After two seasons on loan with Borussia Dortmund, honing his craft at the top level in one of the best environments, Achraf Hakimi seemed ready to step up to the plate and carve his name into the prestigious Real Madrid starting lineup.
Or so we thought.
Instead, Madrid have decided to strike while the iron is hot and sell their young full back to Inter for a fee of around £36m. It spells the end to Hakimi’s career with Los Blancos, taking many around the club – who had seen him as the future of the club’s right-hand side – by surprise.
This isn’t the first flash sale of a young talent at Real Madrid and it certainly won’t be the last, but Los Blancos could be kicking themselves sooner rather than later in this instance. Their failure to pull the trigger on keeping Hakimi is comparable to WWE failing to let literally any of their NXT talent carry the torch on the main roster, and it’s always a poor decision.
Hakimi will thrive under Antonio Conte at Inter. Serie A is the perfect league for the Moroccan to continue developing with regular game time, and the system Conte plays is ideal for Hakimi’s versatile playbook.
Naturally a full-back, Hakimi is capable of playing on either flank and excels in attacking situations. He has been used mostly as a right-back by Lucien Favre at Borussia Dortmund, but has been deployed as a winger, both left and right. He’s managed nine goals and 10 assists in all competitions this season by flirting between the two roles.
Conte famously plays his football with wing-backs. He won the Premier League during his time at Chelsea doing so, and has got the best out of a number of players by setting up in such a way. To most people’s surprise, Inter signed Ashley Young in January 2020, but if he was going to play his best game anywhere at this stage in his career, it’s in Italy with Conte.
For Hakimi, the script is no different. Despite him and Young being at opposite ends of their football careers, the two will play a similar game for I Nerazzuri next season. Hakimi will likely assume the role as first-choice right wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation, but his versatility means he can swap wings when necessary, or even push on into a more advanced role with tweaks to the shape.
Another quality that Hakimi possesses is his passing. The 21-year-old has averaged 63 passes per game in the 2019/20 Bundesliga season with a success rate of 85%. This output, combined with his shift of pace, will allow him to breeze down the flank in Serie A and become a suitable option in supporting the attack, if he isn’t starting them himself from deep.
So, how does this affect Real Madrid?
Zinedine Zidane’s side have a stacked roster, and Dani Carvajal has consistently been arguably the best right-back in the world for the last several years. However, the Spaniard turns 29 next January and is likely already in the peak of his career. While it might not have been time to axe him from the starting XI just yet, there would’ve been no harm in a little bit of competition for him in the form of Hakimi, as a gradual transition over the course of a season or two.
Keeping Hakimi around would’ve allowed for better rotation and higher competition for places, which spurs the side on to keep improving. Failing that, he would’ve been a more than suitable option playing ahead of Carvajal on the right flank.
Inter have found themselves a bargain in Hakimi, and will hope to keep a hold of his services for as long as they can. His performances could be the final piece in the jigsaw that sees them enter a new era of domination once more, or they could be the catalyst for Florentino Perez to re-sign him for Real in a couple of years time.
Either way, though, Real Madrid have shot themselves in the foot by cashing in on their academy graduate right back so soon, sticking within their comfort zone.