Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, Steven Bergwijn and now Hakim Ziyech. Those are some of the names to have left the Eredivisie just in the past year. Who will Europe’s big teams turn to next? Let me introduce you to some Dutch stars in the making.
If you want to snap up a promising youngster with huge potential, the Eredivisie is one of the best places to look. While it is very hit-or-miss – for every Luis Suárez there is an Afonso Alves – the current talents plying their trade in the Dutch top-flight are worth getting excited about.
I’m not going to talk about better-known players like Donny van de Beek or Donyell Malen, who you probably already know. I’m talking about players that when I say their name, you’ll go “Who?”. That’s what I’m going for.Embed from Getty Images
AZ’s double threat
AZ have arguably been the best team in the Eredivisie this season – the best to watch, at least. That is mainly down to Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu.
Stengs and Boadu combined for 35 goals and 29 assists between them this season and it’s hard to talk about one without mentioning the other. They have great chemistry on and off the pitch and even share the same agent in Mino Raiola.
Boadu, who turned 19 in January, is a very mature and complete striker already. Five of his 14 league goals were taken with his weaker left foot, he can drop in or go out wide to open up space for teammates’ runs, and he tends to step up in big games.
AZ managed to win all of their away games against the ‘Big Three’ (Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord) and Boadu netted each time. The teenager also bagged the winner in their home fixture against Ajax which saw AZ take top spot from the Amsterdammers.
Boadu’s xG (expected goals) suggests he’s not just having a great season. Typically, one-season wonder strikers will exceed their xG greatly during that season, meaning they are scoring goals they wouldn’t normally score. Boadu’s goal tally is actually less than his xG. He’s not just having a very good season. He’s just very good.
Stengs operates on the right wing, and has assisted six of Boadu’s 14 league goals. Mainly a creator, the 21-year-old loves coming inside and picking out a pass. He averages 2.4 key passes per league game and is also underperforming on his expected league assists, xA, meaning he’s been unlucky not to have more assists than his current tally of 7 (his xA is 8,16).
Linked to Ajax to replace the departing Ziyech, Stengs could start turning scouts’ heads in the coming season. Don’t be surprised if you see him and Boadu at a top club in the next few years.Embed from Getty Images
PSV’s young magician
An incredibly explosive player with tremendous close dribbling and with a great eye for a pass, Mohamed Ihattaren‘s break-out has been the silver lining of what has been an awful season for PSV.Embed from Getty Images
Losing their two best players Malen and Bergwijn to injury and Spurs respectively, PSV have stumbled upon a new young star in Ihattaren, who only turned 18 this February but is already a regular starter.
At three goals and six assists in the league, his statistics might not jump off the page as much. Just watch him when the Eredivisie comes back, however. You’ll understand what all the fuss is about, and why the Dutch media were desperate for him to commit to the Dutch national team early.
His strength, vision, explosiveness, elite dribbling ability and eye for the spectacular are something to behold.
However, Ihattaren’s shooting and decision-making do need work. He averages 2.7 shots a game, most of which come from outside of the box. He’s scored two non-penalty goals from 58 shots – Boadu has 12 more goals from just one more shot. Long shots are statistically very ill-advised, and it’s a habit the teenager will have to break in future seasons. He’s also been told to shed a bit of weight to maximise his pace. These are both things that will come with age, however. Ihattaren is an absolute star in the making.
Another Ajax gem
I don’t think I need to tell you about Ajax’s reputation when it comes to breeding top talent.
Ryan Gravenberch is not like most people who come out of De Toekomst, however, as the 18-year-old is already a physical monster as well as having the expected technical ability. Gravenberch’s first touch and awareness, escaping pressing opponents with a swift move or a smart body faint, shows excellent composure.
The Dutchman also loves to carry the ball forward (completing 3.8 dribbles per 90 minutes) and has a very impressive range of passing, completing 68.4 per 90 with an 86% success rate. Although nowhere near as sharp and consistent, it is like watching a young (and very big) version of Marco Verratti.
Having made only nine appearances and five starts for Ajax’s first team so far, Gravenberch should get a more prominent role in Erik ten Hag’s side when Van de Beek is very likely sold this summer. Having already attracted interest from the likes of Barcelona, by this time next year the name Ryan Gravenberch should be linked to a lot more big clubs.
Very happy with my new contract! 📝 #2023 pic.twitter.com/2RsZuyOkdM
— Ryan Gravenberch (@RGravenberch) June 11, 2020
Honorable mentions: Naci Ünüvar (Ajax, 17. Too young and physically underdeveloped but an unbelievable prospect), Owen Wijndal (AZ, 20. Best left-back in the league already and future international), Crysencio Summerville (Feyenoord, 18. Very promising loan spell at ADO Den Haag but still very raw).
xG and xA statistics per TussenDeLinies.nl. All dribbling, shooting and passing statistics per WhoScored.com. Featured image per Pinterest (although edited).