Born to Moroccan parents in Madrid, Achraf Hakimi took his first steps as a youth footballer at CD Colonia Ofigevi. But in 2006, at the tender age of seven, he joined Real Madrid. It was to the beginning of a meteoric rise. Hakimi was actually informed that his dream had come true via post. In Getafe, an unremarkable industrial suburb of Madrid where the family lived, his father took a letter out of their mailbox that had a Real Madrid letterhead. "I honestly thought that it was a lie and that my father was pulling my leg," Achraf Hakimi later said of the incident.
It was not a lie. Quite the opposite in fact. The letter contained an invitation to attend a trial. Real Madrid wanted to see how Achraf would fare against the most talented players in the city. He didn't just do well. He did well enough to be recruited for youth academy. He would go on to achieve a feat that only a few of the hundreds of youngsters through the club's youth systems manage: to make his debut in the Real Madrid first team and to earn enough plaudits for Borussia Dortmund to sign him on a two-year loan deal in 2018.
"What did I think when I heard about the interest from Borussia? That it would be a challenge to try my hand at one of the historic clubs of the Bundesliga, at a club that has achieved incredible things," he told the members' magazine "Borussia" (Issue 150). "The fans don't just support you for the 90 minutes, but beforehand while you're warming up too. For us players, that's a plus. It's fundamental." Things are a little different to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, he explained, although the fans "are there when you need them". His rise has been and still is meteoric: Achraf Hakimi made his debut for the Los Blancos reserves in the Segunda Division in August 2016. By January 2017, he had been promoted to the senior squad for the first time, where he was a permanent fixture throughout the 2017/18 season and the only youth player to be allocated a permanent shirt number. His debut in the Primera Division came on 1 October 2017. And at the end of that campaign he became the first Moroccan player to win the UEFA Champions League (though he was not in the squad for the final). Hakimi covers a lot of ground and is an excellent tackler, as well as delivering pacey crosses. Tactically well trained and technically gifted, Hakimi primarily operates as a right-back but is capable of playing on the left of defence too.
At international level, where he represents his parents' homeland, it has been a similar success story. Hakimi made his Morocco debut as a substitute in a match against Canada on 11 October 2016. He was already a first-team regular by the time the 2018 World Cup in Russia came around, and did not miss a single minute against Spain, Portugal and Iran in the group stages. "I identify as a Madrileno and a Moroccan. I was exposed to the Moroccan culture and its customs at home."
And it was his parents who served as his role models when he departed the city of his birth for Dortmund. Admittedly, he was moving under different, more luxurious circumstances but the transfer brought with it uncertainties that needed to be overcome. His parents had moved from a Moroccan village in the vicinity of Casablance to the industral sector of Madrid at a young age "to build a better life for themselves," according to their son. "They came from areas where there is hardly any work." That was different in Spain. But "they had to fight enormously hard," he said, in order to provide for themselves and his siblings. "I have no words to describe my parents."
The early days in Germany were not entirely devoid of difficulties. "I speak a little bit of French and, fortunately, English to a certain degree too, but German is difficult for me. And it took a while for me to get into the team," he said. "But I cannot have any complaints. I'm very, very happy with how it's all going." Aside from the first few weeks while he was still finding his feet, Hakimi was a first-team regular right up until sustaining a broken metatarsal injury that prematurely brought the curtain down on his season in March 2019. He had shone going forward and had been involved in 12 goals in 28 competitive matches (three goals, nine assists). In addition, he was the quickest Dortmund player, clocking up a top speed of 35.1km/h that was only surpassed by one other player across the Bundesliga: Lukas Klünter of Hertha. After overcoming his injury, he took part in the African Cup of Nations in the summer of 2019, starting all four of Morocco's matches.
"At Real I was a reserve and only had limited opportunities – which is completely normal when you're young and you're promoted from the club academy to the senior squad." But in Dortmund he's established himself as an irreplaceable member of the first team. It doesn't matter if he plays on the left, as he does for the Moroccan national team, or in his preferred position on the right of defence. It serves to strengthen his belief that he made the right decision.
But what he obviously has not forgotten are his friends. There is one young man in particular whom he got to know while still a child and who still plays for the Real Madrid second team, but is part of footballing aristocracy by virtue of his name: Luca Zidane. "He is one of the people I've had the chance to meet through football and who you absolutely cannot afford to lose," says Achraf Hakimi. As luck would have it, it would be Luca's father – the incomparable Zinedine – who would be the coach to hand Hakimi his debut in the Real Madrid first team.