Even with a hint of Ziyech in his game, there are still doubts about Labyad

After his arrival at Ajax, Zakaria Labyad was seen as the trainer's son. But where Erik ten Hag, thanks to excellent performances in Amsterdam, overcame all doubts, his much-discussed summer purchase from 2018 has always remained a point of discussion.

No matter how much they need him in Amsterdam and no matter how high his return, a large part of the supporters always subtly point out to Labyad what should have been better.

So it's a remarkable marriage between Ajax and Labyad. Or perhaps more of a one-sided relationship, because the attacking midfielder himself is downright satisfied that in the power of his life he gets the chance to prove himself on the very highest stage. For instance, there are playing minutes at Anfield, where Ajax will play against Liverpool on Tuesday (9pm).

'Important are'

"I want to make a lot of minutes and be important. That it can only be my season", said 27-year-old Labyad undisturbed after returning to Ajax 1 last summer after a severe knee injury. "I just have fun in everything I do again."

Labyad, however, did not guarantee fun at all in a previous football life. As a great PSV talent, he forced a transfer-free transition to Sporting Lisbon at a young age. He succeeded due to an error in his Eindhoven contract, which turned out not to be legally valid with the signature of a then still sixteen year old Labyad.

Temporarily goodbye

A great talent seemed to be lost there over the years, because even a successful rental period at Vitesse was actually a meagre harvest for a player with his potential. In the grip of his commitment at Sporting he let himself be stalled at Fulham with little result, until he had his contract rescinded and said goodbye to football temporarily.

Months later, Ten Hag once again embraced him as trainer of FC Utrecht, many kilos heavier than during a previous collaboration with PSV. "In the meantime he has also experienced the downside of success. Here he gets the time to get fit again."

Brought to wisdom by harm and shame, Labyad actually began a second career in his hometown.

Diligently working on his form, he helped the FC to European football, in which he personally got the strong Zenit Sint-Petersburg on its knees in Stadium Galgenwaard. A transfer to Ajax was granted to him despite the rivalry between the clubs.

Good tire

From Labyad's perspective, by the way, it's still quite a daring step from a sporting point of view, because in that period Ten Hag was still under intense discussion as the new coach of Ajax. "I have a very good relationship with Ten Hag. This choice has actually been very simple for me."

But at first Labyad had a hard time with that good understanding. Players would be afraid to say something in the dressing room, because with Labyad also the trainer would listen indirectly.

In November 2019 Labyad made the first playing minutes of that season. A reward for his long wait:

"As a human being I had trouble taking Zakaria out of the field after those red cards", Ten Hag told about the player he uses in all positions in the midfield and in the attack. "But top sport is hard and sometimes unfair."

Labyad just wants to show that it's not too late. "He's always there," Hakim Ziyech complimented him last season. The playmaker left for Chelsea last summer, and Labyad is now increasingly allowed to try to fill the enormous void left by his almost irreplaceable compatriot.

Technical tours de force

But Labyad, with his technical tours de force and striking free kicks, still comes pretty close at times. See the volley against Emmen, for example. And yeah, it's in that premier league that's nothing. For the Ajax-audience it only counts when he shows something in Europe as well. "I don't care what other people say", Labyad himself doesn't mind the bins of criticism he sometimes gets over himself.

Labyad has just become the father of a daughter and is now old and wise enough to realize what time it is. "It has to happen this year."


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