Today, I will be highlighting some of the academy’s prized possessions. Throughout the system, from Jong Ajax down to the youth ranks, there are so many players with amazing potential. Fast attackers, strong defenders, skillful midfielders, and adept goalkeepers all abide to the high-pressure, possession-oriented style of play philosophy that makes Ajax such a joy to watch every week. This article will focus more on attacking and playmaking youngsters, with an academy that has no shortage of attacking talent. It will be interesting to see how many of these players make it to the Ajax first team, and how many end up moving to other clubs. We know about Dolberg, Van de Beek, Nouri, and De Ligt, but these names could be the next ones appearing in the Ajax starting 11.
Frenkie de Jong
As one of the most hyped-up talents in the academy, Frenkie de Jong is a name you’ve probably heard before. He recently made his Eredivisie debut against Sparta following his superb play for Jong Ajax throughout the past couple seasons. Following his move from Willem II in 2015, de Jong has proven to be one of the most talented players in Holland’s second division. The 19-year-old midfielder strides over the pitch with the fortitude of a seasoned veteran as he penetrates the opposing midfield and creates attacking chances for Ajax. A brilliant passer, de Jong knows exactly where to put the ball for his teammate to latch onto it and continue the play. De Jong certainly has the mental awareness to understand when to dribble past any challengers or lay it off to a better-suited comrade. He also has a brilliant eye for goal: an attribute found lacking in many experienced midfielders. My one qualm about de Jong is his defensive work. While he does do a decent job of tracking back to help out the back line, he often finds himself beaten by his man. If de Jong can improve his defensive ability and become a solid asset to stopping counter attacks, he will truly be one of the most well-rounded youngsters in Europe.
Ajax has been no stranger to brilliant strikers over the years. Ibrahimović, Huntelaar, Suarez, and now Dolberg are the first to come to mind, but the interesting thing about these great attackers are that they were all bought from other clubs. In Sierhuis’ case, he is an Ajax product through-and-through. Having played at different youth levels for both the Amsterdammers and Holland, Kaj is on his way to a first-team spot in the coming seasons. Like the legendary Ajax strikers before him, he possesses an insane knack for finding the back of the net with his strikes (Example A). Sierhuis is mobile which allows him to get into pockets of space in front of the net to score an easy tap in or header. Despite standing at only 1.8 metres (5’11”) tall, the Dutch poacher is ridiculously adept at getting his head on the ball; a large portion of his goals over the years have been headers. With the current first-team striker spot being held by fellow youngster Kasper Dolberg, it will be interesting to see whether Sierhuis will be able to find a spot in the first team. He’s made just 7 appearances for Jong Ajax this season, so it would definitely aid his development more to stay with the reserve team until at least the end of the season to find his footing against professional defenses.
A blazing fast winger who darts past defenders like a cheetah? What’s not to love? Che Nunnely is known far and wide for his speed and dribbling; one of the many physically-proficient products of “De Toekomst”. Despite having risen through the youth ranks of both Holland and Ajax, Nunnely isn’t your typical “total” Ajax player; he’s very traditional. When the ball is sprayed out wide to him, he’ll run at his man with confidence and flair. However, he usually ends up putting a cross as opposed to cutting inside to find a trailing midfielder or open striker. While this isn’t necessarily a negative move, Ajax likes to dominate the ball so crossing opportunities on counter attacks usually aren’t on chef Peter Bosz’s menu. Che is certainly cooking in the youth leagues, but he must become a more well-rounded passing option for his teammates to trust him at the higher levels. With the physical attributes locked in, Nunnely has the potential to become a world-renowned attacker.
The youngest player on the list is possibly the most sought-after: 16-year-old striker Daishawn Redan. The Ajax under-17 poacher has proven himself time and time again with Holland’s youth teams, having a goal scoring record of 10 in 12 for the under-16’s and 6 in 9 for the u-17’s [transfermarkt]. The young striker has found himself subject to many transfer rumors from bigger clubs. The most recent of these rumors has been to Manchester United, but Redan decided to reject the English giants in favor of continuing his development at Ajax. It’s so refreshing to see a great talent decide to stay in Holland to develop, especially having seen players like Timothy Fosu-Mensah (Manchester United), Juan Familio-Castillo (Chelsea), and Donyell Malen (Arsenal) among others having chosen to begin their pro careers at youth-ignorant mega-clubs. Redan isn’t a physical specimen like fellow attacker Che Nunnely, but his technical ability is absolutely incredible for a player just starting to break into the u-19’s. His first touch allows him to rake in pacey passes and his shot execution in the box is sublime. It seems that so many of his shots seem to find the corner of the net, despite the fact that Redan gets a lot of power on them. Daishawn Redan seems fully committed to staying with Ajax up until he reaches the first team, so look for him to make his Jong Ajax debut in the next year or so.
In a footballing world that seems to place current output much higher than potential ability, it is tough to build a club on youth development. If there’s any club that knows how to do it, however, it’s AFC Ajax. Few European teams have the structural presence at the youth level as do Ajax, so it’s no surprise that we see these superb youngsters being churned out of the youth ranks on such a consistent basis. Whether these aforementioned players will end up becoming stars is still up in the air, but one thing that is known is the massive potential they do possess.