Real Madrid: Dortmund's Achraf Hakimi talks exclusively to AS
Borussia Dortmund's on-loan Real Madrid full-back talks to AS about life in Germany, coming through at the Bernabéu, and his future beyond the summer.
Let's start with your brace against Slavia Prague this week. What a performance! What did your coach and team-mates say to you?
I'm very happy to be able to help the team to win; it's a tough group, so that was the main thing. The coach picked me in a more advanced role, and when you're feeling confident you always try to get yourself into the box as much as possible. Thankfully, I was able to put the ball away a couple of times. In the dressing room, the lads congratulated me and there was also the odd little joke... Those two goals are for my partner [the actor Hiba Abouk] and the baby we're expecting. We always talk before the games, and before this one I told her I was keen to get a goal and dedicate it to them. Well, in the end they got one each.
You've now been at Borussia Dortmund for more than a year and will be there until June. How have you settled into life in Germany? It must be quite a change from Spain and Morocco.
Really well, I have to say. I knew I was coming to a place where the change might well be a challenge and that I was moving away from where I'd been my whole life. It's always tricky adapting to a new culture and a new language, but I'm thankful to my team-mates and the people who are always alongside me - they've made things very easy for me. I'm really happy here.
From Getafe, where you were born, via Morocco, you parents' homeland, to Dortmund. Does it surprise you when you think about the journey you've had?
But it's what I wanted to do: I decided to come here because I wanted to keep on developing as a player, and the path you have to take isn't always what you might have initially imagined. Sometimes you have to have experiences like this, you have to go somewhere else so that you can get to where you want to be. In my case that meant coming to Germany and I have to say it's been great. I'm really grateful for the opportunity I've been given to keep on growing as a player and as a person.
German football is fast, physical and attack-minded. All qualities that you have. How have you found your footballing adaptation to the Bundesliga?
I brought my style of play and my ideas on the game when I came, but I also knew I had to improve a lot. And ever since I arrived, I've felt like, bit by bit, I've been doing just that. 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. All in all, it has a real impact on your confidence and I'm grateful to the club, the coaches and the players. That confidence is what allows you to really just express yourself and go out there and play with freedom. I'm now a different Achraf.
Watching you play now, the impression you get is that you offer a whole lot more: playing on either flank, you're more intense in defence and make your presence felt much more in attack.
I wouldn't be able to tell you which side I'm more comfortable on. 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. When I'm on the right, it's more about getting up the wing and crossing; on the left, it's more a case of linking up with others and shooting if I can. I can also shoot when I'm on the right, but it's noticeable that I'm not in such a favourable position to do so.
What's your relationship with Dortmund boss Lucien Favre like? How similar is he to Zinedine Zidane?
We've got a really good relationship. He's always looking to help me, showing me videos, correcting things; 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. He has a lot of experience and is always trying to help me, be it in training or in matches. He's quite similar to Zidane; they're both coaches who like to talk to you and look out for their players, and are always looking to help them improve so the team can grow as a whole. Yeah, they're similar.
You had only been in Germany for a few months when, at a publicity event, Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke joked in front of you about seeing if Florentino Pérez would let you join permanently. It's clear that they're happy with you at Signal Iduna Park.
That's always nice, being told that they'd like you to stay for good when you've only been there for under a year. You're left thinking that you're doing well, that they're happy with you and that you are with them too. But that's a decision which I don't think is down to me; that's something the two clubs have to talk about with each other, and with my agent. I'm going to keep on working to help Dortmund; hopefully we can achieve big things together.
Such as beating Bayern to the German league title...
Last year we were in with a shout right to the last; we had a great season and lost out on the title at the end. But there's no reason why we can't do it this year. We're working well, we beat Bayern in the German Super Cup at the start of the season, and that spurs us on: it shows us we can achieve big things. That's what we're trying to do. Hopefully this can be our year.
When you left Madrid, what made you opt for Dortmund?
Of all the options I had, I think this was the best one, because of the style of play of the German league. I had spoken to players who had been here, such as [fellow Madrid youth product] Borja Mayoral [who spent a year at VfL Wolfsburg]. He told me what the football played here was like and said I was sure to fit right in. Looking back, I think it was a good decision.
Paco Alcácer arrived at Dortmund at the same time as you. Is he your greatest source of support in the dressing room?
Yeah, I get on really well with him. At the end of the day, we speak the same language and we come from the same country. We really hit it off and have a great relationship. We're pals.
Dortmund faced Barcelona recently. It ended 0-0, but you had the better chances.
I came away from the game with a bittersweet feeling: we'd performed so well, but just weren't able to score the goal we needed to get the win. We were really happy with the way we played, though, taking the fight to such a top side and causing them real problems. Let's see how the group turns out.
That night, you had to mark Ansu Fati, who has been a revelation in this early-season period. What was your impression of him?
I like to watch football and had seen him in other games. He's young, he's making really good progress, he's a good player and he's surrounded by other top players, which will only help him to improve. It wasn't easy trying to stop him, [Lionel] Messi and [Antoine] Griezmann, but we did a good job.
Can you imagine what it would be like to come up against Real Madrid later in the Champions League?
For now I'm just taking things step by step. Particularly given the group we're in, for now we have to just focus on trying to get through, and then we can think about who we might be drawn against. If it's Madrid, of course it would be special for me. I'd have to approach it as if it were just any other game, so as to take the pressure off; but it's a club that I'll always call home. Let's hope we don't get them... or at least that we get them as deep into the competition as possible. In the final: I'd love that.
Would you celebrate a goal against Real Madrid?
I wouldn't, to be honest. I wouldn't do it; I'm not that kind of player. It's my home club, a club that has done a lot for me, that has given me the opportunity to be a footballer. I'll always be grateful to Real Madrid. I couldn't celebrate.
The year you had in the Real Madrid first team was a strange one. You made your senior debut and won the Champions League, but didn't play as much as you might have liked.
I took positives and negatives [from the season]; it was a difficult year, despite the fact that we won major trophies. I had the chance to make my debut in LaLiga and in the biggest club competition there is, the Champions League, playing alongside top players. It's not like I expected to play loads and loads, either; I was aware of my role, that I had just come up from the Castilla team and that I was there to help out, and that whenever the coach needed me I'd be ready.
What was your relationship with Zidane like?
It was, and is, really good. He's a coach who always gives me good advice - you can see that he wants the best for me, as if I were a son. Since I left, I've seen that he's spoken about me from time to time and I'm really grateful to him for giving me the chance to play for Real Madrid, the greatest club in the world. Whatever happens, I'll always have a good relationship with him.
You had agreed a loan move to Alavés, but Zidane put the brakes on it and asked you to stay. What does Zizou represent for you?
He's a role model for me, a fantastic player who has gone on to show that he's a fantastic coach, too. For me, the fact that he asked the deal to be called off and wanted me to stay, well that means a lot. Coming from a coach like him, that just makes you all the more motivated to work that bit harder each and every day.
Real Madrid won the Champions League... and he resigned. Did he seem like he'd had enough?
No, I didn't pick up on anything. I wasn't expecting it at all, I thought Real Madrid was like home to him - and clearly it is; after all, just look at the way he came back when the club needed him. I was surprised that he left; I didn't expect it.
And, shortly afterwards, Cristiano left too.
Yeah, that was another surprise. I hadn't heard anything about that at the end of the season, he was just as he always is. When it was announced, I said: "I can't believe it."
In a bid to fill the void left by the Portuguese, Real Madrid have signed Eden Hazard, whose brother, Thorgan, is at Dortmund with you.
We talk about the team sometimes. We watch Madrid together whenever we can, and discuss things.
Another player who has arrived at the Bernabéu is Luka Jovic, who you'll know from his time in Germany.
He's a top striker. I came up against him twice and you can see how hungry he is for goals. He's going to be a big help to Real Madrid whenever called upon.
As a Real Madrid fan, what was your reaction to the way the team fell apart last season?
I don't know if they fell apart, but expectations at Real Madrid are always really high. It's a club that is always out to achieve the maximum and has slightly spoiled people by winning so many trophies year in, year out. So when Madrid go a year without winning anything, it's seen as a disaster. They've had a bad year, but you have to have patience. These are the same players [who achieved success], with the odd change of personnel here and there - and they'll bounce back.
Marcelo, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema, Luka Modric... Don't you think it's a generation that might have had its day?
No, absolutely not. They're players who are always ready to step up and do the business, and who have shown they can't be written off. They can turn around tomorrow and win you another Champions League.
Ajax's Hakim Ziyech is a friend of yours. What has he told you about their 4-1 win at the Bernabéu?
I watched the game, but I haven't spoken to him about it too much. They're a great side, they did fantastically well. The season they had was really something.
And did you watch the defeat in Paris?
Yes, I was able to, because we played the day before. PSG are a top team, anything can happen, and you have to have patience. I know Real Madrid are Real Madrid, but there are also other good teams out there and that night we saw that. When you lose there's criticism and when you win, everything returns to normal. They have to stay calm. You can never write Real Madrid off.
Even Zidane, the coach who won three straight Champions Leagues for Madrid, has come in for a lot of criticism. Is he the right coach for the club?
I find the criticism that the players or Zidane get is unfair at times. They have all given so much to the club: Champions Leagues, other trophies... and above all, they've improved the club and I don't think they deserve it, they're club legends and you have to give them a bit of respect. I think Zidane is the ideal coach for Madrid; no other coach has won three straight Champions Leagues for the club. He's the ideal man for the job, and he has shown that.
You're due to return to Real Madrid at the end of the season, although Dortmund want you to stay and a host of other clubs have shown an interest. What do you want to do?
Right now, I'm only focusing on taking each game as it comes and performing to the best of my ability. Next summer's still a little way off and we'll just have to see what happens. I shouldn't start thinking about next year; I just have to concentrate on having a good campaign. That's the only way I'll have options open to me come the end of the season.
But do you feel like you've earned the right to return to Madrid?
My deal here lasts for two years, and that's an answer I can only give you once that loan period finishes. When the time comes, I'll see whether I've done enough over these two years and whether I'm ready for Real Madrid. Right now I feel like I'm doing well, and that if keep playing like this I could do a job for Madrid. But I can't say whether or not I'm ready until the end of the season. Ask me in May.
Being a success at Real Madrid is your dream, though.
I'm not going to lie, I'd love to be a success there, of course. I grew up at Madrid, it's the club I call home and I'd like to keep on growing as a player there, but if it isn't to be I'll look to be a success somewhere else.
What's your one wish for this season? Other than winning at the Camp Nou...
That's one wish I would make, certainly. But above all I just want us to achieve our goals and win as much as possible. And on a personal level, I'd like to keep on developing and hopefully avoid injury.