Picture this. You have a supremely talented, up and coming, exquisite ball playing defender who has represented the Netherlands at every level since under 15s and accumulated over 50 first team appearances amongst your ranks yet you opt to field the solid yet uninspiring donkey of a player in the centre of your defence. I am of course referring to Nick Viergever playing ahead of Jaïro Riedewald.
Likewise, imagine possessing one of the hottest central midfield prospects in Europe (who you stole from one of your direct rivals at a young age) who has ability coming out of his ears and interest from top clubs across Europe including Manchester City, Arsenal and Milan yet, in his place, you play the work horse like, ball winning midfielder who, on more occasions that not, fails to win the ball in midfield and/or work particularly hard. This time I am singling out Peter Bosz’ decision to start Nemanja Gudelj ahead of Richedly Bazoer.
On paper it sounds terrible yet on the pitch Ajax keep on producing the results making it very hard to criticise these decisions. For example, Sunday’s draw with Feyenoord could have been so much worse had Viergever not been on the pitch. In a fixture which possesses so much fire, passion, grit and steel would the aesthetically pleasing Riedewald have coped against the seemingly endless bombardment of Feyenoord crosses, shots and flying tackles as well as Viergever did?
Or perhaps it is the other way around. Perhaps this is the reason why Ajax succumbed so much possession to Feyenoord this weekend past. They missed their cool, calm and collected centre half who possess the ability to control and caress the ball around the pitch with ease taking the game by the scruff of its neck and stamping his authority on it. All at the expense of a couple extra headed clearances and a scattering of full-blooded challenge…
Similarly, in Vigo during the week Bosz, unsurprisingly, picked Gudelj ahead of Bazoer for the umpteenth time this season. Bosz’ usual explanation as to why Gudelj plays is because he is an athletic player who presses across the whole pitch and wins the ball back regularly. Something we have failed to see, regularly. However, against Celta Vigo, I did indeed see glimpses of what the manager expects of Gudelj.
Making five interceptions and five tackles the Serbian enforcer was a vital cog in the draw away to Celta. This was the first time the benefits of starting Gudelj were blatantly obvious as he was the perfect candidate to nullify the threats a team with as much quality as Celta posed. Players like John Guidetti, Pione Sisto and, eventual goal scorer, Fabián Orellana are players that need tight marking and closed down and Gudelj did that brilliantly. Without his imposing presence a team like Celta would perhaps have let their Spanish flair and brilliantly schooled technical and attacking ability run riot but thanks to Gudelj’s tireless work in midfield (amongst other factors) Ajax earned themselves a deserved draw and a valuable point away from home.
On the other hand, it could be argued that playing Gudelj is a very negative, albeit effective, tactic. Had Bosz been a touch braver and started Bazoer Ajax could have taken Celta on toe to toe in terms of technical ability and attacking football going all out for the win. With Bazoer playing in the heart of midfield it would have made for a much more exciting Ajax side as his terrific range of passing and box to box runs give de Godenzonen a whole different dimension. Not to mention his mid to long range shooting. A brilliant asset of the classy midfielder which adds a fantastic goal threat to this Ajax side’s attacking arsenal. (Remember Feyenoord at home last season anyone?) A more adventurous yet hazardous approach for sure, but one that would lift the paying fans backside’s out of their seats.
Overall, it is perhaps harsh to accuse the exclusion of Bazoer and Riedewald as being a crime against football, after all football is a results business and with Gudelj and Viergever as stalwarts in the side results are what you will get. However, leaving players with talent as great as Bazoer and Riedewald on the bench is perhaps more of a crime against artistry, individualism and creativity, three of the main components to the compelling, scintillating and breath-taking football we, as football fans, all crave.