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AFC Ajax

Pep Guardiola should look to Ajax for reinforcements

Last week, it was announced that Monaco’s star Portuguese winger, Bernardo Silva, will be making a move to Manchester City for a reported €50 million this summer. Multiple sources are reporting that fellow Monaco players Benjamin Mendy (left-back) and Fabinho (defensive midfielder/right-back) could be on their way to the Etihad Stadium as well. This comes as no surprise, considering the spectacular season the young, vibrant Monaco squad had, and the fact that Pep Guardiola has been given loads of cash to rebuild the City squad to his liking. While the Spanish manager may be looking to the south of France for first-team replacements, he should be casting his eye over to Amsterdam for the future.

Despite finishing second in the Eredivisie once again, Ajax has had a successful season. A runners-up medal in the Europa League is a superb accomplishment for a club that struggles to financially compete with those in other large European nations. New head coach Peter Bosz has implemented an intense and enjoyable style to his squad while bedding in youngsters from the youth academy into the starting lineup. The most prominent occurrence at Ajax this season, at least to on looking clubs, is the emergence of countless young stars that should be able to compete in some of Europe’s best leagues.

The tactics used by both Pep Guardiola and Peter Bosz can be traced back decades and decades. When Rinus Michels got “Total Football” off its feet as coach of Ajax, the way some saw the game completely morphed. Players under Michels, most notably Johan Cruijff, were required to train and play in basically any position. The key is being able to cover for anyone on the pitch to allow the team to move in an extremely fluid motion. This involved high-pressing, high-tempo playing, and it usually resulted in total domination.

When Cruijff became a coach himself, he started at Ajax before moving to Barcelona. He brought with him his own philosophies of Total Football, which turned Barcelona into the dominating force in Spanish football we’ve come to know today. There happened to be a certain intelligent player under Cruijff’s tutelage in Barcelona, one Josep Guardiola. We all know what happened next: Guardiola comes to coach Barca after his retirement and leads them to enormous success. He moves to manage Bayern Munich and, since last year, has become in charge of English giants Manchester City. What goes unnoticed is that while Pep Guardiola was taking all of the plaudits managing world class players, relatively unknown Dutch manager Peter Bosz was working his way up the ladder of Dutch football management, following the ideals of Michels and Cruijff the whole way.

Now, in 2017, when you watch Manchester City and Ajax play, you see the similarities in style. Fast-paced movement, a high-pressing midfield, a defense that likes to initiate attacks, and a goalkeeper who is comfortable on the ball are all things that Guardiola and Bosz have their respective teams do. Not only does this add excitement and intrigue to these matches, but it also shapes the players to fit a certain mould. Sure, most Ajax players probably wouldn’t be ready to jump into the lineup of Man City, but there are positions at the English clubs that Ajax players would certainly be able to fill.

The entire goalkeeping snafu at Man City is interesting. Joe Hart looks to be on the way out (permanently), but new signing Claudio Bravo was very poor in his first season. Bravo came from Barcelona, and it’s easy to see why Pep chose him as a replacement for Hart. While the English international is a great shot-stopper, he doesn’t possess the confidence nor skills on the ball that a Total Footballing goalkeeper is required to have. Bravo has those skills, but it turned out to be his shot-stopping ability that was lacking.

It seems likely that City will be purchasing Ederson, a 23-year-old Brazilian keeper, but there are plenty of younger Ajax Academy keepers Pep could purchase to back him up. Ajax raise their goalkeepers to play the ball with their feet just as any outfield player, something that the Man City Academy won’t be able to attain with its own players for years to come. Recently-emerged first-teamer, and Barcelona academy product, André Onana could be a perfect fit at City as a reliable, smart goalkeeping option.

The back line has to be the most exceptional part of the season for Ajax in terms of overall success. It was a little leaky at times, but the rock-hard partnership of Matthijs de Ligt (17) and Davinson Sánchez (20) was both defensively and supportively adept. Sánchez, a recent arrival from Colombia, was named Ajax’s Player of the Season. At only 20, this is an impressive feat in a squad packed with talent. Sánchez has proven himself to be a confident tackler, menacing aerial threat, controlled passer and dribbler, and even a set-piece goal-scorer. Many consider Manchester City’s defense a little bit of a disaster, so bringing in someone like Sánchez (or even de Ligt) who understands the philosophy of a Total Football defender would be a huge boost to Guardiola’s back line.

A big question mark of Man City’s lineup has recently been the defensive midfield. Fernandinho has done well there, but the Brazilian is ageing. Ajax has some great, young options in that portion of the pitch, with the most experienced being Donny van de Beek (20). The young Dutchman has played as a backup to Lasse Schøne for the second half of the season, but he surely has what it takes to compete as a City player with a few years’ development. Carel Eiting (19) is another player in the ranks of the Ajax system, but is yet to fully break through into the first team. These players not only bring the good tackling and awareness that defensive midfielders require, but also a superb sense of passing and skills to get by defenders and create space going forward. Fernandinho is likely the ‘DM’ choice for at least next season, but someone like van de Beek would be a much more effective option off the bench than, say, Fernando is currently.

The playmaking and attacking section of Manchester City’s lineup is basically set for years to come, but, if needed, Ajax could certainly supply a wealth of talent in the final third. Danish striker Kasper Dolberg (19) has been superb for Ajax this season, and talented wingers David Neres (20) and Justin Kluivert (18) already look dangerous when attacking opponents. Impressive playmaker Hakim Ziyech (24) is rumoured to have garnered Premier League interest, and he would do a fine job as a high-energy bench player in Pep’s system. There is a wealth of talent in Amsterdam, it’s just a matter of time before Manchester City snatches it up.

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