Ex-Chelsea defender Mario Melchiot believes that Hakim Ziyech will be a big hit at Stamford Bridge if the winger can get to grips with the incessant and physically demanding nature of Premier League football.
The Blues announced in February that they had agreed a €40 million (£37m/$43m) deal with Ajax for the Netherlands-born Morocco international, who will arrive in west London this summer.
Ziyech will not be eligible to play for Chelsea until the start of the 2020-21 season, meaning that he cannot participate in the conclusion of the current campaign, which was delayed due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
However, Melchiot believes that the 27-year-old will prove to be worth the wait, provided he can cope with the intensity of the English game.
“In Holland, you have tough games, but in England they come back-to-back – and back-to-back again,” Melchiot, who made the same move from Ajax to Chelsea himself in 1999, told Goal.
“The games are tougher and you get fouled a lot. If he manages to get through that, then he will be fine. I think he will do well.
“I was at Ajax a couple of months ago to have lunch with (chief executive officer) Edwin van der Sar. He brought me to (director of football) Mark Overmars’ office and as I was leaving the room, Hakim comes in, says hi and hugs me.
“It was right after he agreed the move to Chelsea. He didn’t ask me about it before making his decision but he must have looked at the club and saw the same as I saw. It is a beautiful team in London. They have great love and passion for you even after you play there. It is exceptional.
“I hope he does well there as he is very polite, very nice and very confident. I want to make people understand that his confidence is not a negative. Sometimes, people see confidence as a bad thing if they are not confident themselves.
“But I love a confident player and I was one myself. He always wants to show his ability on the ball because he is very technically gifted. He also sees things a lot of players won’t see.
“It took some time for him to show his quality at Ajax but once he got himself in the team, he became maybe their most important player.
“And that’s why they didn’t sell him last year. They needed to hold onto him as the team would have struggled [after selling Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt] without Hakim there to take over.
“So, I like him a lot and why I think he will do very well at Chelsea.”
Melchiot still occasionally attends games at Stamford Bridge and remains good friends with a number of his former team-mates who are now working at the club’s Cobham training base.
An accomplished right-back in his day, Melchiot made 175 appearances for Chelsea during his five-year stay between 1999 until 2004.
Given his former playing position and his strong ties to the club, it is hardly surprising, then, that Melchiot has taken a particular interest in the development of Reece James.
“He had a good season on loan at Wigan,” the former Netherlands international said. “He was brought back to Chelsea and he began well.
“I like him. He is very comfortable with the ball. He has got a great delivery and he is built very strongly. He will be a great player.
“He is always looking to drive forward. If you are a defender who can only mark your man, then you are good but not so good.
“Luckily, Reece James has more than that. He can attack really well and I don’t have any doubts about the rest of his game. He can achieve whatever he wants to achieve.
“He has good crossing, strength, speed and he can play one-versus-one. He showed everyone that when he played against (Crystal Palace star Wilfried) Zaha.
“Zaha is one of the most difficult wingers to play against when he is in form. If you can keep him quiet, then it says a lot about your ability as a defender.”
Chelsea are set to return to action this month, with the Premier League having confirmed its intention to resume play on June 17 after a three-month stoppage caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Frank Lampard’s side sit fourth in the table but Manchester United, Wolves, Sheffield United, Tottenham and even Arsenal in ninth place remain in the race for Champions League football.
Of course, Chelsea are still in this year’s competition, which is provisionally scheduled to conclude in August, but they are staring elimination in the face after losing 3-0 at home in the first leg of their last-16 tie with Bayern Munich.
There have been plenty of positives for the club this season, not least the way in which so many academy products have flourished under the guidance of Lampard and his assistant Jody Morris.
However, Melchiot says it is essential that his two-former team-mates ensure that Chelsea hold on to fourth place.
“They have got to make it to the Champions League and not let anyone overtake them,” the Dutchman added. “That has to be the focus.
“If we look at Chelsea, they have had ups and downs because it was Frank and Jody’s first season. That’s normal. And I think the moments where I really enjoyed Chelsea this season were also down the management.
“They still have the FA Cup too, of course. They’re in the quarter-finals, so that’s an opportunity for silverware. That can be a target too.
“But the biggest focus is to qualify for the Champions League. Chelsea is a club that should always be in there.”