The Dutch masters of talent development sit comfortably at the top of the Eredivisie (having dropped just three points from their 10 games so far) and are still in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout phase of the Champions League, if they can pick up points in their remaining games against Liverpool and Atalanta in Group D.
It’s no wonder that clubs continue to keep a close eye on the talent on show in Amsterdam. So here are the young players set to become Ajax’s next big stars.
Ryan Gravenberch, 18, central midfield
Arguably the cream of the crop, Gravenberch briefly tasted first-team action in the league as a 16-year-old in September 2018, but had to wait more than a year for another Eredivisie outing. The wait paid off, however, as the part defensive, part box-to-box central midfielder is now being monitored by all the top clubs in Europe.
Exceptionally easy on the eye with his elegant movement and calm, measured passing, his ability to keep the game flowing by moving the ball on with few touches has ensured that the technically brilliant Gravenberch is now an undisputed regular.
He scored a stunning goal in the Champions League against FC Midtjylland last week and was also selected for the senior Netherlands squad for the first time in November. Potentially a €50m-plus player.
Perr Schuurs, 21, centre-back
Signed from second division club Fortuna Sittard in the summer of 2018, the Netherlands U21 international has comfortably slotted into the first team following two seasons of development with Jong Ajax in the second division.
Despite being 6-foot-3 and accordingly dominant in his aerial game, he’s reasonably agile and deceptively quick off the mark. Yet it’s Schuurs’ ability on the ball that really sets him apart; he’s impressively strong in possession (93% pass completion this season) and his distribution and variety of passing are also remarkable.
The fact that Liverpool have reportedly singled out Schuurs as a potential January target to help ease their defensive headache is testament to the progress of a player who has started just 16 Eredivisie games to date. It also gives Tuesday’s game at Anfield even more meaning for the composed centre-back.
Antony, 20, winger
Ajax beat a host of European powerhouses to capture the Brazilian winger from Sao Paulo for €15.75m in the summer. Though still adapting to his new environment, Antony has already scored five goals in all competitions and has looked a threat on the right wing.
Equipped with quick feet, plus the close control, vision and playmaking skills to help set up chances when cutting inside on his favoured left foot, the trigger-happy youngster is a mixed bag of creativity, unpredictability and explosiveness.
For all his undisputed attacking prowess, Antony is already showing signs of improving his defensive game (which was often pointed out as a concern by scouts prior to his move to Europe) after a few months in Amsterdam. The tricky, entertaining South American can net Ajax a significant profit if he keeps developing at his current rate.
Relive two of Zlatan’s amazing goals with Ajax, as he appears on their recent podcast “The Zlatan-edition” on Spotify.
Mohammed Kudus, 20, midfielder/forward
Having shown signs of early promise, the young Ghana international — a €9m summer signing from Danish side FC Nordsjaelland — suffered a meniscus injury just a few minutes into his Champions League debut against Liverpool in October. As a consequence he has been ruled out for the next few months.
However, when back on his feet Kudus will once again offer Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag an array of options. In fact, during his four starts for the club this season, the African was fielded as a central striker, attacking midfielder and a holding midfielder — taking advantage of his excellent vision, rapid progression with the ball at his feet, work rate and dribbling skills from any of those positions.
Though only 5-foot-10, Kudus is robust and possesses the balance to successfully see off a rough challenge — making him a potential target for more physically demanding leagues than the Eredivisie.
Lassina Traore, 19, striker
The Burkina Faso international has already been a part of the Ajax first team for a year-and-a-half, but the real breakthrough came as he scored five goals in the 13-0 away thrashing of VVV-Venlo six weeks ago.
In addition to being a dynamic centre-forward with the pace to threaten the space behind the defensive line, the positional sense to convert tap-ins, and a fine aerial game, right-footed Traore is also turning into a fine link-up forward — often setting up runners from midfield or wide areas with little flicks. Now he seems to have made the starting centre-forward spot his own and has eight goals in 14 games this season.
Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, 20, attacking midfielder
Another academy product who has already had a taste of Champions League action this season, the technically gifted midfielder carries a certain resemblance to Van de Beek (who left the club for Manchester United earlier this year) thanks to his knack of finding the space in and around the box, as well as his ability to get out of tight spots through neat control of ball and body.
Being well versed in the Ajax way of playing football, Ekkelenkamp seamlessly fits into the mechanisms of the team and instantly looks at home at senior level — he played a full 90 minutes and found the net twice in the notorious demolition of VVV. Intelligent and good with both feet, the Netherlands U21 international is a joy to watch whether he plays in the No. 8 or No. 10 position.