field passes, lethal inswinging crosses and spectacular left-footed goals from the right flank.
What’s more, Chelsea have beaten a cabal of other prominent European clubs for his signature, including Bayern Munich, with Premier League rivals Arsenal and Liverpool also linked.
It’s easy to accuse Ziyech of being hypocritical in his remarks about the scourge of social media.
You don’t have to scroll far through his Instagram feed to find the trappings of fame Ziyech seemed to be railing against when he said ‘everyone wants to show everything off, it is made up’.
There’s a picture of him perched on a wing-doored Lamborghini, posing on a yacht, and feeding bears, lemurs and giraffes at the exclusive Fame Park animal sanctuary in Dubai, which is open to wealthy VIPs but not the public.
Ziyech poses on a Lamborghini on a visit to Dubai in December during the Dutch winter break
The Ajax star feeds animals during his visit to the exclusive Fame Park zoo in Dubai
But Ziyech has certainly not had an easy road in life to reach where he is now.
Ziyech was the youngest of nine children and his father died from Multiple Sclerosis when he was just 10.
He has spoken fondly about how they ate fries together in the canteen of his first club Reaal Dronten in his hometown after games.
His mother raised Hakim, his four brothers and four sisters single-handed and he kept out of trouble by playing football. As the youngest and smallest, he soon developed an array of tricks and skills to hold his own on the street pitches.
Picked up by the Heerenveen academy aged 14, he broke through into the first-team about six years later, scoring 11 goals in 36 matches during the 2013-14 season.
That earned a move to Twente where his reputation in Holland and beyond really started to flourish. 11 league goals and 16 assists in his first season there were followed by 17 and 10 the year after.
At the start of his second season there, Ziyech was handed the captain’s armband but was stripped of it six months later when he made disrespectful comments about the club in an interview and demanded a move away.
Basically, he criticised every aspect of the club and the way it was being run following the sacking of manager Alfred Schreuder.
Ziyech started his career at Heerenveen after coming through their academy to the top team
From there he moved to Twente, becoming their captain before losing the armband
It all contributed to a sense that Ziyech was, at best, a complex character whose moods were hard to read, or, at worst, a complete loose cannon.
Those around Ziyech counselled that he should maybe keep quiet for a while and he stopped giving interviews for a long while, earning a new reputation as something of an enigma.
But nobody could argue with his performances on the pitch and he did get his move, to Ajax, the most famous Dutch club of them all.
Ziyech’s trajectory continued to rise and his first season was a memorable one, scoring 12 times and adding 20 assists as Ajax went all the way to the Europa League final, losing 2-0 to Manchester United.
But it was when Erik ten Hag arrived as manager in 2017 that Ziyech really reached his potential, playing well alongside David Neres and his close friend Dusan Tadic.
It was Ziyech who opened the scoring as Ajax stunned Real Madrid 4-1 in the Bernabeu
The winger really flourished at Ajax once Erik ten Hag took over as the club’s manager in 2017
With the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong also in the side, it was clear something special was brewing at Ajax.
Things came together spectacularly last season as they not only reclaimed their league crown but embarked on a thrilling run to the Champions League semi-finals.
Ziyech was arguably their best performer, scoring 19 times and providing 17 assists. His first goal in the Champions League proper – he’d scored twice in Ajax’s three rounds of qualifying – came against Real Madrid.
That was in the first leg, which Ajax lost 2-1 in Amsterdam. All hope seemed lost, but when Ziyech opened the scoring at the Bernabeu, it proved the catalyst for a breath-taking 4-1 victory.
They went on to eliminate Juventus and had one foot in the final when Ziyech’s stunning curling shot put them 3-0 ahead on aggregate against Tottenham Hotspur in the semis.
Ziyech curls home a spectacular shot for Ajax against Tottenham in last year’s semi-finals
Ziyech squares up to Tottenham’s Dele Alli during the thrilling Champions League clash
As we know, they collapsed to concede three times and crash out, a heart-breaking end for a team that briefly scaled such heights.
Nonetheless, Ziyech was recognised as the Dutch Player of the Year before a summer of fevered transfer speculation as the Ajax team was picked apart.
De Ligt and De Jong went, but Ziyech, after rejecting a concrete offer from Sevilla, remained and extended his Ajax contract. Crucially, the £25m release clause that attracted so much interest around Europe was removed.
Given that, and the fine form Ziyech has carried on this season with 21 assists already, Chelsea appear to have landed themselves a bargain at £37m.
Perhaps uncomfortably close proximity to Ziyech in the Champions League group stage made up their minds to act swiftly.
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Ziyech scored a stunning goal during Ajax’s 3-0 win over Valencia earlier this season
He also impressed with three assists during the 4-4 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge
He set up three of Ajax’s goals in that ding-dong 4-4 draw at Stamford Bridge which saw Chelsea fight back from 4-1 down after Daley Blind and Joel Veltman were sent off.
And they probably drooled as much as everyone else when Ziyech scored with an outrageous looping strike in the 3-0 win over Valencia.
His class on the field beyond reproach, Ziyech also showed he has a big heart during the 2-0 win over Lille in France.
An 11-year-old boy, named as Hussairy, ran onto the pitch to embrace his idol Ziyech, who promised him his shirt after the game.
When he was nowhere to be seen in the stands, Ziyech passes the shirt on to a man who claimed to be the boy’s father. A couple of days later, it turned up on eBay, exposing the ‘father’ as a fraud.
Using the power of social media himself, Ziyech tracked down the boy and his mother, invited them to Amsterdam and presented a signed shirt in person.
Ziyech used social media to track down a boy who was conned out of his shirt last year
Ziyech has represented his country Morocco 32 times and has scored 14 times for them
Then there is the case of Leon de Kogel, a Dutch footballer who played for Utrecht and Go Ahead Eagles before his career was ended in a crash between his car and a taxi during a holiday to Malta.
‘I didn’t know him personally, but I knew immediately: I have to help him,’ said Ziyech who funded De Kogel’s rehabiliation and legal costs in the court proceedings after it emerged the taxi driver wasn’t insured.
Soon Ziyech will swap his apartment in Amsterdam, which is so high up it has views of both Schiphol Airport and the Johan Cruijff ArenA, for a pad in London.
It recalls the advice that Rafael van der Vaart gave to his former club Tottenham as he urged them to sign Ziyech while they had the chance last year: ‘I am convinced that he becomes a sensation in London.’
Now he will probably do just that… but across town with Chelsea. Chances are the ‘puppet show’ is just getting started.