Achraf Hakimi says he has improved in "every area" of his play since joining Borussia Dortmund from Real Madrid on a two-year loan in 2018. The 21-year-old says he’s delighted to have made the "absolutely correct" decision to come to the Bundesliga.
It's been a rollercoaster 18 months for Hakimi. After making 17 appearances for Real Madrid in the last of their three consecutive UEFA Champions League-winning seasons, the Madrid-born Moroccan joined Dortmund on a two-year loan deal in the summer of 2018.
Two African Youth Player of the Year titles, 55 appearances for Dortmund and his establishment as one of European football's most talented versatile players have followed and Hakimi could not be happier when looking back on the decision he made to come to the Bundesliga, when several high profile offers were on the table.
"I love football and I follow a lot of leagues - and I've liked the Bundesliga for a long time," Hakimi told Spox and DAZN. "I have many friends and people I know who played in Germany. Of all the offers I had, the Bundesliga attracted me the most - and so far, the decision was completely correct."
The Bundesliga may have been the ideal place for an inspiring player to get game time at the highest level in Europe, but it may not have been on Hakimi's radar when he was playing on the streets of Madrid with his friends as a child. However, it didn't take long for Hakimi to realise he was far more talented than those he grew up with.
"As children we always played on the street in front of our house and we drew the goals onto the walls of the house," Hakimi explained. "When all my friends were on the street, we played with three goals in a big triangle. There was always a lot going on (laughs).
Watch: Hakimi under the tactical microscope!
"One day my father picked me up from school and gave me a letter inviting me to a trial session [at Real Madrid]. At first, I couldn't believe it and asked him if the letter was really real. After he confirmed it, I just thought: 'Oh my god, how cool is that?!' I will never forget this day, it all started for me.
"The older I got, the clearer it became to me that football is my main passion, which I want to devote myself to entirely. I had to invest a lot and unfortunately also spent less time with my friends. I also neglected school and only did the bare minimum. I just couldn't get everything done because I trained in the morning and put everything on football. Of course, I don't recommend that to anyone, thank God it worked for me."
Hakimi gave up time playing in the streets with his friends to become a professional footballer with Real, and he also sacrificed being able to spend time with his family in Spain to join Dortmund in the hope of playing more regular football and improving as a player. The move to the Signal Iduna Park has been a resounding success.
"Under [Lucien Favre], I improved a little in every area," Hakimi said. "When he talks to me, I listen carefully to take a lot with me for my future.
"Dortmund fans are known worldwide because they live football very intensively. We can feel that on the pitch. BVB fans are among the best in the world. They support you when you win, but also when you’re losing. If you’re tired, they can motivate you again."
Hakimi has rarely looked tired at Dortmund. The 21-year-old became the fastest player on record on Matchday 16 of the 2019/20 season, hitting a top speed of 22.49 mph (36.20 Km/h) in Dortmund's thrilling 3-3 draw with RB Leipzig.
The 28-time Morocco international has also scored nine goals in his 55 appearances for the club, played in every Bundesliga game so far in the 2019/20 season and also scored four goals in the BVB's successful Champions League group stage campaign.
To say Hakimi has enjoyed his time so far in Germany would be an understatement, but when asked about his future, the Real-owned wing-back can't say whether this will be his final half-season in black and yellow or not.
"I honestly don't know. I currently see myself clearly at Borussia Dortmund," Hakimi said. "I'm very happy here and I still have a contract for four or five months."