Morocco's Ziyech facing dilemma as he ponders future
Ajax Amsterdam's Morocco international Hakim Ziyech faces something of a dilemma heading into Wednesday's UEFA Champions League tie against Austria's Sturm Graz as he continues to hope for a move away from the Dutch giants.
Ziyech, who played in all three of his country's matches at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, made it clear at the end of last season that he wanted to leave Ajax despite being named their player of the season in a supporters' poll.
But without a firm offer yet, and the end of the transfer window fast approaching, Ziyech might have no option but to stay and help Ajax as they seek to get through the preliminary round of the Champions League and into the group phase while also searching for their first Dutch league (Eredivisie) title since 2014.
If he plays in the midweek Champions League encounter, he will be cup-tied and it will make a possible transfer more difficult.
But if he does not play and Ajax crash out early, as they did last season to French club Nice at the same stage of the competition, and then he does remain, it will be without the prospect of Champions League football.
The 25-year-old is available for Wednesday's game but without any match practice since returning from the World Cup in Russia.
"It could be that Ziyech stays," said coach Erik ten Hag in the build-up to the second preliminary round, first leg match at the newly renamed Johan Cruyff Arena.
"He has a wish to go and an agreement was made between him and the club about this two years ago already.
"There have been discussions with other clubs, but at the moment there is nothing concrete.
"He is extremely motivated to start the season with us and would find it a pleasure to be able to contribute," the coach claimed.
Ziyech did take part in the six-day training camp at Burton-on-Trent in England but, because of a small niggle, did not play in friendlies against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Walsall.
In the two years since signing from Utrecht he has had a fractious relationship with the fans, who have often jeered him for a perceived indifference in performance but also acknowledged his contribution by naming him their best player.
When Ajax were beaten 3-0 by PSV Eindhoven, who went on to secure the league title, towards the end of last season, Ajax's team bus was stopped by angry fans who confronted the players with Ziyech allegedly struck.
In the next match, despite Ajax beating VVV Venlo 4-1. Ziyech came in for mass abuse from his own supporters. "I couldn't watch it, I felt so bad for the youngster," Ruud Gullit said after the game to Dutch TV.
"No one purposely sets out to play badly and Ziyech is a great footballer, the best at the club."
Ajax have been preparing for a future without Ziyech and already signed Dusan Tadic as his successor.
But Ziyech's options are running out. Ajax previously turned down an offer from Roma, who spent 17.5-million euros on Justin Kluivert, and other alleged interest from Everton and Liverpool has not turned into anything concrete.