Ajax: Which Young Stars Will Be Next to Depart and Which Academy Talents Will Replace Them?


Last month, upon signing for Barcelona, Frenkie de Jong became the latest former Jong Ajax player to sign for one of Europe’s giants. In the summer, former teammate Justin Kluivert joined Roma. Both players joined the Ajax academy from other clubs: in Kluivert’s case he was only seven, whilst de Jong was seventeen when he left Willem.

Ajax Graduates Who Could Follow De Jong and the Academy Players Who Could Replace Them

Ajax’s academy is world renowned as a leader in the development of young players. Historically, players such as Edgar Davids, Johan Cruyff and Denis Bergkamp all came through the Ajax academy, after being with the club from a young age. Meanwhile, other players such as Edwin van der Sar joined the club as young players and developed significantly in Amsterdam.

More recently, European football is awash with players directly from the Ajax academy or who joined the club at a young age. At Tottenham alone this applies to Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.

The beauty of Ajax’s system is that as one player leaves for multi-million pounds, a talented young player takes their place. Last Word on Football looks at who might be the next player to be snapped from Ajax and those waiting to take their spots in the team.

Matthijs de Ligt

No one represents the Ajax ethos more strongly than Mathijs de Ligt. Joining the club at nine, he played through the academy before going on to make seventeen appearances for Jong Ajax.

He progressed to make his senior debut in September 2016. De Ligt scored on his debut, making him the second youngest goalscorer in club history. Since then, de Ligt has progressed to become the Ajax captain and make over 60 club appearances. He made his international debut at seventeen and has represented the Netherlands on thirteen occasions.

De Ligt will likely be the next to follow de Jong out of the door at Ajax. A ball playing centre back, de Ligt is in high demand.  Linked with Barcelona and Manchester City, he will have his choice of any European club.

De Ligt’s statistics compare favourably to Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and particularly Man City’s John Stones; De Ligt has won more aerial duels, tackles and made more interceptions and clearances than Stones, with similar playing time.

Kasper Dolberg

Danish striker Kasper Dolberg was snapped up by Ajax after making three appearances for Danish side Silkeborg. A striker blessed with blistering pace, Dolberg has nine goals so far this season. Technically gifted and capable with both feet, Dolberg also has a high work ethic.

Dolberg burst into the public eye with several sensational performances during Ajax’s Europa League run in 2017, which cultivated in defeat to Manchester United in the final.

This season, Dolberg has had competition for a starting place from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, as Ajax’s 4-3-3 system allows for only one central player. Some Eredivise pundits have argued that this has stalled Dolberg’s development and knocked his confidence.

Dolberg is certainly going through his toughest season in Ajax. However, Dolberg showed signs of his best at the weekend in a comfortable 6-0 win. Teammate Lasse Schone commented after the game that Dolberg continues to look his classy best in training.

Indeed, it should not be forgotten that Dolberg, 21, is coming off of multiple injuries, missing 25 games since December 2017.

This is why Europe’s giants remain interested in Dolberg. His natural ability and pace are a dangerous combination which should translate to any European league. Should Dolberg continue to progress in his come back from injury, Ajax may struggle to hold onto him in the summer.

Andre Onana

The journey of Andre Onana to European football is one which owes an enormous amount to Samuel Eto’o. As a 13-year-old in Cameroon, Onana was invited to train with the Samuel Eto’o academy.

After impressing during his trial, Onana was sent to train with and then signed for Barcelona. Onana spent five years with Barcelona before joining Jong Ajax, for whom he made 39 appearances before progressing to the first team.

The goalkeeper has since gone on to make more than 80 appearances for Ajax, despite being only 22. Although relatively short for a goalkeeper (1.87m), Onana is incredibly agile and thus a strong shot-stopper.

Crucially, he is excellent on the ball. This is vital for Ajax’s playing style and one of the reasons he has maintained the starting role. His statistical comparison to the goalkeepers of PSV and Feyenoord (1st and 3rd in the table) highlights his ability. Compared to Jereon Zoet and Justin Bijlow, Onana has higher distribution accuracy and has more completed passes. He also leads the trio in saves made.

Onana’s main criticism has been his at times erratic decision making. However, this has been something which has improved significantly with experience. Aged just 22, Onana will continue to improve and will likely be on the radar of other clubs. Indeed, Onana has spoken of his desire to one day return to Barcelona.

Other Names to Watch

With Dolberg, De Ligt and Onana all likely to move on from Ajax in the coming year, eyes will be on their replacements. Whilst Ajax will spend money brought in from sales, they will look to their academy for longer-term options.

One player who could benefit from the departure of Frenkie de Jong is Dani de Wit. A member of Ajax’s academy since 2013, De Wit has shone for Jong Ajax this season. With five goals from midfield this season, De Wit has earned first-team action, with two senior appearances. The former under-19 captain has also made the Ajax bench on numerous occasions.

Another player who has impressed for Jong Ajax is Danilo, a nineteen-year-old striker. Danilo joined Ajax from Santos in 2017 and has scored ten goals so far this season. Meanwhile, his teammate, winger Vaclav Cerny, has 26 goals for Jong Ajax since 2015. He has already featured for the senior side, scoring his first goal in Europa League action against Celtic.

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