Achraf Hakimi has been a revelation since joining Borussia Dortmund on a two-year loan from Real Madrid and with the clock ticking on the Morocco full-back's temporary stay in Germany, there are ample reasons why the 21-year-old should make the move permanent.
Hakimi has previously said his "heart is divided between Madrid and Dortmund," but that he feels "very comfortable" at the Signal Iduna Park, and with his 24-month stint with BVB drawing to a close, he is fully aware that his career will soon be at a crossroads.
"In June I will have to make a decision and it will be a great step for my career, said Hakimi. "In theory, my contract ends in June and from there I have to return to Madrid.
"I have not yet had contact with Madrid on this matter, but I imagine that soon we will have some conversation to find out what is best for me,"
Comfort is important to a young man preparing who became a father for the first time in February, adding to the weight of importance that the decision over his future already holds.
The magnetic pull of his hometown club will be hard to ignore. Hakimi was born in Getafe, a town just south of Madrid and, bar a season with CD Colonia Ofligevi as an eight-year-old, he played all his football at Real before moving to western Germany. But it is easy to see how Dortmund has become such an appealing option for the Morocco international.
After all, this is where Hakimi has developed into a two-time African Youth Player of the Year while establishing himself as one of the most exciting young talents in world football.
At the heart of that has been the faith Dortmund have placed in their youthful loanee, reaffirming their position as the most attractive club in Europe for young players to go and thrive.
Regular football without the Sword of Damocles-like threat of failure is why Jadon Sancho has developed into such a prodigious player, why Erling Haaland opted for Dortmund over any other club to further his development and why the likes of Gio Reyna are benefiting from being given a clear pathway from the youth setup to the first team.
Hakimi is no different and he sought Dortmund out as an option due to the opportunities he knew he would be given. Stuck behind former Bayer Leverkusen man Dani Carvajal in the Real pecking order, Hakimi had just nine league appearances and two UEFA Champions League outings for Los Blancos before Dortmund made their move.
His senior appearances have increased five-fold since and Hakimi is well aware of how his game has benefitted from more playing time, saying he had to “improve a lot” during his time at the Signal Iduna Park and that the result nearly two years on is “a different Achraf.”
“I've kicked on, which is something I needed to do, and I'm a better player and am getting regular football, playing week in, week out and really enjoying myself,” Hakimi told AS.
“That confidence is what allows you to really just express yourself and go out there and play with freedom.”
Watch: Hakimi under the tactical microscope
That freedom of expression is a big thing for a player like Hakimi, the fastest player in Bundesliga history since detailed data collection began in 2011/12 and very much a modern full-back in the way that he looks to have a real impact at both ends of the field.
Case in point are his improved stats midway through 2019/20 compared to 2018/19. He already has more league goals (three) as last year (two), as well as six more Bundesliga assists (10) and four Champions League goals in eight appearances that helped Dortmund progress from a tough Group H that included multiple winners against Barcelona and Inter Milan.
It has resulted in coach Lucien Favre utilising Hakimi in attacking positions on a number of occasions this season, highlighting another facet that has been added to his game; versatility.
Hakimi has been deployed at right-back, left-back and from both attacking flanks under Favre. The switch from right-back to right-wing in the come-from-behind 3-2 win over Inter in November is an obvious example of Hakimi’s status as one of the best utility men in European football.
He scored Dortmund’s first to make it 2-1 and then their 77th-minute winner to send the Yellow Wall into raptures, dedicating both goals to his then pregnant girlfriend in the process. It was a memorable night for all involved and these performances have even left Hakimi scratching his head over where his best position is.
“I wouldn't be able to tell you which side I'm more comfortable on,” Hakimi said of his newfound flexibility in the same AS interview. “I've learned a lot playing on both flanks and I'm going to keep on doing so. I think it's a real string to my bow: any coach who has a player able to play on both wings, someone versatile, knows that this benefits the team.”
And while Hakimi has enjoyed playing his part in a variety of positions, he would be a worthy heir to club legend Lukasz Piszczek in his preferred right-back slot once the 34-year-old hangs up his boots. As much as one might like to pretend otherwise, that day will come sooner rather than later and Hakimi is a perfect fit for the Pole’s enormous shoes.
It would be a transition made all the easier considering Hakimi’s time already spent at the club, his close bonds with his teammates - in particular Axel Witsel, Sergio Gomez and Sancho - whom he says have “made things very easy” in ensuring Hakimi’s happiness at Dortmund, as well as just how instrumental Favre has been in his development.
“[Favre and I] have got a really good relationship,” he added. “He's always looking to help me... he knows I'm young and hungry to learn, and I make sure to listen to him because everything he says to me is true.”
Considering how the Dortmund family has welcomed Hakimi with open arms over the past two years, the argument is a compelling one for him to bring his own young family to lay long-term roots in North Rhine-Westphalia.
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