Jaïro Riedewald is a multi-talented and multi-positional component of Ajax’ fabled De Toekomst academy. His debut and final game for Ajax are a tale of two different stories. In his debut against Roda JC he came off the bench to score a brace that would win them the game. In his last game against Manchester United in the Europa League final, he gave up possession in a situation that led to Paul Pogba’s opener.
Riedewald can play at center-back, left-back and in defensive midfield but Frank De Boer – who gave him his debut – mainly deployed the youngster in a centre-back partnership with Joel Veltman. Riedewald’s exquisite range of passing gave Ajax a new attacking dimension, possessing the physique to drive the ball forward into the midfield line. The Amsterdam side sold experienced centre-back, Nicklas Moisander to Werder Bremen in the summer of 2015 as Riedewald was well prepared to be a regular starter after playing in defensive midfield against Barcelona the season before.
His ability to ping accurate long-balls to the forward line set him apart. In a match against NEC Nijmegen – in the fourth minute – he took down a clearance from an Ajax corner and hit an accurately chipped ball into the path of Davy Klaassen, who had his shot saved. In that same game, he showed astute positioning during a counter to track his man to the back left post while left back Mitchell Dijks tracked his man into the center for Riedewald to eventually clear the cross at the back post. Riedewald also set counter-attacks in motion with line breaking passes as his vision and execution of passes is highly developed for a player of his age.
Anwar El Ghazi, Riechedly Bazoer, Kenny Tete and Riedewald were integral parts of De Boer’s final season at Ajax and the Amsterdammers’ future, but all have now left after struggling to make the grade under Peter Bosz last season. All have also accumulated minutes for the Dutch national team, with Riedewald once more proving his versatility by playing for his country at left-back. The 20-year-old joined Ajax at the age of 10 and rose through the academy to become their youngest scoring debutant ever when he netted a game-winning brace against Roda JC. Riedewald and Tete’s progression would be slowed by injuries in early 2016, with Riedewald breaking his ankle in a match against Feyenoord. Both would miss the majority of the second half of the season.
As a result, Veltman moved to right-back while third or fourth choice defender, Nick Viergever would replace Riedewald at centre-back. Both of them would impress in the second half of the season. Bosz continued using Veltman as a right-back after initially starting with Tete while Viergever’s experience would prove vital in a partnership with Davinson Sánchez, who had signed from Colombian side Atlético Nacional. Riedewald had time to prove his brilliance, as against Roda JC he played an immaculately lobbed pass to Davy Klaassen in the box who prodded the ball into the path of Kasper Dolberg who headed into an empty net.
Bosz originally saw Riedewald as a defensive midfielder and that is where the youngster would play at the start of the season. Riedewald’s ability to win possession in the phase where Ajax pressed high and recycle the ball effectively was impressive during a pre-season friendly against Marseille, where Bosz played a 3-4-3 formation.
“He [Riedewald] is the only one in the current selection that I consider to be a real number six. He can become a good controlling midfielder, ” said Bosz to Voetbal International, a week before he would play Lasse Schöne in his ‘controller’ role.
Riedewald also scored a leveler away to Panathinaikos in a 2-1 victory during Ajax’ UEFA Europa League opener. However, Schöne would become Bosz’ favored deep-lying midfielder with Donny van de Beek an able deputy, while wunderkind Matthijs de Ligt would usurp Riedewald by moving higher in the centre-back pecking order. Bosz believed that Riedewald was unable to play left-back which he was forced to do in the Europa League final, as one of the most highly touted players at Ajax became a rotation or injury option.
Riedewald had a paucity of opportunities, but against Celta Vigo he seemed to struggle to find his rhythm in the first half before gradually improving. He picked up a ball in his own half and drove it forward for a counter. Amin Younes would go on to finish Ajax’ third of the game. Riedewald’s good work was quickly undone however, as he chested the ball and slipped for Iago Aspas to latch onto it and fire past André Onana. The game ended with an uncomfortable 3-2 scoreline.
Riedewald maintained his ability to thread passes through tight-lines of pressure to Schöne in defensive midfield in order to create passing sequences which would help Ajax progress in the build-up phase. The young defender started in Ajax’ last two Eredivisie matches of the season against Go Ahead Eagles and Willem II. In the final game of the season, he played an intuitive through ball out wide for Justin Kluivert. The subsequent cross was easy for Dolberg to tap in for the opening goal in a 3-1 win.
Riedewald is physically well developed to shield the ball from opponents and drive it forward in certain situations. His ability to not just play many positions but to play many positions well will prove to be crucial as his career progresses. He can fill in as a ball-playing centre-back, defensive midfielder and left back. His ability to play jaw-dropping long balls to the frontline while playing intricate short passes into the midfield made him one of Ajax’ top homegrown prospects during De Boer’s final season at Ajax. Bosz preferred a different type of centre-back, while he used attacking midfielder Daley Sinkgraven at left back with Viergever standing in for him and Lasse Schöne and Van de Beek in defensive midfield.
The propensity of Riedewald to be both accurate and daring with his passing ability sets him apart from some of the defenders in his age group. He will take the time to adjust to some of the physical battles in the Premier League, but he already possesses a hulking physique with thick legs giving him the raw materials to play at a higher level. The versatile 20-year-old was a De Boer favorite as the Crystal Palace manager even compared him to his former Ajax teammate Frank Rijkaard after the youngster played in midfield against Barcelona.
“The position of holding midfielder is a complicated one. Jaïro has a lot of quality, though. He is very agile, quick and physically strong. He reminds me a bit of Frank Rijkaard. He’s perhaps even more agile, although he’s not as strong in the air,” De Boer stated per Goal.com’s Stefan Coerts.
Riedewald has always had a special preference for playing as a centre-back citing his love of ‘combination’ play at the back as the reason. After Bosz played him in defensive midfield against Marseille, he stated a willingness to play anywhere he was needed and the sentiment should be the same at Crystal Palace under a more familiar face. It is a massive coup for all parties involved as Ajax will get a good fee for a player who was not a starter, Crystal Palace get a massively talented player with good resale value and Riedewald gets to progress to a higher level under a coach that believes in him.