The mercurial Justin Kluivert

Justin Kluivert’s ascent from the Ajax U19s to challenging for a starting position in both wide positions has been rapid. The slick and skillful Ajax forward made his debut for Ajax 1 against PEC Zwolle in January while he has played for Jong Ajax in the Eerste Divisie and in the UEFA Youth League. The 18-year-old has put the fame and expectation of his last name to one side and has developed into one of Ajax’ most prized assets. One of nine Ajax academy products to make their debut this season and one of the younger players in the squad along with Matthijs De Ligt, Kluivert has proved his immense potential in the last six months.

With Bertrand Traore and Vaclav Cerny injured, Kluivert was on the bench against FC Twente before joining Peter Bosz’ side during the winter break. An injury to Amin Younes against PEC Zwolle meant that he got the opportunity to come on for the German. Many would have assumed that he lacked the physical preparation to play in the Eredivisie but his pace and trickery proved too much for PEC defense. He frequently skipped past his marker with nonchalance to drive the ball into the more central areas and creating chances bring a zeal that Ajax was lacking in that game. At the beginning of the second-half, he crossed for Anwar El Ghazi to send a shot wide before creating another chance for the Dutch International. He then drove into the center to play a through ball for El Ghazi who was fouled in the box to earn a penalty.

Kluivert has not looked back since that game as his skill and creativity adds another dimension to Ajax’ attack and has become an option for Bosz on either flank. Kluivert got another chance to impress Bosz against ADO Den Haag with Bertrand Traore at the African Cup of Nations while El Ghazi left to join LOSC Lille leaving him as the only option on the right flank. Kluivert was inventive and confident on the ball as he showed a willingness to cover Joel Veltman and drove the ball forward to great effect. He had a penalty shout as he created one chance, made 4 crosses and completed 3/6 takeons. Kluivert then struggled in an away match against Roda JC in the first match he played for Ajax 1 with his father and grandfather in attendance.

Kluivert scored his first goal for Ajax against Excelsior as he tapped in a Hakim Ziyech cross at the far post to equalize. Eredivisie defenders began to take notice of Kluivert and double up on the teenager but the winger is so agile that he manages to maneuver past players with little physical contact. In the match against Roda, he received a ball with his back to goal before chipping over a glut of players and sending a shot over. Kluivert’s nerves showed in his final ball as he rushed shots and crosses while with Jong Ajax, he always seemed to pick his head up and pause to play the right delivery in crossing situations.

Kluivert then faced his toughest test against Feyenoord and their energetic right-back, Rick Karsdorp. He pinned the Dutch International back constantly driving past him adding zest to the Ajax attack before he received the ball on the left flank to play a brilliant ball to Hakim Ziyech who crossed for David Neres to score. There was a moment when Karsdorp shoved Kluivert off the ball proving that the youngster still needs to grow into his body. The Ajax youngster’s pace proved to be a crucial outlet on the break as he played Abdelhak Nouri for the youngster to miss. Der Klassieker proved to be a turning point for the youngster as his decision-making in the final third improved with him creating 3 chances, having an 81% pass succession rate in the final third and 5/8 takeons as he was voted man of the match.

Ajax had a tough Eredivisie run sandwiched in between two Europa League Quarter-Final games against Schalke in which Bosz continued to give Kluivert game time. Against AZ Alkmaar, he found himself on the right flank against Ridgeciano Haps who is another one of the Eredivisie’s better left-backs. Bertrand Traore received a ball from Nick Viergever to spread the ball to Kluivert who crossed to the Chelsea loanee at the near post to tap-in. Kluivert impressed again when he took on a throw from Andre Onana to beat Haps and another two AZ defenders to have his shot saved before the AZ left-back had to foul him to try and control him a few minutes later. Kluivert earned himself another assist when he crossed for Davy Klaassen to score in the Europa League Quarter-final home match.

In a much-changed lineup during a home match against Go Ahead Eagles, Kluivert scored the opening goal when a corner was deflected into his path outside of the box and he half-volleyed home from range. Kluivert then worked a fine move with Kasper Dolberg where the former had his shot saved before the latter also had his rebound saved. In the second-half, Frenkie De Jong weaved past three Go Ahead Eagles players and played a ball to Kluivert who crossed for Mateo Casierra to tap in a fourth goal. Kluivert finished the game with an 89% pass succession rate in the final third, 4 shots and 1 goal, 4 chances created and 1 assist with 8 crosses.

The 18-year-old then played in Ajax’ youngest Eredivisie team in the final game of the season away to Willem II. He was found in the six-yard box but could only manage a weak shot which was easily saved by Kostas Lamprou. Jairo Riedewald then found him with an exceptional through ball for the youngster to cross for Dolberg to tap-in the opening goal of the game. In the second-half, Nouri played in Kluivert on the counter for the youngster to play another cross for Klaassen to tap-in. Kluivert finished the game with 5 chances created and 2 assists, 5 crosses and 4/6 takeons.

Kluivert’s biggest strength is the way he approaches dribbles as he always fakes in order to force his marker into an awkward position before driving past them. The youngster has a brilliant center of gravity and control of his body when he is running with the ball at pace. He has a short and slim somatotype but he still has a lot of growing to do as once he develops physically, he could pose a major threat to fullbacks. His measured crossing style also gives him a strong final ball as he always seeks to pick out the right man in the box instead of just pumping unnecessary crosses into the box. His finishing has room for improvement as he gets himself into good positions but rushes his shots which lead to weak shots that are easy for keepers to save.

“For the time being it looks good for him,” said Ajax youth coach Richard Witschge to AjaxLife. “But now only the important phase begins. That applies to all those talents of his age. How do you deal with attention? Are you doing a little bit normal? ”

“I know people will compare us, but I can handle it,” said Justin Kluivert to De Volkskrant. “Any comparison is also meaningless. I never saw my father playing, I looked earlier at old images of him. He was a real striker and I’m a winger. I live from the front and the pass, my father was the finisher. I still live with my mother. I see my father less because he lives in Paris. It’s beautiful that I can make my family happy. ”

Kluivert has accrued 2 goals and 5 assists in his first six months with the Ajax first team while he has two goals with Jong Ajax. Ajax youth coach Simon Tahamata has said that Kluivert is ‘more explosive’ than his father while Hakim Ziyech has described the youngster as a ‘killer’ in the final third. Peter Bosz has also said recently that he could see Kluivert playing more central at some juncture in the future but as a different striker than his father.

The 18-year-old has had a strong start to his career as departures and more improved performances could put him in the reckoning for a regular starting role next season. Ajax has not had a great amount of luck with wingers of late but Kluivert looks like bucking that trend as he recently spoke of wanting to become the best player in the world like his idol Cristiano Ronaldo to the British press. His pace, mazy dribbling style and rapidly improving final ball will make him one to watch in the coming years rather than his last name.