Following a 2-1 defeat away to Copenhagen, Ajax had to win at the Amsterdam Arena to make it through to the quarter-finals of the Europa League. Most teams would be looking to their world beaters and most established names to navigate past this challenge; not Ajax. It was 19-year-old Kasper Dolberg who won and converted the penalty that sealed their victory. At the tender age of 17, centre back Matthijs de Ligt was named Man of the Match as the Amsterdam outfit won the second leg 2-0 to book their place in the next round. The first of the pair has already been capped by Denmark and the latter of the two has just made his debut for the Dutch national team in their World Cup Qualifier against Bulgaria.
Kevin Suave, the man behind AjaxDaily.com has high hopes for the pair and their teammates coming through the academy: “Dolberg possesses the explosiveness of a pure striker, with a remarkable sense for runs and positioning. At the same time, he’s got the physical presence of a target man, holding up the ball to create space and chances for his teammates. The way Ajax wants to play demands a lot from the striker, but Dolberg might be the most complete number 9 since Patrick Kluivert.”
“De Ligt burst onto the scene this year and was quickly promoted to the first team by Bosz. He’s a tall, powerful central defender with great ball playing ability. He’s very strong in duels but at the same time has great timing and is very good at reading the game.”
“There’s so many more though: Donny van de Beek, Frenkie de Jong, Justin Kluivert, Kaj Sierhuis, Carel Eiting. The list goes on and on.”
Having a team driven by youngsters is nothing new for this club though. Their most recent European triumph of the 1994/95 season was driven by then-youngsters Edwin van der Sar, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and the de Boer brothers and was sealed by a goal from 18-year-old substitute Patrick Kluivert against the mighty AC Milan.
The current crop may have achieved nothing like this as of yet, but it goes to show how successfully Ajax have implemented their philosophy of promoting youth over the years. Kevin feels this will always be the case: “The intense focus on the youth academy is very much part of the club’s culture and philosophy. No matter who the manager is, no matter who takes charge of the boards, these are the basics that cannot and will not be touched.”
This focus on De Toekomst has allowed Ajax to bring through some incredible talent, but Kevin has seen some fail to live up to expectations: “Two years ago, Kenny Tete, Jairo Riedewald, Riechedly Bazoer and Anwar El Ghazi were considered the next big things in Dutch football. They became fully-fledged Netherlands internationals too. Tete and Riedewald are now first team reserves, whilst El Ghazi and Bazoer were obsolete and sold to Lille and Wolfsburg.”
However, this current crop of Ajax youngsters won’t be thinking of failure. They’re too busy in the thick of a title race and preparing for a Europa League quarter-final. That all important match will be played against Schalke, a team possessing a certain Klass-Jan Huntelaar, who didn’t exactly do too bad after his time at the Amsterdam Arena.