David Neres – Ajax’ Jack in the box

David Neres was born in Perus, a picturesque neighbourhood in the northern part of São Paulo where he played on his local neighbourhood team before joining the São Paulo FC academy at the age of 10. He was frequently a top scorer in the youth categories at the storied Brazilian club and particularly impressed during the u20 Copa Libertadores. Neres played nominally for São Paulo’s first team before Ajax decided to sign him for a massive fee, and he has shown his immense potential in his first nine months in Europe.


Marc Overmars’ ambitions to move Ajax a rung higher in the European football food-chain saw the Amsterdammers splashing the cash last season when signing Hakim Ziyech and Neres. The latter was an unknown quantity from Brazil who was signed for €12 million in a deal that could even rise to €15 million over time. Months into his first foray into European football, it has become obvious why Overmars was willing to part with such a sum to lure the Brazilian to Amsterdam.

Ajax sold Anwar El Ghazi to Lille in January, Bertrand Traoré was at the Africa Cup of Nations and Václav Černý injured, meaning that 17-year-old Justin Kluivert was Peter Bosz’ only option on the right flank. The young Dutchman impressed and earned a permanent promotion to the first team of Ajax, while Neres – who joined on the final day of the winter transfer window – was given time to get settled. The 20-year-old Brazilian was slight in size but possessed a penchant for arm-swinging and arm-gyrating dance moves in training, as he began to impress then-manager Peter Bosz.

Neres made his debut for Ajax at the end of February, coming off the bench against Heerenveen, but would open his account in Europe in April. Ziyech had played a cross for Kluivert to tap in his first goal for Ajax away to Excelsior just before the international break, and repeated the same trick for Neres to tap into an empty net in a 2-1 home win in De Klassieker against Feyenoord. Ajax were in the midst of a period of squad rotation with mid-week games in the Eredivisie and latter stages of the Europa League, which saw Neres accrue more playing time three days later against AZ Alkmaar. During the match, he threaded a ball to Traoré, who was fouled in the box for a penalty.

The young Brazilian put in a stunning performance in a 5-1 thrashing away to NEC Nijmegen three days later. Traoré was deployed as a central striker and thrived in dropping deep to receive the ball and elegantly turning to quickly switch Ajax from the transition phase to the attacking phase. Neres had more freedom to roam into the central positions and showcase his directness and poise in tight areas. NEC targeted Ajax’ central areas, which allowed Neres to be unmarked for diagonals to the right flank as for the first goal, Traoré dropped deep to receive the ball to play in Neres who crossed for Wojciech Golla to turn it into his own net.

Neres scored the second when Amin Younes regained possession in the NEC half and played him through on goal before the Brazilian set himself up with the first touch on his right foot and swept it under the keeper with his left. The forward finished the game with 6 shots and 1 goal, 3 dribbles, 2 aerial duels won and 1 tackle in one of his best performances in an Ajax shirt.

Neres put in another fine performance the next week in a 5-1 thrashing at home to Heerenveen, where he was involved in the third goal as his shot was blocked into the path of Davy Klaassen who scored. Younes assisted Neres for the second time as he slid through the Brazilian winger to round the keeper and score Ajax’ fifth goal. The Brazilian finished with a 75% pass accuracy in the final third, 4 shots with 2 on target, 1 goal and 2/5 takeons.

Neres’ impeccable sense of calm in one-on-one situations belies a player of his tender age, while his ability to control the ball at full speed is imperative for a winger as it allows him to slalom through defenders to earn some space for a cross or shot. Against Go Ahead Eagles, he picked up the ball in the opposition half and weaved past a glut of players with grace as the ball seemed glued to his foot to play a perfectly weighted through ball for Kasper Dolberg to finish. Neres deserved a second assist as he tricked his way past two players and played Abdelhak Nouri – #StayStrongAppie – in behind for a one-on-one but the youngster decided not to shoot.

Neres could have had another assist in the second half as he slid through Frenkie De Jong who had his shot saved. It was his most complete performance as he finished with 3 chances created and 1 assist, 6 crosses and 9/14 takeons. Although Neres is in the early stages of his career, he continuously shows remnants of developing into a well-rounded winger.

His ability to pirouette past defenders while having the vision and execution to apply a well-weighted through ball against the run of play can make him a gamechanger for Ajax. He has the potential of a one-touch build-up passer as he can ease transition when Ajax move the ball out wide, while when he possesses a great understanding with his striker, he can create opportunities from cut-backs and low near post crosses. Eredivisie fullbacks will be unable to take him one-on-one in the wide positions as he moves with such pace and close control that relieving him of possession becomes difficult. In the central positions, his ability to glide past opponents can open up the game and create opportunities while he possesses the final ball to be effective.

In Ajax’ most recent match away to Heerenveen, he turned from near scapegoat to matchwinner as he played a sloppy backpass for Martin Ødegaard to latch onto, but the Real Madrid loanee squandered his opportunity. At the other end of the pitch, Kik Pierie tackled Neres and started a counter for the home side. In a pure moment of genius, the Brazilian spun his marker from a throw-in to force Pierie to push out of position – disorganising the Heerenveen backline – to work a one-two with Klaas Jan Huntelaar to calmly finish and put Ajax ahead. Neres scored a quickfire double when he latched on to a knock-on from an Onana goal-kick to bag a brace which led to Ajax thrashing Heerenveen 4-0. Former São Paulo FC Football Director, Luiz Cunha, likened the player to Paris Saint-Germain’s Lucas Moura.

“David Neres is a Lucas level player who was sold to PSG,” said Cunha to São Paulo’s website in late 2016. “David is extremely tactically efficient, he’s got disconcerting dribbles and he’s very smart. He has always scored a lot of goals, although he is not a forward. He works very well on the side and can combine speed and goal scoring.”


Neres has shrugged of early criticism from Ronald De Boer to prove that he is worth his pricetag, scoring three goals from six shots this season so far. His history as a prolific goalscorer bodes well for his immediate future in Amsterdam as his career at Ajax is still in its early stages. He is ensconced in a battle for the right-wing position with Černý and Kluivert, but after his matchwinning performance against Heerenveen, Marcel Keizer could give him an extended opportunity as the starter. Ajax are still piecing themselves as a team under their new manager and are highly reliant on individual brilliance, and with only domestic responsibilities this season, Neres could develop into a key player by the time Ajax are back in European competition.