Mosope Ominiyi brings you 10 players that could enjoy breakthrough campaigns in the Eredivisie this season.
Justin Kluivert // Ajax // 18 // Winger
Starting this list with arguably the highest-rated player, Justin Kluivert has serious potential and has been tipped for a great footballing future, emulating the success that dad Patrick achieved during his illustrious career.
Justin, who turned 18 in May, made his Eredivisie debut during a 3-1 win over PEC Zwolle and has already impressed with his creativity and composure under pressure in the final third – he scored two and created four assists in 14 appearances, many of them cameos.
He’ll be hoping for an extended opportunity to earn regular first-team minutes this term, especially given how his influence increased in the latter stages of last season.
Charlie Colkett // Vitesse // 20 // Midfielder
Colkett is another of Chelsea’s youngsters who have been loaned out to the Dutch club, though the 20-year-old midfielder already has six months’ experience in League One with Swindon Town and will be eager to impress among new surroundings in the Netherlands.
Having captained the Chelsea U-18s to FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League glory in 2015/16, he has shown maturity as well as adaptability to play a number of roles across midfield. He usually plays in the centre, though can create plenty of chances when deployed further forward and is able to do similarly well from a deep-lying role thanks to his excellent passing range.
He has already begun showing his qualities in pre-season and will hope manager Henk Fraser trusts him enough to play on a weekly basis.
Daniel Crowley // Willem II // 20 // Midfielder
Crowley joined Willem for an undisclosed fee from Premier League side Arsenal and although this move may seem initially surprising on the surface, it’s unlikely that the creative Englishman will be there for long.
Having enjoyed a loan spell with Go Ahead Eagles during the second part of last season, Crowley attracted attention from a number of top-flight clubs in Europe despite being unable to help avoid relegation. He created 17 chances and maintained a pass completion rate of 84%, having played 1,270 minutes in total (16 matches) for GAE, whose chances of survival were unlikely even before he’d arrived in January.
Excellent dribbling ability, quick on his feet and deceptively agile, Crowley can count himself unfortunate not to have made a first-team breakthrough at the Emirates – though questions over his attitude were raised after previously unsuccessful loan spells elsewhere. Described as the new Jack Wilshere by many based on his playing style, he was quick to shun the tag and despite being close to the 25-year-old, he’s eager to be his own player.
This permanent move abroad is a brave one but Crowley has the ability to see it pay off. Should this happen, it’s likely we’ll see him in the Premier League at some stage in the next few seasons.
Thierry Ambrose // NAC Breda // 20 // Striker
A highly-rated French striker next and this season is heavily important for Thierry Ambrose as he looks to excel abroad. Ambrose joined Manchester City as a 16-year-old and goalscoring displays for the club’s EDS side helped earn a big contract extension – with many calls for him to get a senior opportunity before disaster struck in the UEFA Youth League.
He sustained a serious knee injury and missed almost a year of action, cruelly halting his development in the process. However to his credit, he hasn’t ever given up hope and instead used his injury woes to fuel the fire behind his goalscoring form upon returning in the youth ranks. Having always popped up with important goals, his influence in attack proved pivotal in helping City to win the U-21 Premier League title two seasons ago – though fears about his fitness continue to linger given his troublesome injury issues, limiting him to just eight Premier League 2 matches last term.
Quick, strong and clinical with intelligent movement to boot, Ambrose needs to hit the ground running and settle in quickly amongst his NAC Breda team-mates. If he does so, there’s no reason why he cannot excel in the final third this season and prompt City to, at the very least, ponder his long-term future at the club.
City have already sold Enes Unal to Villarreal and Kelechi Iheanacho to Leicester this summer which shows they’re not particularly patient with young strikers who’ve still got plenty to develop. If Ambrose can emulate Unal’s 18-goal success with FC Twente from last season, he’ll have a welcome decision to make about his future.
Levi García // AZ Alkmaar // 19 // Winger
Born in Trinidad and Tobago, teenage winger Levi García is just one of few exciting European imports from the Caribbean in recent years.
Manchester City’s Raheem Sterling and Bayer Leverkusen forward Leon Bailey were both born in Jamaica but García has already been billed by many as his nation’s hope for future progression.
When given his Eredivisie debut in January last year, he immediately impressed with the many attributes which make him a nuisance for the opposition to defend against.
Agile, quick and strong enough to hold off challenges, he’s unafraid to take risks and loves running at defenders. His ability to dribble with speed makes him all the more tricky to isolate in wide areas, while he has shown adaptability to play on either side despite possessing a powerful left foot.
He made 17 appearances in the Eredivisie last season, but played less than 750 minutes in total. At an average of just under a full half per game, it’s unsurprising that his statistics in the final third don’t make for particularly good reading – one goal and three assists. This season is an important one for García as AZ ultimately have European aspirations and he’s capable of having a significant influence on whether they’re successful or not.
Matthijs de Ligt // Ajax // 17 // Defender
Matthijs de Ligt will turn 18 this weekend as the new Eredivisie season begins and the youngster’s impressive defensive displays over the past twelve months have seen his stock rise dramatically across Europe.
He became the Netherlands’ youngest senior debutant since 1931 in March this year and despite a forgettable debut, he represents the next generation of exciting Dutch talent bursting through.
Tenacious in the tackle, spatially aware and importantly unafraid to take risks to retain possession, it allows him to freely express himself on the pitch. His excellent range of passing is both beneficial to wriggle away from tricky situations untroubled, whilst supplying precise passes for team-mates to latch onto across varying distances.
Only Kevin Teijsse, formerly of Go Ahead Eagles, won more aerial duels per 90 than the teenager’s 4.5 last season. Statistics like these will only spur the passionate centre-back to improve further with time. Eased into the first-team last season, he made three cameo appearances before making his mark as a second-half substitute, scoring during Ajax’s 4-1 win over Heracles.
He didn’t look back either, starting six of Ajax’s final ten league matches as they finished runners-up to Feyenoord. He has already started their two Champions League qualification matches against Ligue 1 side OGC Nice and although they were knocked out (away goal rule), he’s likely to play a bigger role in the senior side this term and will be sure to take increased responsibility and expectation with both hands.
Ismail Azzaoui // Willem II // 19 // Winger
Having sustained a ruptured cruciate ligament which saw his season prematurely end as soon as it started last year, Ismail Azzaoui is a teenager determined to make up for lost time.
Joining VfL Wolfsburg for a fee just under £1m from Tottenham on a five-year deal in 2015, it’s fair to say that great things are expected of the talented Belgian winger. If you’ve watched his progress over the past few years, you’d understand why. He has made over 30 international caps to date at youth level (U-15 to U-19) and after the serious injury setback he sustained, a loan move for regular first-team minutes elsewhere makes sense – especially at such an important stage in his development where he cannot afford to stagnate any further.
His close-control dribbling, flair and sharp turn of pace have all been highlighted as key attributes which make him a dangerous player in the final third, both with and without the ball. He’s intelligent and equally good at orchestrating attacking moves, though he’ll be the first to admit he would like to score more goals.
Willem II finished in 13th place last season, just a few points off the relegation places. This was partly due to their lack of goals, a total of 29 during a 34-match campaign was the league’s second worst tally just ahead of Roda’s 26 – they narrowly avoided the drop after a play-off. It’s clear that they are a team in need of extra creativity and alongside the aforementioned Crowley, Azzaoui is definitely capable of conjuring up regular moments of brilliance.
Guus Til // AZ Alkmaar // 19 // Midfielder
Zambian-born Dutch youngster Guus Til is a central midfielder who continues to improve and one that deserves more minutes in the heart of AZ Alkmaar’s plans going forward.
Announcing himself in some style with a sweet strike against PEC Zwolle on his senior debut back in September, you’d be forgiven for expecting the teenager to play more regularly under John van den Brom.
Instead the manager persisted to continually rotate his squad, trying to find the best midfield combination which suited them – so Til was regularly watching on from the sidelines as an unused substitute. Frustrating but not enough to keep him down, he amassed 1,000 minutes playing in the Tweede Divisie for AZ’s U-21s.
Having played in a variety of different positions last term, versatility can prove a hindrance more than a help for managers. Til’s preferred position is either as a central midfielder or further forward as a number ten, where he’d be given licence to roam freely without having to constantly track back for his defensive responsibilities.
Variations of the 4-3-3 formation can be used to push the third midfielder further on, whilst the duo sit deeper and protect the backline whilst distributing the ball forward. Til has shown he can do both roles well, though will need more minutes under his belt as he gradually earns the trust of older team-mates.
It was his brave close-range header which ultimately earned AZ a point against Sparta Rotterdam in early October, yet he only started one more Eredivisie game before the Christmas break.
Til has an eye for goal, is comfortable in possession with excellent ball control and also has good passing too. If AZ are to improve upon their sixth-place finish last season, they’ll need to allow players like Til an extended run in the side whilst being cautious not to change too much, in terms of formations and personnel.
Vaclav Cerny // Ajax // 20 // Winger
Given the ever-increasing squad depth that Ajax possess in attacking positions, it’s more a sign of their progression than an insult on Vaclav Cerny’s part that he hasn’t yet solidified his place in the first-team.
However, he’s going the right way about changing that. Having made five Eredivisie appearances last term, he could’ve had much more experience under his belt than 200 senior minutes but troublesome back and achilles problems halted his breakthrough at the time. In the Jupiler League, the second tier of Dutch football, he netted 15 goals and created eight assists in 28 appearances. The only right winger to score more was PSV’s Albert Gudmundsson with 18, having played six more matches than his counterpart.
Cerny is a versatile winger who predominantly plays on the right, though he could also be effective in the number ten role or even as a centre-forward, given his qualities. Although you may argue that it’s against weaker opposition, Cerny regularly displayed why he was simply too good for that level at times in a number of different areas. His finishing is clinical, he’s not one-dimensional and instead able to often glide past opponents on the flanks before electing to either pass or strike goalwards.
Creative with flair to match, he often makes flashy passes and memorable tricks which are his unique way of showing just how much he’s enjoying his football. Given how effective he has been over the past twelve months, he should be optimistic that this season will present him opportunities to establish his first-team credentials like many in his age-group.
Angelino // NAC Breda // 20 // Defender
The second Manchester City player on this list, 20-year-old fullback Angelino is at a pivotal stage within his development. After loan spells with New York City FC and Mallorca, this is the Spaniard’s first loan experience in one of Europe’s top leagues and he’ll look to make another lasting impression this term.
He was heavily praised for his progression by boss Patrick Vieira – who managed him both in Manchester within the EDS squad, as well as during his loan spell in the US. Despite some defensive flaws being highlighted within his game, he continues to learn and improve with valuable experience under his belt.
Constantly providing an attacking threat down the flank with his direct running, he has shown a willingness to add an extra dimension in the final third when playing as a fullback. In addition, his comfortable nature with the ball at his feet has made him a suitable option to play further forward as a winger – seven of his 15 league starts last season were in a more attack-minded position.
It’s disappointing though unsurprising that City’s senior coaches have not yet decided to grant him a first-team opportunity, especially given how compatriot Pablo Maffeo performed within the Citizens’ backline when given a rare appearance to impress last term.
With three new fullbacks signed this summer at an eyewatering total of £125m, it’s increasingly unlikely that Angelino will fulfil his potential at City.
He turns 21 at the start of January and patience isn’t something that Pep Guardiola can afford with youngsters at present, especially given the pressure on his head to deliver silverware during the forthcoming campaign. There’s a good chance that he can put himself in the shop window with consistent displays this term, which may sound harsh, but is probably best for Angelino’s development in future unless there’s a clear pathway for first-team football.
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