Missing: the 2019 U-17 Oranje Talents

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.”

Anass Salah-Eddine

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.

Devyne Rensch

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.

Ajax’ Unuvar

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.”

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  1. The talent has always been there and always will be. The problem that Oranje have always had to contend with is that of balance between attack and defence. Ironically, this problem is self-inflicted.

    Case in point. This article covers about 70% of the attacking side of upcoming talent. This is not an accident. It is what the Dutch are interested in, what they would fawn over.

    I run the risk of sounding like a broken record but winning cups and competitions on the junior level is not necessarily going to translate to anything positive given your playing style in a senior level. Junior levels are misleading because it is almost a free-for-all kinda deal. These kids are trying to find their feet and do not have the tactical awareness, defensive discipline nor nous to stop each other playing. That is why you see more attacking-minded teams shine in these competitions and five years later the dreaded question-where did they all go?

    Zeist have to swallow its pride and make the art of defensive discipline and acuity an integral part of its programme going forward. There is this misconception that concentrating a lot more on playing decent defence is going to take away from the beauty of total football. I beg to differ.

    Nothing is more beautiful than winning in sports. The transition from dogged defence to flowing devastating attack by a team as technical as Oranje will always be nirvana. But first has to be acceptance that decent defence has to be played(and learnt). Acceptance that Oranje will sometimes be on the back foot and thorough preparation for the inevitable.

    Once this foundation has been planted, these kids will have a higher chance of avoiding the disappearing acts as the probability will be higher of them getting further as a team and be present in more competitions individually. Lord knows we’ve missed enough of those and the chance to showcase some of these talents.

    1. Excellent analysis. You’re spot on. With the Dutch, I also think it’s a mental strength issue. The talents in the youth systems have it easy. Ajax U15 will win 90% of their games at 80% effort. Same with Feyenoord, AZ, etc. Playing week in week out v resistance, with pain and being forced to the limit, is what is not happening in the Dutch youth systems. Dutch people in general are having it too good 🙂

  2. @Jan

    The mental strength issue you touched on is a valid observation. The likes of Germany and Italy coming off as better and stronger than Oranje in shootout situations, for example, boils down to preparation I feel. Acceptance of an inevitable and preparing and readying oneself when that time comes. And like you said, these kids have to be exposed to these possibilities and pushed to mental exertion.

    It is no luck that the Germans keep winning these shootouts. It’s a general attitude, a mental state in how they approach the game in real time, as things unfold. Instead of playing within themselves, Zeist has to make the deliberate decision of getting these guys uncomfortable and drilling into them a fightback mode. And that should start with their kryptonite- defence and at the most junior of levels that these lessons can be absorbed.

  3. Watched Juventus and Villareal. Villareal started with Danjuma and le celso up front in 4-4-2 and while le celso dropped deep, danjuma was also sucked in centrally on top and didnt see much ball. Was heavily marked as well to the extent, on villareal’s goal De ligt was caught out of position trying to close him down. Danjuma had few touches from inside of the box but did get any clear chances. Had to drift out and only managed to link up here and there.

    De ligt though caught in no man land however did have a good game. Did come up with some good blocks starting on the left. The return leg will surely go down to the wire.

  4. Scout report

    Ian maatsen is creating waves at Coventry city and his future as a chelsea loanee is shinning brightly. Has had good performaces over the past couples of weeks with scoring goals as well. Vs reading and then vs Bristol recently. He will be an important pieces when his time comes. Remains me of Ashely cole.

  5. @Jan, Orangutan. Excellent article, Jan. Interesting discussion between you guys, thank you.

    @Wilson, Nice to hear about Maatsen. He was on that U17 team, and played well.

    I think Brobbey should have been on the team, but was injured.

    I watched all the games. Interesting progression in the tournament. They lost the first two matches (Japan and Senegal), and only snuck in as the 4th best 3rd place team on goal difference because they crushed the US in their last group match. And then they went on to a good run until Mexico. Hansen got hot as a goal scorer, but Braaf looked the most dangerous. Unuvar did not have a good tournament. To me, they appeared to play best when Regeer was inserted because of some red card issues. Rensch looked like they’re best and most versatile defender throughout.

    Regarding the individual development, I don’t think you can discount the Covid factor. They had parts of seasons shut down or curtailed right in the middle of a crucial development period.

  6. Any body watched Benfica and Ajax. Dont wanna stray away from the post but you see this is exactly what I have been saying for when they critical stages, the flaws in the team will take its toll. Hope van gaal watched this game.

  7. Jan did you watch the Ajax game against Benfica? Blind’s lack of speed was badly exposed from Rafa Silva. Poor game from Ajax’s midfield in the second half where at times it felt like we were playing with 10 men. Lastly, i think Ten Hag waited to long to make substitutions even though everyone could see that Benfica was getting too close. I expect a nerve-wacking second leg in Amsterdam.

  8. My 2 cents on the Ajax match. Wish they would have won, but it was a fun match to watch. Big atmosphere. Benfica turned it into a little bit of a brawl, and Ajax lost their composure, their shape, and too many players began to try to go it alone too often, and they and paid a price. Unfortunately, they should have been ahead 3 or 4-1 before Benfica turned it around. Blind didn’t look good, and Berghuis didn’t have much impact from the No. 10, but others had issues too. On several occasions, Antony had the opportunity to play others in, but he got a little selfish; Haller seemed a little off, and Tadic needed to be more involved. Lets see how all of them respond in the return. On the bright side, Mazraoui was terrific—though I’m a little worried, when he went off at the end, he seemed to be in some distress, hope he is okay. Timber saved them more than once defensively, and looked good, Alvarez was good in the holding role, and offensively the team looked like it could always score a goal. As Tomy14 says, the return match will be stressful. Provided they get through, playing in an away match environment like they just did, and in a nervy return match will be good for them.

  9. i couldnt watch the Ajax game….i saw only high lights…Cannot blame Blind for the goals..anyways i feel tyrell malacia is playing Top games…Ajax lost thier composrure and organization…ajax should have buried game earlier,,,Benefica will park the bus at amsterdam..lets see…Timber,Martinez,alavez they are monsters…they are key for this CL..

  10. Im really not intrested in Ajax winning or losing but this has to be seen from NT point view as to where do the players stand in terms of their form and like I have said 100 times, THEIR ABILITY TO GO OUT OF THEIR COMFORT ZONE. Like I said you have to judge players in these critical stages and as they go on. Ajax might pull it of next week but that wont change the fact about the suspects in the team and its only a matter of time before it will be capitalized on by a better team.

      1. Nah…i watch ajax Regular, they play sensational football with blind or with out blind…its just not a one man or two man team..however i do agree there is no replacemnet for antony and tadic…i would add martinez and alvarez too…Timber has got a back up in shuurs…….Ajax should stay focused and should not concede morale depleting goals..This ajax plays on par with liverpool and bayren.and mancity..Rest of the teams are behind ajax..Eric ten haag is a sensationl coach..ajax is a beuty to wtch…they dont just defeat the opponnet …they crush them…

  11. @Wilson, Well, yes, this team is not Ajax ’95, who has been?

    Lets see how the return match goes. I was probably a little more critical in my assessment of the individual players last night than warranted. I made the comments immediately after watching the game (tape delayed, didn’t know the result), and was disappointed in how the second half went. But Ajax was better than Benfica in the first half, and should have led by more than a goal. In the second half, Benfica’s intensity went up, and they got a great boost from the crowd, (it was fun to watch, great atmosphere), and Ajax lost themselves for a long spell. It was a team issue more than anything else Instead of keeping their discipline and playing cohesively, players began to try to do too much alone, both offensively and defensively. They got out of position. They paid. They can/should learn from it.

    @Tiju, agree on the importance of Alvarez and Martinez.

  12. based on what I’ve saw yesterday, i don’t see this Ajax going to far. I hope i’m wrong.

    bTW, is it just me that’s feeling excited about 4 Dutch clubs going into the knockout stage. watched Vitesse played last night and am quite impressed by the way they played. Keep pressing and attacking the opponent.

        1. You should be disgusted more about sleepy creepy Joe and zelenskyy…i thought right after olympics russia would strike but they gave two more days extra..Zelensky is a dictator too…Just like Justin truedo…both are wolfs in sheeps coat…i see through that..both poor russian and ukrainians has to suffer from this evil greedy sleepy creepy joe and zelelnsky…

          1. Guys, please no politics. It will not solve the world problems, two Oranje football fans solving the wars using a football blog.

  13. I hope van gaal and the jury is watching Bayern Leverkusen games because its evident both frimpong and Bakker are now burning all cylinders and looks to be in good form. They should be called for the germany friendly.

    I watched Leverkusen vs arminia bielefeld. Leverkusen started with 3-4-3 and both frimpong and Bakker were in the thick of things. Frimpong looked more dangerous with his overlapping runs and crosses and if you give space to this guy, he will turn you inside out. Bakker was good as well, was involved alot in crossing which is not his stronghold but managed well. Defendively as usually, with few missed tackles.

    Looking forward to malacia and bakker taking that transition to NT. Maatsen is also coming up and in my dream team projection for 2024- 2026

  14. Read alot on Gravenberch and Gakpo on the radar of many big teams. However, from what I saw of them in recent games, they aren’t exactly top-notch yet; not imposing themselves on the games. As much as I would love to see them turning out for the likes of Juventus, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Afraid if they are to make the move abroad, they may well end up sitting on bench. They should stay on for at least another season to develop.

  15. For Gravenberch, I have said this from day 1, his defensive game is a question mark. He has commit himself defensively like he does offensively. If he makes a big move now he is doomed. You look at Eduardo Camavinga at Madrid, about the same age as Gravenberch and would say better than him. Hasnt been able to make much impact. Gravenberch should at ajax and get polished before he makes the move. If not, join a team playing CL where he can get regular minutes. The same I would say for Gakpo. He also is pretty much in the same shoes as memphis when he broke out into PSV.

  16. It all boils down to the bare minimum of playing decent defence. Players like Gravenberch(with his athleticism) and Koopmeiners would have been twice the players they are if only defensive awareness has been nurtured in them. How is it that a great footballing nation like this could only produce a Van Bommel every other two decades?

    How could a player like de Roon be the best you can produce for the better part of a decade?. It is because there is zero emphasis in churning out these players and their development is almost an anomaly. And even when we had the Van Bommel and Nigel de Jong we see far inferior defensive players like Demy de Zeuuw being opted for because they may better for the rhythm of the game. But what happens when your record player starts skipping beats?

    So of course Gravenberch will struggle in the jaws of superior competition that Europe offers. He will be required to be defensively solid. Something he’s never had to do.

      1. @Wilson….if you want to blame blind for the goals ,i agree.ten haag should start tagliafico..Mazaroui didint start either..Mazeroui is not dutch,so i was less observant on him..ajax missed Mazeroui and timber Equally…FYI..TIMBER IS A MONSTER,HE WOULD HELP AJAX TO PLAY BETTER AND OUT SCORE OPPONENT…THAT was absent with shurrd..shurrs was decent and good as defender.with timber it could end up in 3-2 for ajax…that importance timber has in attack…thats wat i point out..
        okay now you start on Blind..i am listening

        1. the statement you made that Ajax lost because Timber didnt play was stupid as it sounds. both goals was scored because of ball watching. blind on the first one and Blind and klaassen on the second one. i just don’t see the logic in your statement. in other words what you are saying is Timber would have covered every inch of the ground, out of his position and prevented both goals.

          secondly looks like you have changed you mind on Rensch. all of a sudden he is not good. that decision to start him backfired.

          lastly Timber has some good attributes as a CB but he aint no monster. still young and like others. only time will tell how good he can get. remember tete when he first broke into Ajax first team. he also was robust and standout. look what happened to him.

          1. You got it wrong wilson…Blind and klassen was watching,
            3.TIMBER Is a monster,his attacking ability is sensational..
            when mazeroui was on feild ajax was raiding opponenet half..with Timber they would find gaols i am sure..Timber has 1000 times better than Tete..(do not joke by comparing him with Tete)
            tete is just another Bakker..

          2. I dont wanna drag this as every team loses on a certain day but again you are not making an logic. ” would have outscored the oponent” how can you throw this argument when the likes of haller,Tadic and Anotny didnt have same impact in the game like they usually do.

            Fatigue could have been factor which can agreed upon given they played away at Benfica in CL and then played again in space of 3days. But to say that they lost because Timber didnt play is just another of your wild claims which again is biazzare as it sounds

            Then Mazzaouri is better than Dumfries. why bring Dumfries in the picture and everyone knows Rensch is not up to level of Mazzouri and thats why he sits on the bench. But then Ten Hag still started him over Mazzouri. What does this show?

  17. I don’t understand why Ten Hag plays Blind as goalie?? And in the striker role at the same time. That guy is so bad. Feyenoord lost against AZ and I think it was Blind’s fault as well!

      1. Good one Jan but as an Ajax fan who watches every game of my team I can tell you that Blind had a very bad game against Benfica where Rafa Silva picked him apart and he also struggled against GAE in the league game, to Blinds defense the whole team was bad against the Eagles Sunday with the exception of Martinez.

  18. @Wilson Ajax lost their defensive build up play with absense of Timber and Mazeroui,this will affect front trio as well…its logical..
    Mazeroui,Rensch and Dumfries all are left backs..so i compare them..Dumfries is playing for inter…But Mazeroui could walk in as starter in any big plastic money club…they guy is damn good..While rensch is pretty young and maturing..i always felt Mazeroui better than
    Dumfries. Dumfries starts for NT by pushing Rensch on bench..so how Rensch can surpass Mazeroui even though he is a sesnational talent.
    my concern about NT is Blind,Depay, and wijnaldum is disappearing ,Van de beek injured…We need a Solid left back,one Nijel De jong or Makalele/kante…i have gut feeling that Brobbey could fill in the boots of Depay..

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