Ajax have one of the most famous youth academies in the world. When they won the Champions League in 1995 they did so with many graduates such as Davids, Kluivert, Reiziger, van der Sar, Seedorf and the de Boer brothers. 22 years on and Ajax are on the verge of reaching another European final. Comparisons are being made to the famous side of the mid 90s due to the 2016/17 team being young, exciting and containing many graduates from their academy.

In March one of their graduates, Matthijs de Ligt, was called up for the first time in the Netherlands squad. Whilst to many it may have come as a surprise when Danny Blind named the 17-year-old in his squad, the defenders development this season has been incredible.

He only made his debut for Ajax last September in a cup game against Willem II. De Ligt scored after 25 minutes from a corner, making him the second ever youngest scorer in the club’s history. It wasn’t until the following month that he was promoted to the senior squad from Jong Ajax. However, he had to wait until November before making his league debut in a 1-0 win over Heerenveen. Since then the defender has become a regular for Peter Bosz and he has performed extremely well for a player of his age.

De Ligt is an elegant two-footed central defender. He is dominant in the air, physically strong and is a fine distributor of the ball, which means that he can play out from the back. This has drawn comparisons with former academy graduate, Jan Vertonghen.

There is doubting that he is one of the biggest talents to emerge from the Netherlands in recent years. Ajax will be hoping that he continues his development in Amsterdam and forms the bedrock of their defence for years to come.



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World football has been split in two by a rather strange schism, one which is should fall apart at the seams but has developed into an argument with two very definite sides. It appears that those who watch the game must decide whether they want to see success, or be entertained, with both apparently inconceivable.

Money has tainted the beautiful game’s image in many ways, most potently the demand for results, but it will never be completely compatible with business. By the same token, there would be something very wrong if football mirrored theatre. The growth of this division has been so great that a myth has etched its way to the very core of the sport. It is widely accepted that chasing victory means leaving entertainment behind and playing very directly, starving creative players of the limelight, while a pleasing style of football, full of pace, technique and ability, usually results in an empty trophy cabinet.

Johan Cruyff, Holland, Ajax and arguably Barcelona’s most memorable representative, was both an advocate and proof that neither extreme was true. The Dutchman, who tragically died earlier this year, became something of a public voice for the art of ‘total football’, a style based around ball possession devised in his playing days which he honed and utilised in his managerial career with both his hometown club, Ajax Amsterdam, and the Blaugrana.

That philosophy became ingrained in the clubs, forming an identity for both, and their countries of origin, too. Few teams have produced success to rival either at different times in their respective histories, showing just what can be achieved when football is played in the ‘correct’ manner.

His ideas became bigger and have lasted ever since. Cruyff’s coaching career took him from Ajax to Barcelona in 1988 and he stayed at the Camp Nou until 1996. His impact on the Catalan giants is still making waves today, in both levels of success and style of play, while Ajax have also stayed true, but failed to maintain their European superclub status. In truth, they haven’t hit the heights since lifting the Champions League a year before Cruyff departed Barcelona and cut ties with the game he did so much for.

Back in 1995, Louis van Gaal was in charge at the Amsterdam Arena and, while he and Cruyff didn’t particularly see eye to eye, they shared similar ideas on how football should be played. Ajax’s youth academy, much like that at Barcelona, has become famous for the number of quality players produced over the years, something the consistent teachings of Cruyff had a huge impact on. That team, which included the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and Patrick Kluivert, has gone down in history, partly because of its own greatness, but also because they have come nowhere near repeating their success since.

It was a goal by the 18-year-old Kluivert, a substitute on the night, that won the final, beating AC Milan in Vienna. It should have been the beginning of something great, a dynasty the type of which they enjoyed years before, but football was changing and the financial aspect was beginning to take hold. Clubs from more illustrious countries threatened to pick apart the team like vultures over the ensuing seasons. Nothing could be done to stop it.

Italian football was at it’s peak back then, so it was no surprise to see the spine of Van Gaal’s young squad make the switch to Serie A. Kluivert was snapped up by Milan, as was Davids, while Van Der Sar joined Juventus and Seedorf signed for Sampdoria.

Kluivert and Davids never found their feet at the San Siro, they would do so elsewhere, the striker in Catalonia and the distinctive midfielder at Juve, while Seedorf would later spend over a decade with the Rossoneri, becoming the only player to win the Champions League with three different clubs after triumphs in 2003 and 2007 and Real Madrid in 1998.

Looking through the history books, it would be hard to call Barcelona a bigger club than Ajax, despite their differing fortunes of late. But one club has been able to build on the philosophy laid in place by Cruyff better than the other as time has moved on. Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique and Victor Valdes, who lifted the Champions League trophy with Barça in 2009 and 2011, under another Cruyff disciple Pep Guardiola, all enjoyed the best years of their careers together.

Whether Ajax would have achieved more had they kept the likes of Kluivert and Seedorf for longer will forever remain a question unanswered, but what can be said is they had the makings of a special team, the like of which unlikely to be seen again for a long time in Amsterdam. Total football merged with a winning mentality, proving it isn’t always a choice of either or.

About the author – Harry De Cosemo

Harry is a European football writer specialising in English, Spanish ad Italian football. He has worked for a number of top publications including MARCA in English, uMAXit football, FourFourTwo and The Press Association.

twitter: @harrydecosemo


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When Ajax crashed out of the final Champions League qualification round at the hands of Rostov, there was a mini uproar that striker Kasper Dolberg didn’t start either game. This may come as a surprise when you take into account that he is only 18-years-old and has only played 229 minutes of competitive football for the Dutch giants. However, in the absence of Arkadiusz Milik who has recently signed for Napoli, the Ajax fans are looking towards the extremely talented forward to be their new No9 and lead the line during the 2016/17 season.

Kasper Dolberg was spotted by Ajax scout, John Steen Olsen, whist playing in a youth tournament in Denmark. Director of Football, Marc Overmars, stated that Olsen insisted on his signing and the club acted swiftly to secure his transfer from Silkeborg. It’s worth noting that Olsen is Ajax’s Scandinavian scout. The same scout who discovered talents like Zlatan Ibrahimović, Christian Eriksen and Viktor Fischer.

Despite being injured for parts of the 2015/16 season, Dolberg scored 8 goals for the Ajax U19s and made an instant impression. New Ajax manager, Peter Bosz, promoted the 18-year-old to the first team this summer. He was duly rewarded when the striker scored on his debut against PAOK and then followed it up with a brace on his league debut against Roda JC.

Dolberg is an extremely versatile forward who can play across the front-line. Although he is comfortable out wide, with him being 6″1, his future surely lies in the middle of the park as a No9. He is skillful on the ball and has great technical ability. This helps with his dribbling as he likes to run at his opponents using his pace. Despite his tender years he looks very experienced and also works very hard off the ball.

Ajax have never been shy giving young forwards a chance. When given the opportunity, the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Luis Suárez have shone. Their fans will be hoping that he follows in their footsteps. It looks like Dolberg will cement his place in the team during the course of the season and then it is up to him to grasp his chance and become the next great Ajax No9.

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Colombia’s Achilles heel since the retirement of Mario Yepes after the 2014 World Cup, has been the lack of quality central defenders. At the Copa América Centenario, Colombia’s first choice in the heart of of defence is Stefan Medina and Cristián Zapata. However, there is a lack of options in case either of them pick up a suspension or an injury.

It was thought that Éder Álvarez Balanta was the next in-line to become Colombia’s new rock at the heart of defence. However, the River Plate defender is now 23 and hasn’t progressed into the centre-half that many thought he’d become. Therefore it has come as no surprise that the stories linking him to some of Europe’s top clubs such as Barcelona aren’t appearing any more.

So who is the next Colombian defender who is destined for greatness?

Atlético Nacional reached the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores and their team had included several highly rated youngsters such as Davinson Sánchez and Marlos Moreno. This resulted in numerous scouts attending their games looking to bring the next big talent from South America over to Europe.

Barcelona agreeed a fee of €3.5M for Davinson Sánchez but when he discovered their intention was for him to train with the first team but play for Barça B in Spain’s third tier, he turned down the move.

It now looks like the 20-year-old is set to join Dutch giants Ajax for €5M after they fought off competition from Basel. This seems like a sensible step for the defender as Ajax are world renowned for developing talented young players. Ajax have also signed striker Mateo Casierra and having a fellow Colombian in Amsterdam should help Davinson Sánchez settle.

With Ajax looking to sell defenders Mike van der Hoorn and Ricardo van Rhijin, there should be plenty of opportunities for Davinson Sánchez to showcase his talent on a regular basis. If he impresses enough  in the Eredivisie then there is no reason why Barcelona wouldn’t come back in for him as he would be more proven and experienced at European level.

Davinson Sánchez is still uncapped for Colombia but he is a regular for their U23 national side that is set to feature in this Summers Olympics in Rio. It’s only a matter of time before he becomes a regular name in the full national team.


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The first player to emerge from Egypt this millennium and make his mark on Europe was Ahmed Hossam Hussein Abdelhamid, better known as Mido. He is probably the most famous Egyptian export of the noughties. He played his trade in the Pro League, Eredivisie, Ligue 1, La Liga, Serie A and the Premier League.

Despite playing in some of Europe’s top leagues and for an array of glittering clubs, including Ajax, Marseille, Roma and Tottenham Hotspur, the talented striker never reached his full potential due to a combination of injuries and clashes with both players and managers. He retired at the age of 30 after being released by Barnsley.

Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Elneny are the new of wave of Egyptians. They are both making their mark on the European stage for Roma and Arsenal respectively. However, they were both scouted and signed by Basel who are ahead of competition in the Egyptian market. The Swiss side have already confirmed the signing of Zamalek right-back Omar Gaber and are also wanting to sign his teammate, Mostafa Fathi.

The Swiss giants have watched the Zamalek prodigy, Mostafa Fathi, numerous times this season, and a club delegate was in the stands on Thursday to watch the Egyptian international against Petrojet. During the January transfer window both Inter and Empoli showed interest in the winger but no concrete offer materialised.

The 22-year-old came under the spotlight after his outstanding performances helped the Cairo giants win the domestic double last season. The left-footed winger, who plays as in inverted winger on the right flank, scored the winning goal on his debut against legendary keeper Essam El Hadry.  Not only did this help to establish himself as a fan favorite, but it also earned him the nickname of El Safel (The Immoral) because of the way he humiliates defenders and keepers with his skill on a regular basis.

Fathi’s Nigerian teammate, Moruf Yusyf, has said that he’s more dangerous than Roma’s Mohamed Salah. His former manager, Mido, has also praised the talented winger, saying that he’s one of the most talented players he has ever seen. This praise is justified. Fathi floats past defenders with his blistering pace and he’s left many defenders trailing in his wake. He has quick feet and outstanding agility. Playing as an inverted winger he cuts inside on a regular basis causing all sorts of problems for the defence. Due to having the ability to shoot with both feet, he is a constant threat to keepers.

Whether or not Basel follow up their initial interest in him, it’s only a matter of time before there’s another Egyptian making headlines in Europe.


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He has scored 16 goals this season, he’s 1.86 metres tall, he’s Polish, he has great shooting and finishing ability: he may not be Lewandowski, but at 22 years-old he has the potential to be considered amongst the best strikers in Europe.

Milik has developed into a hot prospect since signing for Ajax and he is continuing to show all of the qualities needed to be a top striker for many years to come. His former teams Bayer Leverkusen and Augsburg didn’t believe in him. And two seasons later he is proving them wrong, having just scored against PSV, in the match between two Dutch giants, putting Ajax in pole position to claim the Eredivisie title.

He’s predominantly an old-style centre forward, however he does possess the technical qualities and versatility to shine in the modern game. He is physically imposing and is a great aerial talent. Not only is he a threat in the air, but he has also scored a number or great volleys.  He has wonderful finishing and passing ability and has contributed 16 goals and 8 assists this season in the Eredivisie. He also displays  good positioning and teamwork,  and is not afraid to help his team defend. An outstanding player for his fair play too: referees have shown to him just 3 yellow card this season.

His only weakness is his mentality: he’s composed and brave, but he has to be more aggressive, to improve his ball stealing qualities and tackling. He could develop some technical attributes such as his free kicks and long range passing, however the main qualities of his role are at his disposal.

Finding the right striker in Soccer Manager to spearhead your attack is crucial

At the age of 20, he outperformed what the former Ajax strikers Ibrahimovic and Suarez did at the same age, proving his fantastic qualities as a forward. Now the rumours about a transfer to Inter Milan are very persistent, assuming, as expected Mauro Icardi moves on to pastures new: would Milik be the ideal replacement? In the recent past Arsenal and Leicester scouted him too.

Don Balòn put him in the best talent list for 2015: as with a lot of Ajax youngsters who have risen from Netherlands’ best academy (and one of Europe’s best too).

Milik has been called by the Polish National team and joined Lewandowski in a sensational attacking duo. He first played for the national team in 2012 at the age of  19 years old. Since then he has played 22 matches and scored 10 goals. This year we’ll surely see him in Euro 2016: in his group are the World Champions (Germany), Ukraine and North Ireland. He has a great chance to show his talent and will be helped by some top players such as Lewandowski, Krychowiak and Blaszczykowski.

He’s young, still underrated and it’s only a matter of time before he will be considered amongst the best forwards in Europe. His qualities as a classical forward mixed with his modern football technical qualities mean he could be the perfect transfer target for an Italian or English team.

At the age of 22, he is ready to play in a top team, although as pointed out he is nowhere near the finished article and has to improve some aspects of his game. Will he stay and continue his development at Ajax or seek a new challenge sooner.  For example, Luis Suarez was 24 when he decided to leave the Dutch giants for the Premier League, in order to complete his development. Zlatan Ibrahimovic decided instead to part from the team at the same age that Milik is now. Which choice would be the best one for the Polish young star? Of course he looks more like Ibrahimovic for his qualities, but may Suarez choice be the best for Arkadiusz?

Good luck for your career, Milik!

About the author – Marco Santanche

Marco was born in Rome and supports Inter because of Luiz Nazario da Lima Ronaldo. He is a Brazilian citizen because of his father’s roots. He played futsal for several years, even in the FIGC (Italian FA) as a winger, playmaker and striker. He is now studying for a degree in finance.



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This weekend Zlatan Ibrahimović scored four goals to help PSG seal the Ligue 1 title after a 9-0 demolition of Troyes. It’s the Parisians 4th league title in a row and it looks like that run will continue into the foreseeable future. It was also Zlatan’s 13th title in the past 15 seasons. This is a remarkable achievement and this success has come at 6 different clubs. In terms of domestic competition, simply put, there has been no more successful player than Zlatan since the term of the millennium.

Although he failed to win the Allsvenskan in his teenage years with Malmö, his first league title came at the age of 20 when Ajax won the 2001-02 Eredivisie. Another Eredivisie title followed in 2003-04 before he joined Juventus after the Euros. He went on to win two consecutive Serie A titles in 2004-05 and 2005-06 but the Italians were later stripped of these due to their involvement in the match-fixing scandal. Juventus were relegated to Serie B due to their involvement and Zlatan transferred to Inter.

Developing youth players in Soccer Manager Multiplayer (Worlds) is key

Inter emerged as the new powerhouse of Italian football after the match-fixing scandal and Zlatan went on to win three consecutive titles prior to transferring to Spanish giants Barcelona in 2009. The Swede only stayed in Catalonia for one season before returning to Italy on loan in 2010. However, in his one season in La Liga he won yet another title.

In his first season back in Italy he helped Milan secure their first Serie A title in 7 years. This was Zlatan’s eight domestic title in a row. He then joined the club on a permanent transfer but 2011-12 ended with no league medal for the first time in 9 years. Zlatan than joined PSG and helped them to end their 19 year drought as the Parisians won the 2012-13 Ligue 1 title. PSG followed up this success with two further titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15 and have just wrapped up their fourth consecutive title with 8 games to spare.

The Swede is out of contract this Summer and said jokingly that he would only stay if the club replace the Eiffel Tower with a statue of him. This isn’t likely to happen and it looks like the serial title winner has made his mind up and will leave the French capital in the coming months.


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Podcasts, forums, opinion articles and talk shows almost always clash over the standards of todays defending. Are attackers simply much better than they were a decade ago when Italian Serie A sides were disappointed to let one goal in. Do attackers get the benefit of the doubt for big decisions? Or are defenders simply getting worse? Many would argue that defending has simply changed; no longer are tackles from behind allowed. The modern defender must rely on speed, power, ariel presence. But most importantly with the possession based football that has emerged over the past 5 years, be able to distribute from the back outwards.

These five talents from all corners of the globe demonstrate all of the key areas needed to become a top centre-back on a regular basis. Although, only time will tell if they will have glittering careers like Maldini, Nesta and Cannavaro before them, but their first steps to stardom have been impressive ones.

Eder Alvarez Balanta – River Plate

Balanta will be a familiar name to many, a player that almost always pops up on this type of list. But that is because he has yet to fulfil his massive potential. At only 22 years of age the 6″1 Colombian seems to have been around for a number of years and was tipped to have a bright future in the very opening stages of his career, but injuries have curtailed his progression. He has been on the treatment table so much that he has only made 51 senior appearances for River and 6 at international level for Colombia.  Despite his extensive injury list, Balanta is blessed with pace, power and skill – so much so that he drew early comparisons to Colombian legend Daniel Passarella. Couple that with ariel prowess and fine balance Balanta seems destined for the top – if only he could stay injury free.

Jeison Murillo – Internazionale

Another Colombian, Murillo recently secured the first big money move of his career joining Roberto Mancini’s Internazionale for €8m. Murillo comes from similar stock to Balanta – fast, powerful and with delicate feet he impressed greatly for Granada last season despite the Andalusian’s finishing in 17th position. Although there lies a streak of naivety in Murillo’s game current Colombia coach Jose Peckerman has unmatched trust in his ability and used him extensively in this years Copa America. Murillo impressed so much that he was voted into the Team of the Tournament and scooped the aware for the Best Young Player at the tournament. What may be even sweeter was his game winning goal against Brazil in their 2-0 win.

Eric Bertrand Bailly – Villarreal

A €5,7m transfer from Espanyol last January, Bailly has transformed himself into an ever present for the side from Vila-Real. As El Submarino Amarillo have raced up to the heights of La Liga, the Ivorian has impressed with his speed, strength and will to win. Made his tournament, and international, debut at this year’s African Nations Cup and impressed, shoring up an area of the Ivorian team that was deemed to be the weakest. Although Bailly has gained many plaudits, he remains somewhat of a diamond in the rough – his decisions and distribution need work for him to become a top-level central defender.

Jairo Riedewald – Ajax Amsterdam

Another Dutch player with Surinamese heritage, Riedewald was capped in the senior side at a mere 18 years of age after impressing for Holland’s most successful club. As far as comparisons go, Riedewald has been compared to some greats; Koeman and Rijkaard most notably. Many see the youngster captaining the national team in the future. But first, steps must be taken to hone his game at club level. Although impressive in many areas, Riedewald’s earliest forays into the professional game before the departures of Nicolas Moisander and Stefano Denswil shifted him into a central position – as such his ariel game is nowhere near as good as his distribution. As with any Ajax bred defender, Riedewald is exceptional with both feet and can start attacks from his base at the heart of Ajax’s central pairing.

Niklas Süle – Hoffenheim

In a time where the Bundesliga is producing a magnificent crop of defenders, Süle is surely one to look out for. At 6″4 there are not many players who appear as intimidating as the young German, but what many people underestimate about Süle is his footballing brain. Aggressive defending something that the Bundesliga has become known for since it’s revamped fast-flowing counter attacking style came to prominence with the rise of Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern, but Süle’s reading of the game is magnificent. His anticipation is second to none, and he often tops the charts for interceptions per game, averaging at 2.2 last season. As good with his feet as he is with his head, Süle is one of the more complete ‘modern’ defenders and like Jairo Riedewald, is more than adept at distributing from the back. Surely destined for the top with his impressive performances.

About the Author – Ben Jarman

Freelance football writer with a penchant for Spanish and European football. Work published by Fulham FC, Italian FA and the Evening Standard.

Twitter: @sonikkicks


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After a summer of high profile departures, including Memphis Depay, Jordy Clasie and Jesus Corona we have had six weeks of action in the Eredivisie, with a new crop of players already taking the league by storm.

Below are five of the outstanding performers so far this season

Anwar El Ghazi – Ajax

Last season fans of the Eredivisie got to witness the rise of Memphis Depay from PSV winger to Dutch superstar, and it now seems to be the turn of Anwar El Ghazi to take the league by storm. The 20-year-old Ajax winger has started the season in outstanding form, netting seven goals in six games for the league league leaders to propel himself to the top of the goal-scoring charts.

A direct and pacey attacker, El Ghazi has tormented defences in the Eredivisie so far and has proved almost unstoppable when running at his opponents. Possessing excellent ball control, a fierce right foot, and aerial prowess, comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo have already been made, while Chelsea scout Piet de Visser has admitted the club are keeping tabs on his progress.

If El Ghazi keeps up his outstanding form this season then following in Memphis footsteps to the Premier League seem inevitable, but the big question in Netherlands is over his international preference, with the winger still undecided over whether to represent the nation of his birth, or Morocco.

Lars Veldwijk – PEC Zwolle

The tall striker returned to Netherlands on loan from Nottingham Forest after an unsuccessful year-long spell in England, but Veldwijk has started the season on fire with six goals in his last four games, including a hat-trick against his former club Excelsior.

PEC Zwolle were worried about their attack after losing Tomas Necid in the summer, but they have found his perfect replacement in Veldwijk, who’s goals have lifted the club to third in the table. Veldwijk doesn’t only possess good height and strength, he is also very accomplished with the ball at his feet, not only showing off good dribbling skills but his link up play and passing around the box especially with teammate Sheraldo Becker has been excellent.

With Nottingham Forest currently languishing in mid-table their fans must be wondering why Veldwijk wasn’t given his chance.

Oussama Tannane – Heracles Almelo

Heracles have been the surprise package of the season, with the club that battled against relegation last season currently sitting 2nd in the table after five wins in a row, including a 2-1 victory over champions PSV. Star of the show so far has been Oussama Tannane, who has inspired the club with his explosive talent on the right wing.

The 21-year-old had a difficult season last year after struggling with problems off the field, but now with these issues sorted out he seems to finally be fulfilling his endless potential. Tannane is an excellent dribbler of the ball, while his powerful left foot has seen him net five goals so far, including four in the 6-1 hammering of Cambuur.

If Tannane can keep his head down and focus on football then Heracles have a special talent on their hands, who could lead them to a more than comfortable season.

Luuk de Jong – PSV Eindhoven

After returning to the Eredivisie last summer De Jong enjoyed a magnificent season, netting twenty goals and adding eleven assists in the title winning campaign. The 25-year-old has continued that excellent form this season, with six goals in his opening six games.

With both Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum leaving before the start of the season, De Jong has been expected to step up and lead PSV, not only taking over the goal-scoring mantle but also the captain’s armband. So far De Jong has not let his side down and he is undoubtedly the most lethal striker in the league at the moment, with defences seemingly unable to deal with his movement in the box and aerial power.

There are even calls for De Jong to take over from Robin van Persie and Klaas jan Huntelaar in the Netherlands national team, and its hard to argue with that giving the former Borussia Monchngladbach and Newcastle United forwards form.

Jairo Riedewald – Ajax

One of the most exciting young talents in Dutch football, Riedewald has been outstanding this season after establishing himself in the centre back role alongside Joel Veltman, and the duo are currently part of the strongest defence in the Eredivisie, conceding only twice in six games.

Riedewald has played all along the backline and in midfield since making his debut for Ajax at 17 and uses all the aspects of those positions in his favoured role in the middle of defence. The 19-year-old is tall and good in the air like any good centre back should be, but he is also quick like a full back, and possesses the calmness on the ball of a seasoned midfielder. Stats of this season show that Riedewald has completed more passes than any other player in the league so far.

Already a part of the Dutch national team and earning comparisons to Frank Rijkaard, Riedewald’s rise to the top of the game shows no signs of slowing down.

About the author – Michael Bell
A freelance writer based in Edinburgh, Michael is the founder and editor of Football-Oranje, a website dedicated to all things Dutch football.

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It is truly remarkable that, following an incredible 1-0 win against the Netherlands in Amsterdam last week, tiny Iceland – which is home to just 323,000 people – sat at the summit of a Euro 2016 qualifying group containing the Dutch (population 16.8 million), Turkey (75 million), Czech Republic (10.5 million), Latvia (two million) and Kazakhstan (17 million).

Securing a 0-0 draw with the latter nation in Reykjavik on Sunday – the seventh time they have avoided defeat in eight qualification matches – confirmed Iceland’s place in France for what will be their debut appearance in a major international tournament next summer, an astonishing achievement for a side who were thrashed 7-1 by Slovenia and 4-0 by Romania in the mid-1990s.

Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson and former Chelsea and Barcelona star Eidur Gudjohnsen are the two most well-known members of the current squad, but Nantes striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson is among the most important. The 25-year-old was excellent against Danny Blind’s Netherlands outfit, leading the line expertly as Iceland picked up their greatest result of all-time.

Many observers claimed – somewhat harshly – that Sigthorsson’s display for his country last Thursday was the best he had ever played at the Amsterdam ArenA, his home stadium during a four-year spell at Ajax that began in 2011 and ended this summer.

It is fair to say that the frontman was unable to reach the level that illustrious predecessors such as Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp and Zlatan Ibrahimovic regularly hit, but his return of 31 goals in 80 league appearances for the Dutch giants was respectable enough.

Sigthorsson, though, certainly seems a better fit with his national side than he was with Ajax. Iceland made good use of his strength and aerial ability against the Netherlands, frequently hitting loan diagonals towards Sigthorsson, who generally held the ball up magnificently and brought his team-mates into play. As the hosts closed Iceland down high up the pitch early on, Sigthorsson represented the ideal outlet, allowing his side to go long and beat the Dutch press.

Bruno Martins Indi’s sending-off after 32 minutes altered the complexion of the encounter, handing Iceland a man advantage and the opportunity to enjoy longer spells of possession. When Sigurdsson buried a penalty early in the second half, the Netherlands were forced to push up the pitch and seek out an equaliser; target man Sigthorsson became increasingly important at holding onto the ball and providing relief to a defensive unit that may otherwise have come under siege.

The build-up to the decisive spot kick was probably the best example of the role the 25-year-old played until he was withdrawn in the 64th minute. A long pass forward was nodded down by Sigthorsson to midfielder Birkir Bjarnason, who pushed the ball past Gregory van der Wiel and drew a foul from the Paris Saint-Germain right-back.

The move to Nantes should help Sigthorsson, who thrives most when he is deployed as an out-and-out centre-forward and acts as a powerful, hard-working focal point for his team; while not ideally suited to Ajax’s methods and style of play, Sigthorsson is a perfectly competent striker who should prove his worth in Ligue 1 this term.

Three starts have yet to field a goal in France’s top flight, but the former AZ Alkmaar man has a big role to play for the side currently seventh in the early standings, just as he does for his country at the European Championship in nine months’ time.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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