This is not how Hakim Ziyech planned to say goodbye. On March 7, with his team leading 3-1 in the 68th minute, he saw his number go up on the substitution board. On came 17-year-old Ryan Gravenberch, and off went Ziyech for, as it turns out, the last time as an Ajax player.
He had been hoping that lifting a second Eredivisie title would be his final act. Instead, it was just a random moment on an otherwise ordinary night — though incidentally, the same stadium where his professional football career began in 2012 while still a player for the local team, Heerenveen.
Of course, no one could’ve predicted how greatly the coronavirus pandemic would affect daily life and football, nor that the Eredivisie would become the first European league to cancel the rest of their season as a result.
“Of course I didn’t think about that at the time. We were winning, getting out of our dip [in form and] it felt like the turnaround. [But] everything went differently because of the corona crisis.”
With no title awarded (and relegation or promotion either), Dutch football have hit the reset button and will try again next season (whenever that may be). The lockdown measures are set to be in place until at least September 1 in the Netherlands.
But Ziyech won’t be around by then. He’s set to join Chelsea — on July 1 as of right now, though only whenever the Premier League registration window officially opens ahead of next season. (Though, I suppose, there’s nothing preventing him from coming over to train with the team before then.)
“My signature is on the contract and so yes, on July 1, I will be a Chelsea player [though] the question is when the countries will really open again and I can safely start there. And then there is indeed [still the current season]. But I have no influence on that, I will see it all by then.”
The 27-year-old playmaker, feels “privileged” to have his future thusly assured ahead what’s expected to be a somewhat tepid transfer window in the new post-COVID-19 economic reality.
And as much as the current situation is far from ideal, for Ziyech and his recent injury issues, it’s a welcome chance to properly rest and recover ahead of his big move. (In that sense, he’s in a similar situation to may of Chelsea’s walking wounded this season.)
“Of course [having no football] takes getting used to, really getting used to. [But] I’ve been playing non-stop for three years. Only a short break here and there due to the final tournaments in the summer. My body was ready for a rest. It may sound crazy, but it is also not the case that I miss football now. I do my daily workouts myself, but I feel that my body is really relaxing. And I can spend time with friends and family.”
Of course, he will miss his comfortable situation in Amsterdam. Chelsea and the Premier League will be a challenge and he will have to prove himself all over again, just as he did when arrived in the big city from Enschede four years ago.
“[My time here was] full of highs and lows, full of prosperity and setbacks,”
“You know, I’m not really into club love, never have been. Kissing the club logo, I don’t do that kind of thing. I’m just myself, don’t pretend otherwise. But I have to admit now that Ajax will always have a special place with me. It really has become my club.
“I was able to be myself in Amsterdam, I had a lot of nice and good people around me, from fellow players to people around the team. As a footballer I have also become much more complete. Without ball, but also with ball. The click I had with the guys around me, like with Quincy Promes this season or Dusan Tadic last year, was special.”
“I will cherish my best memories [especially] last season. The championship, but especially our way in the Champions League. How we amazed the whole world with our game. It all fit. That not only gives me a special feeling for all players, but I think it will last forever. We left [a mark] at Ajax.
“But for me it is now time for something new.”
-Hakim Ziyech; source: AD via Google Translate
We’re all looking forward to that, the return to some semblance of normalcy, the arrival of a very exciting new talent, and the expectation of trophies and greatness.