An anticlimactic ending to the transfer window

A few years ago, Rafael van der Vaart had a choice to return to Ajax or move near the home of his grandmother in Sevilla for Real Betis. The aging attacking midfielder chose the latter which was a blessing in disguise for the Amsterdammers, as they had an already clogged midfield preventing young talent from developing in the first team. And now, with Donny van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong becoming first team regulars – and Carel Eiting on the fringes – Ajax have made the confusing decision to sign Siem de Jong on a three-year deal for €2 million from Newcastle United.

Although De Jong proved to be a goalscoring option from the bench for PSV last season, the loan deal had its ramifications. Bart Ramselaar was moved to the left wing, while prospects Pablo Rosaria and Dante Rigo’s path to the first team was blocked. Philip Cocu tried to deploy De Jong as a defensive midfielder when Jorrit Hendrix and Andrés Guardado faced injuries, but the former Ajax captain did not impress enough to tie down a regular place in the position. He scored six goals – mostly from the bench – for PSV last season.

De Jong retains the ability to be an Eredivisie goalscorer, as he showed last season against Ajax at the Amsterdam ArenA, capitalizing on poor positioning from Jairo Riedewald to level the tie after a Klaassen opener. However, the purchase of De Jong and the short interest in acquiring Nigel de Jong is flummoxing given the amount of talent Ajax have in midfield. Siem is seen as replacement for Klaassen in terms of leadership that the Everton man brought, but from a playing standpoint there is little need for De Jong.

With Ajax bereft of continental competition this season the target should be winning the Eredivisie and KNVB Beker, where their competition will be a PSV side in transition and a Feyenoord team with mid-week European responsibilities in a tough UEFA Champions League group.

Noa Lang has impressed with the Ajax u19 side and gained minutes wit the first team during pre-season. He could be the next midfielder to make the transition into Ajax 1, behind Carel Eiting who provides competition for Lasse Schöne and Donny van de Beek in the deep-lying midfield role.

The signing of De Jong could be seen as a stop-gap for the day that Hakim Ziyech finally leaves the Eredivisie for greener pastures, as the Morroccan’s succession plan in Abdelhak Nouri was cruelly robbed of his career this summer. However, it would be difficult to see Siem de Jong performing better than Frenkie de Jong in the attacking midfield role. Besides, this season should be about developing and preparing Frenkie, Van de Beek and Eiting for European football and the next stage of their careers. In terms of strategy, it is confusing to see Marc Overmars sign another midfield player when Mitchell Dijks is still the first-choice left-back at the moment – although that spot could go to Nick Viergever in the near future.

Peter Bosz thinned out the midfield last season with the sales of Riechedly Bazoer and Nemanja Gudelj, which proved to be integral in the rapid development of Frenkie and Van de Beek. Schöne’s ability to circulate the ball and work tight spaces in deeper midfield areas made him a vital conduit for Ajax’ transitions, but the Dane struggled in the latter stages of the Europa League. As a result, Van de Beek was successfully deployed in that role, proving once more there is little need for the addition of Siem De Jong.

The return of Dijks and additions of Huntelaar and De Jong could lead to an inherently lazy plan B of Ajax pumping in copious crosses, hoping one of the latter two would be on the end of the deliveries. However, in a season where Ajax have less responsibilty, the Amsterdammers have the opportunity to prepare their young midfielders for the more strenuous tasks that come with European competition. Van de Beek has recently even been given his first Dutch national team call-up.

Viergever, Schöne and Huntelaar are the only outfield players in the Ajax squad over the age of 25 and could be considered dressing room influences. As a former captain, Siem would be able to assist newly appointed captain Joel Veltman as a leader in a very young dressing room.

De Jong struggled at Newcastle United following the departure of head coach Steve McClaren. The former FC Twente manager deployed him as a second-striker in a 4-4-2 formation as a link-man between the midfield and attack. He put in one of his strongest performances in a victory against Liverpool at St. James Park in one of the few matches that the Magpies won under McClaren. Siem’s success away from Ajax has only been fleeting, proving that his return is sentimental more than anything.

The return of De Jong could prove to be a hindrance on Eiting in the present and a player like Lang in the longer term. In a summer that was arguably Overmars’ most crucial transfer window, the end has proven to be an anti-climax with the signing of Siem and interest in Nigel. A three-year contract will make this a Niki Zimling-like move, as it is of little benefit to have experience if the experienced player adds little to the starting line-up. Ziyech is the undisputed attacking midfielder with Frenkie de Jong able to play there as well. The Ajax midfield would have been sufficient without any recruits.