Ajax prodigy Riechedly Bazoer justifies Barcelona, Arsenal interest
Arsenal and Barcelona are among the top European clubs keeping tabs on the progress of Ajax midfielder Riechedly Bazoer, who, at 19, is already a regular in the midfield of the side that currently top the Eredivisie table.
Born in Utrecht to parents from the Caribbean island of Curacao, Bazoer began his career at the small local club USV Elinkwijk, where he was spotted by a scout from PSV Eindhoven at the age of 9. He spent six years in their academy but eventually became frustrated at being pigeonholed as a central defender, and elected to seek out a new club. He heeded his mother's advice in turning down interest from Manchester City to instead join Ajax.
"I have chosen Ajax because I think I will become a better footballer here," he said at the time, and it is a move that has certainly worked out for him.
He quickly caught the eye of the first-team staff with his performances for Jong Ajax, with their then-coach Alfons Groenendijk regularly discussing his progress with head coach Frank de Boer and assistant Dennis Bergkamp, and was involved in their preseason preparations for the 2013-14 season.
Bazoer's official debut came a year later in October 2014 in a 4-0 win away to Urk in the Dutch Cup. His league bow followed in December, and from the turn of the year onward a series of impressively assured midfield performances saw the then-18-year-old hold down a regular spot in De Boer's starting XI. He scored his first goal with a well-taken volley against Twente in February, and then signed a new deal through 2020 in April.
The young midfielder began the current campaign as first-choice and despite a few under-par displays has generally performed very well for the current league leaders.
He was rewarded with a call-up to the Netherlands national team for the first time in October, having previously represented his country at every age level from under-15 upward, and made the briefest of debuts as a late substitute in the 3-2 friendly win away to Wales last month.
Bazoer is a talented and versatile midfielder with a potent blend of physical and technical attributes that allow him to contribute to all facets of the game and which have drawn comparisons to the likes of compatriots Clarence Seedorf and Frank Rijkaard. On a more contemporary level, there are shades of Paul Pogba in his smoothness in possession.
- Strong, athletic and composed
- Intelligent in his positioning and movement
- Links well with teammates
- Room for improvement in aerial duels
- Lack of goal threat
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Tackling: A decent tackler, although it's his athleticism and ability to defuse potentially dangerous situations with good positioning that are his primary defensive strengths.
Marking: Not usually tasked with man-to-man marking duties but is comfortable controlling the space in front of the defence when asked to play in a more conservative midfield role.
Heading: Wins about half of his aerial duels but should be more effective given that he stands at 6-foot and has the necessary strength to hold off competing challenges. Needs to work on the timing of his leaps.
Close control: His first touch is generally quite neat, and although the ball does occasionally get away from him, he is usually able to retain possession with a mixture of good strength and skillful manipulation of the ball. A smooth and deceptively powerful dribbler when carrying the ball forward through midfield. Sometimes takes unnecessary risks when taking on opponents in deeper areas.
Passing: Links well with teammates in close quarters and is capable of the odd nicely weighted pass in behind. Has the necessary strength and composure to hold the ball just that little moment longer in order to ensure his eventual pass can be taken in stride by a fast-arriving teammate. Shows good awareness of the positioning of those around him. A bit sloppy at times, but nothing to be overly concerned about at this stage.
Positioning: Positions himself well to break up play or cut off passing lanes in the defensive phase. In attack, he moves intelligently into little pockets of space to facilitate the forward movement of the ball, and makes the odd well-timed run into the channels or late into the area. Well versed in the movements of the Ajax system.
Crossing: Ajax are not a side who put a great number of crosses into the area, and Bazoer usually looks to pick out an arriving teammate on the edge of the area or otherwise link infield when he does pop up in the channels. Attempts less than one cross per match on average, with the majority failing to find a teammate.
Finishing: With just three league goals to his name across 64 league appearances for Ajax's first and second teams, it is clear that Bazoer doesn't currently offer much of a goal threat. His medium-range shooting is, however, something that he has been working on closely with the Ajax coaching staff in a bid to improve his record, and he has shown himself to be capable of striking the ball cleanly and powerfully on occasion.
What the experts say
Ajax coach Frank de Boer: "I see him as a major force in the future of Ajax and Dutch football."
Ex-Ajax reserve coach Alfons Groenendijk: "I see him as the future Patrick Vieira of Ajax. He is tall, has a beautiful style of play and is a true athlete. I am confident that he will get stronger and reach the top."
Bazoer looks to have a very productive future ahead of him. He is a confident character -- "I believe in myself and I'm not afraid of anybody" -- but also one who is determined to make the right choices in order to progress as a footballer. Arsenal have reportedly had him scouted on numerous occasions, while Barcelona are another of the various teams keeping close tabs on his progress, yet he appears content to stay put at Ajax for now.
The 19-year-old is a highly versatile player. He started as a centre-back and can fill in at full-back if required, but it is in midfield -- either sitting or in a box-to-box role -- that he looks most comfortable. He has all of the base attributes of a top-level player but must refine his strong points and work hard to eradicate his weaknesses in order to produce the consistently decisive performances that will be expected of him in a more demanding league.
Steered correctly, Bazoer has the talent go all the way. Given another few years of regular game time and development at Ajax, he is a player whom all of Europe's top sides will likely be keen to make theirs once he eventually decides the time is right to move on.
Nick Dorrington is a freelance football writer. Twitter: @chewingthecoca.