And a heart of gold, if you believe the people who know him. The former Feyenoord talent, ex Ajax prospect and current Club Brugge start got the MoTM award in a game inwhich a certain Leo Messi played as well.
He was already knocking on the orange door, but last week’s CL game turned into a heavy boom. And Van Gaal decided to open the door, albeit cautiously. Noa is part of the provisional squad. But based on LVG’s comment that he is not happy with the available wingers in Oranje, he will most likely jump at the opportunity to get Lang in his squad.
So, when you’re 6 year old and you live close to Rotterdam and Feyenoord knocks on the door. What do you? You go. But in Lang’s case, he decided he didn’t want the Feyenoord sports bag. Why not, was his dad’s question. “Because I am an Ajax fan,” the blond lightning strike answered.
He was a remarkable talent, at his age. “He would shoot balls at me that I simply couldn’t stop. So hard. And when he played his first game when he was five years old, he went about his business with sliding after sliding. “I will never forget a match for the title. Noa played in a team with older and bigger players. One of the opponent kids, a tall player, went alone to score the winner against Lang. He jumped on the kid’s back and hung on his shorts and that guy scored the goal with Noa Lang hanging on his shorts, hahahaha.”
Noa Lang, left, duelling with Ajax captain Mathijs de Ligt
Noa was influenced by Edgar Davids, that much was clear. He would play through the pain and never complained. “If I asked him if he wanted to come to the cinema, he would usually say: I can’t dad, I need to train!”
His mother divorced his dad and got into a relationship with Ajax forward Nordin Boukhari. “He was so excited when he learned I played for Ajax. He would come with me to matches always. He was completely obsessed.”
Boukhari played his football with FC Nantes and Besiktas as well and little Noa would briefly play his junior football at these clubs as well.
When he was 13 years old, his dad asked him again: “If you are really an Ajax kid, why do you stay at Feyenoord?”
And off they went. Noa Lang became an Ajax player. The head strong and articulated fellow would get himself into trouble regularly. Not by being a pest, but simply by asking questions or maybe by being a bit of a smart-ass. His mum: “He’s not trouble, but he’s outspoken and sees through fakeness. But he’s loyal and very honest. A social kid who really values family. And he will definitely sacrifice everything for his sport.”
Noa was always close to Ajax players, as a result of his step dad being part of the squad with Sneijder, Heitinga and Nigel de Jong. It was normal for him to be amongst these guys and he ended up collecting shirts from players like Van Persie and players from Ajax opponents. He once got the Bastian Schweinsteiger shirt, one of his fave players, but he would call him Einsteiger. He simply liked that name better.
On holiday with Nigel de Jong (left) and as youth player at Besiktas
Leen Boer, his coach in the Under8s: “He got into my squad and immediately told me honestly: coach I like Ajax. I didn’t care, I said he would probably change that preference in a couple of months. But he didn’t. But what a player he was. He scored the most amazing goals. And even now, when I see him, he will always come up for a hug and some smalltalk. A great kid.”
His dad: “At home it was all Ajax. Posters on his wall, PJs, his bedding, Ajax Ajax. One day he went to Feyenoord for training, wearing his Ajax shirt. That is when Feyenoord told him: ok, this is taking it too far!”
Eventually, Feyenoord allowed to let him go to Ajax.
When Lang was 16, disaster hit. A back injury became so severe that the medical pros feared for his career. He was struggling with it for years already. Living with a brace for a long spell eventually helped him to “fix” his back. His recovery was almost miraculous.
Two ex Ajax wingers: Boukhari and Lang
His C1 season was not that great, but when he got into the Under17s he had Richard Witschge as his coach.
Witschge told Lang he was considered arrogant, even if he wasn’t. But his mannerisms, his hand gestures, you will make it hard on yourself. And Richard knew all about that. They had a similar type of personality. And Witschge would call him out if he had to. Call him ‘asshole’ in front of the group and usually Noa would accept a dressing down.
His mother, Manon: “He plays for the fans. As a kid he would sometimes be more enthralled with the action on the stands and I can tell when he’s showing off for the fans and when he starts to become cocky. He loves to hear the ooohs and aaahs. And when I try to talk to him about it, he is all like “don’t worry mum, I know what I’m doing”. He feels no pressure.”
Lang would make his debut in Ajax 1 but felt there was not enough future for him at Ajax, after a couple of clashes with captain Dujan Tadic and coach Erik ten Hag. Despite this, Ajax wanted to offer the youngster a 4 year deal, but the feeling was gone. Lang wanted out. Leeds United was interested, but a loan spell to Club Brugge resulted in a firm transfer to the Belgium champs.
It all goes fast for the 22 year old. Lang’s performance in the Champions League got people taking notice. With MBappe, Messi and Neymar on the pitch, it was Lang who got the headlines and the MoTM award.
There was no player in the first CL round with more attempts on goal (6) and he had a higher Expected Goals value than goal scorer Vanaken.
Louis van Gaal lamented the lack of wingers when he was just appointed. But with the likes of Bergwijn, Gakpo, Malen, Memphis, Danjuma, El Ghazi, Berghuis and now Noa Lang as well, it seems the old Maestro must stop whining. Most of the ones above prefer the left side or the central striker role (Malen and Memphis), both Berghuis and Lang can play on the right wing. Finally a back up for Ajax winger Berghuis!
Why does it work at Club Brugge and not at Ajax? Noa Lang himself: “I am given more freedom here. The coach knows that serves my game best. The Ajax set up is more rigid. As a winger at Ajax, you have to stay on the wing. Whenever I drifted inwards, I would get told off. But that is not me, I am not a winger. They always play young players there because it’s an easier and less demanding role but it’s not me.”
Coach Clement uses Lang in different roles but he always has the freedom to roam. He can play right winger and drift inwards for an attempt on his left foot. But he can also cross balls in to Bas Dost or start from the left, in a Memphis-type role.
Lang’s image in The Netherlands is that of a complacent, somewhat arrogant difficult kid. In Belgium, they can’t understand any of it, as he’s the model pro there. A team player with amazing stats. His image in Holland was probably fueled by on camera spats with the likes of Tadic and Ten Hag during a couple of friendlies.
Noa Lang’s performances for Young Oranje will not convince anyone about his potential. Coach van de Looi allowed Noa’s debut back in 2019, but he never became a stalwart. He had three sub turns and one starting berth and in the group phase of the Euros U19, he got injured as he also missed the group stage due to injuries. Van de Looi does see Lang as a right winger, in his set up.
Van Gaal likes to use a left footer on the right and vice versa. He instructed Gakpo to “come inside and shoot on goal with his right”. This is also how Berghuis – a leftie – is used on the right. But Lang is right footed, just like Anwar El Ghazi and will have to battle Gakpo, Malen, Bergwijn if Van Gaal sticks to his principles. Which means Berghuis still is the only real option on the right.
Van Gaal will look at his options and pick the player that has the form of the day. Gakpo will probably shine in the Eredivisie, while Malen, Bergwijn and Danjuma might face tougher circumstances in bigger competitions. Van Gaal thinks Danjuma is a real option but he’ll need to demonstrate consistent form at Villareal, like Bergwijn and Malen will have to play and perform as well. For Gakpo and Lang, the circumstances to shine are better.
Danjuma for now is coming in from the bench and he catches the eye with his dribbles, just like Gakpo.
Here is a comparison:
It will be interesting to see if Van Gaal wants to return to the 5-3-2 system, because Lang can play well in that set up as well. At Club, he played in that system in a free role. The statistics won’t let Lang down and that he can bring it is no longer a secret or a question mark. Just ask the Belgs…