Is Eredivisie's Top Footballer, Hakim Ziyech, the best African playmaker?

Ziyech is a piece of jewellery for Dutch football.
— Erik ten Hag, Ajax FC Manager

Most of the decorated African footballers over the years are “incidentally” forwards. I mean, it’s fair to recognise the fact that it’s easy to notice goal scorers because after all, football is about scoring goals. Think about, the legendary George Weah (the only African to have won the FIFA Ballon d’Or), Cameroon’s Roger Milla, Didier Drogba, Samuel Eto’o and even now, arguably the most celebrated names in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane are both forwards. Playmakers like Austin Jay Jay Okocha, “who was so good that they had to name him twice” are a rare find and one, Hakim Ziyech definitely falls in this category. Whether he is good enough to be mentioned amongst the above past and current legends is a debate on its own, but let’s talk about what the 2017 Netherlands Footballer of the Year offers.

Hakim Ziyech of Ajax in action during the UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st leg match between Ajax and Dynamo Kiev held at Johan Cruyff Arena on August 22, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Aug. 21, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

Hakim Ziyech of Ajax in action during the UEFA Champions League Play-off 1st leg match between Ajax and Dynamo Kiev held at Johan Cruyff Arena on August 22, 2018 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

(Aug. 21, 2018 - Source: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images Europe)

Playmaker definition fits Hakim

The above word is nothing perhaps just a clever term to describe an attacking midfielder that literally controls the midfield by beginning attacks, creating chances for the strikers and at times finishing the attacks as well. Playmakers are famously the rightful bearers of the coveted “number 10” shirt. At a high level, a striker’s job is putting the ball into the back of the net, we actually do not care how he/she does it. We ask of a defender to block the ball from entering into their own net, the same with the goalkeeper and we seldom do not care how they do it. But for playmakers, even in basketball just as in soccer- their first job is to be creative above anything else.

Hakim, whose arabic name means judge or ruler is definitely living up to his name-giver’s expectation by creatively exercising authority on the pitch. The Ajax playmaker’s body frame and demeanor fits that we have grown to associate with other household playmakers. His seemingly “lanky” structure is like that of Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil, Manchester United’s Juan Mata of course Lionel Messi who frequently adopts a similar role for his teams. Hakim is also left footed like these three with an eagle’s vision, able to pick out a pass anywhere on the pitch and possesses unusual dribbling abilities. The 25-year-old Moroccan international born and raised in the Netherlands happens to be a free-kick specialist as well and a regular goal scorer, something now expected of players like him.

Numbers don’t usually lie

Ziyech’s recent accolade awarded to him by the newspaper De Telegraaf in partnership with the Dutch Football Federation comes as no surprise after Ziyech’s consistent performances over the years. Since the 2014/15 Eredivisie season, top flight league in the Netherlands, no footballer has weighed up more assists than the Moroccan international with 16, 10, 17 and 15 assists respectively for all the four seasons up to the most recent one. Just to give a sense of scale, Hakim served up more assists than Mesut Ozil for their clubs in the same period with the former recording 57 while the latter with 49. A true hallmark of a playmaker. He also scored a total of 37 goals in the same period for FC Twente and his current team, Ajax Amsterdam. Hakim was awarded the Mars d’Or(Best Moroccan Player) in 2016 to honor his contributions to the country and the Ajax fans voted him Player of the Year in the 2017/18 campaign. He stills has a lot give Morocco with 9 goals in 21 appearances for his country since his debut in 2015.

Dani Carvajal of Spain crosses the ball under pressure from Hakim Ziyach of Morocco during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Spain and Morocco at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 25, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia.  (June 24, 2018 - Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe) 

Dani Carvajal of Spain crosses the ball under pressure from Hakim Ziyach of Morocco during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia group B match between Spain and Morocco at Kaliningrad Stadium on June 25, 2018 in Kaliningrad, Russia.

(June 24, 2018 - Source: Julian Finney/Getty Images Europe) 

Perceived weakness

One standout, lesser strength for the playmaker is one that usually accompany most playmakers. His boyish structure means he is relatively less physical than most players and one who can easily be shoved off the ball. But it’s not always the case, his close control and hand-like left foot usually allows him to shield off the ball from any pursuing markers and is able to win fouls for his team quite frequently.

What other people have said about “The Ruler”

Ajax manager, Erik ten Hag described Ziyech as a rare piece of treasure.

Dutch and Manchester United legend, Edwin Van Der Sar was delighted to be able to keep the Moroccan for one more year after the 25-year-old had been linked with move away to AS Roma in Italy and deems him as fundamental ingredient in Ajax’s efforts to conquer Europe.

We said we want to play in the Champions League with the strongest possible team. We may not have counted one hundred percent on Hakim, but we are very happy that we have come together and that he is here for another year at Ajax.
— Edwin van der Sar, Managing Director of Ajax FC

Final note

At just 25, Hakim is definitely in his prime years as a footballer and a move away from Ajax to a bigger club in Europe or elsewhere can’t be out of question given how difficult it is to find players with his abilities. Checkout what Ziyech is all about in the video below.