Return of the prodigal son

Back in March, when Ajax were drawn against Schalke 04 in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Europa League, the first thing that sprung to mind was the return of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to the ArenA. Not quite the return that Ajax fans had hoped for however. Ideally, Klaas-Jan should currently be an Ajax player with manager Peter Bosz confirming recently that the club tried very hard to obtain the player’s services last summer. It was not meant to be, and thus we have to settle for two games against The Hunter.

Sure, Ajax has produced numerous quality players who ply their trades in the world’s biggest leagues, and yes it is arguable that coming up against an ex-Ajacied is fairly common, but this is Klaas-Jan friggin’ Huntelaar we are talking about. The former Ajax number 9 is widely considered by fans and pundits alike to be the greatest striker the club has ever had since Patrick Kluivert, and the reasoning behind it is not irrational. Having joined the club at the age of 22 as a promising striker from SC Heerenveen, there was a lot of clamour and expectation – as is normal at a club like Ajax. Yet, with the weight of expectation on him, Huntelaar took to it like a duck to water. He slotted into the 4-3-3 Ajax system seamlessly and performed like a typical Ajax number 9. Just like that, the club had found the perfect striker. Ultimately, the Amsterdammers managed to keep hold of Huntelaar for three and a half seasons before selling him to mighty Real Madrid for a massive €27 million. During his time at Ajax, Klaas-Jan netted a phenomenal 76 goals in a total of 92 games and truly established himself as one of the best strikers in Europe, certainly within the box.

It’s no secret that even after leaving Amsterdam, Huntelaar followed his old club closely and publicly stated his love for Ajax whenever the opportunity presented itself. And it is no surprise why. It’s fair to say that Huntelaar had not realised his full potential before he found his way to the Dutch capital. Having started off at De Graafschap, Huntelaar was picked up by PSV where he joined the club’s u19 team with middling success. In his second season at the club, he was promoted to the first team squad under Guus Hiddink, but ultimately only made one appearance before leaving due to lack of real opportunities. Having then gone back to De Graafschap and AGOVV on loan, The Hunter snapped up by the Superfriezen of Heerenveen. It was at the Friesland side that Huntelaar managed to produce on the big stage and thus ensuring that he was getting noticed. It was no surprise then that AZ Alkmaar, Feyenoord, PSV and Ajax were all after him – however, as soon as Klaas-Jan realized Ajax were concrete in their interest for him, in his own words “no other club figured for me at that stage. I made my mind up pretty quickly and knew I only wanted to play for Ajax”. To put that quote into context, Huntelaar recently confirmed that as a young boy growing up, his room at home was full of Ajax posters and merchandise.

That his success at Ajax would be so impressive wasn’t a given. Yes, Huntelaar was a talented kid, but how would he handle being at a big club? He certainly didn’t set the world alight at PSV. It can be argued that he played with the likes of Luis Suarez, Jaap Stam, Edgar Davids, Wesley Sneijder and John Heitinga, which would help anyone coming into a new environment. But that would be discrediting his talent, ability and work-rate. His movement, his feel for a goal, his technique, his ability to head the ball and his natural ability to link play yet also act as a target man were all key ingredients leading to his success at Ajax. In the end, it was no surprise Ajax sold him to one of the biggest clubs in the world for – at that time – an astronomical amount of money.

Back to Klaas-Jan’s genuine love for Ajax. After being drawn against his former club, the striker tweeted about his excitement of playing against The Amsterdammers and referenced the club’s passionate and awesome supporters. He followed this up with a video upload on his Instagram account and an interview with Ajax.nl.

It would come as no surprise to anyone should Ajax make a final attempt to get Huntelaar to come back to Amsterdam in the summer. With Traoré likely headed back to Chelsea, the club might end up with Dolberg and Cassierra as the only strikers in the first team squad. I think it is fair to say that having Huntelaar in the ranks to help develop the both of them and the likes of talented prospect Kaj Sierhuis would be a massive positive. I am not for a second suggesting that Huntelaar would only be useful as a mentor though. He would most certainly still be able to offer a great deal on the pitch. Just picture it – it’s the 91st minute of a key match in the title race in a game that would seal the championship for Ajax, the following happens. A beautiful through ball from Ziyech has cut open the defence and young Justin Kluivert has raced paced his opponent, putting in speculative cross into the box. Out of nowhere Klaas-Jan jumps up high and nods the ball into the top right hand corner to send his teammates and the fans into pure ecstasy.

Please come back home, Klaas-Jan.

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