If you are a supporter of Dutch giants Ajax Amsterdam you are much luckier than the average footy fan. Not only do we get to see our team succeed (for the most part) at the domestic and, occasionally, continental level, but the Amsterdammers also provide viewers with a constant flow of new talent from it’s acclaimed youth academy.
We are so lucky, in fact, that it is not very difficult to compile a long list of young players that show superb potential. These rankings are not based solely on current ability; instead, mostly on how good of a player I think he will become. Without further ado, here are the 19 biggest under 20 talents of De Toekomst.
Honorable mentions: Teun Bijleveld, Danilho Doekhi, Azor Matusiwa, Zian Flemming
All players were under the age of 20 as of August 1, 2017. Player statistics provided by Transfermarkt.com.
Kicking things off at #19 is Noussair Mazraoui: a 19-year-old Dutch/Moroccan player who took up an integral role with Jong Ajax last season. Mazraoui is quite the interesting player; he has played a vast number of differing positions for Ajax’s reserve side. He played most often as a centre-midfielder, right-back, and a left-winger, as well as centre-back. Perhaps this is down to Marcel Keizer not quite finding Mazraoui’s true strengths as a player, or simply because he has a wide-ranging set of skills that allow him to marshal a defense one night and run rampant down the wing another.
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) 15 juli 2017
Noussair Mazraoui’s long shots are certainly worthy of note as I feel they represent the pros and cons of his game. The Leiderdorp-born teenager has scored some amazing goals that prove he’s confident on the ball and has good technique, but it also says something to his overall mentality. Mazraoui feels like he needs to take over the game by scoring the winning goal, but this will often lead to a lost possession at the top level. This is something we’ve seen happen far too much from Hakim Ziyech in the first team. If Mazraoui can capitalize on Keizer’s faith in him with a few cameo appearances in low-importance matches this season, his strengths can certainly overcome the challenges he will face.
Ajax’s Under-19 squad had a fantastic 2016/2017 season, finding themselves nine points clear of second-placed PSV at the top of the table by the season’s end. There’s surely a lot of talent packed into the second-to-last step before the first team, and the epitome of that talent is Mees de Wit. A left winger who will probably get some quality playing time with Jong Ajax next season, Mees is a fast, darty, and technically adroit 19-year-old.
De Wit played absolutely out of his mind in the first half of the Under-19 season. His seven goals and two assists in only eight matches helped lead Ajax to an almost-perfect Preliminary Stage (marred only by two draws). I’ll level with you though: Mees began to cool off after the cold winter break. No goals and three assists in nine matches was certainly below the standard he set to start the season, but the winger was nevertheless not involved in one U-19 squad defeat.
The strongest part of Mees’ game is his crossing ability – he’s ridiculously good at it. Whether it is on the left or right flank, with his strong or weak foot, de Wit always seems to deliver his crosses directly to the heads or boots of his team’s striker. Mees’ ball control and speed allow him to maraud into these advantageous positions to cross, either near the touchline or top of the box, but he’ll need to adapt his dribbling to counter tighter defenders at the professional level. Mees de Wit has the potential to be a first team player at Ajax; this season with Jong Ajax is his chance to prove that.
Poland is an awesome nation known for its fantastic exports: agriculture, machinery, and most importantly, goalkeepers. Mateusz Górski is the first foreign player to make the list, having recently made a move from Wrocław Academy in his home country. The 17-year-old shot-stopper has me extremely excited; from what I’ve seen (on grainy YouTube videos) he is a fantastic sweeper-keeper.
Born in the Polish town Duszniki-Zdrój on the border of Czechia, Górski has grown up in a youth system at Wrocław that seems to exist for the sole reason of developing young players so they can build successful careers. Górski’s transfer to Ajax has made everyone at the club proud. The training clips of the keeper show his unwavering work ethic, great reactions, and confidence to play outside the box, both literally and figuratively. Ajax looks to have a superb goalkeeper on its hands, and it’s only a matter of time until we get to see him in action for our youth teams.
The big criticism of journalists who predict how good a young player will become is that they are projecting a false image on a ‘blank canvas’, or a player who could be amazing but likely won’t. Saying a player like Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, a versatile, 17-year-old midfielder currently breaking into the Under-19’s, is a great prospect at the club can be seen as quite speculative. A Dutch player who is still playing at his age level doesn’t seem like anything special. However, if you watch Ekkelenkamp play I am sure he won’t disappoint.
Jurgen Ekkelenkamp always seems to stand out when it matters. Watching the lanky teenager roam around on the pitch may remind one of your average, unspectacular footballer. However, the versatile playmaker is always the one to make the key through ball, put an end to an opposition attack, or get forward and score a game-winning goal. In a way, Ekkelenkamp reminds me of former captain Davy Klaassen. He has played anywhere from striker to defensive midfielder in the youth ranks, but his best role seems to be as some sort of a ‘support striker’.
It’s certainly very hard to predict potential, but I believe Jurgen Ekkelenkamp has what it takes to break into the Ajax first team in the future. His technical ability, goal-scoring prowess, and all-around play makes him a player to watch over the next few seasons.
Despite just turning 17 in June, Mitchell Bakker has been a first team left-back for Ajax’s Under-19’s for about a year. Having made his U-19 debut at the ripe age of 15, Bakker is the perfect example of playing above your age group if you’re good enough. Some may say that he’s only being selected because of Ajax’s dearth of talent at the position. I think it’s because the youth coaches see how much potential the Dutch U-17 International has.
I covered Bakker’s strengths and weaknesses in detail a few months ago, but here’s my ten cents on the defender. The youngster is physically excellent: quick to accelerate, fast on and off the ball, and has an athletic build. Bakker’s great technique with the ball is represented with his cheer-inducing free kicks and pin-point cross accuracy. If his teammates can create space for him to bomb down the left wing, Mitchell has the speed to get to the ball and the ability to send in an accurate pass to create a scoring chance.
However, a lot is left to be improved upon on the other side of the pitch. Mitchell Bakker is always seemingly lagging behind his marker, most often times because he is the last defender to sprint back. His tackles are often inaccurate and haphazard. Despite these flaws to his defensive game, I believe that his raw talent and evident skill with the ball can ensure he’s a superb two-way player for Ajax: a great representation of Totaal Voetbal.