Justin Kluivert was looking to become a regular for the Ajax U19s at the beginning of this season, but brilliant performances for them and Jong Ajax meant that he was on the bench against FC Twente before the winter break and made his debut against PEC Zwolle last week. Peter Bosz has veered from playing Frank De Boer-favourites Jairo Riedewald, Riechedly Bazoer, Anwar El Ghazi, Kenny Tete and Mitchell Dijks but has given youngsters a chance this season.
The careers of Davy Propper, Kevin Diks, Bertrand Traoré and many other Chelsea loanees have been shaped by Peter Bosz, with one of his last acts as Vitesse manager was giving 16-year-old Mitchell van Bergen his debut last season. Andre Onana and Kasper Dolberg have been given an incredible amount of opportunity in a side where Bosz has found the balance between youth and experience. Abdelhak Nouri, Matthijs De Ligt, Pelle Clement and Frenkie De Jong have all been given their competitive debuts this season while Donny van de Beek is on the fringes of the first team.
Daley Sinkgraven – whose career was stalling – has been rejuvenated at left back as Bosz has brought an element of stability to the Ajax squad. The much-maligned Technical Director Marc Overmars has made some inspired decisions like the appointment of Henk Veldmate as Chief Scout, the swift appointment of Bosz and the sale of Arek Milik for such a bounty. Veldmate has proved vital in acquiring Copa Libertadores champion and rapidly developing Colombian centre-back Davinson Sanchez. Inspired signings in the January transfer window could soften opinions towards Overmars in the future.
Is there anything Davinson Sánchez cannot do? #ajax pic.twitter.com/ozOjPy48m8
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) November 5, 2016
Bosz has been willing to give the younger players an opportunity in the KNVB Beker (which Ajax were knocked out of by Cambuur), while an early qualification into the Europa League knockout phase allowed him to play younger players in the final two games. There has been a lot of talk about a golden generation coming through in Dutch football and it has been refreshing to see how some youngsters fare in the hustle and bustle of first team football. It has also given Bosz and the fanbase the opportunity to judge the character of some players who have been demoted, as some have responded like professionals and others have been more petulant.
De Ligt and Onana have been two of the surprises of the season, especially with the acquisitions of Heiko Westermann and Tim Krul in the summer. In the Europa League draw away to Standard, De Ligt cut a calm and composed figure as he finished with an 83% pass succession rate, winning 4 out of 5 of his aerial duels and making 100% of his tackles. The 17-year-old also made himself the second youngest scorer since Clarence Seedorf against Willem II in the KNVB Beker. He has also got some minutes in the Eredivisie and seems to have already moved above Westermann in the pecking order.
Jasper Cillessen’s last few performances for Ajax were poor with a move to Barcelona on his mind, but Onana has shown there is life after the Dutchman for Ajax. The Cameroonian shot-stopper began in goal after Cillessen’s departure and made the position his own. His acrobatic saves, speed off the line which was proved again against PEC Zwolle last weekend, and his ability to play with the ball at his feet has made him Ajax’ first-choice goalkeeper. Onana already has 8 Eredivisie clean sheets in his first season with 10 in all competitions while he went on a 4-game streak without conceding a goal in between November and December. His ability to play out of the back is a facet of his game that will continue to grow with more game time.
Wonderful save from Onana! #feyaja #ajax pic.twitter.com/iqYKDl2aQL
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) October 23, 2016
“Andre has convinced and I’m certainly pleased with his growth. He is a reliable goalkeeper for us. You do not get if you just play a game well, but you have to prove over time. That André has definitely done,” the head coach said to Voetbal International as Ajax will look to extend the goalkeeper’s contract.
Kasper Dolberg will face a second half of the season where defenders will know him better and will engage him around the box when he drops deep to collect the ball as seen against PEC Zwolle. The next match against Ajax’ bogey team Utrecht will be an entertaining prospect after he was marked out of the game last weekend. The challenge for him will be to sustain his performances from the first half of the season as he is unchallenged for the striker spot with Ajax dreaming of a Klaas-Jan Huntelaar return in the summer. Dolberg already has 11 goals and 3 assists in all competitions this year and Ajax are a much better team with him upfront.
Van de Beek is on the fringes for two positions in midfield as he is Lasse Schone’s deputy to the deep-lying playmaker role and is also an able replacement for both Hakim Ziyech and Davy Klaassen. Nouri’s injury has certainly come at a horrible time for the youngster but it will give the creative midfielder time to develop physically as he has struggled with the physicality of professional football. Clement and De Jong will continue to gain experience with Jong Ajax before moving up to the first team while Vaclav Cerny could play with regularity if El Ghazi leaves and Traoré away at the African Cup of Nations.
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
It is rumored that Bosz blocked a move for Riedewald to Wolfsburg a few days after choosing to substitute Schone for Van de Beek instead of him. Riedewald started well in midfield this season, also making an assist while playing as centre-back, but was at fault for a goal against Celta Vigo. One can only hope that he can find his way back into the starting lineup. Bosz blocking a move for the youngster proves that he is still in his plans for the season. Tete will face an uphill battle to replace Veltman who has been a force at right-back this season, but the youngster could get more opportunities next season should he be patient enough.
“As a manager, you’ll be glad you have a lot of players on hand. I also understand their impatience. You can just not say that players must be on their eighteenth or nineteenth them necessarily in the first. That is typical Dutch. Someone put too early may not be good. Many players therefore may not have had the career that they can get,” said Bosz to Voetbal International in regards to giving youngsters opportunities earlier this season.
Ajax had a large squad with more experience than they bargained for at the beginning of the season, making it even more impressive how Bosz has given the youngsters more responsibility and opportunity this season. In the starting 11 of the away match against Standard Liege, only three starters were not nurtured in De Toekomst. In the 2-0 victory against Panathinaikos it was only three again, with an average age of 20 years-old and 8 months. Bosz has created a culture where a first team place is attainable with hard work and managed the younger players extremely well to have two overperforming youngsters in the starting lineup and a precocious set of talents fleshing out an already strong squad.