Few players can claim to have had such a dream start to life in the Bundesliga as Achraf Hakimi, who has been one of Borussia Dortmund's standout performers in an excellent 2018/19.
The 20-year-old full-back, who joined BVB on a two-season loan deal from Real Madrid in summer 2018, has registered three goals and seven assists in all competitions this term, showing he is equally comfortable bombing up the flanks on the right or the left.
Ahead of Dortmund's Matchday 24 curtain-raiser with Augsburg – against whom Hakimi provided an assist in October's barnstorming reverse fixture – bundesliga.com sat down with the Morocco international to talk about settling in at the Signal Iduna Park, starring alongside Jadon Sancho, and the differences between Spain and Germany…
bundesliga.com: Achraf Hakimi, you've had an excellent eight months since arriving in the Bundesliga last summer. Tell us about your time at Dortmund so far.
Achraf Hakimi: "At the moment it's a very good year. We're top of the Bundesliga, we're in the last 16 of the Champions League with a tough second leg [BVB host Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday 5 March]. Personally I'm happy, I'm progressing how I want and I'm getting the playing time I need."
bundesliga.com: What do you make of the Bundesliga?
Hakimi: "It's a different competition from what I've been playing in previously. I like the way they compete, and above all I like the fans, how they live for football. It's a different type of football to what I've been used to but I like the back-and-forth games and it's really nice."
bundesliga.com: At just 20 years of age, you've already played 24 games in all competitions this season, compared to 17 for Real Madrid throughout the whole of 2017/18. Is the Bundesliga the best place for young players?
Hakimi: "I think the style of football here is one that young players enjoy. And above all, young players are given the chance and the continuity they need here every weekend. I think the Bundesliga offers you that and we're showing that wherever or whoever you are, you've got the potential to play, and that's the case whether you're young or old."
bundesliga.com: You aren't the only rising star flourishing at Dortmund this term – what do you make of your English teammate Jadon Sancho?
Hakimi: "I think you've already seen he's a great player. I'm a big fan of his, of how he plays, how he dribbles, the ease he has when one-on-one. He's still young like me, we've got to keep working every day, learn everything we can, and I think if he continues like this then he's going to have a really good career. As well as being teammates, we get on really well in the changing room and we share a number of things."
bundesliga.com: Did you know much about Dortmund before your move from Real?
Hakimi: "I knew about it because it's a historic club, a club with history in Europe that's always done great things. I liked the Yellow Wall, which is the fans, and I also knew a few players, because it's a club that's always had great players. When I got the offer to come here, I didn't need to think twice."
bundesliga.com: Did you speak to anyone about BVB or the Bundesliga before you came?
Hakimi: "Yes, I spoke to people. I only knew [Marc] Bartra who'd been at Dortmund and I was able to talk to him a bit about that, and he helped me a bit to adapt as quickly as possible. And on the league and German football, I had the chance to ask [Dani] Carvajal and Borja Mayoral for advice, who were teammates last season and above all friends."
bundesliga.com: And who do you now spend most of your time with?
Hakimi: "Because of the language, I spend a lot of time with Paco Alcacer, Axel Witsel and Sergio Gomez, and now the newcomer Leonardo Balerdi."
bundesliga.com: Is it easy to cope with the pressure of playing for a big club?
Hakimi: "I think when you're at top-level clubs like Dortmund or Real Madrid you have this pressure because they always like to win and be at the top. I'm a player who doesn't like losing, so I love that sort of thing. You're aware of the pressure but when you like that sort of thing you deal with it."
bundesliga.com: Tell us about your first memories of football.
Hakimi: "I always liked football, always had a ball at my feet, and I think I started to play for a team when I was six or seven and haven't stopped since. I remember playing for my neighbourhood team, playing with my friends and joking about in the streets. They're incredible moments you don't forget, and I always have them with me."
bundesliga.com: What was it about football that particularly excited you?
Hakimi: "I don't know… When I was young my mum tried to get me into judo and swimming, but I told her it was football. I always wanted to have a ball and play, and I think that shows now with the desire to always play and the passion that you show when you like something."
bundesliga.com: You weren't always a defender - in fact you began life at the other end of the pitch…
Hakimi: "I was a striker when I started out at six or seven, by 14 or 15 I was on the wing and then at 16 or 17 I was playing at full-back, where I still am today. I think it's a change that worked out pretty well!"
bundesliga.com: Why did you choose to represent Morocco instead of Spain at international level?
Hakimi: "Earlier in my career I had the chance to play for Spain, they got in touch with me and I had to talk to my agents, my family and think about things. 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. I'm proud to be a Moroccan in the Bundesliga. When I play, I love making my country proud, knowing they're watching me and that I'm an example for many of them."
bundesliga.com: Just how different are Spain and Germany?
Hakimi: "It's like night and day! For me, Madrid is a spectacular city, the food, the atmosphere. I've now come to a completely different culture in Germany. Dortmund is a smaller city with a different culture. You're aware of the change but you're here for work and you need to concentrate on your football, on playing well and then the rest will come."
Achraf Hakimi was speaking to Felix Ahns