Hakim Ziyech has given his unfiltered opinion on the decision not to include him in the Morocco squad for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations.
Big things were expected of the attacking midfielder when he signed for Chelsea in 2020. Despite showing glimmers of his talent, though, the 28-year-old is yet to fully deliver on the hopes that Blues fans had for him.
A few months ago, it would have been expected that Ziyech would be going to AFCON this month with Morocco. However, although he has scored 17 goals in his 41 caps for his country, he was left out of their 28-man squad for the tournament when it was named at the end of December.
He may not yet have reached the highs he foresaw thus far in his Premier League stint, but Ziyech is still one of his country’s best players. So why has he missed out?
Hakim Ziyech and his international issues
The gifted player has been omitted from his international side since June after he “refused to work” for the team, according to manager Vahid Halihodzic.
Speaking in the same month (as per The Athletic), the Moroccan head coach said: “His behaviour in the last two matches, especially the last one, was not that of a national team player who, as a leader in the team, must be a positive role model. He arrived late, and after that, he even refused to work. There was no point in discussing it afterwards. As a coach, the answer is right there to see.
“For me, the national team is above everything. Nobody can hold it hostage. He refused to play a game, admittedly a friendly, on the pretext that he was injured. But the medical staff made several examinations and said he could play. He then refused to warm up in the second half because he didn’t want to be a substitute.
“For me, that type of behaviour is unacceptable. You can’t cheat at the national team. You are 100 per cent there, or you are not. I won’t tolerate it.”
Most footballers dream of opportunities to play at tournaments like AFCON. But in his post-match interview yesterday night, Ziyech didn’t seem too upset to miss out.
What did the Moroccan say?
Hakim Ziyech has struggled for form consistently since he departed Ajax for Chelsea. But his performance on Wednesday night could be the start of better things for the 28-year-old.
He earned the accolade of Man of the Match in his side’s 2-0 Carabao Cup semi-final victory against Tottenham Hotspur.
He cut apart the opposition defence on multiple occasions to threaten with his shooting prowess. In addition, it was his free-kick that led to Ben Davies’s farcical own-goal.
In his post-match interview, Ziyech was asked about his omission from the Morocco squad for AFCON. He took the opportunity to make his feelings very clear on his current international situation.
He said: “I’m doing my job and trying to perform as best I can. As for all the other stuff, it’s not important. At this point, I don’t care to be honest.”
How does this decision affect the player, club and country?
Halihodzic’s call to not include Hakim Ziyech in the Moroccan squad is an intriguing move. On the one hand, it could be hugely detrimental to their hopes of winning the tournament. The midfielder is one of their more talented players, and if the nation finds itself down on the scoreline, they may be wishing that they had his extra touch of magic to save them.
But on the other side of the coin, the manager’s past comments about Ziyech certainly indicate there are reasonable grounds for the player not to be included.
However, regardless of whether this benefits Morocco or not, Chelsea will surely be happy about this. The London side have been desperate for the 28-year-old to fulfil his potential.
His performance against Tottenham could signal the start of a rich vein of form, and given the Blues’ recent struggles in the Premier League, more of the same could help them return to the title battle.
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