Donny Van De Beek has climbed his way Ajax’ steep midfield pecking order and is now on the fringes of the first team after brilliant performances against Panathinaikos, Heerenveen and Standard Liege. The 19-year-old from the Nijkerkerveen village in Gelderland is probably the reason Peter Bosz and Marc Overmars feel comfortable with selling Riechedly Bazoer in January. Van De Beek has spent many years as the brains of the Jong Ajax midfield operation but has shown that he is ready to play with the first team.
Abdelhak Nouri and Van De Beek have long been the duo that have shone at youth level with the former being known as the most naturally talented player of his generation and the latter possessing a well-rounded repertoire of gifts. A lanky baby-faced midfielder who is endearingly boyish when he plays has also received admiring glances from Catalonia and Barcelona according to Mundo Deportivo. Ajax have a plethora of midfielders as Nemanja Gudelj and Riechedly Bazoer’s disciplinary issues have given Van De Beek the opportunity for more playing time in the Europa League and the Eredivisie. Van De Beek’s talent has been so intense that he was even tipped as a talent for the future by the great Dennis Bergkamp at the age of 11.
“Dennis [Bergkamp] started very excited to tell you about a little talent in his youth team,” recalls Frank De Boer seven years later to Voetbal International. “A boy Dennis reminded himself at that age. That was for me to keep an eye on the signal that guy. That was Donny.”
Lasse Schone is currently the team’s first choice deep-lying midfielder with Jairo Riedewald behind him if Bosz still believes that is his position while Van De Beek is behind them and also the primary backup for Davy Klaassen’s position. In Ajax’ last four games which have come to around 360 minutes, Van De Beek has played 294 minutes gaining three of his four starts this season. This has been due to Bosz playing the youngsters in the final two Europa League games and Davy Klaassen’s suspension against Groningen. Van De Beek has certainly grasped his chance with a man of the match performance and two assists in that time span.
RT @OptaJohan – 122 – Donny van de Beek had 122 touches v Standard, a new Europa League record for an @AFCAjax midfielder. #ajax #staaja pic.twitter.com/2DSc0kPFDs
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) December 8, 2016
At this stage of last season, Van De Beek also picked up some minutes for the first team as he scored a header in the Europa League against Molde while he also featured against Celtic in the final group game. The image of his blood dripping down the side of his face after colliding with an opponent in order to score against Molde still provides positive respite after a poor season in Europe while the image of him perfectly executing a backheeled volleyed pass from deep against Celtic provides amazement at his immense talent. Van De Beek has always meshed youthful exuberance with an aura of authority when on the pitch as that is probably one of the main reasons he has been able to get game time when Ajax have an astounding 10 midfielders on their payroll.
Last year Van De Beek won the Ajax Talent of the Future award previously won by Daley Blind, Christian Eriksen, John Heitinga, Siem De Jong, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael Van Der Vaart. The trophy is also known as the Sjaak Swart trophy and there are few people who know Van De Beek better than ‘Mister Ajax’ as last week Van De Beek told the Dutch media that he sleeps at Swaart’s house, eats breakfast made by his wife and has football conversations with the legend. Swaart believes that Van De Beek’s future could lie as a six as he wrote in a column with Voetbal International and has been full of praise for Van De Beek.
“Not only possession he has a keen insight, even if the opponent comes up, he’s in the right place. He has been so far that he can show at the highest level,” said Swaart to Voetbal International.
Donny Van De Beek with 87% pass success (84% in the final third), 8 crosses, 1 block and 12 ball recoveries. 19 years-old. #stlaja
— Chaka Simbeye (@chaka_simbeye) December 8, 2016
At the moment, Van De Beek possesses the ability to play further forward as he proved against Heerenveen. He came off the bench with the game deadlocked at 0-0 and the Frisians pressuring Ajax at every turn as he completely changed the game. Van De Beek came on for Hakim Ziyech and immediately played a one-two with Bertrand Traore which resulted in Amin Younes shooting over from point blank range. He then took on a Schone pass to deftly steer it into the path of Klaassen who dribbled the keeper and prodded it home for Ajax to win the game. That performance came after the game against Panathinaikos where he was voted man of the match.
Against Groningen, he did not get involved as much as one would’ve liked him too but created some beautiful one-twos with Vaclav Cerny while he found himself in shooting positions many times. He finished the game with 4 shots, an 87% pass succession rate , 3 dribbles, winning 1 aerial battle and 1 tackle. The game against Standard Liege where he played at the base of midfield was the best and most authoritative of his recent performances. He dropped in between the centre-back Matthijs De Ligt and Jairo Riedewald to play the ball out expertly but always managed his positioning well. He sometimes stayed in midfield to play direct passes into the next wave of attacks.
VD Beek with 1 assist, 4 chances created, 87% pass percentage (86% in final third) and 5 crosses with 6 ball recoveries. [@chaka_simbeye]
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) December 8, 2016
He twisted and turned past pressure majestically and was only caught on the ball once as he was the heart and soul of everything Ajax did. He then dropped in between the two centre-backs to play a magnificent long ball to find Anwar El Ghazi in behind for the winger to score while in the second-half, he turned his man higher up the pitch to play Nouri in behind but the youngster spurned his chance. There was also a moment of magic which was a microcosm of how he beat Standard’s pressure all game as he made an elegant flick to beat an onrushing Standard attacker. He finished with an 87% pass succession of 99 passes which was the most in the game (84% in the final third), 8 crosses, 1 block and 12 ball recoveries as he showed an outstanding sense of danger to win back possession at times.
Riechedly Bazoer will always have his brilliant chip for Viktor Fischer’s goal away against FC Twente or the stunner he scored in De Klassieker last season but he has been usurped by Van De Beek this season. A player whose largest obstacle is keeping his feet on the ground and finding a position to excel in at Ajax. There will be quite the Amsterdam exodus in January with Overmars clearing out the deadwood while Schone still has not signed a new contract leaving a player who was linked with a loan move earlier this season with so much opportunity to stake a claim for a starting spot in the side. Last year, Overmars extended Van De Beek, Cerny and Nouri’s contracts to 2020 so regardless of all the interest, Van De Beek will be at Ajax for the long-haul.