Welcome to World Class: Achraf Hakimi
Football is a game which is constantly evolving. Nowadays, there are demands from certain positions that didn't even seem possible just 15 or 20 years ago.
Goalkeepers are now supposed to be as good with their feet as they are with their hands and wingers are expected to score bags of goals, but few positions have changed as drastically as full-back.
As Jamie Carragher famously said, full-backs used to be failed wingers or failed centre-backs. You were either not good enough going forward but still pretty useful, or not powerful enough to hang as a central defender. Being made a right-back or left-back was almost seen as one step up from rejection.
As time has progressed and the likes or Dani Alves and Maicon have helped reinvent what it means to take up the role, managers now want their players to do literally everything. You better be able to score, cross, pass, defend, tackle and move, and you definitely need to make sure you can sprint for 90 minutes every week, no excuses.
Few players on the planet personify the modern right-back quite like Achraf Hakimi.
At just 22 years old, Hakimi already boasts elite vision and movement in the attacking third, and it should come as no surprise to learn that the Moroccan international actually began his career at that end of the pitch.
Once a striker, Hakimi was shifted out to the wing during his time in Real Madrid's academy, before finding his big break in the team as a full-back. While some players would take a shift all the way back on the pitch as a sign that you can't cut it in attack, Hakimi was quite the opposite.
Determined to prove that he was a genuine threat in attack, Hakimi spent years learning how to make the most of his new-found starting position, and we saw just how successful he was with that during his two-year loan with Borussia Dortmund between 2018 and 2020.
Manager Lucien Favre made it clear to Hakimi that he was all about attacking football, and that was all the Moroccan needed to know. The pair looked like a match made in heaven on paper, and that's exactly how it transpired.
Usually deployed at right-back, Hakimi would also spend time playing further up the field as a midfielder, and the well-rounded nature of his game even saw him spend time on the left side of the pitch. Favre saw that he could attack and defend with both feet at an elite level and chose to use that weapon to his advantage.
Encouraged to fly forward whenever the door was even slightly opened, Hakimi developed a signature move of bursting past a defensive line to receive the ball and delivering a perfect cut-back to a striker. Everybody knew what he was going to do, and yet because of his speed, strength and movement, nobody could stop him.
""I think I like the right-back role - but I like to go on the attack all the time. I like to play as a winger too, and sometimes I feel as if I want to play as a striker.""- Achraf Hakimi.
In December 2019's 3-3 draw with RB Leipzig, Hakimi was clocked running at 22.67 mph which, at the time, was the fastest speed ever registered in the Bundesliga. It doesn't matter who the defender is, if he literally cannot catch up with Hakimi, he can't stop him.
Hakimi's impact on Dortmund during his time at the club was clear to see. In 2017/18, the team finished fourth in the league, 29 points behind Bayern Munich, but that gap was closed to just two points in Hakimi's debut season.
2019/20 brought a dip in results for Dortmund, but it also brought a rise in Hakimi's output. He finished the season with five goals and ten assists in the Bundesliga, while he also added another four goals in the Champions League.
They're the kind of numbers that no other full-back in Europe's top-five leagues can boast. Nobody had a year as productive as he did, and it came as no surprise to see Hakimi make the move to join the king of full-backs, Antonio Conte, at Inter.
Conte has worked with some of the best full-backs of all time and knows exactly how to utilise them, so to have him sign off on a €40m transfer to sign Hakimi was a sign that he had reached the top of the full-back mountain.
Juventus legend Gianluca Zambrotta, who is often hailed as one of Italy's finest attack-minded right-backs of all time, knew full-well that Inter had bagged themselves a bargain by landing Hakimi.
"Last season he played 45 games with 9 goals and 10 assists, in an important league like the Bundesliga,” Zambrotta told Gazzetta dello Sport (via Sempre Inter). “For a full-back and a player of his age these are important numbers. He can be both a full-back and wing-back.
“If Conte will play five in the midfield, he can make a difference. For him it is a new league and this is an unknown, but with Antonio in terms of work and mentality, he can improve a lot. Physically he is ready and prepared, he has a great personality. He is powerful, he has pace but also technique, and finding a full-back that combines these qualities is not easy.”
Since his arrival, Inter have seen a notable increase in success down the right side of the pitch, while Dortmund have noticed quite the opposite.
Hakimi brings with him a unique kind of impact which has proven to be irreplaceable, and that's what earns him a spot in the 'world class' bracket.