It goes without saying that the January transfer window was a frustrating one for Chelsea. The reduced transfer ban seemed to be exactly what the Blues needed, allowing them to sign players in the new year after a painful summer watching players go by.
Yet 31 days passed by without a single arrival, dually letting down both Frank Lampard and fans alike. All hope looked to be lost until next summer when, seemingly out of nowhere, a mere transfer rumour transformed into a momentous signing.
The arrival was Ajax star Hakim Ziyech, the 26-year-old Moroccan winger who has brought talent and thrills to the Eredivisie. The deal was announced on Thursday afternoon, and will be completed this summer for a cool £33 million.
Ziyech is a familiar face to Chelsea fans, having caught the sight of many when his Ajax side met Chelsea in this season’s Champions League. His lively performance wasn’t enough to prevent a 1-0 defeat for the Dutch side in the first match against Chelsea, but it was the return leg at Stamford Bridge where he made his statement.
Ajax went 4-1 up when the sides met last November, with Ziyech playing a pivotal role. He first assisted Quincy Promes’ goal with a delightful cross, whipping the ball in with fantastic speed and quality for his Dutch teammate to head home. That should have been a warning sign for Chelsea, but as they tried to contain him, he continued to flourish.
Ziyech got his second assist soon after (almost officially making the scoresheet) when his tricky free-kick cannoned off the post and bounced into the net off Kepa Arrizabalaga’s face. He was one of Ajax’s brightest sparks that night, and one that tantalised and tormented the Chelsea defence with an explosive attacking display.
That performance at Stamford Bridge was reminiscent of the vintage Ajax we have come to know and love, and, for that matter, reminiscent of the vintage Ziyech. A vibrant winger full of flair, it was a standout performance from a standout player. While Ziyech didn’t make his way onto the scoresheet, his impact didn’t go unappreciated.
Ajax left with only a point after a calamitous collapse and stunning Chelsea comeback. But the Moroccan had shown his talent in what turned out to be an audition for his future employers. As far as auditions go, Ziyech passed with flying colours, as he well and truly left his mark on West London.
To say Ziyech is exactly what Chelsea need is an understatement. An established international who has European experience, a younger winger set to take over the reins from Willian and Pedro, and a player full of talent and potential to develop under Lampard, Ziyech is indeed a transfer masterclass for Chelsea.
Ziyech is enjoying another successful season at Ajax where they sit atop of the Eredivisie at the time of writing. The Moroccan has a total of 13 goals and assists in 18 league appearances, with seven total in ten Champions League appearances. He boasts 29 goal contributions in 29 appearances across all competitions, and the numbers don’t lie.
It has only been less than a year, but Chelsea have been vying for a suitable replacement for Eden Hazard. The Belgian’s departure last summer was costly for the Blues, and even with Christian Pulisic signed in his place, the Blues need more to compensate for the loss of the Belgian wizard.
Chelsea have found their star in Ziyech and for a fantastic, bargain price. He has showcased his skills in the Netherlands, Europe and even the World Cup, impressing in Russia two years ago when Morocco bowed out of the group stage. Ziyech is the Atlas Lions’ poster boy, Ajax’s star man and soon-to-be Chelsea’s Moroccan prince.
Lampard had to wait to buy a player of his choice, and though the wait for Ziyech’s arrival extends to the summer, his wish has come true. The Chelsea manager at last has a player he truly admires and values, one he has brought to the club through his own will and accord. It is a crucial and telling first step for the gaffer as the club continues to navigate this transitional period.
Chelsea are being made to wait another six months before Ziyech leaves Amsterdam for London, but it is a move to be cherished by the club, the manager and the fans. Chelsea have secured their new magician at last, and the curtain-raising act will surely be one to savour.
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