Main Pic: Back row: Calvin Raatsie, Devyne Rensch, Jayden Braaf, Melayro Bogarde, Anass Salah-Eddine and Mohamed Taabouni. Up front: Steven van der Sloot, Ian Maatsen, Youri Regeer, Sontje Hansen and Naci Ünüvar.
It’s summer 2019 and the U17 Oranje team wins the European title and just misses the World Cup title some months later in Brazil.
These talents are now more than 2 years older and more experienced and hammering on the doors of the first teams. Or… are they?
AZ midfielder Taabouni: “That World Cup in Brail was a highlight in my life. It was bittersweet, though. We went as favorites and just couldn’t make it happen after a slow start.” Oranje lost the penalty kicks vs Mexico and Brazil ended up winning gold.
“It was special. It was in Brazil, which was amazing. We really started badly but found our groove in time, only to lose painfully. The media started to write us up and our belief was 100%. But … I missed one, too. You’ll never forget that moment. But, it was incredible as well.”
The attacking mid was one of the key players in that Golden Generation and when he returned to Holland, he made his debut in AZ 1. But it took almost two years for him to play his second match. He does train with the first squad and plays his football in Jong AZ, at the second tier in Holland.
“It’s tough. I train with the big players and I think I can play along nicely with them so I want to be able to show it. My friends Stengs, Boadu and Wijndal are doing really well at top level and I feel I’m ready too. But I need patience. It’s tough, mentally but I am growing and becoming more mature so I can deal with it. I also became stronger physically.”
AZ’s midfield needs to run. A lot. “This was the situation under Slot and it is still the case. The stats showed it too and Slot was constantly emphasizing it. Midfielders need to move. Now, my stats are amazing. I’m always in the top 3 of kilometers and sprints etc. It’s not fun, but it’s essential and when you can do what the coach wants ,you do notice everything becomes easier. In the beginning I was spent after 70 minutes, but now my capacity has gone way up. I’m now almost 20 years old and my aim is to succeed here. Although… my contract is running out…”
AZ is doing what it can to keep the midfielder but international interest has popped up already for him. Same for his mate Anass Salah-Eddine of Ajax. Sparta was keen to sign him for the first team but Ajax refused to let him go. So Anass will remain in Amsterdam where he is the training opposition to Brazilian Antony.
“That is perfect practice,” he laughs. “When you can stop Antony from playing, you can stop anyone in the Eredivisie. He is so light, so quick, so fast. Our duels are tough but very educational for me. The one v one defending is one of my weaker points, so I grow a lot.”
Salah-Eddine is happy to play. Shortly after the World Cup he got injured badly: tore his ankle ligaments and broke his leg. “That was tough. I lost faith in my own body. And suddenly all that attention disappeared, even some of my friends left, I mean… I had to do it all by myself.” Now, 8 months later, he’s playing again. “I’m still not 100% you know. I now focus on enjoying the games. Mentally, I am way stronger, and physically I’m stronger too. I spent a year in the gym. No one gets me on the ground. Well, okay… Brian Brobbey probably can, hahaha.”
His role as full back has changed, with Daley Blind and Noussair Mazraoui demonstrating weekly what it means to be a full back: you need to defend and stop your man, but you also need to be key in the build up and find your way in between the lines to move into midfield. “You need to be able to do everything as a back these days. I sometimes play in midfield in Jong Ajax, that is new but I think I become a better player this way.”
Goalie Bart Verbruggen had a stellar career jump when he went from NAC to Anderlecht and suddenly played some games in the first team under Kompany when Van Crombrugge was injured. His colleagues in Brazil, Raatsie and Troost are still playing in the youth teams of Ajax and Feyenoord, respectively.
The defenders appear to be the quickest to move up. Devyne Rensch is only 19 years old but has 45 Ajax 1 games to his name. In the Ajax youth, he played centrally, but Ten Hag uses the youngster as a right back. He even made his debut in the Big Oranje team.
Ki-Jana Hoever is making his name in England. He went from Liverpool to Wolves where they presented him with a good development plan. 45 million euro signing Semedo is in front of him but Hoever already player 23 EPL games for the Wanderers.
Melayro Bogarde has been developed well at Hoffenheim but decided to go to Groningen this winter to get more game time. Steven van der Sloot (Ajax) and Yannick Leliendal (VVV) had to be more patient. Ian Maatsen went to England at a young age and made his debut for Chelsea under Lampard. He is now being readied via loan deals with Charlton Athletic and Coventry City. He plays everything in the Championship and rules as wingback on the left.
Kenneth Taylor and Youri Regeer are making good progress. Taylor has had regular sub turns under Ten Hag and scored his first Eredivisie goal against Heracles. Regeer made his debut in December and has signed a new deal with Ajax. Dirk Proper of NEC has had several offers from international clubs and the Top 3 in Holland but he decided to stay in Nijmegen, where he played several Eredivisie matches.
Up front, Naci Unuvar and Sontje Hansen were seen as the big guns. But both players recently expressed concerns physically, over the pressure on the body at top level.
Unuvar found his groove again for Ajax, in Jong Ajax, with the most goals and assists. Naoufal Bannis, the striker in Brazil, has also had a chance to test his metal in Feyenoord 1. He has Bryan Linssen and Cyriel Dessers in front of him so he left for NAC on loan where he is first choice.
Jayden Braaf has been loaned to Udinese, by Man City where he became the youngest goalscorer ever in the Serie A. He is currently back in Manchester, recovering from a knee injury. Romano Postema is on loan with FC Den Bosch but is knocking on the Groningen door. Soulyman Allouch is playing for Jong AZ again after a lot of injury woes. Pinch hitter Djenairo Daniels has seen his contract tore up at FC Utrecht.
Naoufal Bannis, now at NAC Breda
The Current Under-17 Team
The current U-17 team is playing qualification games in March for the Euros in Israel this Summer, where we defend the title. Team manager Mischa Visser on three of the key talents in that team.
Julian Rijkhoff (17) – Borussia Dortmund
Rijkhoff started as a talent at Ajax when he was 7 years old. He signed his first pro contract at 16 years old, but not in Amsterdam! Visser: “Julian is the complete striker. He can play with his back to goal, he has good technique and a strong physique. But he is also a good runner without the ball and loves making runs in behind. He is very goal oriented and even though he’s just 17 years old, he is a starter in Dortmund Under-19. That is very good.”
Mike Kleijn (16) – Feyenoord
Born in Breda, Mike saw interest from Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord. The midfielder chose Rotterdam and made his debut in the first team already. He is the skipper in the Oranje U-17 team and Feyenoord’s U-18 team. “He is a typical leader on the pitch, as a controlling mid. He is very intelligent and recognises space well and reads the game well. He is wonderful in the positioning game and is able to see situations earlier than others.”
Isaac Babadi (16) – PSV
The youngster went from NEC to PSV in 2018 and the attacking mid is going through a rocket-speed development, also playing as a winger. Ruud van Nistelrooy allowed him his debut in Jong PSV already. Visser: “He’s very technical and a real passionate player. Highly creative and he would prefer to pick up the ball from the goalie and dribble to the other goal. He’s fast and unpredictable. He’s also an example of how to react when we lose possession. He’s a real role model, als in his personality. Always positive and open, with great work ethics.”