AFC AJAX YOUTH ACADEMY PLAYERS
Ajax’s academy is one of the most iconic in world football, producing a number of leading players from multiple generations. Here are reports on its emerging group of playerc currently. Each cover their backgrounds, styles, strengths and weaknesses.
You can find more in-depth player reports in the Scouted Football Handbook, our quarterly magazine in which we profile 25 of the world’s best up-and-coming talents, with additional original features and exclusive interviews included.
What is the Ajax academy philosophy?
The Ajax academy is based around the principles of Johan Cruijff: technical excellence and positional fluidity. Every player that spends significant periods at the Amsterdam club’s academy is proficient on the ball, capable of playing off either foot.
They invest huge resources into local development, but also recruit leading talent from elsewhere in the Netherlands and Europe, from Scandinavia to the Balkans.
What is the Ajax academy pathway?
Ajax are fortunate to have a B team playing in the second division of Dutch football. It provides an important bridge between academy and senior football. Many of their outstanding youth players of recent years – De Ligt, De Jong, Van de Beek, and countless more – all spent at least a season play for Jong Ajax.
And Ajax aren’t afraid to use young players too, and their dominance within the Eredivisie allows them to focus heavily on youth development.
Who are the best Ajax academy products?
Everybody knows about the success of the Ajax academy. They’ve produced leading players in multiple generations, from the 60s and 70s right through to the current day.
A shortlist of former Ajax academy players includes Marco van Bastem, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Wesley Sneijder.
Which competitions does Ajax's academy compete in?
Unsurprisngly, Ajax teams dominate underage football in the Netherlands, from under-8 to under-18 levels.
They’ve also been consistetly competitive in the UEFA Youth League and their B team, Jong Ajax, are typically one of the stronger sides in the Dutch second division.
If nothing else, Prince Aning is certainly a lot of fun. The Ajax left-back is the typical wing-back that can only be described as ‘swashbuckling’. Now having been at the Amsterdam club for almost ten years, Aning is now a regular at under-18 level for Ajax, and in their under-19 UEFA Youth League team.
STYLE OF PLAY
Aning loves to attack and create overloads. He sits wide, pins his opposing number back, and looks to get in behind either as a runner or as a dribbler to then get cutbacks and low crosses into dangerous areas. His ability to shift his weight rapidly makes him a difficult dribbler to tackle as he can change directions so rapidly.
He’s also good interchanging with nearby midfielders, and has found a really good relationship with Gabriël Misehouy, who is constantly looking to find Aning out wide. He perhaps loves to attack a little too much. He has a decent engine and is quick enough to be aggressive going forward, but he puts his team-mates in difficult positions trying to cover him when Ajax lose the ball and they must defend in transition.
His directness and aggressiveness stand out going forward, but they are counterbalanced by passiveness defensively, especially in his lack of robustness in approaching physical duels as a defender. He does not win his fair share of 50/50 balls, and for a player forced into a lot of these situations due to his high-risk approach to attacking, this is far from ideal.
Amourricho van Axel Dongen
Amourricho van Axel Dongen has been a prominent name in Netherlands’ youth circles for a little while now, not least because of it’s uniqueness.
He was linked heavily with some elite European clubs, including Chelsea, last year before extending his contract at Ajax. Since then, he’s impressed at under-18 level in the UEFA Youth League and domestic competitions. He’s also beginning to break into the Jong Ajax side and has made his first-team debut in the KNVB Beker.
STYLE OF PLAY
A right-footed left winger, Van Axel Dongen is a fairly typical inverted winger – he likes to stick high and wide in build-up before narrowing as play progresses up the pitch. He does have plenty of promising traits, though.
Prime among them is his change of tempo, which is sleek and smooth. He moves through the gears effortlessly. He can create separation over the first five yards and maintain it over longer distances.
His aggressive positioning combined with his speed makes him a dangeros runner into spaces vacated by opponents. It also enables him to beat players off the dribble, which he does to a fairly regular basis. He can go either way with the ball, sliding past players with ease.
The next step in Van Axel Dongen’s development will be adding outputs to capitalise on his approach play. Turning his sleek speed and adept dribbling into more shots, for himself and others, will take him to another level.
Born in Amsterdam to parents that hail from Suriname, China and Hong Kong, Kian Fitz-Jim personifies the multicultural make-up of the Netherlands. Signed as a 16-year-old from AZ Alkmaar, he technically isn’t a product of Ajax’s academy – but he is an impressive prospect in their pipeline nonetheless.
He broke into tje Jong Ajax team last season and has since established himself as an important starter for the club’s B team this year. He’s also trained with the senior squad on a semi-regular basis.
STYLE OF PLAY
All told, Fitz-Jim is a very active player in the centre of the pitch. He immediately catches the eye because of his all-action mobility and ball-centric mentality.
A product of AZ’s academy, it’s not surprise that Fitz-Jim is a talented player in possession. His fundamental skills are of a high level and they suit the Ajax style. He’s very clean and coordinated in how he receives and releases the ball; he scans frequently which informs his decision-making process; he is comfortable playing on his weaker left foot as well.
Those skills enable him to be an effective presence in build-up play. Fitz-Jim constantly wants to receive the ball, and he is adept at progressing possession with crisp passes over 10-20 yards.
He’s an intelligent, hard-working defender as well. He’s always seeking out the ball and isn’t afraid to engage in tackles. His mobility allows him to cover ground, but he can be overwhelmed by bigger opponents in contact.
Gabriël Misehouy has been at AFC Ajax since the age of seven, and he’s now on a fast-track through the academy ranks. He was a key starter for the club’s UEFA Youth League team this season, despite almost always being the youngest on the pitch, and impressed at every step.
Domestically, Misehouy is still with the under-18 team, but it won’t be long before we see him step up to the B team group – if not higher. He’s one of the premiere emerging talents in the Ajax youth system right now.
STYLE OF PLAY
In many aspects, Misehouy is the typical Ajax academy product. His smaller stature is counteracted by an excellent technical skillset, which consists of great close control, the ability to receive and play in tight spaces, as well as the vision and touch to play killer passes. The role Misehouy typically plays – an attacking eight on the left-side of a 4-3-3 shape – is indicative of Ajax also.
Misehouy is especially exciting because of his ability to break open defensive structures. He can squeeze out of the tightest of spaces, which creates time and space for himself and others to exploit. His technical level is excellent, not least in the way he manipulates the ball, but he also has the burst and agility to elevate those skills to another level. He slips out of small spaces really easily.
Once he breaks out of those areas, at whatever level of the pitch, Misehouy has shown he can hurt teams as a passer. After carrying the ball into space, he has the touch to execute valuable passes – be it slipping in an overlapping full-back (Prince Aning) or accessing an attacker in or around the box.
Expect to hear a lot more about Misehouy very soon.
Johan Cruijff is the most iconic. Dennis Bergkamp, Marco van Basten and Patrick Kluivert are others with a similar cultural and sporting impact. Then there’s the more recent generations, which includes international-level players like Wesley Sneijder and Matthijs de Ligt.
Gabriël Misehouy is one of our favourites, an emerging talent from the 2005 generation. Amourricho van Axel Dongen will get a lot of attention of the coming year too.