In Football Manager 2017: The Ajax Journey, Alex Dieker looks to take Ajax back to European glory by using three R’s: Recovery, Revitalization, and Redemption. Recovering Ajax as the main Dutch superpower will mean using shrewd business, a strong youth policy, and tactical awareness to bring the Amsterdam club back to its usual Eredivisie dominance. To revitalize Ajax means to regain the club’s status as one of the world’s premier youth academies by using a “conveyer belt” system of bringing young players into the first team as star players get sold on. Finally, Alex will look to bring redemption back to the club by winning the Champions League and becoming the world’s strongest squad.
If you haven’t already, go check out Part 1 of the story.
For a club coming off of consecutive disappointments in the league, Ajax has a very strong squad. On-loan goalkeeper Tim Krul will battle with youngster Andre Onana for the starting spot once Krul recovers from his injury, but Onana will likely have the upper hand because of his ability to play in the sweeper-keeper role. Kenny Tete has no real competition at right-back; I will most likely use Terry Lartey-Sanniez as his backup. Joel Veltman and Jairo Riedewald have the center-back positions pretty much solidified, but new acquisition Davinson Sanchez definitely has the attributes to compete for a starting position. All three players are ideal for the ball-playing defender role that I am looking to incorporate to the squad. Left-back is a lock for Mitchell Dijks, who will be backed up by either Nick Viergever or youngster Mauro Savastano.
The most likely midfield partnership is Nemanja Gudelj, who isn’t as controversial in game as he is in real life, as a deep-lying playmaker with Riechedly Bazoer going from box-to-box beside him. Donny van de Beek is another youngster likely to see playing time in both roles this season. Davy Klaassen will likely play as the attacking midfielder in front of Gudelj and Bazoer, but his versatility may see him drop back as a box-to-box midfielder. Wonderkid Abdelhak Nouri and veteran Lasse Schone will duel for playing time behind the captain.
Ajax’s biggest summer signing (in real life), Hakim Ziyech, will most likely take up the right winger role as an inside forward, but his playmaking abilities mean that I will give him a chance to play in Klaassen’s role (which would see Davy move back, Bazoer over to deep-lying playmaker, and Gudelj out of the first 11). Anwar El Ghazi has been involved in some turmoil in real life, but his ability in FM sure hasn’t been affected by that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Anwar is a starter by the end of the season. Wonderkid Vaclav Cerny is another major contender for the position, and my hand will probably be forced to sell one or two of them in the next couple seasons.
Amin Younes is the only real contender for the left winger position after the departure of Viktor Fischer, and will be backed up by youth starlets Justin Kluivert and Gino Dekker throughout the season. Kasper Dolberg is my immediate thought for our starting striker, but Mateo Cassierra is almost as good as the young Dane in terms of current ability. Bertrand Traore is, rather surprisingly, not as good as the two others as a striker and will have to put in some amazing performances to stay in the team because of his on-loan status.
Of course, because of my youth policy, I will be playing a lot of youngsters whenever I have the chance. 16-year-old Matthijs de Ligt will get chances during cup matches after I promised him that when we negotiated a new contract. Damil Dankerlui is another option at right-back; he has great potential despite already being 20 years of age. Deyovaisio Zeefuik is another great prospect who is very adept at the ball-playing defender role.
Carel Eiting can play as a defender, defensive midfielder, and a midfielder, but I will be training him as a deep-lying playmaker because of the competition he would face in defence. Che Nunnely has some amazing potential as a right winger; in my FM save last year he broke the record for the largest outgoing transfer at the club. Striker Kaj Sierhuis looks poised to tear up the Jupiler League with Jong Ajax this year, and the 18-year-old striker has some quality potential.
As you may be able to tell from my team’s analysis, I don’t really want to buy any new starters in this summer transfer window that may hinder the development of some of my young players. I did, however, manage to secure some great young signings for fees that are sure to pay dividends in the future.
Sherel Floranus: Our first foray into the transfer market saw us purchase 18-year-old center-back Sherel Floranus from recently promoted Sparta Rotterdam for a small fee of €500k. Sparta has a history of producing exceptional young talent, such as Anwar El Ghazi, Ajax legend Danny Blind, and Memphis Depay. While Floranus is more of a typical center-half than a ball-player, he has the base attributes to become a starter in the next couple years.
Alexander Isak: After Kasper Dolberg’s success (in real life) at Ajax, it has been rumored that the club is looking to bring in more Scandinavian talent. Isak has been one of the names floated around, and I made that rumor a reality by purchasing the 16-year-old Swedish striker for €1 million from AIK. His attributes seem to favor the Trequartista role, which I don’t mind because it means he’s already pretty good at distributing and creating chances for his teammates. He will get his start at Jong Ajax, but will probably find himself in a few matchday squads for the first team this season.
Danny van Haaren: Van Haaren is an 18-year-old midfielder who we acquired from affiliate club Almere City for free, since he was on a non-contract. He doesn’t have nearly as much potential as the other signings, but his current ability is already good enough to fight for a Jong Ajax spot so bringing him in on a free was a no-brainer.
Mile Svilar: The 16-year-old Belgian goalkeeper joins the club from Anderlecht’s famed youth academy for a fee of €1.3 million, which is a bargain when you take his potential into account. Mile is comfortable on the ball and adept at picking out a pass; he’s exactly what I’m looking for in a sweeper-keeper. His current ability is already decent for my first team, so I’ll play him during some Dutch Cup games.
Sead Haksabanovic: My second purchase in Sweden is 17-year-old attacking midfielder Haksabanovic from Halmstads BK for €300k. In my opinion, this is an absolute bargain for a player who has some amazing potential for Ajax. Haksabanovic is already a first team regular at his Swedish Second Division club after breaking into the first team at 16 years of age. His path to the first team is blocked by quite a few great players, as mentioned earlier, so I wouldn’t expect to see him get much game time this season.
Javairo Dilrosun: As of recent times, many Ajax academy players have decided to move to England to further their career. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out for many of the players as big clubs don’t have such a strong youth policy as Ajax does. Javairo Dilrosun was one of those players, moving to Manchester City’s (awesome) youth academy a couple seasons ago. Now 18 years of age, Javairo found himself on the transfer list in Manchester. I saw an opportunity to pick up a young Dutch winger for only €400k who already knows the club and has played with many players still in our youth system. Dilrosun won’t be setting the footballing world on fire anytime soon, but he does have the potential to make the first team in a few seasons.
Dereck Darkwa: Our final summer signing was Dereck Darkwa, a 16-year-old winger/striker from Utrecht’s academy for €525k. He’s got good technical stats for a striker, but his pace and height will probably see him play more out on the right. I’ll put Darkwa in the Under 19’s squad for now, which should help him adjust to the club before making the step up to Jong Ajax. Like Svilar and Isak, Darkwa is another 16-year-old with some amazing potential.
As mentioned in the first installment of this story, I must maintain a positive transfer cash flow every season. Although I do have the winter transfer window to add to that total, I am pleased to note that I did make more money than I spent in the summer.
Peter Leeuwenburgh (Loan): After requesting another affiliate club for the purpose of loaning out players, the board gave me many options. I ended up choosing Greuther Furth in the German Second Division, a team that has the potential to get promoted to the Bundesliga in the next couple of years. This high-level exposure would be great for some of my younger players who aren’t quite good enough for the first team yet. Leeuwenburgh is a 22-year-old goalkeeper who isn’t really ever going to be a part of the first team, so think of this loan spell as a show of good faith from Ajax.
Thulani Serero: The South African midfielder was never really going to get a chance in the squad as I want to give other young midfielders a chance in the squad. After being placed on the transfer list a few clubs made €1.2 million bids, but Thulani decided to move to Scotland to continue his career at Celtic Park. As a graduate of the Ajax Cape Town academy, I wish him great luck with the rest of his career.
Joel Veltman: In the biggest and final sale of the summer, Joel Veltman moves on to Napoli for €11.5 million rising to €13m with a 50% future fee clause (if Napoli sell him later, we get half of the whole transfer fee). While it was tough to see an Ajax youth academy graduate depart, we made a hefty sum of money and we can now start to imbed young defenders into the starting lineup. Sanchez is likely to take Veltman’s place as I have a lot of faith in him despite being just 20 years of age.
Pre-season Friendlies: A mixed pre-season in terms of results saw us win 3 matches, draw 2, and lose 1. A victory against Club Brugge kicked off the pre-season while young striker Mateo Cassierra scored 7 times in our next 2 wins (3 against lower league IJsselmeervogels and 4 times against Turkish club Rizespor). A draw against Porto and a loss away to Burnley are not embarrassing results, especially considering how much we rotated our side from game to game. Cassierra, Mitchell Dijks, Terry Lartey-Sanniez, and Jairo Riedewald were the standout performers from the preseason.
Our first summer seemed successful, but only time will tell if the decisions made were the correct ones. We are definitely on track in terms of bringing in youth talent, but the sale of Veltman may be seen by some as risky. I like what I’m seeing from the young players’ performances; hopefully they’ll be able to maintain that form throughout the season. In the next update, I will recap how the club is doing after the January transfer window closes.