Football’s transfer market often moves in mysterious ways.
From wondering why your favourite club has splashed out on a target they, seemingly, don’t need, to pulling your hair out as an obvious signing to improve their fortunes remains ignored. For fans, the summer months can be a confusing – and aggravating – time.
In Sport360’s ‘Transfer Market Mystery’ series, we attempt to delve into some of the glaring scenarios and work out what is going on.
Our latest case under the microscope – with help from WhoScored.com statistics – is the lack of tangible interest in outstanding Morocco winger Hakim Ziyech:
Ziyech is the creative heartbeat of the cavalier Ajax side that stormed to the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finals, plus Eredivisie and KNBV Cup double.
A return of 21 goals and 24 assists across 49 matches, plus devastating displays versus the likes of Juventus and Real Madrid, caused Ajax director of football Marc Overmars to understandably state in May that “many big clubs are buzzing around him”. Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal were all contemporaneously linked with an alluring €30-40 million deal.
The ex-Netherlands winger, however, provided a surprising update this week.
“I believe Hakim Ziyech is better than Mesut Ozil,” a perplexed Overmars told AD.
“I would advise Arsenal to sell Ozil and buy Ziyech for half of the money, but they didn’t listen to me. Now there’s a good chance Hakim will stay at Ajax for another season.”
WHY HE SHOULD BE ON THE MOVE
Ziyech is an artist on the football pitch.
He moves at a frenzied pace reminiscent of graffiti artists from his tough childhood neighbourhood of Dronten, rather than the measured style of Rembrandt and the other Dutch Masters that the gravity of his work now demands.
In the Eredivisie, he got the joint-most assists (13) along with team-mate Dusan Tadic. An average of 3.7 key passes per game, however, put him in a class of his own.
Highly rated PSV Eindhoven attackers Hirving Lozano (25) and Steven Bergwijn (26), for example, could not match Ziyech’s combined tally for goals and assists (29).
In the Champions League, only Barcelona icon Lionel Messi (35) and Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar (32) produced more successful dribbles than him (31). Transfer fees for that pair, plus Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling who also registered 31, would all be north of €170m.
Another eye-catching element of Ziyech’s play is his energy and commitment. He usually starts on the right wing, but can pop up anywhere in the final third.
His suffocating pressing is also essential to head coach Erik ten Hag’s vibrant approach.
Ziyech (28) led the way for tackles in the Champions League for wingers, attacking midfielders and strikers. In the Eredivisie, his average tackles per game of 1.7 was the joint-sixth most for Ajax.
WHY HE ISN’T
A simple explanation could be that suitors decided to bide their time and wait for Ziyech’s Africa Cup of Nations-commitments to end.
It is, however, a fortnight since he missed a critical penalty during the round-of-16 upset inflicted by Benin and no firm movement has taken place.
Grander options may yet appear on the market. Bayern would be happy to pay more than double for either Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele or Manchester City’s Leroy Sane if their employers exhibit any willingness to deal.
Scepticism about Eredivisie attackers has also grown since Memphis Depay floundered at Manchester United and even ex-PSV team-mate Jurgen Locadia failed to ignite at Brighton & Hove Albion.
A deeper dive into Ziyech’s statistics may show why such hesitancy, especially when compared to Barcelona’s swoop for club-mate Frenkie de Jong that was tied up last January, is at play.
Ziyech’s 62 dribbles was the most in the 2018/19 UCL – but so too was his 31 unsuccessful dribbles. For unsuccessful attempts, Messi and Neymar had nine less; Sterling had 11 less.
Liverpool forward Sadio Mane’s inferior 28 successful dribbles was allayed by a far-superior 17 unsuccessful dribbles.
In the Champions League, Ziyech scraped into the top 50 for average crosses per game (0.9) and was joint 21st for key passes per game (2.2).
Ziyech’s average of 5.3 shots per game was comfortably the leading figure in the Eredivisie. Only 16 goals followed.
A propensity to fire in low-percentage efforts could frustrate. He fired in a leading 97 shots from outside the penalty box; second-placed Steven Berghuis of Feyenoord hit 56.
Ziyech’s frenetic nature is, clearly, both great strength and notable weakness.
Premium quality costs, but such mark-ups do not intimidate Europe’s affluent elite.
This is why Bayern are in desperate need of a wide man and, yet, have not pushed for Ziyech. The same could even be said for Arsenal if Wilfried Zaha cannot be extracted from Crystal Palace.
All know the generous price that the Morocco attacker is available for. All know a deal is there to be done.
As transfer deadlines get closer and holes in squads become more conspicuous, belated offers may occur for back-up options.
Expect Ziyech to depart Johan Cruyff Arena. Just don’t expect it to be well before any interested side’s transfer cut-off date.
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