The search for Ajax’s next number nine

When it rains, it pours. The storm in Amsterdam has yet to let up since the final day of the season, and it only got worse today with the news that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will remain with Schalke for the 2016/17 season. The former Ajax striker was widely regarded as the most applicable and attainable replacement for Arek Milik, who appears to be out the door.

Marc Overmars reinforced to media earlier this week that it would take a monster bid to lure the Polish striker out of Amsterdam, but it’s a familiar tactic employed by the director of football – one Ajax supporters have grown accustomed to. While Overmars certainly won’t let Milik leave for pennies on the dollar, it’s clear he’s coming to accept the fact that it will be increasingly hard to hold onto the striker, and thus is doing his best to get maximum money in return.

The once nightmarish thought that Ajax could begin the 2016/17 season with neither Milik or Huntelaar is approaching that of reality. With Champions League qualifiers less than a month away, Overmars will have to team up with Bosz and act quickly to find their next number nine – a fixture atop a potentially potent Ajax attack.

Mateo Casierra and Richairo Zivkovic are both options at striker, each of whom should get their looks in the upcoming season, but neither have the experience or a proven capability to be able to carry the load. A centrepiece – following in the footsteps of Milik, Huntelaar, Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, etc – needs to be brought in for Ajax to return to the Eredivisie summit and, hopefully, the Champions League group stage.

With no shortage of creativity amongst the ranks, there should be plenty of service for any incoming striker to feast on – it’s just about finding the right fit. Here are some names they should be looking at:

Bertrand Traoré (Chelsea)

The incredibly talented and versatile forward was linked with a loan move to Amsterdam last season, but Marc Overmars and Chelsea couldn’t agree to terms. The Burkina Faso international wound up staying at Stamford Bridge and impressed in limited opportunities during a more than tumultuous season for the Blues.

Traore started just four games for Chelsea in 2015/16, never playing the full 90 minutes, while making a total of 16 appearances across all competitions. Despite being afforded minimal time on the pitch, the forward put together a string of trenchant performances, scoring four times and adding an assist. It’s clear he has the talent to be successful at a high level, but whether or not Chelsea are willing to part with the 20-year-old remains to be seen.

It’s a situation worth monitoring for Ajax. Should Traore fail, for whatever reason, to fit into new manager Antonio Conte’s plans, then Overmars should pounce to get a deal done – though there shouldn’t be a shortage of interest if that is the case.

Ajax could hold a leg up on the competition, however, with the potential promise of European football, while Traore is both fond and familiar of the new boss in Amsterdam. The striker spent two seasons under Peter Bosz at Vitesse between 2013 and 2015, scoring 20 goals and assisting seven in 51 appearances across all competitions with the Arnhem outfit. Traore makes all the sense in the world for Ajax, yet remains altogether unlikely.

Leon Bailey (Genk)

After winning the Belgium Pro League’s Young Player of the Year Award for his impressive debut season in 2015/16, Leon Bailey has his sights set on a move, and Ajax fit the billing. There is inextricably mutual interest between the forward and the Amsterdam outfit, with Bailey and his step-father speaking openly in a recent interview about their recent contact with the club.

Bailey sees Ajax as a stepping stone to fill his lofty ambitions of playing for a top European club, but Genk are standing in the way of a transfer. The Belgium outfit are pricing Ajax out of a move, and while talks remain ongoing, outside interest from Fiorentina and Chelsea could prove problematic for Marc Overmars as he races to sign the wunderkind.

Dominic Solanke (Chelsea)

Ajax must leave no stone unturned in their pursuit for a new number nine, and if Peter Bosz has any ties left with Chelsea from his time at Vitesse, they’re worth exploiting. Solanke is another forward who spent time under the new Ajax boss in Arnhem last season, scoring five goals in 16 appearances before Bosz’s departure to Israel.

Bosz is clearly a Solanke advocate, handing the striker 1,173 minutes of playing time in the first half of the season, while he made just 10 appearances (728 minutes) in the second half following the appointment of interim boss Robert Maas.

Solanke is almost assuredly available on loan for this season as he doesn’t figure to be granted an opportunity to crack Chelsea’s first team, especially given the recent arrival of Michy Batshuayi. He remains highly regarded within the youth set-up at Stamford Bridge, but his astronomical £50,000-a-week demands (more than seven times his current salary) has put his future with the club in limbo. To believe Ajax could meet the striker’s lofty request could be nothing more than a pipe dream, but should he sign a new, reasonable deal to keep him in London, a loan deal – something La Liga outfit Granada are already pursuing – wouldn’t be at all out of the realm of possibility.

Bas Dost (Wolfsburg)

Dost was barely able to break into the Wolfsburg squad at the start of the 2014/15 season, making just one appearance off the bench in the first 12 matches of the season. With Ivica Olic and Nicklas Bendtner struggling in front of goal, however, Dost got his chance, coming off the bench to score in a 3-1 victory over Hannover and subsequently cementing his spot at Die Wolfe’s number nine.

The striker went on to score 16 goals in 19 Bundesliga matches with Wolfsburg the rest of the way, adding four assists. Forget Will Grigg because, by every definition, Bas Dost was on fire. Now the man who couldn’t stop scoring has fallen out of favour at his current club, with potential suitors lining up bids which would have been considered impossible bargains just one year ago.

Southampton have reportedly made a bid of seven-million euros for the striker, which would be more than affordable for Ajax, provided Milik goes in search of greener pastures – but, of course, if the Polish striker stays in Amsterdam then this entire article is an act in futility, so we’ll continue to operate on the assumption that he’s on his way out.

Adrian Ramos (Dortmund)

Ramos, like Dost, is another striker who has fallen out of favour at his current club, and he’s become expendable with the arrivals of Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor at the Signal Iduna Park.

The 30-year-old arrived at Dortmund two years ago from Hertha Berlin, after scoring 16 goals (while assisting six) in 32 league appearances. Ramos boasted a consistent and proven track record as a number nine, which is what caught the eye and won over the affections of Jurgen Klopp.

He hasn’t exactly lived up to lofty expectations, but that’s just as much Dortmund’s fault as it is his own. The striker has appeared in 45 Bundesliga matches in the last two seasons, scoring 11 times, but is very much an afterthought under Thomas Tuchel. He has too much talent to be a rotational player, and a move abroad could be in the cards for the Colombian striker this summer, who has been pushed to third on the depth chart atop the Dortmund attack.

Whether the striker is looking for a transfer remains to be seen – but any unrest should be capitalised on by Ajax, who could not only use his services in a big way to bolster their attack, but he could prove a valuable mentor for compatriot and most recent signing Mateo Casierra.

Joel Pohjanpalo (Leverkusen)

While this is a purely speculated suggestion, with no inclination shown by Leverkusen to be willing to part with their young Finnish striker, it’s another name that makes sense. Pohjanpalo arrived at the BayArena from HJK Helsinki in the summer of 2013 and has spent each of the past three seasons on loan.

The striker scored 11 goals in the 2.Bundesliga in 2014/15, but after struggling through much of the previous campaign against the same competition (two goals in 26 appearances), he may need to do more to imbue Roger Schmidt and earn a place in Bayer’s first team.

While Pohjanpalo’s inconsistencies leave an aura of uncertainty surrounding the degree of success he might enjoy in the Eredivisie, the striker has an undeniable penchant for finding the back of the net and could be a nice complimentary addition to share time with Mateo Cassierra.

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