Who will save Hakim Ziyech?
It is the lingering question which becomes ever more pertinent by the day – will anyone rescue Hakim Ziyech?
The attacking midfielder finds himself in a precarious, ruinous situation that seems to be getting worse by the day.
Ziyech has either scored or assisted 15 of the 18 goals FC Twente have scored in the league this season. At 22-years-old, he is undeniably far too good for his team and what makes it worse is that it appears no one at the club really wants him.
The Enschede side have stripped him of his captaincy, the fans now hate and want rid of him and the player cannot wait to leave.
Despite rejecting a lucrative offer from Feyenoord to sign for the Tukkers in August 2014, the Dutch-born Moroccan international is at the end of his tether.
Twente sit second bottom of the Dutch top flight at the half way point, are in financial ruin, and the situation is only going to get worse before it gets better.
There is one bright spot to the team, however – Hakim Ziyech. And it is time someone came and lifted him out of this poisonous atmosphere, because Twente don’t deserve the luxury of this devastating player.
Hindered by his side lacking any type of game plan or cohesion and seeing the squad around him dismantled over the summer, Ziyech has somehow still managed to shine and consistently play at his absolute best for Twente.
So prolific, elegant, creative and effective, it is obvious that he has already outgrown his current club and simply needs to abandon the sinking ship as soon as possible. Even more so, it appears he has no need to stay in the Eredivisie to continue his development. Teams in the Bundesliga and Premier League should certainly be looking over this awesome No.10, who is available for around €6 million, with a keen eye.
There is so much to enjoy about Ziyech. Although the true joy is generated when he has the ball at his feet, his movement off of it is intelligent. He constantly looks to get into space and open up passing options for team-mates to maintain pressure on opponents. Whether it’s dropping deep, going out wide or blistering through the middle to receive a through ball and open up a shot, he is always available to help his team-mates out.
Looking at his strengths, abilities and statistics shows just how well Ziyech has utilised his talent at a faltering FC Twente. More than that, though, the determination and the variety in the arsenal of a young, developing player becomes clear.
The Dronten native has the creativity, bravery, technique, awareness and passing ability of a fabulous No.10. Even under pressure he can take the ball on and quickly move it wide or through the middle to boost his side’s counter-attacks. When given the ball around the box, he starts to take risks in his passes and they usually pay off, though that and the standard of his team-mates leads to him giving away possession.
With 10 goals and five assists in the league this term – 13 and 16 last season – Ziyech’s influence cannot be overstated. No one in the Dutch top flight is creating as many chances as he, while he has had more than three times as many shots as any team-mate and has hit more attempts than any other Eredivisie player – he is always looking to make the difference and he is usually successful.
After seeing goalkeeper Nick Marsman sent off after 30 minutes and going a goal down to bottom side De Graafschap, Ziyech brought Twente back from the dead. A sweet free kick cross saw him set up Joachim Andersen to tie things up two minutes after the visitors’ opener. The talisman then threatened as he cut inside with a neat dribble, but shot wide. Then, in the 91st minute, Gutierrez found him on the left flank and he charged forward before smashing it home. He not only rescued his side from an embarrassing defeat, but fired them to a crucial three points.
He also showed his capabilities at the opposite end of the table. In Week Five, Twente, who had just one point to their name, came up against an Ajax side who had not conceded a goal in the league and were looking to maintain their 100% record. Up stepped Ziyech to put a dampener on Frank de Boer’s side’s bright start. A neat corner into the centre of the box made it easy for Felip Gutierrez to fire in the opener, and Ziyech doubled his side’s lead with a chipped penalty early in the second half. While Ajax came back to secure a 2-2 draw, the midfielder’s mark on the game had been made.
Only Kamohelo Mokotjo has made more passes for Twente than the attacking midfielder. He also loves a good dribble and is the most frequent crosser of the ball in his team. Almost everything good Twente does has Ziyech’s stamp on it. He is both the brain and heart of the side. He is the only threat and the only thing that’s good about them, yet still teams cannot keep him quiet.
The only absence to his game is his lack of defensive work, although he does move on and press opposition defenders and is happy to chase the ball back. But to place massive defensive demands on a player who produces so much on the ball is to risk compromising his attacking potency.
Despite all his great work, he has become persona non grata at De Grolsch Veste Stadion.
Ziyech snubbed one of Dutch football’s traditional giants in order to move to Enschede – a team thought to be on the rise and expected to compete for a European place in the 2014-15 season. However, their horrifying financial mismanagement and awful decision making has seen the club enter a free fall.
Lacking direction on the field, the team stumbled to a 10th place finish, having been deducted points due to the chaos surrounding the board and their finances.
As the situation grew worse and the team continued to struggle in the early weeks of the current campaign, someone had to pay, and so coach Alfred Schreuder was sacrificed.
Schreuder was not blameless, having failed to play to his team’s strengths and build any kind of identifiable game plan, but he was the man who convinced Ziyech to ditch Heerenveen, snub Feyenoord and join Twente. Crucially, he offered him the chance to play in his natural position, where the player flourished and immediately became the star.
The team captain was devastated by the news of his trainer’s sacking and immediately spoke out, revealing that he wanted to leave too if a good offer came in. Sadly, as Schreuder was sacked on 30th August, there was no time for Ziyech to arrange a transfer before the close of the window.
Still, he plodded along and kept working hard for his team, but stuck in a team well below his level, it seemed there was nothing he could do to stop the bleeding of this wounded, limp animal.
When Twente were punished further by the KNVB for deceiving the licence commission by hiding details of their partnership with the Doyen group, it represented a new low. Banned from Europe for three years and in danger of losing their professional licence in the near future, things are only going to get worse. Sitting in the relegation playoff zone with three wins from 18 league games, dropping a league is a real possibility.
It is impossible to look at Twente’s situation and not be critical or even angry at the neglect and mishandling of a once potent team. There seems to be no plan to get them into shape on or off the field, which is a horrifying prospect.
So when the team captain spoke out in an interview with De Volkskrant and aired his concerns and frustrations, it should have been treated with understanding.
When Ziyech attacked the club again for sacking Schreuder, for stating the obvious and simply being honest, he was immediately shunned.
“There’s much more going on than FC Twente have come out with,” he said in the brutally honest interview.
“Even Guardiola or Mourinho would not have been any better. It is utterly ridiculous that Schreuder was fired. Things have become even much worse since then.
“Schreuder gave perfect training and prepared us perfectly for the next opponent. He knows exactly how to deal with players. The expectations that the club had were too high.
“Shcreuder was an incredible expert. Honest, loyal. He said that I would be able to play as a No.10 and he kept that promise.
“When he was gone, I had to do my job in both penalty areas – often for nothing. We would quickly lose the ball again. My stats could have been much better than they are and that’s not my fault.”
Twente wanted to sack Schreuder in the summer, but having given him a long term contract despite it being his first coaching job made it tough to cut him free. When they finally made the move, it reportedly cost them €2 million and still in that time they failed to line up any replacement, instead giving the job to his assistant – Rene Hake.
“Hake and I have a history,” Ziyech admits. “I know him from when I was in the second team at Heerenveen. After a game against Emmen, where he was coach, I had a big argument with him.
“So when he was made assistant, I had my doubts. How are things now? I’m just doing my best to keep performing well.”
For his honest and accurate assessment of the situation Ziyech was immediately stripped of his captaincy and labelled a “traitor” by fans. Showing them the finger in retaliation to their jeers at a game towards the end of 2015 did not help of course, but the relationship was irreparable by then.
Woe betide the football player who dare have an opinion, who dare speak out instead of suffer in silence the misery, the personal attacks, the feeling of betrayal.
Ziyech, the shining light of FC Twente, must be rescued as soon as possible. The Tukkers don’t deserve him. He committed a crime when he told the truth, but the so-called traitor will have the last laugh. But someone needs to airlift him out of a perilous environment.