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Scouting: Looking at Jong Ajax for up-and-coming talents

Of all the youth academies in the world, the production train of Ajax Amsterdam has to be the world’s best. From top to bottom, the academy exemplifies the quality of Ajax’s coaching model. De Toekomst or The Future has produced talents like Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Frank De Boer, all of whom went to Barcelona in the past. More recently, they made talents like the ex-Tottenham Hotspurs centre-back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderwerield, Donny van de Beek who was transferred to Manchester United and Matthijs de Ligt who moved to Juventus

Furthermore, they are also promoting players from their academy to the first team at a relatively high rate. This includes players like Daley Blind and Ryan Gravenberch who play regularly for the first team. The club always focuses on these younger talents to promote them and give them regular chances to show their worth in the primary team in the Eredivisie and the Champions League.

In this data analysis, we will inspect players from the Ajax academy that can make it to the first team using their underlying data and statistics. We will also look at those that we believe can make it to world-class levels of talent to conquer the globe in times to come.

Methodology

To make this analysis, we need to set out the groundwork first. As Ajax II or Jong Ajax are the only available players on Wyscout, we will analyse those and find the best talents in that team in the 2019/20 season and compile a list with the best prospects at the end. 

Defending

Starting off from the back, we will look at how the players in this side fair in completing defensive duels. Defensive Duels take place when a player attempts to dispossess an opposition player to stop an attack from progressing. We will compare the number of defensive duels per 90 to the % success of said defensive duels:

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Clearly, as we can see, Enric Llansana is the best at defensive duels, attempting the most at 12.54. This is because, as the defensive midfielder in a 4-2-3-1, his job is to meet his opponent head-on to dispossess them and start a counter-attack or to build-up from the back. He also has a success rate of 57.6%. 

In terms of the success of defensive duels, nobody is higher than Raatsie. Even though he is the club’s goalkeeper, he shows his aggression when charging at the opponent in 1v1 situations to win the ball.

However, arguably the most balanced player on this chart above has to be Neraysho Kasanwirjo with 8.1 defensive duels per 90, which is higher than the average of the team. The most important part is his incredibly high success rate of 74% which is the second-highest at the club.

The next metric that is important while defending is measuring the aerial duels. Aerial duels are a mark of how good the player is in the air when battling it out against an opponent.

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Again, Kasanwirjo has attempted the most aerial duels at 4.98 compared to the team’s average of 2.6. Additionally, he also had the highest success rate of a whopping 80%. Other players of note here are Llansana and Van Gelderen. All three are defenders and indicate Ajax II’s defenders are aerially strong, which is backed up by the team performing 27.52 aerial duels per game, higher than most of the Eerste Divisie.

Finally, we will compare how the players rank in terms of blocked shots and interceptions. These statistics help us find out the players that are good at reading the game and how good their positioning is. 

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Once again, players like Kasanwirjo, Salah-Eddine and Rensch rank the highest in Ajax II for both shots blocked per 90 and Possession-Adjusted Interceptions. Terrence Douglas attempts the most PAdj Interceptions at 10.1 per game which is the highest for a full-back in the Eerste Divisie. Considering that he is a left-back, a lot of the play runs through him and it is imperial for him to intercept the ball quickly and start counter-attacks. The other full-backs: Kasanwirjo, Timber, Rensch, Salah-Eddine and Van Gelderen also rank very high in both metrics and this shows the role of the full-backs while defending. They have to intercept the long passes and through balls from the wing. 

The final defensive component that we will look at is about arguably the most important men in defence – the goalkeepers.

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We can compare the keepers with the dashboard above. In terms of clean sheets, Scherpen has maintained more clean sheets compared to Raatsie. Scherpen has also conceded fewer goals per 90 compared to his team-mate, Raatsie. Even though Scherpen is expected to concede 1.25 goals per game, he concedes only 1.19. On the other hand, Raatsie is expected to concede around 1.23 goals per game but concedes 1.50. This means that Raatsie concedes more than he is expected to while Scherpen concedes less. Finally, Scherpen has a higher save % of 71.2% to Raatsie’s 65.2%. So, it is clear here that Scherpen is the more superior keeper of the two of them. 

Playmaking and Creativity

The second component of our data analysis is the playmaking ability of the players at Ajax II. Ajax II as a whole contain great passers. Over the entire season, Jong Ajax attempted 497 passes per game which was the highest figure in the league. Additionally, they had the second-highest passing accuracy in the Eerste Divisie with 84.8%. The team also attempted 4.02 key passes per 90 (4th highest), 65.07 passes into the final third (2nd highest) and 90.1 progressive passes per game (The highest). Now, we will look at the individual player breakdown for the passing metrics. 

The first thing we will look at is the player’s ability to make progressions with either a pass or through a run. This gives us an idea of how advanced a player thinks when on and off-the-ball.

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The players in the bottom-right corner from the average line make a lot of progressive runs but fewer progressive passes while the players in the top-left make a lot of progressive passes but few progressive runs. The most progressive players in the team should be taken from the top-right section of the graph. The most progressive players in this side are Naci Ünüvar, Jurrien Timber and Kenneth Taylor. It is unsurprising that the defenders have the most progressive passes per game in this side while the striker has the least. This is because strikers are the most advanced players while defenders are at the back. 

In the entire side, Taylor attempts the most progressive passes at 12.6 per game while Timber attempts the most progressive runs at 3.38 per game. Kenneth Taylor’s progressive passes are surprisingly higher than all of his teammates’ even though he’s in midfield. This is because of the role of defensive midfielders in Jong Ajax. Taylor is strong at distributing the ball to the attacking midfielders and the striker by feeding passes to them in all directions. 

To further investigate the player’s attacking capabilities and prowess, we will compare the deep completions and passes into the final third. Deep completions are passes to the zone within 20 meters of the opponent’s goal that don’t include crosses.

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Once again, we see two players excelling in the previous graph showing up here as well: Ünüvar and Taylor. Ünüvar attempts the highest number of deep completions making 4.18 per 90. This might be due to his advanced attacking role compared to most of his teammates, and because he drops back to support his teammates for chance creation. This is also indicated by the fact that 37% of the chances created by Ajax II come from the left flank – where Ünüvar plays.

In terms of passes to the final third, Taylor ranks the highest in the league at 13.30 passes per 90. The majority of Taylor’s passes go to the strikers, considering that his role is to find passing lanes. Some other players like Timber and Salah-Eddine come close to the average line for deep completions while players like Rensch and Van der Sloot come close to the average for passes into the final third per 90.

Next, we will see the players that are the best at recycling possession by comparing the passes made per 90 and the accuracy of the passes below:

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The player that reigns supreme in this metric is Devyne Rensch. He attempts the most passes (80.13). Additionally, he also has the highest passing accuracy in the team with an accuracy of 95.4%. This means that Rensch attempts a lot of passes with a high success rate, which is not very frequent for a centre-back. This might be because Ajax use centre-backs for distributing the ball when playing out from the back, and thus require their defenders to be great passers. This is exemplified by the fact that the next player on the list, Nordin Musampa, is also a centre-back. He attempts 72.7 passes per 90 and does so with an accuracy of 90.7%. 

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We can see why the centre-backs need to be proficient in passing the ball above. The passing network above allows the viewer to understand the connections between players on each side. The darker and thicker the lines, the more the number of passes between them. Out of eight of the bold lines, seven involve the centre-back. This means that the centre-backs need to be supreme in passing the ball to the defensive midfielders and full-backs.

Now we will compare the dribbles per 90 and their success for each player. It is important to be a good dribbler as dribbling and flair are required to break down well-structured defences that passing cannot.

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The players to the right of the average dribbles per 90 are of key interest here. Some specific ones are Naci Ünüvar, Sontje Hansen and Terrence Douglas. In the entire side, Hansen attempts the most dribbles at 7.22 per 90. He also has a 50.5% success rate as an attacking midfielder, meaning that he attempts a lot of dribbles and wins half of them. 

In terms of dribble success, Kasanwirjo tops the list with a success rate of 71%. This is not indicative of great dribbling skill as he doesn’t attempt as many dribbles as most of his teammates. 

The final creativity metric that we will be looking at is offensive duels. Offensive duels are ground duels for players in possession of the ball. We will be comparing the players based on the offensive duels attempted and the percentage of offensive duels won. 

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Some of the players we identified in the previous viz comparing dribbles show up here as well: Ünüvar and Hansen. Another player who shows up surprisingly well is Brian Brobbey. The striker attempts the most offensive duels at 15.17 but also has the lowest success rate of 31.2%. This shows that Brobbey has the right attacking intent as he attempts a lot of offensive duels. However, he needs to improve his raw talent to ensure that he completes more of them. Sontje Hansen has more success with offensive duels and provides a good balance of attempting and completing offensive duels, engaging in 12.6 offensive duels and completing 41.1% of them. 

The best player in this metric is Kenneth Taylor, who is the only one above the average line for both categories. The defensive midfielder attempts 6.90 offensive duels and wins 49.6% of them. The most successful player in terms of offensive duels is Rensch, however. He attempts few offensive duels per game at 2.11 but wins 57.2% of them.

Attacking

Now, we will look at the attacking metrics to find the best attackers on this team. The importance of attackers is obvious: goalscoring and chance creation. The first metrics that we will compare is the actual goals scored of the players to their expected goals scored. 

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The three players that we will look at are Brobbey, Hansen and Regeer. Ajax II’s highest goalscorer is Brian Brobbey. The Dutchman has 0.92 goals per 90 while having an xG of 0.80. This means that he scores 0.12 goals more per 90 than expected and that is a mark of a good goalscorer. If Brobbey can keep up his good goal-scoring rate, he can become an able goalscorer and a good replacement for Lassina Traore or Zakaria Labyad. 

The next player we will look at is the versatile Youri Regeer. He has an xG of 0.26 and scores 0.41 goals per 90. But after the arrival and flourishing of the Brazilian Giovanni, Regeer might have to rotate more due to increased competition. The final player we will look at is Sontje Hansen. He has come up previously for his dribbling and offensive duels, and he shows up now as well. Hansen has the largest positive difference between expected goals and goals scored, scoring 0.68 goals with an xG of 0.42 and shows himself to be the most prolific finisher in the team.   

The final metric we will be looking at is measuring the attacking output of each player. This is done by comparing the player’s expected goals and expected assists per game. This gives us a good indicator of the expected performance of each player. A combined xG + xA of around 0.6 should be considered great output for players at this level.

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Brian Brobbey leads the way with a total xG and xA of 0.92. The Dutchman gets into goal-scoring opportunities very well and sets up his teammates in good opportunities too. Sontje Hansen is next with a combined xG and xA of 0.76. His output is more balanced in terms of xA and xG with an expected assists value of 0.34 and an expected goals value of 0.42. 

The Shortlist

We have seen a large number of comparisons in this data analysis and using all of the players we have seen, we will construct a shortlist of players in each broad position.

1. Kjell Scherpen

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Above, we can see Scherpen’s statistics as the goalkeeper of Ajax II. He outperformed Raatsie in almost every metric for a goalkeeper and we can see his stats above. Exits per 90 indicate the aggression and attacking mentality of the goalkeeper. Scherpen ranks 8th in the league for this particular metric. He also concedes the 5th least goals per game in the league while facing the 11th most shots in the league. However, due to the general solidity of Ajax II’s defence, he needs to pull off fewer saves (6th lowest in the league).

Scherpen is also good at passing the ball around when distributing to the centre-backs or playing long balls upfront. He makes 24 passes per game with a success rate of 82%. Additionally, he attempts 9.21 long balls with a success rate of 60%. 

2.  Jurrien Timber

Jurrien Timber is a prolific player that is versatile at playing as a right centre-back or right-back. We can see his stats below:

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Timber is an attacking full-back that also excels at playing as a ball-playing defender. He attempts 10.7 progressive passes per 90, which ranks amongst the top 50 in the league. Additionally, he makes 3.75 progressive runs, meaning that he leads the Ajax II side in that metric. Timber excels in making defensive duels, which is vital for a full-back in a side like Ajax. He also shows his attacking mentality as he attempts a lot of passes into the final third and lots of dribbles as well. 

3. Kenneth Taylor

Kenneth Taylor is a defensive midfielder that can play on the left or right of a double pivot. He is a midfielder with an excellent passing range and is integral to Ajax II’s build-up play. We can see his stats below:

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As we can see above, Kenneth Taylor makes the most progressive passes in the Ajax II side at 9.33 per 90. Additionally, he is the only player in the team that is above average for offensive duels attempted and success of offensive duels. In terms of passes into the final third, Taylor ranks top of the league in this regard, showing his ability in creating chances for the rest of his teammates. For his age level, his creativity and control on the ball, along with his vision and press-resistance, make him an optimal midfielder in a double pivot.

4.  Sontje Hansen

The final player that we will look at is Sontje Hansen, the attacker from Ajax II. He won the top scorer in the Under-17 World Cup in 2019 and has shown his individual brilliance over the season. We can see his statistics below:

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Hansen has various strengths as we can see above. The main one is his dribbling, and as we saw above, he attempts the most dribbles in this Ajax II side at 5.88. Hansen also engages in the second-most offensive duels after Brobbey. He is strong at off-the-ball movement and finds himself in good positions to score. Paired up with his lethal finishing, Sontje Hansen is definitely an attacker to watch out for in the future. 

Conclusion

After this thorough analysis, we have shortlisted four players that I believe have the potential to be great players. Ajax fans can especially be excited for Sontje Hansen, who has shown his potential and unreal talent from time to time. Taylor’s passing skills means that he is a good long-term replacement for when the other Ajax midfielders leave the club. Seeing keepers like Onana are repeatedly linked to clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, it is worth looking from within to promote Scherpen. Timber’s versatility in defence should come up handy when Nicolás Tagliafico inevitably leaves Ajax Amsterdam.

Although data analysis doesn’t give us a complete view of the player’s quality, it is a good starting point to find the best world-class talents. De Toekomst’s unreal talent production factory shows that Ajax will remain self-sufficient for a long time.