22 Midfielder Ajax Netherlands
Davy Klaassen seems to have been around forever despite having only turned 22 this year. That feeling is reinforced by his status at one of Europe’s most historically significant football clubs. Klaassen, fresh-faced and relatively inexperienced, is the captain of AFC Ajax.
The Amsterdam giants, like every other club in the Netherlands, loses players to bigger leagues on the regular. Siem de Jong, then their captain, moved to Newcastle United in 2014 and passed the torch to Niklas Moisander, the Finn who switched to Serie A in the summer. Klaassen stepped up in both cases, taking over the number ten shirt from De Jong and the captaincy from Moisander.
2015 has been…
Impressive. Klaassen has emerged as a kind of spiritual icon for his club, leading by example on the pitch. Ajax came into the winter on top of the Eredivisie after finishing 17 points behind champions PSV last season. While the Eindhoven club has found itself stripped of key players and without another through injury, Ajax have grasped the nettle. Klaassen has guided the way.
He’s an endearingly cerebral player but not at the expense of effort. He’s usually to be found in the hole but he plays more centrally as well, and, while versatility is often listed among his favourable attributes, truly great players are, up to this point in history at least, specialists. Diversification is not Klaassen’s friend if he wants to outstrip his flag-bearing predecessors.
The classic number ten role seems the obvious specialism because Klaassen is instinctively offensive. He’s a natural attacker who pulls into the channels and always offers an option to the deeper midfield players. His skills are diverse, however. He’s also a comfortable first-time passer, even under pressure, and his first touch is excellent.
Likewise, his finishing is brilliant and continuing to improve. He loves to arrive late in the box and finish first-time but he scores all kinds of goals. He can often be found as the de facto front man in Ajax’s fluid attacking line. That’s a freedom afforded to him by his leadership and discipline in combining with the phalanx of young attackers coming through the ranks around him.
Klaassen is no luxury. He’s tenacious in the middle of the park and finds himself in the wars disproportionately frequently. To say he doesn’t mind putting his head where it hurts is, some weeks, the mother of all understatements.
The negatives are few. He can be overpowered physically and bumped off the ball a little too easily in 50/50 battles but really there’s just a lot to like and not a lot to be concerned about. He’s the type of player who seems to pop up all over the pitch, nicking the ball or being open for a pass to get players out of trouble.
Dutch football experts talk about Klaassen as a jack of many trades and a master of a couple. His development over the next two crucial years needs to be more focused and Ajax’s coaching stuff must be wary of spreading his growth opportunities too thinly. A new contract signed in November looks likely to delay his inevitable medium-term departure so his own focus should be on point.
The first job for Klaassen in 2016 is obvious: lift the Eredivisie shield as Ajax captain. The Dutch national team will undoubtedly be in his sights as well and rightly so. After years of intermittent youth-level caps Louis van Gaal gave him his senior Oranje debut in March 2014 but he’s only made three international appearances since then, though he does have a goal to his name.
UEFA EURO 2016 is off the table, of course, but a Dutch Ajax captain is unlikely to miss out on a national team place for long. Making that place his own will prove more of a challenge.
B Solid progress and new responsibilities taken in stride
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