The next generation of young Ajax talent are ready to take centre stage.
Ajax Amsterdam are known for their world-renown youth academy. Focussing on the development of young talent. The Johan Cruyff ArenA reads the clubs motto of “The youth has the future”. Ajax places such trust that has enabled so many graduates from the academy to go on to have successful careers both in Amsterdam and elsewhere.
The past decade has produced players such as Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Frenkie De Jong and Matthijs De Ligt all going through the system. Adding to players that the club scouted and bought from an early age that include: Luis Suarez, Kasper Dolberg and Christian Eriksen.
Whilst the club has so far held onto much of the latest generation of young talent that was infamous for their 2018/19 Champions League Semi-Final campaign. This season will be an opportunity for the club to welcome the next generation of Ajax players into the first team. As the new season starts up next month, many from this list may be valuable assets for the club if they are going to retain the league title and challenge once again in Europe.
Ajax’s production line is so impressive that there will be many names missing in this list that could easily be included but here are some of my thoughts on the players soon to be regular starters within the Ajax squad.
Ryan Gravenberch- Central Midfielder
He has been at the club since he was 8.
Gravenberch is one of the more likely players from this list to break into the first team this season. Even at such an early age he has an incredible technical ability. His first touch, creative vision and ability to dribble with the ball are some of his greatest assets. Similar to a certain Frenkie De Jong. Gravenberch is the club’s youngest ever debutant, coming on in a 3-0 defeat to PSV and is the youngest goalscorer, coming against HVV Te Werve in the Dutch cup, both at the age of 16.
He stands out as a 6ft midfielder with a similar build to World Cup winner Paul Pogba and like the Frenchman, they share the same agent in Mino Raiola. A man who has been associated with sending players to Italy. This explains why Gravenberch has been linked with a move to AC Milan. Even at such an early age and only having played 9 games for the Dutch giants, he has managed to attract serious attention from Europe’s elite clubs.
Naci Ünüvar- Left-Winger
He also joined the club aged 8.
Ünüvar is one of the most sought after young talents from the academy. The young winger won the De Toekomst greatest talent- following in the footsteps of Justin Kluivert, Matthijs de Ligt and Donny Van de Beek. After helping the Under 19’s win the league following the 2018/19 season.
Ünüvar is a loved character by all Ajax fans, many praying that he stays at the club to become a regular starter. He shows an endless amount of confidence, full of flair and is able to play as an attacking midfielder but also as a left-winger. He showcased his quality last summer in a friendly against the Barcelona youth team in the inaugural game at Johan Cruyff stadium, scoring twice.
Since then, the youngster has made his debut for the first team. Ünüvar came on in the KNVB cup against Spakenburg last season. However, he does have a little way before becoming a regular first team member and faces stiff competition given the recent signings of Antony and Mohammed Kudus, but he has all of the potential to step up and has plenty of years ahead of him to become a star at Ajax.
He is wanted by a whole list of teams that include Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester United. But all Ajax fans will be hoping that he stays in Amsterdam to fulfil his potential and provide them with plenty of memories.
Lassina Traoré- Striker
The Burkinabe has played for Rahmino FC in Burkina Faso and Ajax Cape Town, creating a path to Amsterdam joining Jong Ajax as of 2019 and soon to be the Ajax first team.
Traoré has a great physique that may become important for the first team this season. Being able to find himself in good positions for classic poacher finishes. He has shown his ability to get in behind the defenders. The only doubt comes with his ability to involve his teammates, his downfall involves the quality of his passes and ability on the ball. An area that he has plenty of time to improve on, but is a solid poacher for Ajax at the moment.
He has a good chance of getting into Erik Ten Haag’s first team plans this season. Ajax are lacking options up-front this season, behind Tadic it is hard to find competition in that position. The youth team does provide Hansen, Brobbey and Pinas who may all challenge in the position in future years. However, at the moment Traoré has to be the top choice after scoring 13 goals in 17 Jong Ajax appearances. And since the start of 2020, the attacker has played 12, scoring 4 and assisting 4. With the quality the club has on the wings, his ability in front of goal will be vital in the upcoming season. Above all, very impressive stats for the young man thus far!
Sontje Hansen- Attacker
He joined the club at the age of 11.
Hansen for me, one of the most exciting players coming through the Ajax academy. The 2017 Under 17’s World Cup Golden Boot winner has already caught the attention of a certain Pep Guardiola and many more around Europe. Meanwhile being a striker at heart, Hansen has since developed into a central attacking midfielder and winger to accompany Brobbey and Traoré. His ease to develop into these positions comes as a result of his quick feet, fancy footwork and ability to provide opportunities for others. Therefore showing that he has all the attributes to stand out as a first team player in the next few years.
At the moment, Hansen has become a regular in the Dutch Second Division with Jong Ajax. Having scored 3 and assisted 3 in 10 appearances since making his league debut in December 2019. His impressive form has excited manager Erik Ten Hag, having been included in the first team just four days after his Jong debut. Playing against ADO Den Haag. Similar to Unuvar, he is a player the fans can’t wait to become a first team regular and love the progress he has been making with the Under 19’s and Jong side.The only fear for Ajax is that his current contract runs out in 2021 and with the likes of Man City, Juventus, Inter Milan and RB Leipzig all interested. It will be difficult to convince the wonderkid to stay in Amsterdam.
Brian Brobbey- Striker
Brobbey is known throughout the club for his size, he is known as the ‘Brobbeast’ in reflection of just that. Consequently you won’t be seeing many his age with a similar build, and it has been used to his advantage so far in his career. For the Netherlands Under 17’s, he has bagged 16 goals in 24 games. Having scored 7 in 13 in the Dutch Second Division for Jong Ajax. Brobbey’s record thus far has been nothing short of impressive and all Ajacied’s will be hoping he can continue in this vein when given his opportunity in the first team.The strongman is the perfect target man, almost impossible for defenders to deal with. His strength hides how fast he is, very much so in the same way to Wolves’ Adama Traore. Brobbey’s physique reminds me a lot of Inter Milan’s Romelu Lukaku, both being a major handful for defenders.
His strength is incredibly unique, it is very difficult to compare to other players, given that he has been a handful for teams so far in his career. Subsequently it will be interesting to see how defenders cope as he progresses, will he be able to adapt his game much beyond the reliance on his strength. But it is certainly a feature that could be useful in the first team.
Devyn Rensch- Centre Back
Rensch is a player full of potential, signing his first professional contract at the age of 16. He has so far made 9 appearances for the Under 19’s side, given his age it is an impressive achievement. Rensch is possibly a year or two away from the first team, however he did feature in the clubs first friendly of pre-season game against RKC Waalwijk. Showing Erik Ten Haag’s desire to include him into the first team.
One of his best qualities is that he is very comfortable playing with either foot, an essential ability given Ajax’s desire to play out from the back and dominate games with their possession. He is confident in bringing the ball forward, creating passes for his attacking players and is very similar to de Ligt in that sense. However, an area he may need to improve on his is physicality if he is to play in the first team, for instance if he is to play against stronger, more physical players.
Rensch when ready has the versatility to fit in as a defensive-midfield and centre-back, dependent on what the team needs.
Perr Schuurs- Centre Back
He signed for 2 million euros from Fortuna Sittard in January 2018. This came after his spell as Sittard captain at the age of only 18!
Schuurs has a similar composure on the ball, being able to anticipate opponents decisions and a fearless nature to do anything to prevent opportunities for the opposition. The young Dutchman showcased his ability in last season’s Johan Cruyff shield against PSV where glimpses of a young de Ligt prevailed.
The man many fans believed would be the rightful replacement for the departed Matthijs de Ligt. A year on and that expectation has not been plain sailing for the young defender. Since the sale of de Ligt, the club has gone out and signed Edson Alvarez.With the fear that Schuurs wouldn’t be able to fill such big shoes.
The young defender is a more established and developed version of Rensch and a slightly different style. The tradition for Ajax’s defenders is that are comfortable in bringing the ball forward from the back, and Schuurs is no different. He is a player who isn’t afraid to put in crunching tackles when needed but also be confident when playing the ball forward. The Alvarez and Martinez signings have meant his development into the first team has been delayed, having only played 10 first team appearances last season, but with the recent sale of Joel Veltman. The 20-year-old can expect man game time in the first team in the upcoming season.
He joined the club aged 8.
Even at such a young age, the talented midfielder is a leader. Taylor is a leader with an unbelievable free-kick ability. Like many on this list, he has the versatility to play as a defensive midfielder and as central midfielder. Taylor is a player who isn’t afraid to put in a hard hitting tackle, lead by example and has had experience as being the country’s youth team captain. Taylor’s inspiration growing up with Real Madrid’s midfield maestro Toni Kroos, so it is no surprise that young Dutchman has a similar playing style to the German.Besides Rensch, the only names in this list to have not made a competitive first team appearance. However, Taylor stands out for his unbelievable confidence and leadership that will no doubt be useful for Erik Ten Haag in the coming years. Whilst now, he develops into an important player for the Jong side. Many believe he is a captain making for the first team.
the future of Ajax Amsterdam’. Which Ajax academy players are you most excited about? Also, which of these players will go on to have the best careers and can this next generation go one further and lead the Amsterdamer’s to European success? Let me know what you think.
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