Everybody needs a mentor in life.
Whether it’s Rafa Benitez teaching Cristiano Ronaldo how to take free-kicks at Real Madrid or generations of centre-backs at Man United cultivating their young partners, it is a crucial element of making it at the top.
Borussia Dortmund’s Moroccan full back Achraf Hakimi has Dani Carvajal watching over his career as he goes from an understudy at the Bernabeu to a full blown Bundesliga star.
If you didn’t know, Hakimi joined Real Madrid at the age of eight and after being promoted to the reserves in 2016, he was thrown into the first team environment for the pre-season tour that summer.
It was the beginning of his rise from a promising young right back to one of the most exciting talent in Europe’s top five leagues.
Think about it, if you are defending against Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale in training everyday you are either going to become the best in the world or be left shuddering in a dark room somewhere.
After making his debut in 2017 the Moroccan carved a little place for himself in the squad as back-up to Carvajal and Nacho under Zinedine Zidane.
Despite barely getting any playing time, Hakimi made two appearances in the Champions League and was handed a winner’s medal for Real’s third consecutive triumph last year – not bad for a 19-year-old squad player.
However, with Zidane moving on and Carvajal returning from injury, opportunities in the first team grew few and far between, so it was time for something new.
Having watched and learned from Carvajal everyday in training, Hakimi was ready to leave the nest in search of first team football.
And he went to the Spaniard, one of the best defenders in the world with four Champions League titles to his name, to ask him what he should do.
Carvajal advised that he should go to the Bundesliga where he could blossom into the highly talented, electric full back everyone thought he should become – mirroring Carvajal’s apprenticship at Bayer Leverkusen.
“I had a lot of offers, but Dortmund’s was the one that had be convinced,” Hakimi said. “The team likes to play very attractive football and they try to make young players better. I had Carvajal in front of me at Real, but he told be to make the most of the opportunity: go there, play and enjoy it.”
Hakimi moved to Dortmund on a two-year loan deal to join up with Lucien Favre’s band of starlets tearing it up in Germany and everything fell into place almost immediately.
After just half a season he is already being called the best full back in the Bundesliga… not bad for a 20-year-old loanee.
He had to wait until match day five to get his Dortmund debut but since then he has covered at right back before moving over to the left side and excelling.
After impressing in the league Hakimi had his coming of age moment against one of the best defences in Europe.
Dortmund hosted Atletico Madrid in the Champions League – a side who notoriously hate conceding more than one goal on any occasion.
Hakimi was immense down the right, he provided three assists in the 4-0 thrashing and left the vastly experienced Juanfran dizzy.
It was a performance that will have brought a lot of smiles around the Bernabeu.
Hakimi was solid as he started all three games for Morocco at the World Cup and this season he has proved that he can cut it at the very top.
He’s an elegant, speedy full back who can play on either side and has age on his side, but one question remains – where will he end up?
He has played a huge part in the second best defence in the league and Dortmund obviously want to make the move permanent.
Favre playing him at left-back may have piqued Madrid’s interest to bring him back to the Bernanbeu – Carvajal is only 26 and is likely to dominate the right flank for years, however Marcelo is getting on and Hakimi could be a ready made replacement to slip into his shoes.
If your choices are Dortmund, Real Madrid or a host of other top European clubs, you must be doing something right.
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