Achraf Hakimi has been taking the World Cup in Qatar by storm as a cornerstone of the Morocco side that has reached the semi-finals. bundesliga.com traces Borussia Dortmund's role in helping him become a global household name.
Born to Moroccan parents in Madrid, Hakimi grew up with a mix of cultures and languages – which perhaps goes a long way to explaining how he was able to hit the ground running in Dortmund in 2018 on loan from Real Madrid.
But more on that later. His rise to the top has been far from straightforward and began when his parents moved from a Moroccan village in the vicinity of Casablanca to Getafe, the industrial sector of Madrid, at a young age "to build a better life for themselves," according to their son. "They came from areas where there is hardly any work. They had to fight enormously hard. I have no words to describe my parents."
Despite the best efforts of his mother – "when I was young my mum tried to get me into judo or swimming, but I told her it had to be football" - Hakimi began his footballing life at CD Colonia Ofigevi.
In 2006, at just seven years of age, Hakimi received an invitation for a trial at Real Madrid via a letter in the post. "I honestly thought that it was a lie and that my father was pulling my leg," Hakimi later said of what proved to be a life-changing moment.
It was no prank. The letter was a formal invitation, with Real wanting to see how Hakimi would fare against the most talented players in the city. He took his chance with both hands, earning a contract with the club and going on to make his professional debut in October 2017, aged just 18.
And not just any debut. Hakimi was given his first senior outing in the professional game by none other than football legend Zinedine Zidane, who was Real Madrid's head coach at the time. "I'm grateful to him for his faith in me and the way he has treated me," Hakimi explained. "I'll always be grateful to him."
What made it all the more special is that he is also close friends with one of Zidane's sons, Luca. The pair played together in Real's youth academy from the moment Hakimi joined and progressed through every age group side by side. "I get on really well with Luca because we've played together since we were seven or eight years old," Hakimi later told BVB's YouTube channel.
He went on to make another eight first-team appearances in La Liga dotted throughout 2017/18, starting six, plus two UEFA Champions League outings over the 90 minutes. The full-back was also a full Morocco international, having made his debut in October 2016, and played in all three of the Atlas Lions' games from start to finish at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, where they exited at the group stage.
Yet as impressive as those numbers are for an inexperienced teenager breaking into a team who were the reigning European champions at the time, he needed regular games if he was to make it as a pro.
And there is no better place for that than at Dortmund. Renowned across Europe for their fearless approach to fielding gifted players regardless of their age, Hakimi agreed a two-year loan move to BVB in July 2018, joining the likes of Christian Pulisic, Jadon Sancho and Alexander Isak in a squad bursting with youthful zing.
"Achraf is a young, very dynamic full-back who has already played at the highest level for Real Madrid and Morocco," said former Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc upon his arrival.
Hakimi did not need long to showcase that dynamism: still just 19 at the time, he scored on his Bundesliga debut in a 7-0 thrashing of Nuremberg, and provided an assist in each of the next two games against Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg.
Watch: Highlights of Hakimi's Bundesliga debut against Nuremberg
Such attack-minded instincts from defence were perhaps unsurprising given that Hakimi previously played much further forward. "I was a striker when I started out at six or seven," he told bundesliga.com. "By 14 or 15 I was on the wing and then at 16 or 17 I was switched to full-back, which is where I still am today. I think it's a change that worked out pretty well!"
It certainly did. Hakimi went on to win the Confederation of African Football's (CAF) African Youth Player of the Year in both 2018 and 2019, beating former Wolfsburg forward Victor Osimhen (Lille/Nigeria) and midfielder Samuel Chukwueze (Villarreal/Nigeria) to the prize when he claimed the crown for a second straight year.
Finishing top of the charts is nothing new for Hakimi. In fact, on Matchday 16 of 2019/20 he clocked a top speed of 22.5 mph in Dortmund's gripping 3-3 draw at home to RB Leipzig, making him the fastest player ever recorded in Germany's top flight since detailed data collection began in 2011/12.
"His speed is incredible," said Dortmund captain Marco Reus - himself no slouch – at the time. "Achraf is a real weapon for us."
Watch: Hakimi's role in the 2020 Dortmund attack!
He also had the guile and decision-making ability to go with it. While he registered two goals and four assists in his first season at the Signal Iduna Park, he stepped up to another level in his second campaign as a mainstay of the side.
Five goals and a whopping 10 assists were his return from 33 Bundesliga appearances in 2019/20, with only five players – all attackers – recording more assists than him in Germany's top flight that year.
As if that didn't endear him to BVB fans enough already, Hakimi became a hit in the virtual world too when the coronavirus pandemic struck. He showed off his gaming talents in the Bundesliga Home Challenge – a FIFA tournament set-up during lockdown – making three appearances in the competition, even if his biggest love in the gaming world is Fortnite.
Hakimi has a Twitch channel where he streams himself playing the game on a regular basis, and even set-up a Fortnite charity tournament to raise money for families in his hometown of Getafe during the coronavirus. The likes of former Dortmund teammate Paco Alcacer, Bayern Munich's Lucas Hernandez and Real's Thibaut Courtois were also involved.
Watch: Highlights of Hakimi's big win in the Bundesliga Home Challenge!
In the real world, however, family comes first for Hakimi. "I think I made the decision to play for Morocco because it's where my parents come from, how they raised me in a Moroccan, Muslim home, so I thought I'd be more comfortable playing for the Morocco national team," he said.
During his time in Dortmund he even started a family of his own. He and his partner, Hiba, were already parents to a chocolate Labrador dog named Raï before they welcomed their first child to the world in February 2020.
Now at Paris Saint-Germain following a spell at Inter Milan, Hakimi returned to Madrid when his loan spell at Dortmund finished at the end of 2019/20, no longer a hopeful wannabe but a fully fledged professional, forged in the famous Dortmund fires.
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