Despite having scored against them to give the opposition the lead, 21-year-old Hakim Ziyech was applauded off the field by the Feyenoord fans when he last lined up against them in their famous, raucous stadium De Kuip.
The attacking midfielder, one of the brightest young players in the Eredivisie at the moment, had smashed home a free-kick to put Heerenveen 1-0 up against the Rotterdam side in De Kuip just two weeks ago in a thoroughly impressive display. Creating a lot of danger against the perennial Dutch giant and being the standout player on the pitch, he had won the respect of the fans - the most devoted group in the country - who could do nothing but give him a round of applause.
This Sunday, the talented player will face the Rotterdammers once again, desperate to make a difference for a second time. This week, though, he appears not in the blue and white of Heerenveen, but the solid red of Twente and this time, the Feyenoord fans won’t be so pleasant to him.
A promising young player with great potential, he had attracted a lot of attention for his displays last year which saw him pick up Heerenveen's player of the year award ahead of league top goalscorer Alfred Finnbogason. Ziyech wowed crowds with his speed, technique and eye for a pass, orchestrating Heerenveen's attacking play from the midfield. As a result of his clear potential and incredible ability, PSV and Ajax had shown an interest in the Netherlands Under 21 international, but didn’t act upon it.
Despite a lack of concrete interest, Hakim Ziyech never considered staying in Friesland for long. Having rejected a contract earlier and only being kept in the Abe Lenstra due to Heerenveen executing an option on a one-year extension, Ziyech was always likely to be on his way. Feyenoord, having lost striker Graziano Pelle and in danger of seeing star midfielder Jordy Clasie depart, emerged as a suitor for Ziyech as they look to inject some quality in the squad. Meanwhile, the sale of Dusan Tadic to Southampton left a void in creativity in the FC Twente team and the Tukkers began to sound out the Frisian club who had already lost Finnbogason, Bilal Basicikoglu and Rajiv van La Parra in attack.
Looking to make the step up and further his development within the Eredivisie, Ziyech was faced with a choice – move to Enschede or Rotterdam.
After talks with both sides, Ziyech drew the conclusion that joining Feyenoord made sense financially and wouldn’t be a terrible decision, but Twente seemed the most prosperous destination based purely on sporting reasons. Ziyech was desperate to play in the No.10 role, but Feyenoord could not guarantee it – as coach Fred Rutten felt that 28 year old and uncapped Dutchman Lex Immers would be the man to play in that position.
Rutten's stubborness cost Feyenoord a remarkable talent. FC Twente assured him he would slot right into the attacking midfield role and become the main source of creativity to the team and be able to develop and flourish in behind central striker Luc Castaignos, making the decision for Ziyech an easy one, despite being offered a higher salary by the Rotterdam club.
“The conversation with the coach gave me the good sense to choose FC Twente,” he told the Tukkers official website as he was unveiled as their new player last week. “He gave me the feeling that I will feel at home here and that I can play in my favourite position.”
It’s one thing if a player rejects the calls of the Rotterdam giants in search of a new step to a bigger and stronger league, Dutch football and the Feyenoord faithful have made peace with that. However, to see a bright young player pass them by to join a rival comes as a huge blow, especially when that rival is neither Ajax nor PSV.
For Feyenoord, it is an opportunity missed. For Twente and Ziyech, it is the perfect transfer.
Using their main creator, Tadic, as a winger more often than an attacking midfielder last season put Castaignos at a disadvantage as most chances were coming from wide areas, as opposed to from in behind him, which saw him appear a step behind the play of the Serbian and Quincy Promes.
Ziyech's need to play in the centre and pull the strings will see more through balls and neat passes come to the striker and allow the pair to link up well in and around the box, benefiting both players and the team overall. That much was evident straight from the beginning in Ziyech's first league game in a Twente jersey. A neat, perfectly timed and weighted pass into the path of Castaignos saw the striker fire his side into the lead. With an assist already racked up, the confident youngster had a chance to put his side 2-0 up, with Kasper Kusk's excellent pass putting him through on goal as they caught out the NAC defence with a quick move, but he sent his effort just wide.
The Dutchman of Moroccan-descent enhances the Twente attack a great deal with his pace and drives from deep areas as Twente look to shift to a more counter-attacking style. Furthermore, while he will carve out a great deal of chances for Castaignos and wingers Youness Mokhtar and Kusk, he will enhance the side's midfield to no end. With Kyle Ebecilio and Kamohelo Mokotjo in behind him, Twente have one of the most complete midfield trios in the Eredivisie. Dynamic, fast and technical, the three players will combine to make a fluent and dangerous unit. With Ziyech's movement and positioning, he is always available for a pass, while the work of the other two means his defensive deficiencies are well covered for.
The move is one which works out perfectly for the player and his new club. While they are without a win so far in the league, they have nothing to fear. Looking to get over the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Europa League on Thursday, they will be desperate to pick up all three points from Sunday's meeting with Rutten's side.
For Twente, it's a golden chance to get their season on track. For Ziyech, it's an opportunity to show Feyenoord exactly what they are missing. No matter how good he is, though, the Feyenoord fans won't be applauding this time around.
Watch Hakim Ziyech in action for FC Twente against Feyenoord on Sky Sports 5 HD on Sunday (3.45pm kick off)