Eredivisie

Carel Eiting: the lost member of Erik ten Hag's Ajax masterpiece

 • by Matt Gault
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The buoyancy currently permeating Ajax is widespread, but not universal.

Of course, certain members of the squad must feel like they can walk on water.

At 21 years old, Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong is being hailed as a midfield genius. Matthijs de Ligt, their talismanic 19-year-old leader, looks set for a glittering career whether or not he follows his fellow golden boy to the Camp Nou.

Dušan Tadić has gone from being deemed dispensable by Mark Hughes to becoming a central figure in one of the most fluid attacking sides in recent memory, schooling Real Madrid and joining elite company with a rare ’10’ rating from L’Équipe.

Donny van de Beek (21), David Neres (22) and André Onana (23) have garnered their fair share of acclaim, too, while Hakim Ziyech has revelled in his role as the livewire in the Amsterdam club’s European adventure.

But as this fearless Ajax team danced in Madrid and Turin, Carel Eiting must have found it difficult to share the ecstasy.

When Erik ten Hag’s side started their Champions League campaign, against Austrian side Sturm Graz last July, De Jong was not part of the midfield three. Instead, he slotted in beside deLigt at the heart of defence, with Van de Beek, Lasse Schøne and Eiting further up.

The then 20-year-old (he turned 21 in February), impressed across the two legs against the Austrian Bundesliga’s runners-up, with his passing, vision and ability to engineer his way out of tight spaces suggesting he would play a prominent role this season.

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Continuing to blossom, his inch-perfect cross teed up Klaas-Jan Huntelaar’s second in the 5-0 defeat of FC Emmen on matchday three in the Eredivisie.

His involvement in Ajax’s Champions League campaign ended before it truly began, however. He marked his debut in the group stages with an assist for Nicolás Tagliafico’s wonder strike in the 3-0 defeat of AEK Athens.

Unfortunately, that was about as good as it got for the baby-faced No.15. Hit by a knee injury in mid-October, he has since featured for Ajax’s first-team only once – December’s KNVB Cup win over Roda JC.

Eiting has not featured for the seniors or Jong Ajax, the club’s youth side, at all in 2019 having undergone knee surgery in January.

The youngster admits it has been difficult watching his teammates scale new heights during his arduous rehabilitation process. At times, it can be hard for a player in his situation to remain positive but, with De Jong set to leave and de Ligt expected to follow him, Eiting must understand that, should he recover, there will likely be a place for him next season.

When he was featuring regularly at the start of the season, he looked like a natural long-term successor to Schøne. The Denmark international will celebrate his 33rd birthday a week before the Champions League final and, while he has been exceptional in their recent triumphs, he is out of contract in 2020.

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Eiting, who’s been with the club since 2007, is Ajax through and through. He has worn the armband at youth level and is extremely highly thought of among the coaches at the Eredivisie leaders, reflected by the fact that, having signed his first professional contract in 2015, he was given an extension two years later.

In an Ajax team brimming with future world-beaters, it’s been easy for Eiting to drift into the background.

Serious knee injuries at such a young age are a significant psychological blow but he can perhaps draw inspiration from former academy graduate Joël Veltman who, after almost a year out with a similar ailment, returned in time to play every minute of the tie against Juventus. Although, Veltman’s injury did see him lose the captaincy to de Ligt.

But while Eiting has lost the momentum gained during a promising start to the season, he may well be Ajax youngster with the world at his feet by April 2020.

Watch that space.

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