Danny Lewis takes a look at Ajax’s new midfield anchor, Donny van de Beek.
After last season’s European success, the fact that Ajax aren’t even in the Europa League group stages and not where they should be in the table at this stage will definitely frustrate their supporters. Many will even feel that the season is already a write-off. However, in true Ajax style there is a wealth of young talent to be nurtured and developed. After the loss of stars such as Davy Klaassen and Davinson Sanchez, the team’s youngsters will be able to prepare themselves for a bigger role within the club without the spotlight that comes with European football.
The likes of Kasper Dolberg and Hakim Ziyech have already grabbed the attention of the wider footballing community, but one of those who has gone under the radar is Donny van de Beek. With no Davy Klaassen in the side, the young Dutchman has joined Ziyech as a mainstay in the side this campaign. There is a constant conveyor belt of talent ready to step into Ajax’s first team whenever a star man is sold and van de Beek is the next one on it. People may not take as much notice of him at present due to the club’s lack of European football, but when the continent’s biggest competition returns to the Amsterdam Arena, van de Beek will be a focal point for his club.
Who is Donny van de Beek?
van de Beek is a 20-year-old central midfielder who, like a lot of Ajax players, has tremendous quality on the ball. In 2014-15 he won the Ajax Talent of the Future award and he was also part of the Netherlands U17 team that finished as runners up in the European Championships in 2014. He hasn’t yet made the step up to the senior Dutch national team, but as well as playing at Under 17 level he has represented his country at Under 19, 20 and 21 level, getting a combined six goals in 38 appearances for Holland.
van de Beek has transitioned well into Ajax’s first team after success with the club’s youth and reserve sides. Since making his Ajax debut in 2015, van de Beek has played 34 Eredivisie matches and 29 Jupiler League games for Jong Ajax. He played for Jong Ajax six times in 2017, only being permanently placed in the first team this season, showing how he has been eased into the senior side. However, with him playing and scoring in both legs of Ajax’s loss to Nice and playing every minute of their Eredivisie campaign up until the halfway point of the recent loss against Vitesse Arnhem, it is clear to see that the youngster is now seen as a vital part of the Ajax team.
What is his Style of Play?
Capable of playing any role in Ajax’s midfield three, van de Beek can operate as the main anchor or a bit further forward, however it seems as though he will be taking over from the aging Lasse Schöne in the holding position. He is a very neat and tidy player, who likes to play a lot of quick, short passes, often keeping things simple and playing one or two touch football.
When playing in front of the defence he is a brilliant link between defence and attack as his quick play helps Ajax to get the ball up the pitch in a quick but controlled way. The 20-year-old also has a grit and determination about his game, as is willing to work hard defensively and put his body on the line. An example of that is his goal against Molde FK in the 2015-16 Europa League campaign, as he scored with a header that left him with a cut to the eye whilst he celebrated.
In terms of goal involvement, he is normally a part of the build up of the goals. However, he can be the maker of the goal, scoring five goals and getting four assists in 52 games for Ajax. When playing for Jong Ajax he got eight goals and 10 assists in just 35 matches, so it could be the case that once he has established himself in the side he could start getting on the scoresheet with more regularity.
What are his Strengths?
van de Beek is a player blessed with brilliant passing and ball retention capabilities. He rarely loses the ball and is able to keep it well, even in tight spaces. As he has varied roles in Ajax’s midfield three, alternating between the a holding role and playing on the right of the three, it is important that he is able to maintain these skills in different situations. The mixture of his passing technique and in game intelligence allow him to do this well, with his pass success rate currently at 84.2%.
One important strength that has come through this season is his resilience. Abdelhak Nouri’s life-changing injury understandably rocked Ajax. However, when they had to face Nice in the first competitive game since the incident, it was his close friend Donny van de Beek who scored the team’s only goal of the game with a coolly taken volley. It was clear to see the emotion in his celebration as he dedicated it to his friend, but he dealt with that well throughout that game. If he can deal with something like that now, he will surely be able to deal with most setbacks he could face throughout his career.
The central midfielder is also strong in a more general sense defensively; this season he has made 2.5 tackles per game and 1.8 interceptions. Retrieving the ball efficiently is important for a side such as Ajax, who look to dominate possession, so this is a big strength.
What are his Weaknesses?
van de Beek isn’t particularly fast, which isn’t a key part of his game but is always useful in the modern game. He will have to make up for this when he is playing in competitions such as the Europa League or Champions League, but he has the awareness, positioning and quick thinking to ensure this doesn’t stand in his way.
One thing upon which he could improve is the amount of creativity he displays. In his first 50 games for Ajax he has recorded five assists in total, although in his eight games this season he has but one, which came in a 2-0 win against VVV-Venlo. For most this wouldn’t be too bad of a record, but with van de Beek’s passing and vision he can definitely better this return.
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