The talent conveyor belt at Ajax never stops. The Dutch giants have produced one huge star after another, and the next player tipped for superstardom is midfielder Ryan Gravenberch.
The 18-year-old, who made his senior debut in 2018, is now a core part of Erik ten Hag’s senior side, and unsurprisingly, he has attracted interest from some top clubs. Juventus and Barcelona are keen, but plenty of other teams have been keeping a close eye on the teenager.
Here’s everything you need to know about the talented teenager.
Ajax have produced plenty of young stars recently, but breaking Clarence Seedorf’s record of playing for the first team aged 16 years and 242 days was too tough for them all.
It was Gravenberch who managed to make the record his own in September 2018, appearing for the first team at 16 years and 130 days.
He scored his first goal for the team three days later, breaking another of Seedorf’s records in the process.
In 2018, Ajax renamed their Academy Player of the Year award the Abdelhak Nouri Trofee as a tribute to the former academy star, whose career came to a tragic end when he suffered a heart attack during a pre-season friendly and was left with severe brain damage.
It was decided that Gravenberch was worthy of winning the award, with both club officials and Nouri’s family agreeing that the teenager was the right player to take home the honour.
Gravenberch admitted to Bij Andy in de auto! that he hopes to get the chance to play in Spain at some point in his career, but that wasn’t the first time he’s discussed a move to La Liga.
He told ELF Voetbal back in 2018 that he dreams of playing for Barcelona and he follows all their games.
“I would like to be in midfield there,” he admitted. “I can already see myself playing at Camp Nou, with Messi, Coutinho and Suárez.”
The band may not be all together anymore, and Gravenberch might have to move soon if he wants to be able to play with any of them.
Gravenberch has some interesting ways of describing his playstyle. Instead of comparing his blend of power and technique to a player, he prefers to go with a contortionist.
“I would say: a contortionist,” he told Het Parool. “I am able to slip and turn everywhere. And I have extension legs. Pretty handy too.
“I am tall, six feet tall. It is often said that tall players have less technique, but I have to rely on my technique. By the way, I have a bad header for a tall footballer. I found it difficult as a child. ”
He also admitted (via Voetbal Primeur) that he sees himself as a snake – ‘tall, quite narrow and can slip past everyone’.
In the same interview, he admitted that he likes to spend a lot of time watching ‘fellow snake’ Paul Pogba, to whom he has constantly been compared because of his size and ability with the ball at his feet.
“I hear that all the time,” Gravenberch told NOS of the comparisons to Pogba. “I recognise that we are the same types.”
However, if he has to compare himself to anyone, Gravenberch prefers to use Zinedine Zidane as his example. No pressure.
This isn’t the first time that the spotlight has been on Gravenberch. He has attracted interest from a number of top clubs for years now, with PSG particularly keen on signing him when he was just 15.
Gravenberch confessed to De Telegraaf that he snubbed the French side, as well as a ‘number of other foreign clubs’, because he always dreamed of breaking through at Ajax.
However, he did add: “The top clubs will have to be patient for a few more years.” The door is open.
Despite his love and respect for Ajax, Gravenberch is not scared to challenge the club when he doesn’t like something, and it all stems from their treatment of his brother Danzell, who was part of the Ajax academy well before Ryan.
A striker by trade, the Ajax coaches advised Danzell to become a centre-back, and when he was poor in defence, they released him. He has since gone on to enjoy a respectable career as a striker across Europe.
Gravenberch knows that Ajax don’t often get it wrong, but he now likes to make sure he discusses all their advice before following it.
Gravenberch has made no secret of the fact that his relaxed nature can often be his downfall. He was once made captain of his youth side but was soon stripped of the armband when it became clear that he was unable to think about what his team-mates should be doing.
“If I have to think about ten things at once, it goes wrong,” he admitted to Ajax Life. “I consciously choose to stay calm, I like a relaxed atmosphere around me.
“As a football player that can sometimes break me down, I realise that. Sometimes I need to wake up, I need a kick in the butt. That is still a clear point for improvement in my game.”
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