With just a population of over 17 million people, it is amazing to think that the Netherlands have managed to become a traditional footballing heavyweight, while producing some of the best talents world football has ever seen.
When one thinks of Dutch football, prominent names come to mind such as Rinus Michels, Dennis Bergkamp and Johan Cruyff.
Moreover who can ever forget their revolutionary system of ‘Total Football’, which sparked an obsession with tactics amongst football managers and fans alike.
At club level, no Eredivisie club captured the imagination of the Dutch public and the world quite like Ajax.
While 33 league titles and four European cups showcased their success, it is however the club’s unique system which has made them so admired. A robust framework is set in place within the club, placing an emphasis on youth.
Significantly, this allowed Ajax to mould their players and imbue within them values that reflected the Dutch style of play; which was to express oneself’s freely.
While other top European sides are contented to spend money on players, Ajax on the other hand prefer to spend time on developing talents.
While there have been replicants of the Dutch side’s , Barcelona being the most prominent one. Ajax will always be the original architects; the original influencers of youth and freedom of expression.
Although Dutch football is in decline today, keen observers will notice that Eredivisie is still a repository of top young talents.
In last year’s Europa League final, Ajax appeared in their first European final since 1996, as the club took on Manchester United. At the heart of the Amsterdam’s side was centre-back Matthijs de Ligt.
Though only 18 years of age, the defender showed nerves of steel shutting down some of the Red Devils’ famous forwards. He put in a man of the match performance intercepting balls while triumphing in one on one moments.
Ajax would lose the final but they had found a winner in De Ligt. Additionally, he was included in the Europa League team of the season that year.
A product of the Ajax academy, De Ligt made his debut in the 2016-2017 season and shows maturity beyond his years.
Blessed with towering height, he is strong in the air and reads the game well while is technically capable of playing the ball out of defence; hardly surprising for an Ajax player.
Still only 18, he has already made his debut for the national team in 2017 in a 2-0 defeat to Bulgaria.
As if all those achievements aren’t enough, he is also the second youngest goalscorer in Ajax’s history behind Clarence Seedorf, after netting a goal from a corner in a cup game against Willem II, and is now the current captain of the club.
De Ligt has five goals to his tally in total however another aspect of this cultured defender which is endearing is his bond with the fans.
He can be seen leading chants with the fans and is always read to celebrate with them underscoring his attachment to the club which is so typical of youth players who come through the academy.
For players like De Ligt relationship with the fans must be nurtured for one must never bite the hand that feeds you.
Ajax has failed to recapture its former glories due to the current financial landscape while the Dutch national team is in complete disarray.
However, if Ajax and the Netherlands are to start rebuilding they need to build their teams around talents such as De Ligt. Ajax needs to keep its talents while finding a way to circumvent from being a feeder club.
For the national teams it is time to disband the old guard of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder while capitalising on talented individuals such as Justin Kluivert and Donny Van De Beek.
These reforms must be introduced now in order to take Dutch football forward for the saying goes ‘If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much’.