Last summer, Donny van de Beek thought he had his break through season behind him, but head strong coach Erik ten Hag at Ajax felt differently. The Ajax midfielder had only had eleven minutes in the CL qualification games and his face predicted a thunder storm. “This is a tough situation. The coach decides and that is what I have to deal with. I can be all full of bravado and talk about leaving but I simply have to give 100% and we’ll see what happens. But I can’t accept a role as a bench warmer. I’m sorry.”
This summer, it seems Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, Chelsea, Bayern Munich are just some names of big clubs preparing an offer for the 22 year old.
What Donny didn’t mention was that in that previous summer, his groin had played up and he wasn’t part of the full pre-season program. Ajax played 6 qualification matches and Donny only started in three of them. In the first months in the Eredivisie, a similar pattern. When he did start, Ten Hag took him off before the game ended.
Mr Ajax, icon Sjaak Swart, the former right winger in Cruyff/Michels 1970s Ajax looks back at that time. “Donny has lived with me for a while, ever since his teenage years, simply to limit the long trips every day to his family in Nijkerk. I think I have a good insight in his personality, and I was never in doubt that he’d come good. I know his mentality and he is a fighter. Yes, it was tough, but he never rebelled and kept on working hard. We knew he’d fight his way into the team.”
Despite the stop-and-start beginning of the Ajax season, Ronald Koeman never overlooked Van de Beek. He was always part of the squad and although he didn’t play vs France and Germany in the Nations League games, he did play in the Belgium friendly in Brussels.
The turnaround at Ajax came when Ten Hag went for the Tadic-line up as it’s called in Holland. The version with Tadic as the false #9, allowing a spot for Neres and Van de Beek (but keeping Dolberg and Huntelaar benched).
And that campaign ended far in extra time in the second semi finals in Amsterdam vs Spurs. With an increasingly important role for Van de Beek, with his sense of positioning, his technical ability, his running ability and tactical smarts… The complete midfielder, as also Real Madrid scouts have noticed.
Van de Beek with Ajax legend and manager Sjaak Swart
His stats are impressive: he scored 17 goals and had 13 assists in 57 official games for Ajax. Ronald Koeman: “The success of Ajax is important for the young players and for Oranje. Donny is the prime example, he is knocking on the door. Really loudly.”
Donny van de Beek, in Portugal with Oranje for the Nations League: “I understand why Koeman didn’t use me in the Nations League group games. The team stood! The results were good and the other lads did well. But I am convinced I can make my point and get into the team.”
Van de Beek made big steps, this season. And also thanks to changes in his nutrition and strength training. Sjaak Swart: “In the game against Utrecht, considered one of the toughest ones for Ajax in the last stage of the season, two players stepped up and took Ajax by the hand: Ziyech and Donny van de Beek. You can only do this when you are super fit. You can’t do this when you haven’t been taking care of yourself. He has grown tremendously and he is now one of the leaders on the pitch. He is always available, he makes his dummy runs and is important in the group. He has grown in every aspect of the game.”
Koeman has a luxury issue with his midfield. He has an international star in Wijnaldum, who finally shows his level in Oranje as well as in Liverpool. Frenkie de Jong is another certainty. Since he plays in Oranje, the Dutch play dominant football again with a strong forward thrust. The third spot will have to battled for, by Marten de Roon, Davy Propper and Donny van de Beek (albeit that Donny could also compete with Gini Wijnaldum for his spot).
Since the Reds midfielder is playing more offensively his share in the attacking results has increased significantly. In his last 5 games he was involved in 5 goals (3 scored, 2 assisted). Van de Beek has an opinion as well: “I don’t see myself as the high number 10. I am more a number 8, a box-to-box player but I can play in the controlling mid role as well.” The dynamic right midfielder role seems the ideal role for him in Oranje. And that allows for Wijnaldum and Frenkie to play in their fave role. And with his runs forward, he would be a perfect companion for Memphis in the striker’s role.
His penetration runs… in the Eredivisie he has an average of 6.3 runs into the opponent’s box in 90 minutes. At PSV, Pereiro is the player with the second most runs with 5,8 runs and Guus Til of AZ is #3 with 5.1 runs.
And Van de Beek has many new fans, one of them Jose Mourinho who put Van de Beek in his CL team of the season. There are many new options too, even though he renewed his deal with Ajax only months ago, now it goes till 2022. Borussia Dortmund was the first club to come knocking but they were scared off by the asking price. With Frenkie and De Ligt already leaving and great odds that Ziyech is leaving too, Ajax wants to keep their other strongholders and ask for the top price if interest is shown.
What will he do? Make a mozzah but end up on the bench in Madrid or London? Or will he stay, maybe take the captain’s band and play another season under Ten Hag.
Swart: “Donny needs to be with a club where they play neat and attacking football. He would do well with the likes of Man City, Arsenal. He has that here, its always a question mark how it will go elsewhere. But he is keen to find out where his ceiling is. And he will need to make a step up to find out. But he won’t go to just any club. He will also not decide with his wallet. That is not him. When he leaves Ajax, it will be for a world class club, nothing les.”
Van de Beek himself? “You read stuff and you hear stuff. I am not worried. I’m taking a break now and I’ll see what comes on my path. I am focused on football and I love being at Ajax. My contract is still for another 3 years so I won’t make any comments on my future. I want to win more trophies. And with Ajax and Oranje I can and this is where my focus is.”