Ajax marvel Hakim Ziyech has shot to prominence this season and could be set for a big-money move across the continent.
A number of elite clubs are reportedly tracking the progress of the Moroccan magician after his influential performances helped catapult Ajax to a domestic double and Champions League semi-final berth.
Ziyech’s wonderment from out wide has already ruthlessly exposed Real Madrid – with his two goals across both legs in the quarter-finals eliminating the European champions – while his exploits in the shadow of the Alps has also sent Juventus packing.
With a 21-goal haul and 24 assists to his name across all competitions this season, Ziyech has proven himself a priceless commodity in the Dutch capital, but the makers and shakers at some of world football’s leading clubs will tell you that every player has his price.
Sporting director Marc Overmars, as he did last summer, has given Ziyech his blessing and that he’s free to leave if the right offer comes and the player in question is happy with his prospective new club.
Ziyech, though, has already hinted that he could yet remain at the Johan Cruijff ArenA beyond the summer, but reports suggest clubs are already lining up to lock horns for his signature.
Should a move come to fruition and the Dronten-born winger leave the comforts of his homeland for pastures new, where could he end up?
Dream: Manchester City
As always, Pep Guardiola will be in the market for new signings. Despite boasting a squad replete with world-class talent, the perfectionist will be incensed by his side’s European exit and will ultimately look for solutions; the answers will no doubt be in the transfer market.
As such, Ziyech could offer the Catalan coach an opportunity to bring in a player without splashing the usual circa £50m.
With David Silva and Fernandinho reaching their twilight years, and doubts emerging over the futures of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez, Guardiola may need fresh faces as he looks to achieve European supremacy next term.
Gundogan’s contract expires next season, and last month he hinted at a possible departure from the Etihad: “There is no decision yet, otherwise I would have signed or rejected a contract.
“Everyone feels different. Maybe someone has an inner feeling in his self to go for a new challenge or to change something. I’m always open-minded for challenges.”
The grace of Ziyech’s movement would certainly replace that of Gundogan, and he could thrive under the precocious coaching talents of Guardiola, taking his game to a whole new level.
Dream: Bayern Munich
With the old guard heading for the exit doors in Bavaria, Niko Kovac will need to find suitable replacements to alleviate the departures of both Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery – who could be heading for Qatar.
So this summer could mark the end of an era at the Allianz Arena, and the acquisition of Ziyech would go a long way to heralding the start of a new age in Munich.
Despite sitting atop the Bundesliga table, Kovac has endured a somewhat tentative start to his tenure in the Bavarian dugout, which – for a club of Bayern’s stature – will likely indicate a summer overhaul, one during which wide players will be high up on the agenda.
Serge Gnabry has proven an astute signing, but Kingsley Coman is simply far too injury-prone, while teenage tyro Alphonso Davies is still acclimatising to the demands of top-flight European football since relocating from Vancouver Whitecaps in January.
In Ziyech, Kovac would have his hands on a sophisticated winger of cunning and outstanding balance. But not only that, with Renato Sanches recently expressing his eagerness to leave Bayern, the versatile Moroccan would bring some necessary depth to the Bayern squad.
Squawka Suggests: Bayern Munich
Both clubs are guaranteed Champions League football next season, so this decision boils down to a question of game time.
At 26, this is a vital career phase for the Ajax man to make the next step in his career. There is no question any player would want to learn under Guardiola, but there are no guarantees of a starting berth at City. Just ask Riyad Mahrez.
With Bayern in desperate need of wide players, a move to Germany makes more sense.
Realistic: Manchester United
The Red Devils are teetering on the brink of collapse after capitulating in the final weeks of the Premier League season, and so the emphasis on a summer rebuild has enhanced tenfold.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may very well oversee the exodus of a number of Gary Neville’s ‘unnameables’, which would mean the 13-time Premier League champions are already exploring viable candidates to inject fresh impetus into the club.
Despite their current predicament, the North West club are still one of the most alluring destinations in world football, and Ziyech could flourish under the paternalistic tutelage of the Norwegian tactician.
With Juan Mata potentially leaving on a free this summer and Ander Herrera already gone, as well as question marks over Anthony Martial’s capacity to be a consistent threat across the campaign, Ziyech’s technical ability would go a long way to plugging those creative gaps.
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Unai Emery will not be feather-bedded to the same degree as some of his big six managerial competitors this summer, and so the prospect of signing in the mould of Ziyech will definitely have alarm bells ringing in north London.
The Gunners are set to lose Aaron Ramsey to Juventus upon the expiration of his contract in June, and so Emery will be left with the monumental task of trying to fill his talismanic void; and all that without being remunerated by the Old Lady in the process.
Emery will, therefore, need to be resourceful in the market, and the price being bandied about for Ziyech’s services would be an absolute snip in the climate of the modern market.
There have been rumblings that Emery will look to bolster his ranks with one of two wide players over the transfer window, and Ziyech would certainly add some much-needed zest and frisson of energy down his flanks.
The 26-year-old has also been utilised as a box-to-box midfielder across his career, such is his versatility, and so he could even be the ideal successor for the outgoing Ramsey.
Squawka Suggests: Manchester United
Neither Arsenal nor United have Champions League football secured for next season, and the transition from the penultimate stage of Europe’s premier tournament one season to Thursday night football the next would be a massive fall from grace for Ziyech.
Ziyech and his advisors would, therefore, do well to wait and see how the rest of the Premier League season pans out.
Arsenal are an appealing project. But as things stand, while United may not offer the prospect of winning a plethora of titles, the opportunity to play on the hallowed Old Trafford turf is one few players would turn down.
Ziyech could be the catalyst in United’s revival, with Solskjaer looking to replicate the splendour of those halcyon Sir Alex Ferguson days. There is also the question of wages, and United – with the league’s highest wage bill – are better employers in that sense.
The Giallorossi haven’t quite been able to reproduce the scintillating football espoused by Eusebio Di Francesco last season, which yielded a Champions League semi-final appearance, as well as a third-place finish in Serie A.
Claudio Ranieri is now at the helm and transfer guru Monchi has recently left the Italian capital for Sevilla after his influx of summer recruits failed to have the desired impact.
The club remain just the single point off a Champions League qualification spot in the Italian top-flight, and any deal for Ziyech may depend on which European competition Ranieri’s Roma are plying their trade in next term.
Ziyech has also already opened the door on a possible move the Serie A after revealing he still converses regularly with former teammate and now-Roma winger Justin Kluivert – watch this space.
“I still talk to Justin Kluivert regularly and, yes, we’ve talked about Serie A. There isn’t a league I’d prefer to play in. It depends on the type of project the club has in store for me. The important thing for me is to keep growing as a player.”
– Hakim Ziyech on his Ajax future
Among the Premier League contingent eyeing up a deal for Ziyech are also Liverpool, with Jurgen Klopp reportedly keen in the cut-price deal for the Eredivisie superstar.
The German coach has something of a creativity conundrum on Merseyside, with Adam Lallana’s career hampered by injury problems, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain likewise, and Xherdan Shaqiri having seemingly fallen out of favour since his heroics against United in the first half of the campaign.
All of which would open the door for Ziyech, whose versatility would again offer some much-needed depth to Liverpool, and whose technical ability on the ball also embodies the high-octane philosophy of Klopp.
Should the German need to call on a dynamic box-to-box midfielder – a la Oxlade-Chamberlain last season – then Ziyech would be able to step up; should he also need to deploy an inside forward – one who has a natural ability to slalom past players – then again Ziyech could oblige.
Squawka Suggests: Liverpool
It hasn’t quite worked out for Kluivert at the Stadio Olimpico, and with Nicolo Zaniolo emerging as the one of the brightest talents in Italian football, not to mention a possible lack of Champions League football, Ziyech may find a move to Anfield a more mouthwatering prospect. Klopp has already demonstrated his propensity to adapt players to new roles, so if Ziyech has trouble supplanting the Reds’ current crop of insatiable wingers, he may have better luck in central midfield or as a No. 10.