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It was in February 2021 – a year after his signing from Ajax was announced – that Hakim Ziyech sent a defiant warning to Chelsea’s Premier League rivals. “You’ve not seen the real Ziyech yet,” the mercurial winger stated in an interview with the Dutch television channel Ziggo Sport. “But don’t worry, he’s on his way.”
Ziyech’s first six months as a Chelsea player had been far from easy. The early end to the 2019/20 Eredivisie season and the delayed start to the following campaign due to the Covid-19 pandemic meant six months passed without the Morocco international playing competitive football.
He then suffered a knee injury during his first pre-season campaign at Chelsea. A hamstring issue followed soon after he had settled into the starting XI under Frank Lampard. On Ziyech’s return to fitness, the Blues were in a tailspin and it wasn’t until Thomas Tuchel’s appointment that things improved.
It was shortly after the German’s arrival at Stamford Bridge that Ziyech delivered his hubristic message. Unfortunately for the 29-year-old, he wasn’t given the platform to shine. Tuchel didn’t feel there was a natural home for Ziyech in his 3-4-3 shape and the former Ajax star spent much of his time on the substitutes’ bench.
Last term, in a campaign in which Chelsea played more than 60 matches, Ziyech started only 27 times. Things have only worsened this season with the former Ajax star included in the starting XI on just two occasions across three different competitions. Something has to change.
It has become clear that Ziyech has no long-term future under Graham Potter, who replaced Tuchel as head coach in September. So a January exit is required – and the Evening Standard has reported that AC Milan have reignited their interest ahead of the winter transfer window.
On the recommendation of Romelu Lukaku – who rejoined Inter Milan on loan in the summer – the Serie A champions explored a move for Ziyech prior to the 2022/23 campaign getting underway. However, a deal never came close to fruition and the Rossoneri instead opted to sign highly-rated Belgian talent Charles De Ketelaere from Club Brugge.
However, De Ketelaere has struggled to adapt to life at San Siro and a long-term injury suffered by Alexis Saelemaekers has brought Milan back to Ziyech. A six-month loan with an option to buy may be pitched to Chelsea in January. It is an offer that has to be seriously considered.
Chelsea spent £33 million to secure Ziyech’s signing in February 2020. They cannot expect to receive a similar fee come January. Yet that shouldn’t stand in the way of any potential deal, especially with a squad revamp planned by the new ownership group and Potter in the seasons ahead.
Few can doubt Ziyech’s raw natural talent and he is capable of producing moments of true brilliance. But Chelsea have waited long enough for the ‘real Ziyech’ to arrive. It is time they move on.