With Tim Krul injured, and Jasper Cillessen having moved to Barcelona in the summer, André Onana has emerged as Ajax’s new number 1.
And a solid one, at that. He is part of a defence that has conceded just 11 goals in the Eredivisie this season, less than a goal a game. A full 15 sides have conceded more than that. And while players in our back 4 such as Davinson Sánchez and Joël Veltman have been extremely solid of late, I think Onana deserves some credit.
Ajax have kept 3 clean sheets in a row now, and Onana is beginning to demonstrate both confidence and maturity between the sticks. I think his positioning has been excellent in recent games, especially against Heerenveen last weekend. There was a rasping drive from van Amersfoort in the 1st half that was travelling into the top corner, but Onana positioned himself slap bang in the middle of the goal. When the shot came in, he just moved a couple of steps to tip it over. It didn’t look spectacular, but such is often the art of goalkeeping. Positioning is underrated. If you’re sprawling across your goal to save every attempt on target, you’re doing it wrong, sir.
Another thing to mention. He loves to play it short out from the back. As is the Ajax way, but it’s still great to see a goalkeeper not continually hoofing it long in the hope someone wins a flick-on. An accurate passer in goal is important to commence the first stage of attack, through which the ball is (theoretically) passed through the lines of defence to create a goal-scoring opportunity. Of course, it isn’t always that easy. But none of that is possible if you don’t have the ball, and Onana’s approach to distribution means that more often than not, we don’t give the ball away at the first stage. His passing accuracy this season has been 70%, a full 10% higher than Jasper Cillessen’s stats for last season. There’s an intelligence about the young man’s play, and with game time assured in the coming weeks, he is only going to improve.
For all this talk about his talents, I think his age is really worth highlighting. Onana is one for the future. Few goalkeepers hit their stride at the age of 20. Players tend to hit their peak later into their 20’s, and maintain it well into their 30’s. Think Petr Čech, and Gianluigi Buffon, who are 34 and 38 respectively. And still very good.
Moral of the story: if we can keep hold of André Onana, the future is bright.