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 with not a single arrival, as much as a let-down for Frank Lampard as it was for the fans. All hope looked to be lost until next summer, but out of nowhere another circulated transfer rumour turned 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, to be completed in the 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. A lively performance wasn’t enough to prevent a 1-0 defeat for the Dutch side first time out, 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 the Dutchman to head home. That should have been the warning sign for Chelsea, but as they tried to contain him, he continued to flourish.
Ziyech got his second assist soon after, thinking he was on the scoresheet but his tricky free-kick cannoning off the post and in off Kepa Arrizabalaga’s face. He was one of Ajax’s brightest sparks that night, one that tantalised and tormented the Chelsea defence in an explosive attacking display.
That performance at Stamford Bridge was no oddity from the vintage Ajax we have come to know and love, or for that matter 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 only with a point after a calamitous collapse and stunning Chelsea comeback, but the Moroccan had shown his talent in what turned out to be his 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. It’s a transfer masterclass from Chelsea.
Ziyech is enjoying another successful season at Ajax, where they sit top 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 10 Champions League appearances. With 29 goal contributions in 29 appearances across all competitions, 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, but 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, in Europe and even the World Cup, impressing in Russia two years ago where 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 has had to wait to buy a player of his choice, and while the arrival extends to the summer his wish has come true. Chelsea’s manager has a player he truly admires and values, one he has brought to the club at his own will and accord ahead of a few more transitional years for the club.
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.