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6 Ajax Stars To Keep An Eye On

 • by Tom Bodell
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Ajax are defined as a football club by their incredible ability to generate their own talent through the club’s academy.

Johan Cruyff, Ruud Krol, Marco van Basten, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer, Frank Rijkaard, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen. To name a few.

There have been teams from de Godenzonen’s illustrious history which read like a who’s who of European football. And, one day, the current incarnation could enjoy exactly the same legacy.

Peter Bosz’s young side have thrilled en-route to the Europa League final, where Manchester United stand between them and next season’s Champions League.

Here we find out more about six of the Amsterdam club’s finest.

André Onana

Position: Goalkeeper, Age: 23

The 2016/17 campaign has been unforgettable for the Cameroonian regardless of what happens in Stockholm on Wednesday. Onana was Ajax’s Under-23 keeper at the start of the season but may finish the campaign as a European champion.

Promoted to the first team after Jasper Cillessen joined Barcelona, Onana left the Camp Nou in January 2015 after becoming disillusioned by life in Catalonia.

“I didn’t think I could progress at Barca,” he told Spanish publication Sport. “I expected a lot from the club but they did nothing.”

Onana kept three clean sheets in his first four games and it quickly became apparent coach Bosz would not need to dip into the transfer market to find a replacement for Cillessen.

His maiden Eredivisie campaign finished with 15 clean sheets from 31 games having made an average of two saves per game.

Davinson Sánchez

Centre-back, 20

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In front of Onana is Ecuadorian centre-back Sánchez. The 6ft 2ins defender moved to Ajax from Atlético Nacional last summer, snubbing reported interest from Barça in the process.

Signed after winning the Copa Libertadores, Sánchez played for Ajax’s second string initially but, like Onana, he forced his way into first-team contention.

The 20-year-old has been in imperious form at the heart of de Godenzonen’s defence, making 61 interceptions and 153 clearances in 31 Eredivisie appearances.

Sánchez’s form has, unsurprisingly, drawn comparisons with club legend Jaap Stam and Barcelona are, reportedly, set to renew their interest this summer. The South American is also a Manchester United and Chelsea transfer target.

And Ajax skipper Davy Klaassen isn’t surprised. “He is a beast,” he said. “I understand why he has been associated with top clubs. He has the stature, the power.”

Ajax defender Matthijs de Ligt

Matthijs de Ligt

Centre-back, 17

The youngest member of this Ajax team, de Ligt’s potential was recognised on the international scene after just two senior appearances.

At the end of March, he was handed his international debut in a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria. That appearance, lasting 45 minutes, made him the youngest Dutch debutant since Mauk Weber in 1931.

De Ligt was at fault for both goals in that World Cup qualifying clash and Oranje head coach – and Ajax favourite – Danny Blind was relieved of his duties the following day.

That won’t taint de Ligt’s international career, however, and the teenager has made 22 appearances in all competitions for Ajax this season, scoring twice.

All in all, he has made 13 interceptions, five blocks and 39 clearances in ten Eredivisie appearances.

Justin Kluivert

Forward, 18

Son of homegrown former Ajax star Patrick, Kluivert has a long way to go in order to replicate his father’s achievements in the game, but the indications at this early stage are good.

As Kluivert Jnr. will doubtless know, his father won the 1995 Champions League, two Eredivisie titles and the UEFA Super Cup during his time with the club.

The first half the season was spent with Ajax’s second team, where the teenager scored twice in eight appearances. Kluivert then made his debut as a first-half substitute at PEC Zwolle in January and has not looked back.

His full debut followed against ADO Den Haag at the end of January and in March he scored his first goal at Excelsior in March – ten years and a day after his father’s last professional goal.

Kasper Dolberg

Striker, 19

The most feted member of this exciting young side, Dolberg will be on the radar of Europe’s top clubs this summer following a breakthrough campaign which has seen him bag 23 goals in all competitions.

Signed from Silkeborg IF in January 2015, Dolberg had been spotted by Danish scout John Steen Olsen – the man who discovered Zlatan Ibrahimović, Viktor Fischer and Christian Eriksen.

The Dane bagged on his European debut for de Godenzonen in a Champions League qualifier against Panathinaikos. He followed that up with a goal on his Eredivisie debut against Sparta Rotterdam, confirming his status as a key man for Bosz and Ajax.

The 6ft 1ins forward is a blend of pace, power and technical refinement. He has averaged a goal every 145 minutes this season and found the back of the net in both legs of Ajax’s Europa League semi-final win over Lyon.

Ajax striker Kasper Dolberg is reportedly a Liverpool transfer target

A move to the Premier League surely beckons with Liverpool among those linked.

He told FourFourTwo: “It’s too big a step to go to (Manchester) City or United now. It’s important to keep on playing as I don’t know what will happen in the future.”

Ajax striker Bertrand Traore who is on loan from Chelsea

Bertrand Traoré

Striker, 21

The Burkinabe is one player not to have progressed through Ajax’s famed academy. He is, instead, on a season-long loan from Chelsea and has thrived in the Eredivisie after a slow start.

Initially criticised by coach Bosz for his poor fitness, Traoré has taken the criticism on board and has 13 goals in all competitions for the Amsterdam club.

Traoré is in his third loan spell in the Netherlands after netting 20 times for Vitesse before spending last season back at Stamford Bridge where he netted twice in ten outings.

It was at Vitesse he first worked with Bosz and the 53-year-old signed the forward for a third time last summer. The decision has been vindicated and Traoré’s finest moment in Ajax colours came as he bagged a brace in the first leg win over Lyon.

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