Achraf Hakimi is a man in a hurry. The Morocco international recently became the fastest man to play in the Bundesliga since records began, is the top scoring defender in the Champions League and, on Tuesday, retained his status as Africa’s best young player. He only turned 21 in November.
Hakimi, on loan at Borussia Dortmund from Real Madrid, was named CAF (the African Football Federation) Young Player of the Year at the same ceremony as Sadio Mane, of Liverpool and Senegal, picked up the senior award. Nigerian Asisat Oshoala picked up the Women’s Player of the Year prize for the fourth time.
While Mane namechecked Bambali, the village where he grew up, and “the Senegalese people who have been for me all the time,” Hakimi’s connection to Africa is different. He was born in Madrid to Moroccan parents but chose to represent Morocco instead of Spain in international football, playing every minute of their 2018 World Cup campaign at left back as the Atlas Lions exited at the group stage.
Debt of gratitude to Dortmund
“I’m very happy and proud to win this award and to be with great players and managers at this ceremony,” Hakimi said on Tuesday. “I have to enjoy it, keep working and thank my club, my family and my national team for their daily support.”
Despite impressing for his country, it’s at club level that Hakimi has made the greatest strides. He became the first Moroccan to win the Champions League when Real claimed the 2018 trophy, though Hakimi made just two group stage appearances, but has improved dramatically since becoming a regular after moving to Dortmund on a two year loan that began at the start of last season.
“I’ve kicked on, which is something I needed to do, and I’m a better player and am getting regular football, playing week in, week out and really enjoying myself,” he told Spanish outlet AS towards the end of 2019. ” All in all, it has a real impact on your confidence and I’m grateful to the club, the coaches and the players. That confidence is what allows you to really express yourself and go out there and play with freedom. I’m now a different Achraf.”
Dortmund fans have grown used to seeing different Achrafs, with the prospect excelling in four different positions; right back, left back, right wing and left wing, this season. “I wouldn’t be able to tell you which side I’m more comfortable on. I’ve learned a lot playing on both flanks and I’m going to keep on doing so,” he continued. “I think it’s a real string to my bow: any coach who has a player able to play on both wings, someone versatile, knows that this benefits the team.”
While he has some work to do in the defensive arts, Hakimi’s attacking contributions have been critical to BVB this term. Playing in a more advanced role of late, Hakimi has racked up five assists in his last eight Bundesliga games as well as scoring braces against Slavia Prague and Inter Milan as Dortmund squeezed through their Champions League group.
His importance to Lucien Favre’s side is further underlined by the fact Hakimi has featured in every one of Dortmund’s 26 games this season. Favre believes his charge “has a big future ahead of him and a huge amount of untapped potential” and his improved consistency along with his versatility, dribbling, composure and dynamic style make him close to the perfect modern wide player.
Unfortunately for Dortmund, they aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed. Hakimi has reportedly drawn strong interest from Bundesliga title rivals Bayern Munich, while staying with his parent club Real Madrid remains an option come the end of the season. Hakimi said recently that all paths remain open.
All options open
“There’ll be time to talk to [Real coach] Zinedine Zidane later. He is focused on his own work right now and I’m very focused here. It wouldn’t be a disappointment or failure not to return to Madrid in the summer; what I want is to continue growing.”
Dortmund seem determined to ensure that growth comes at the Westfalenstadion, with sporting director Michael Zorc admitting the club “have expressed our interest several times in extending Achraf’s deal after next summer”.
Wherever he ends up, Hakimi is a player on the quickest of fast tracks. It doesn’t feel like too long before he’ll be lifting the award that currently belongs to Mane.
Photo Credit: DW