On 28th August 2014, 21-year-old left back, Mitchell Dijks, having been told that his first team options would be extremely limited in the upcoming 2014/15 Eredivisie campaign by Ajax coach, Frank De Boer, signed for newly promoted Willem II on a two year contract. Another young footballer, who, despite representing the Netherlands at U16, U18, U19 and U21 level, had slipped through the metaphorical cracks on the footbridge over the s111, which divides De Toekomst (AFC Ajax’s world famous academy) and the Amsterdam ArenA.
Born in Purmerend, Dijks was initially recruited into the youth ranks of former AFC Ajax partner club, FC Volendam in 2009 before progressing through the grades in Amsterdam and going on to make his first team debut on 5th August 2012 in the Johan Cruijff-schaal against PSV; his league debut followed a few weeks later against NEC on 19th August 2012.
In all, Dijks appeared eight times for ‘de Godenzonen’ at first team level during the 2012/13 campaign, helping the club to its 32nd Eredivisie triumph. A season-long loan at sc Heerenveen followed, where, despite an ignominious debut, which saw Dijks sent off after 71 minutes for a rash challenge, the young defender went on to have a solid season in Friesland, making 27 appearances.
Upon his return to Amsterdam, many expected Dijks to press his claim for a regular place in the Ajax first team in 2014/15. However, this was not to be the case writes Steven Davies…
Competition for Dijks’ preferred left back position was incredibly fierce; with the injury plagued but fit-again Danish international, Nicolai Boilesen, rising seventeen-year-old starlet, Jairo Riedewald, and versatile new signing, Nick Viergever, all jostling for position in the first IX.
Bizarrely for the 21-year-old, age counted against him, the club’s hierarchy reasoning that by this age he should either be a first team regular or be making way for the next generation of graduates from the Amsterdam clubs’ famed academy.
With the writing seemingly on the wall, Dijks packed his bags and left Amsterdam; heading down the A2 to Tilburg with a point to prove.
Newly promoted and widely predicted to struggle to survive in the Dutch top flight; Willem II, under coach, Jurgen Streppel, who, along with the newly recruited Dijks, was armed with an eclectic blend of youthful players who had failed to make the grade elsewhere and journeymen, set about confounding the critics week after week. A 3-0 home win over AZ Alkmaar at the end of August, was followed a few weeks later by a surprise 2-1 away success in De Kuip against Feyenoord in early September. The Tilburg outfit also posted creditable home draws against both Ajax, in February, and Feyenoord, towards the end of the campaign. By season’s end, the only disappointment the club, its players, fans and coaching staff would feel was that of missing out on the UEFA Europa League playoffs by four points as they finished a remarkable 9th.
Dijks himself made 30 appearances for the Tricolores; in the process becoming not only a first team regular but a key man for the Tilburg side. It came as little surprise that when the curtain fell on the 2014/15 season, a host of would-be suiters were lining up to make a play for the now 22-year-old’s signature.
Amongst their number was former club, Ajax.
Less than a year after having let their former academy graduate leave the club due to a lack of first team opportunities and having tried a host of players in Dijks’ favoured left back slot, the club had realised their folly in allowing the 22-year-old to depart.
In case of such an eventuality, the club had inserted a clause into the deal struck between themselves and Willem II the previous August; the Amsterdam giants would be entitled to 50% of any future sell-on fee. A drawn out game of brinksmanship followed between the two clubs and other interested party, Scottish heavyweights, Celtic; with the Glasgow giants willing to pay more than twice the £700,000 that Ajax were offering to secure the services of Dijks, whose preference for a return to his native Amsterdam for 2015/16, was well publicised.
On 19th June 2015, De Telegraaf announced that Mitchell Dijks would indeed be re-joining Ajax, with a three year deal agreed and Willem II receiving a trio of Ajax youngsters: 23-year-old defender, Ruben Ligeon, highly rated 18-year-old striker, Richairo Zivkovic and 22-year-old winger, Lesly de Sa, on year-long loan deals.
When speaking to De Telegraaf, Willem II coach, Jurgen Streppel could not speak highly enough of the 22-year-old left back, saying, ‘Apart from Jetro Willems, I feel that there are none better than him in the Netherlands.”
Streppel said that Dijks was a player who thrived on confidence and as such needed to be playing week-in-week-out, something he didn’t receive in his first spell in Amsterdam.
“As a player he needs confidence and therefore, I advise him to move to a club where he will play in most of their games in the next two seasons.”
“If he gets the stability then he will make great strides.”
Irrespective of the young Dutchman’s decision, the question remains, how could Ajax have allowed a player of such calibre to very nearly slip through their fingers?
Not the First
This situation is not an unusual one. The combination of the sheer volume of talented young players coming through the Ajax youth system on an annual basis coupled with the influx of players brought in from outside the club means that Mitchell Dijks is simply the latest in a line of academy graduates deemed ‘surplus to requirements’ in Amsterdam, only to be welcomed back with open arms (and cheque books) later in their career. Here are two notable recent examples:
Finnish international defender, Niklas Moisander was a graduate of the Ajax Academy but failed to make a first team appearance before being allowed to join PEC Zwolle in 2006. Moisander would go on to establish himself at both club and international level and, in 2012, Ajax repurchased their own youth product from then-employers, AZ Alkmaar for a fee of €3million. After enjoying a number of successful seasons at the heart of the Ajax rear guard, twice lifting the Eredivisie crown, Moisander, whose contract was expiring, agreed to join Italian side, U.C. Sampdoria on a free transfer at the end of the 2014/15 season; effectively losing the club €3million in the process for a product of their own youth academy.
Born in Oldenzaal, young winger, Derk Boerrigter was scouted by FC Twente while playing for Quick’20 at twelve years of age. A part of FC Twente’s A1 squad, he impressed scouts from AFC Ajax and in the summer of 2005 signed a two-year contract with the Amsterdam giants. Despite being named on the bench on several occasions, Boerrigter failed to make his full first team debut. A loan spell at HFC Haarlem followed before, his contract having expired, Boerrigter left Amsterdam for Zwolle in 2007 in search of the first team opportunities that had eluded him at the ArenA. Eleven goals in 63 appearances between 2007 and 2009 brought the admiration of a host of big clubs. Despite the attention, Boerrigter opted to join newly promoted RKC Waalwijk for the 2009/10 Eredivisie season and over the course of the following two seasons would further enhance his burgeoning reputation by netting 25 times in 64 appearances as the club followed the disappointment of relegation by winning the 2010/11 Eerste Divisie and promotion back to the top flight of Dutch football in the process.
In the summer of 2011, Boerrigter returned to Amsterdam, signing for AFC Ajax on a three year contract with Ajax paying a reported €550,000 to recapture their former youth product. Over the course of the following two seasons the winger helped ‘de Godenzonen’ to back to back Eredivisie titles as well as the Johan Cruijff-schaal in 2013, notching 12 goals in 47 appearances. Off the back of scintillating club form that had taken Boerrigter into contention for the Oranje in November 2011 (a back injury meaning that he missed out on representing his country) a big money €3.5m move to Scottish heavyweights, Celtic, followed in July 2013; meaning that Ajax came out roughly €3m ahead in the end.
The process of developing and releasing players as talented as the likes of Moisander and Boerrigter at a young age only to re-acquire them later in their careers is a costly process and one the club has worked hard over the past four years to arrest.
Slipping Through the Cracks?
Having relinquished their grip on the Eredivisie crown for the first time in five seasons to rivals, PSV, with a largely inexperienced squad struggling to fill the gaps left by the departure of a host of established first team players in that time, could Ajax be rueing allowing some of their youthful starlets to depart during that period?
Here are just a few players released since Frank De Boer took the reins at the ArenA to have gone on to prove their worth both domestically and abroad in positions in which the Amsterdam giants struggled to adequately fill in 2014/15:
Jan-Arie van der Heijden
A talented centre back or defensive midfielder; 27-year-old van der Heijden made his league debut for Ajax on 4th November 2007 against Roda JC and represented the Netherlands at both U20 and U21 level. In August 2009, van der Heijden was sent out on a season-long loan to Willem II where he became a key man operating as a controlling midfielder or as a libero. After spending a second season on loan in Tilburg, van der Heijden left Amsterdam for good in 2011, signing for Vitesse for just €300,000. In Arnhem he also became a key figure; appearing 150 times for Vitesse and scoring eight goals between 2011 and 2015. He is currently a free agent.
A 23-year-old left winger; Ebecilio was handed his Ajax debut by Frank De Boer on 10th December 2010 against Vitesse. Ebecilio, who represented the Netherlands at U17, U19 and U21 level, went on to make 38 appearances for ‘de Godenzonen’ between 2010 and 2013, scoring 9 times, before, in January 2013, frustrated at a lack of playing time, Ebecilio opted to leave Amsterdam; signing for Ukrainian club, Metalurh Donetsk for a mere €100,000. He has since embarked on somewhat of an odyssey, with loan spells in Azerbaijan with Gabala in 2013/14 and Russia with Mordovia Saransk in 2014/15 where he fractured his tibia on 2nd August 2014 and missed around six months of action before returning to the field towards the end of the campaign, notching 2 goals in his last five games.
A 22-year-old centre back; Denswil made his first team debut on the 31st October 2012 in the third round of the KNVB Beker against ONS Sneek, adding the second goal in a 2-0 victory. Having represented the Netherlands at U15,U16,U17,U18,U19,U20 as well as U21 level, Denswil went on to make 39 appearances for Ajax between 2012 and January 2015 when he was surprisingly sold to Belgian side, Club Brugge.
Talent Development at AFC Ajax
So what does it take to make the grade in the famed youth system at AFC Ajax?
Those selected to enter the youth ranks of the Amsterdam club are primarily chosen according to four criteria: Technique, Intelligence, Personality and Speed – more commonly known as TIPS.
For each, there are ten criteria. P and S are innate properties while I and T can be developed. With this in mind, Ajax coaching sessions consist of eight important football ingredients. Together with TIPS, they form the core to the Ajax philosophy: coordination training, kicking, passing and throw-in, moves to beat an opponent, heading, finishing, positional play, positional game play and small-sided games.
Interestingly, height and strength are not important in the selection process as they are worked on later in the training process; with scouts instead, mainly focusing on players’ creative and technical actions.
Central within the club is the style of play (4-3-3), training, behaviour and house rules. Ajax strives to keep its way of playing football recognizable; attractive, offensive-minded, creative, fast, fair and as far away from your own goal as possible
The young talents at Ajax are characterised by two key components: technique and tactics.
After the age of 10 the 1-4-3-3 formation is implemented (11 players including a goalkeeper). Prior to this, in training and matches, younger age groups play a 1-3-3 formation (7 players), a 1-3-1-3 formation (8 players) and a 1-3-2-3 formation (9 players).
The concept of playing for Ajax consists of four features: helping each other, the central defender also pushing forward, when in the opponent’s half one-on-one situations are deliberately sought and when in those one-on-one situations players look for chances to score.
The playing philosophy of AFC Ajax is based upon possession which in turn creates pitch mastery of which there are five key features: fast ball circulation, a passing and dribbling speed that is adapted to individual teammates, a clear passing direction, security as well as timely situation anticipation and coordination.
When the opposing team is in possession, youngsters schooled in the Ajax system are taught to adhere to four key principles: reduce the distance to the opponent, keep the pitch small, think about an opposing player’s options when they are in possession of the ball and to apply pressure both individually and collectively.
Perception and anticipation are key values at Ajax where young players are encouraged to: choose their best position, know when the time is right to transfer possession of the ball, know what to do after possession is lost, be able to take an overview of a given situation and make a decision based upon what they see in front of them.
Talent development is structured in terms of age. Technique is the prime focus between the ages of 8 and 12 with tactics taking precedence between the ages of 12 and 18; the development of a young player’s physique and mentality are ongoing throughout.
The above feeds into three stages of development: 1st stage – ages 8-12: positional play and technique, 2nd stage – ages 12-14: team play and the 3rd stage – ages 15-18: team tactics and learning to win.
The chosen few who progress through the different age groups at De Toekomst are amongst the most highly educated young footballers in the world and thus, it is little wonder why so many go on to succeed in the professional game; be it at AFC Ajax or elsewhere.
Assessing the Current Crop of Talent
Clearly, with such a high volume of young talent passing through De Toekomst on an annual basis, mistakes and oversights will be made; young players, after all, develop at differing rates. Some players bloom later in their careers after the experience of a prolonged period at first team level. However, few are afforded such a luxury in the first team in Amsterdam where pressure, expectancy and standards are astronomical and those failing to make the grade leaving the club as they reach their early twenties.
Ajax hope that instances of players ‘slipping through the cracks’ will be reduced by the dual pronged approach of loaning out a number of young players who are ready for regular first team football to fellow Eredivisie clubs and the elevation of Jong Ajax to the Eerste Divisie; meaning that players fresh from progressing through the academy are exposed to an environment akin to playing first team football on loan at a second tier club week-in-week-out while still remaining a part of the club as their footballing education continues.
However, is this system truly effective?
On Thursday 26th February 2015, The Guardian revealed that Ajax were the most prolific producers of talent to Europe’s top leagues. In 2014/15, it was said that 77 players who were trained at Ajax now play in the highest tier of Europe’s 31 best leagues, three ahead of Partizan Belgrade who themselves contributed 74. Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy came in third place with 57, while Dinamo Zagreb of Croatia and Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk completed the top five, contributing 50 players apiece.
These figures go some way to backing claims that the Ajax system is, in fact, alive and well and that the Cruijff blueprint is bearing fruit both in terms of the volume of talent being produced from within, coupled with success on the field; Frank De Boer and his charges secured four successive Eredivisie crowns in: 2010/11, 2011/12, 2012/13 and 2013/14.
But in 2014/15, the cracks began to show; De Boer, weary of having to rebuild a squad stripped of its most prized talents year after year, had, it seemed, simply lost too many key figures in the wake of the departures of both Siem de Jong and Daley Blind to keep pace with a rampant PSV Eindhoven who cantered to their first Eredivisie title since 2008.
During a turbulent and ultimately disappointing campaign, Frank De Boer regularly bemoaned his players’ performances and took the opportunity to recruit, when and where he could, players from outside the club. In came: Arkadiusz Milik (Bayer 04 Leverkusen – loan), Niki Zimling (1. FSV Mainz 04 – loan), Richairo Zivkovic (FC Groningen – €2.5m), Nick Viergever (AZ Alkmaar – €2m), Diederik Boer (PEC Zwolle – €750,000), James Fofana (PSV) and Robert Muric (Dinamo Zagreb) in the summer transfer window while the club added: Daley Sinkgraven (sc Heerenveen – €7m) and Andre Onana (FC Barcelona – €200,000) when the window reopened in January 2015.
With Arkadiusz Milik’s season-long loan proving to be a success (netting 11 times in 21 appearances) the Polish international was signed permanently for a reported €2.5m at the start of April 2015, taking the former champions’ overall spending for 2014/15 to around €12.45m; which, for a Dutch club, whose television and sponsorship revenue is limited when compared to their counterparts in Spain, England and Germany, is akin to a fortune. This exorbitant expenditure was mitigated only by the fact that the club recouped around €29.72m during the summer transfer window which included the big money sales of de Jong (Newcastle United – €7.5m) and Blind (Manchester United €17.5m) as well as the frustrating loss of the highly rated 16-year-old forward, Mink Peeters to Spanish giants, Real Madrid for a paltry €110,000.
Were De Boer and Ajax correct to look further afield? Results on the field of play in 2014/15 would suggest probably not; but the likes of Zivkovic and Sinkgraven can hardly be said to have been given an adequate opportunity to showcase their talents at first team level and both have youth on their side.
Meanwhile, De Boer had much publicised disagreements with a number of young players including Zivkovic and the precocious but undoubtedly talented, Ricardo Kishna, with both paying the price of their transgressions by sitting idly on the bench or in exile playing for Jong Ajax; while in their way stood the likes of Milik.
Was this situation not exactly the scenario that Cruijff and his supporters fought so hard to ensure never happened again back in 2011?
Had Cruijff’s blueprint failed?
Cruijff vs Ajax – A velvet revolution, civil war and a blueprint for the future
This isn’t Ajax anymore. Let me get to the point: this Ajax is even worse than the team from before Rinus Michels’s arrival in 1965.
Johan Cruijff was as outspoken as ever his De Telegraaf column after watching Martin Jol’s Ajax wilt in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu against Real Madrid in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League in 2010.
The score might have only been 2-0 on the night but the gulf in class and the ease in which the Spanish giants cruised to victory over the four time European Champions led Cruijff to act.
A so-called ‘Velvet Revolution’ was set in motion with Cruijff calling for the replacement of the Ajax Board of Directors including general director, Rik van den Boog and chairman, Uri Coronel, saying that in their place should stand former Ajax players and enlisting the likes of Wim Jonk and Dennis Bergkamp to be his hands-on advocates on the training fields in Amsterdam.
Cruijff believed a club like Ajax could not hope to compete with the biggest clubs in Europe for players; paying exorbitant transfer fees, wages and dealing with unscrupulous agents for players in their mid to late twenties and early thirties was a fool’s errand. Instead, the road back to the summit of European football for Ajax was to stop signing overrated foreign players and build a team around youth that was developed from within.
In Cruijff’s vision, Wim Jonk, Dennis Bergkamp, Marc Overmars and coach, Frank De Boer would be afforded complete control in terms of both personnel and implementation.
Yet, the Ajax Board of Directors were not about to go down without a fight, and, by appointing Louis van Gaal as general director behind Cruijff’s back in November 2011, they ensured a public and bloody battle through the courts ensued; the acrimonious war of words eventually being resolved in February 2012 with a judge ruling that van Gaal’s appointment had been illegitimate.
In the wake of this monumental ruling, the old order was replaced by the new; Cruijff had won.
Coach, Frank De Boer and Director of Football, Marc Overmars, now no longer allowed to purchase players for large sums of money, had to identify replacements from within when key players were sold.
In an era of domestic dominance for ‘de Godenzonen’, European club success has become the barometer of progress. Three years on from that monumental court ruling, has Cruijff’s blueprint delivered on European club football’s biggest stage?
The 2010/11 UEFA Champions League campaign included not only that much maligned 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid in the Bernabéu but also a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing in the reverse fixture at the ArenA in addition to a poor 2-1 loss to Auxerre in France. However, the club did prove to be competitive elsewhere, holding the mighty AC Milan 1-1 in the ArenA, where they also beat Auxerre 2-1, before, now under the guidance of Frank De Boer, they upset Milan 2-0 at the San Siro.
All in all, three defeats, two wins and one draw meant that Ajax finished just a point behind Milan who qualified for the latter stages of the competition in second place in Group G behind Real who posted an unbeaten group campaign; winning five and drawing just one.
A short run in the UEFA Europa League followed in the New Year, with the Amsterdam giants dispatching Belgian side, Anderlecht 5-0 on aggregate in the round of 32 before being dumped out by Spartak Moscow 4-0 on aggregate in the round of 16.
A frustrating campaign in 2011/12 culminated in another third place finish; this time on goal difference with Lyon progressing to the latter stages from Group D.
Drawn in a far more favourable group than in 2010/11, Ajax could only manage two wins, both coming at the expense of Croatian side, Dinamo Zagreb and two goalless draws with Lyon. In the remaining fixtures, the Dutch champions endured two more thrashings at the hands of eventual group winners, Real Madrid for the second season in succession.
Another foray into the UEFA Europa League followed, where, despite exiting the competition in the round of 32 at the hands of Manchester United, Frank De Boer’s men posted a memorable 2-1 victory in the second leg at Old Trafford.
The draw did Ajax few favours in 2012/13 as the Dutch champions were placed in a true ‘group of death’ which included: Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City and, for the third season in succession, Real Madrid.
Ajax struggled to gain any traction in the group, managing only a single victory, a 3-1 home success against Manchester City and a draw in the reverse fixture in Manchester. Four defeats home and away to both Dortmund and Real rounded out a dismal campaign and left the Amsterdam club lagging behind in a distant third place.
The club found little solace in the UEFA Europa League where they were eliminated in the round of 32 on penalties after their tie with Steaua Bucharest ended all square on aggregate.
Ajax were again drawn into another ‘group of death’ in 2013/14, or a group more appropriately dubbed the ‘group of champions’ with: Barcelona, AC Milan and Celtic, like Ajax, all boasting UEFA Champions League success in their respective illustrious histories.
A close campaign ensued with qualification coming down to the wire between Ajax and Milan once more. This time just a single point separated the two European giants; Ajax’s record of two wins, two draws and two defeats just losing out to Milan’s record of two wins, three draws and one loss.
The 2013/14 UEFA Champions League campaign proved to be Ajax’s strongest thus far in the De Boer reign, with the Dutch champions holding the Italian’s both home and away in addition to posting victories over Celtic and humbling the mighty Barcelona at the ArenA.
In the end though, a disappointing 2-1 reverse in Glasgow and an inability inflict the killing blow in either match against the Rossoneri left the Amsterdam giants once more facing a UEFA Europa League campaign in the New Year.
But their interest in the competition would be short-lived; Red Bull Salzburg inflicting a resounding 6-1 aggregate defeat over two legs in the round of 32.
Another tough draw followed in 2014/15 with Ajax, drawn in Group F alongside: PSG, APOEL and, for the second season in succession, Spanish giants, Barcelona.
The club could only muster a single victory; a 4-0 success at the ArenA against APOEL on 10th December 2014, the Cypriotes having surprisingly held the Dutch champions 1-1 in Cyprus at the end of September. Ajax also posted a creditable home draw with PSG but fell apart in the other three games, losing home and away to Barcelona as well as in Paris; ending up a massive eight point behind second placed PSG in the group.
The club progressed beyond the round of 32 in the UEFA Europa League for the first time since 2010/11, overcoming Legia Warsaw 4-0 on aggregate before being eliminated by eventual finalists Dnipro on the away goals rule despite beating the Ukrainians 2-1 in the ArenA following a 1-0 loss in the first leg in Kiev.
It can be clearly seen that the club, whilst not consistently able to hold its own against the elite in European club football season in and season out, has, on occasion, been able to bridge the gulf in finances and personnel to give these clubs a run for their money; most notably in 2010/11, 2011/12 and 2013/14.
Similarly though it must be noted that the club has failed to progress out of the group stages of the UEFA Champions League in each of the last five seasons while also fizzling out in the UEFA Europa League in each of those five campaigns.
The reality is that in 2014/15, the Amsterdam giants actually found themselves in a far worse position compared to the much lamented 2010/11 UEFA Champions League campaign. In 2014/15 Ajax posted a record of just one win, two draws and three defeats, scoring 8 goals whilst conceding 10 and amassing just five points. In 2010/11 they posted a more competitive record of two wins, one draw and three defeats, scoring 6 goals and conceding 10; amassing seven points in a group that, it could be argued, was far more difficult to qualify out of than its 2014/15 equivalent.
In fact, it could be argued that Cruijff’s ‘Velvet Revolution’ has actually made little difference in terms of the personnel on the field.
If we compare the Ajax match day squad named by Martin Jol that was dispatched 2-0 on 15th September 2010 at the Bernabéu in the UEFA Champions League to the one selected to face PSG at the ArenA by Frank De Boer on 17th September 2014 in the same competition, it is interesting to note how many players were actually products of the Amsterdam clubs’ academy and how many were brought in from outside the club.
Ajax team (vs Real Madrid 15/09/10): Stekelenburg (Zandvoort ‘75/ Schoten/ Ajax) , Van der Wiel (HFC Haarlem/ Ajax), Alderweireld (Germinal Beerschot/ Ajax), Ooijer (SDW/ SDZ/ Ajax), Anita ( CVV Willemstad/ VV Maarssen/ Ajax), Enoh (Little Foot FC), Sulejmani (Partizan), El Hamdaoui (Excelsior) , de Jong ( DeGraafschap/ Ajax) , Emanuelson (Voorland/ Ajax), de Zeeuw (AGOVV). Subs: Verhoeven (BFC/ Ajax), Eriksen (Middlefart G&BK/ OB/ Ajax), Blind (AFC/ Ajax), Lindgren (Landskrona BoIS/ Ajax), Tainio (TP-47), Oleguer (Gramenet), Jozefzoon (Ajax).
Ajax team (vs PSG 17/09/14): Cillessen (NEC/ De Treffers), van Rhijn ( RKSV DoCoS/ Ajax), Veltman (VV Ijmuiden/ Ajax ), Moisander (TPS/ Ajax), Boilesen (Skovlunde/ Brondby/ Ajax), Sigþórsson (Vikingur/ HK/ AZ Alkmaar), Klaassen (HVV de Zebra’s/HSV Wasmeer/ Ajax), Andersen (Aalborg Freja/ AaB), Schone (Lyngby/ sc Heerenveen), Serero (Senaoane Gunners/ Ajax Cape Town), Viergever (Sparta Rotterdam). Subs: Boer (Flevo Boys), Hoorn (SC Buitenboys/ FC Omniworld/ FC Utrecht), Duarte (Sparta Rotterdam), Milik (Rozwój Katowice), El Ghazi (BVV Barendrecht/ Feyenoord/ Spartaan ‘20/ Sparta Rotterdam/ Ajax), Denswil ( Hellas Sport/ Ajax), Zimling (AB 70/ Tarnby/ Fremad Amager/ KB).
Twelve players selected in the match day squad to face Real Madrid on 15th September 2010 were products of the Ajax youth system, while only eight (seven if you discount Ajax’s association with Ajax Cape Town) who came through the Amsterdam clubs’ famed academy were selected to face PSG on 17th September 2014.
If anything, in terms of the promotion of young talent from within, Ajax appears to be going backwards.
In 2014/15, Cruijff’s blueprint apparently discarded, the club fell back into old habits in terms of transfer policy due to the constant selling of key players and a lack of faith shown by key decision makers in those coming through De Toekomst.
So, what of the future?
With preparations for the 2015/16 Eredivisie season well underway; AFC Ajax stands at a crossroads in terms of recruitment and overall transfer policy once more.
Surely, for Ajax, another summer transfer window like that of 2014 cannot be allowed to repeat itself in 2015. With the club not even assured of competing in the lucrative group stages of the UEFA Champions League in 2015/16, having finished runners up to PSV in 2014/15 and thus having to compete in the qualifying rounds coupled with a lack of big money sales; money is tight in Amsterdam.
Aside from the €1m spent repurchasing Mitchell Dijks, Ajax have been more reserved in the transfer market this time around recruiting: Nemanja Gudelj (AZ Alkmaar – €6m), Francesco Antonucci (RSC Anderlecht – €500,000), John Heitinga (Hertha BSC – Free transfer), Dragisa Gudelj (NAC Breda – Free transfer) and Kaspar Dolberg (Silkeborg IF – Free transfer); spending €7.5m in total.
They have also recouped over half of this outlay by selling Icelandic marksman, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson to FC Nantes for a fee of €3.5m.
Will this more modest transfer policy see the club adhere more closely to Cruijff’s blueprint?
2014/15 saw the emergence of Anwar El Ghazi, Ricardo Kishna, Jairo Riedewald and Riechedly Bazoer into the first team squad; but who is most likely to follow in their footsteps in 2015/16?
To answer this question, we must look at the current Jong Ajax squad; those players expected to cross over the s111 and into first team contention.
As with any crop of talent to come through the famed Ajax youth system, the current Jong Ajax squad is filled with a host of promising young players. But who will make the grade?
Mickey van der Hart
A 21-year-old goalkeeper; van der Hart has represented the Netherlands at U17, U18 as well as U21 level. Having made 27 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2013/14, van der Hart was sent out to Go Ahead Eagles on a season-long loan to gain first team experience in 2014/15. He made 22 appearances for the Deventer club, remaining number one choice between the posts for much of the season before falling out of favour towards the end of the campaign as the club spiralled towards relegation via the promotion/relegation playoffs.
Born in Nkol Ngok; the 19-year-old Cameroonian goalkeeper was signed from the youth ranks of FC Barcelona in January 2015. After making his professional debut on 9th February 2015 against Achilles ’29, Onana played much of the second half of Jong Ajax’s 2014/15 Eerste Divisie campaign, making 13 appearances.
Stan van Bladeren
A 17-year-old goalkeeper; Van Bladeren made his professional debut on 6th February 2015 against FC Volendam in his only appearance of the 2014/15 season for Jong Ajax.
A 21-year-old goalkeeper, Leeuwenburgh has represented the Netherlands at U17, U19 and U20 level. Having made 7 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15; Leeuwenburgh will continue his professional development by spending the entire 2015/16 campaign with FC Dordrecht on a season-long loan.
A 20-year-old goalkeeper; Alblas made eight appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15. A Netherlands U20 international, the young shot-stopper made his professional debut against Fortuna Sittard on 16th August 2014 and signed a new contract on 30th June 2015, tying him to the club until 30th June 2016.
A 19-year-old goalkeeper; Mous made his professional debut on 16th January 2015 against SC Telstar, going on to notch 4 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15. Mous will spend the 2015/16 campaign at FC Oss on a season-long loan.
An 18-year-old goalkeeper; Groothuizen made his professional debut for Jong Ajax on 8th December 2014 against RKC Waalwijk. A Netherlands U17 and U18 international; Groothuizen went on to make 4 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15.
An 18-year-old defender; Owusu has represented the Netherlands at U17, U18 and U19 level. He made his professional debut on 14th August 2014 in a match against SC Telstar, making 19 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15. Having signed a new contract which runs until 2019, defender Owusu is a highly rated prospect in Amsterdam.
An 18-year-old left back; Savastano made his professional debut on 16th March 2015 against Fortuna Sittard and made a total of 2 appearances in 2014/15.
A 19-year-old defender; Mirani was named ‘Talent van De Toekomst’ in 2012/13. Mirani, who has represented the Netherlands at U17, U18 and U19 level, made 2 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15 and is contracted until 2016.
An experienced right back who has represented the Netherlands at U17, U19, U20 and U21 level; Ligeon made his debut for the first team in a match against AZ Alkmaar as far back as the 15th October 2011. Now 23-years-of-age, with Ricardo van Rhijn firmly ensconced as first choice right back and having spent part of 2014/15 on loan at NAC Breda; Ligeon is set to spend the 2015/16 campaign in Tilburg on a season-long loan at Willem II.
A 19-year-old defender who has represented the Netherlands at U17,U19,U20 and U21 level; Tete made his first team debut against AZ Alkmaar on the 5th February 2015, going on to make 5 appearances in total in 2014/15. The young defender, who has notched 50 appearances for Jong Ajax over the past two seasons, is now considered part of the first team picture in Amsterdam.
Damien van Bruggen
A 19-year-old defender who made his professional debut for Jong Ajax on the 16th August 2014 in a match against Fortuna Sittard; van Bruggen has represented the Netherlands at U17, U18 and U19 level. Having made 22 appearances and scored 3 goals over the course of 2014/15 Eerste Divisie campaign; the Utrecht-born defender will be looking to push his way into the first team picture in 2015/16.
Terry Lartey Sanniez
An 18-year-old right back who has represented the Netherlands at U17,U18 and U19 level; Lartey Sanniez made his professional debut for Jong Ajax on 25th January 2015 against Sparta Rotterdam, making a total of 6 appearances in the Eerste Divisie in 2014/15.
A 20-year-old midfielder; Bakker made his professional debut for Jong Ajax on 11th August 2014 against SC Telstar. A fixture in the Jong Ajax midfield, Bakker made 26 appearances in 2014/15 and scored 1 goal.
Abdel Malek El Hasnaoui
A 21-year-old midfielder of duel Dutch and Moroccan citizenship; El Hasnaoui, who has represented the Netherlands at U19 level, made 5 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15.
Born in Hoorn; Vissie, a 20-year-old midfielder, made 3 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15.
An 18-year-old midfielder; Nouri made his professional debut on 13th March 2015 against VVV Venlo in his only appearance for Jong Ajax in 2014/15.
A 19-year-old midfielder; Warmerdam made his professional debut for Jong Ajax against NEC on 24th November 2014 and went on to make 12 appearances in the Eerste Divisie in 2014/15, netting on two occasions.
A 17-year-old winger; Cerny, born in Pribram, has represented his native Czech Republic at U16, U17 and U19 level. Cerny made his professional debut for Jong Ajax against VVV Venlo on 13th March 2015; his only appearance of 2014/15.
A 20-year-old winger; Becker was discovered during a talent day in 2004 and recruited shortly thereafter to the Ajax Youth Academy. Becker later signed his first professional contract on 6th June 2011. Having represented the Netherlands at U17, U18, U19 and U20 level as well as having played 30 games over the course of two seasons with Jong Ajax, Becker was sent out on loan in January 2015 to PEC Zwolle and will return to the club for the 2015/16 campaign on a season-long loan. Becker’s contract at Ajax runs out on June 30, 2017 and the forward will be looking to prove himself to both his parent club and any prospective buyers in 2015/16.
Donny van der Beek
An 18-year-old midfielder; van der Beek, who made 5 appearances for Jong Ajax in the Eerste Divisie in 2014/15, was named ‘Talent van Der Toekomst’ in 2014/15 and given a first team squad number, although he did not appear for the first team.
A 19-year-old Croatian striker; Muric, having represented a number of teams at youth level in his native Croatia, signed a four year contract with Ajax which began on 1st July 2014. Muric, who has represented Croatia at both U17 and U19 level was awarded a first team squad number for 2014/15 but spent the entire season with Jong Ajax, making 12 appearances and scoring on four occasions.
A 19-year-old winger who has represented the Netherlands at U17, U19 and U20 level; Acolaste made 26 appearances for Jong Ajax in the Eerste Divisie in 2014/15, netting on 6 occasions.
Lesly de Sa
A 22-year-old right winger; de Sa has represented the Netherlands at U15, U16, U17, U18, U19, U20 as well as U21 level. He made his first team debut all the way back on 21st September 2011 in the KNVB Beker against amateur side, VV Noordwijk; featuring at first team level on 18 occasions and registering a single goal. The diminutive winger had a solid campaign for Jong Ajax in 2013/14, scoring 7 goals in 17 appearances, before being sent on a season-long loan to Go Ahead Eagles in 2014/15. Despite featuring on 17 occasions, de Sa scored just the one goal as the Deventer club were relegated via the promotion/relegation playoffs at the hands of De Graafschap. In June 2015 it was announced that de Sa would join Willem II on a season-long loan deal in 2014/15.
Born in Doetinchem; 20-year-old striker Hendriks made one appearance for hometown club De Graafschap on the 26th April 2013 in an Eerste Divisie match against SC Telstar before making the switch to Amsterdam; signing a four year contract on 24th June 2013. Hendriks has represented the Netherlands at U18, U19 and U20 level and made 19 appearances in 2014/15 for Jong Ajax, scoring on three occasions.
A 19-year-old winger; Menig was prolific in front of goal for Jong Ajax in 2014/15, scoring 11 times in 30 appearances. Having represented the Netherlands at U17, U19, U20 and U21 level; Menig made his first team debut in the KNVB Beker in the first official Amsterdam derby since 1983 and scored against JOS Watergraafsmeer in a 9-0 victory at the Olympic Stadium. In October 2014, Menig extended his contract with Ajax until 2019 and made three first team appearances in 2014/15.
An 18-year-old forward; Dankerlui made 8 appearances for Jong Ajax in 2014/15 and recently signed a new contract with the Amsterdam giants, tying him to the club until 30th June 2018.
An 18-year-old striker; Zivkovic was signed to great fanfare in the summer of 2014 after a stellar 2013/14 for hometown club, FC Groningen where he netted 11 times in 35 appearances. Capped at both U18 and U19 level by the Netherlands; Zivkovic had to wait to make his first team debut and instead lined up for Jong Ajax in their 2014/15 Eerste Divisie season opener against SC Telstar. Zivkovic cut a swathe through the Dutch second tier; scoring 18 goals in 25 appearances. Despite this, he was used sparingly in the first team after belatedly making his debut and marking it with a goal against amateurs, SV Urk in the third round of the KNVB Beker. Zivkovic made just 9 appearances and notched 2 goals in all competitions in 2014/15. In June 2015, it was announced that Zivkovic would embark on a season-long loan deal with Willem II, along with fellow Ajax players, Ruben Ligeon and Lesly de Sa.
A 20-year-old attacking midfielder; Meleg has represented his native Serbia at both U17 and U19 level. Following a prolific 2013/14 season with Jong Ajax, in which he netted 12 times in 27 appearances; the Serbian was loaned to SC Cambuur in July 2014 on a season-long loan for whom he made 10 appearances and hit the back of the net on one occasion before his loan spell was terminated on 6th March 2015 after Meleg fell out of favour at the Leeuwarden club.
These names, while not of the household variety at this moment in time, surely represent the best hope the fallen Amsterdam giants’ have of reviving their ailing fortunes both home and abroad in 2015/16.
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