Achraf Hakimi: Morocco’s top valued footballer on fairy tale journey at World Cup | Sunday Observer

Achraf Hakimi: Morocco’s top valued footballer on fairy tale journey at World Cup

12 February, 2023
Achraf Hakimi (No. 2) celebrates a victory at World Cup
Achraf Hakimi (No. 2) celebrates a victory at World Cup

Achraf Hakimi is a professional footballer who plays for the Morocco national team and Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain. He mainly plays as a right-back. Known for his speed, runs and goal scoring ability, he is regarded as one of the best right-backs in world football.

Hakimi’s most remarkable moment at the 2022 FIFA World Cup was the impressive Panenka penalty kick he scored during Morocco’s Round of 16 match against Spain. His Panenka shot did not only steal the show at the World Cup, but also sealed the Moroccan squad’s shock win against La Roja and marked Morocco’s first-ever qualification for the tournament’s quarterfinals.

Hakimi was among the in-form, outstanding Atlas Lions who emerged as key players for Morocco during the 2022 World Cup, and after their semi-final defeat by France he tweeted the “dream of a team, of a whole country, is over.”He was also the most valuable player in Morocco’s national team at the 2022 FIFA World Cup with a market value amounting to €65 million.

The Moroccan squad upon their return from Qatar, received a grand welcome from Moroccan fans who were lined up across the streets of the Moroccan cities of Sale and Rabat.On the same day, King Mohammed VI hosted the Moroccan team in the Royal palace in Rabat, where he decorated them with royal wissams (medals) in recognition of their historic World Cup run.

Player Profile

Upon signing for Borussia Dortmund, Hakimi was profiled as a quick, dynamic and powerful right-sided attacking full-back or wing-back, who is tactically and technically adept and capable of playing long accurate passes from defence. Trained as a winger, he can also play as a defender due to his physical presence. He is considered by several pundits to be one of the best defenders and right-backs in world football.

Birth and Growth

Born on November 4, 1998 as Achraf Hakimi Mouh in Madrid, Spain, to Moroccan parents, Hakimi joined Real Madrid’s youth setup in 2006 from Colonia Ofigevi, aged eight. Hakimi came through Real Madrid’s youth academy. Hakimi represented Morocco at various youth levels, before making his international debut in 2016 aged 17, after previously being capped by the nations’ youth teams at under-20.

He began playing for Real Madrid Castilla in 2016 and was promoted to the first-team in 2017, playing a few minutes with the latter. Hakimi idolized Cristiano Ronaldo throughout his childhood and regards him as his greatest inspiration and the reason he is the footballer today. He was sent on a two-year loan deal to Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, winning the DFL-Super Cup in 2019.

After a successful loan with Dortmund, Hakimi signed with Serie A side Inter Milan for a reported fee of €40 million, with his performances helping the club win the league title, ending the club’s eleven-year league title drought. His performances sparked the interest of several European clubs, with Paris Saint-Germain signing him in 2021 for a reported fee of €60 million.

He was chosen in Morocco’s squads for the FIFA World Cup in 2018 and 2022, and the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019 and 2021. Hakimi is married to Spanish actress Hiba Abouk. She is of Libyan and Tunisian descent. The couple have been blessed with two sons, born in 2020 and 2022. Hakimi is a practicing Muslim.

Club Career

Hakimi made his debut for Real Madrid in the first match of the 2016 International Champions Cup, a 3-1 loss against Paris Saint-Germain. He subsequently returned to the B team, making his senior debut on August 20, 2016 by starting in a 3-2 Segunda Division B home win against Real Sociedad B.

Hakimi scored his first senior goal on September 25, 2016, netting the equalizer in a 1-1 draw at Fuenlabrada. On August 19, 2017, Hakimi was promoted to the main squad as a backup to Dani Carvajal and Nacho, and was assigned the number 19 jersey. He made his first team and La Liga debut on October 1, starting in a 2-0 home win over Espanyol. He scored his first La Liga goal on December 9, 2017 in a 5-0 win against Sevilla.

On May 12, 2018, he scored his second goal against Celta Vigo in a 6-0 win. In the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League, he made two appearances as Madrid won the title, their third consecutive and 13th overall. Although not in the squad for the final of the competition, he received a medal and is credited as the first Moroccan player to win the Champions League.

On July 11, 2018, Hakimi signed for Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund on a two-year loan deal. He scored his first goal for the club in a 7-0 victory over 1. FC Nurnberg on September 27, 2018. He provided three assists in a single match for the first time in his career against Atletico Madrid, in his first Champions League appearance for Dortmund.

Hakimi scored a brace against Slavia Prague in the group stage of the Champions League on October 2, 2019, his first goals in the competition. On November 5, 2019, Hakimi scored another brace in the second half to turn a 2-0 defeat against Inter Milan to a 3-2 win at the Westfalenstadion.

In February 2020, Hakimi set a Bundesliga speed record when he was clocked at 36.48 km/h (22.67 mph) in a match against Union Berlin, beating the old league record which he had set against RB Leipzig three months prior at 36.2 km/h (22.5 mph).

On May 31, 2020, Hakimi scored in the club’s 6-1 away win over SC Paderborn. After scoring his goal, he removed his shirt to reveal a shirt with the message “Justice for George Floyd.” His teammate, Jadon Sancho, revealed a similar shirt after scoring as well.

On July 2, 2020, Hakimi signed for Serie A club Inter Milan on a five-year contract, with a reported fee of around €40 million. On September 26, 2020, Hakimi made his debut and provided an assist in a 4-3 win against Fiorentina in the Serie A. He scored his first goal for the club in the subsequent league game against Benevento, which Inter won 5-2.

Hakimi signed for Ligue 1 club Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) on July 6, 2021 on a five-year contract. The transfer fee paid by PSG was reported by The Guardian to be an initial €60 million, potentially rising by €11 million in add-ons. Hakimi made his Ligue 1 debut for PSG on August 7, 2021, playing the entire ninety minutes and scoring his first goal for the club against Troyes.

He received his first red card in European football in a 0-0 draw against Marseille on August 24, 2021. On September 22, 2021, Hakimi scored twice in a 2-1 victory against FC Metz to allow his team a win and collect 3 points.

International Career

After representing Morocco at under-17 and under-20 levels, Hakimi made his debut for the under-23 on June 5, 2016, in a 1-0 friendly win over Cameroon Under 23. He made his full international debut on October 11, 2016, coming on as a substitute for Fouad Chafik in a 4-0 win against Canada. He scored his first international goal on September 1, 2017, netting the fourth in a 6-0 home routing of Mali.

FIFA World Cup 2018

In May 2018, he was named in Morocco’s preliminary squad for the 2018 FIFA World Cup and on June 4, he was named in the final 23-man squad for the summer tournament.Hakimi was also called up for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon. He started all his matches in the group stages. He scored a free kick in a 2-2 tie against Gabon. He started in the round of 16 against Malawi, scoring a free kick in the 70th minute to grant his team the victory.

FIFA World Cup 2022

On November 10, 2022, Hakimi was named in Morocco’s 26-man squad for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. He scored the winning goal in a penalty shoot-out against Spain in the round of 16, securing a place for his country in the quarter-finals.

The Moroccan National Team might have left the 2022 FIFA World Cup with no medals or tangible prizes, but their mark on the world is forever etched. Though the defeat against Croatia landed them a fourth-place finish, the Atlas Lions departed Qatar as history-makers and record-breakers.

Morocco became the first Arab and third African team to reach the quarterfinal and the first Arab and African to reach the semi-finals, an unforgettable run. In short, it was Morocco’s World Cup and everyone else was just living in it.

With supreme verve and fervouragainst all odds and expectationsthe Moroccan team left fans jubilant. Both on and off the field, there were some iconic moments for the team. From an undefeatable penalty shootout to warm celebrations with their mothers, here is a rundown of Morocco’s unforgettable moments during the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Group Stage Matches: Morocco drew 0-0 with Croatia in the first Group Stage match. Then, Morocco defeated Belgium, ranked by FIFA as world number 2 prior to the tournament, in a sensational 2-0 victory that qualified them for the knockout stage for the second time in their history. In their final Group Stage match, Morocco beat Canada 2-1.

Round of 16 versus Spain: Hakimi’s status as one of Morocco’s most successful footballers has already been set, and he had his moment in the last 16 in their historic victory over Spain.After 120 minutes of knife-edge football, and amid a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, Hakimi stepped up with the expectations of a nation on his shoulders to score the winning spot-kick.

Morocco upset their northern neighbour and 2010 World Cup winner, Spainin a 3-0 win in a penalty shootout. He nonchalantly dinked the ball down the middle to spark scenes of wild jubilation, before emotionally celebrating the 3-0 shootout victory with his mother in the stands.Yassine Bounou, the goalkeeper was crowned Man of the Match after beating Spain, where he saved two out of three penalties, guiding Morocco to a historic win over Spain.

Quarter Final versus Portugal: Following that hard-fought victory against Spain, the Moroccan national team managed to defeat Portugal 1-0 in the next game and become the first African and Arab country to reach the World Cup’s semi-finals, a milestone that was widely celebrated across Morocco, Africa, and the Arab world.

Morocco’s Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou gave his Man of the Match award to Youssef En-Nesyri after the win against Portugal. After their win against Portugal, Achraf Hakimi ran to celebrate with his mother after eliminating Spain from the World Cup. Moroccan forward Soufiane Boufal brought his mother onto the pitch to celebrate with her, while goalkeeper Yassine ‘Bono’ Bounou shared his gloves with his son, and played with him on the field.

Semi Final versus France

Morocco’s historic World Cup dream came to an end when they lost 0-2 to France in the semi-final of the World Cup.

The Atlas Lions dream began to crumble so fast and early on when French defender Theo Hernandez slotted home a loose ball from some attacking pressure. But with the likes Achraf Hakimi, Ziyech and Abderrazak Hamdallah pushing, the history making lions continued to chase for a comeback, hitting the woodwork by the end of the first half.

Morocco returned to the match in the second half dominating possession and completely on top of the game. An equalizer seemed imminent. But they were once again denied one, when El Yamiq’s overhead acrobatic effort hit the woodwork.

France had to dig deep, often relying on the counter attack. In the 79th minute, the Les Blues punished the Lions for missed chances when substitute Randal Kolo Muani pounced on a deflected shot from the brilliant Kylian Mbappe.

It was enough to drown the hopes of Moroccan players who wore long downcast faces at the sight of the goal. For France, who for the most part of the second period looked a shadow of themselves, this was relief and a booking for a successive back-to-back place in the final. In doing so, the much-experienced Les Blues put to end the African and Arab dream.

Third Place Play Off versus Croatia: Morocco lost to Croatia 1-2. Josko Gvardiol, one of the stars of the tournament in Qatar, headed Croatia into the lead in the seventh minute but Achraf Dari brought Morocco level right away. Orsic’s terrific curling strike late in the first half ensured Croatia took home the bronze medal, the 11th World Cup in a row a European team has finished third.

Walid Regragui, the Morocco coach, said there was a lot for his team to proudly reflect on after they became the first African semi-finalists in World Cup history. “We have a team that never gave in. We’ll remember a lot of matches; we’re going to come back stronger. We’ve united our country for a month, everybody was happy.”

Top Valued Player

Achraf Hakimi is on the list of the top-valued players in the FIFA 2022 World Cup, according to data from the Football Observatory.Data from the observatory indicated that Hakimi’s transfer value stands at €80 million, placing him in 17th place among the most valued football players in the most prestigious competition.

Hakimi’s transfer value is even more impressive given that the transfer value of all Moroccan players on the national team stands at €315 million. In June of 2022, the PSG right-back ranked as Africa’s most expensive player, according to the International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES).

Individual Honours

Achraf Hakimi has been bestowed the honour of the “Order of the Throne” in 2022. Besides, his individual awards include, CAF Youth Player of the Year - 2018 and 2019; Bundesliga Rookie of the Month - September 2018, November 2018 and December 2019; Bundesliga Team of the Year – 2019/20; Lion d’Or African Footballer of the Year - 2019; UEFA Champions League Breakthrough XI - 2019; Globe Soccer Awards Best Young Arab Player of the Year - 2019; Joy Awards Arab Sportsman of the Year - 2022; Goal Africa Team of the Year – 2018 and 2019; France Football Africa Team of the Year - 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021; CAF Team of the Year - 2019; ESM Team of the Year - 2021; IFFHS All-time Morocco Men’s Dream Team; IFFHS Africa Team of the Year - 2020, 2021 and 2022; IFFHS Men’s World Team – 2021 and 2022; Africa Cup of Nations Team of the Tournament - 2021; Serie A Team of the Year – 2020/21; Best Moroccan player abroad – 2020/21 and 2021/22.

(The author is an Associate Professor, International Scholar, winner of Presidential Awards and multiple National Accolades for Academic pursuits. He possesses a PhD, MPhil, and double MSc. His email is [email protected])