THE START OF A NEW ERA?
Dolberg leads impressive Ajax generation
TEENAGE striker Kasper Dolberg has drawn comparisons with Zlatan Ibrahimovic and there are shades of the celebrated 1990s vintage in his youthful Ajax side that face Manchester United in today’s Europa League final.
Ajax lifted the Champions League in 1995 with a sophisticated brand of football played by the likes of young stars Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, and the De Boer brothers.
Nobody in the Dutch capital is saying that Peter Bosz’s side of 2017 are up to that level yet, but some are making comparisons because his is such a young Ajax team.
The coach recently named the youngest XI in the history of the Dutch league at an average age of barely 21.
There has been plenty of hype surrounding the 18-year-old winger Justin Kluivert, son of Patrick, the forward who scored the only goal in the 1995 Champions League final against AC Milan.
But the 19-year-old Dolberg is getting plenty of notice too — and the Dane does not have a famous name to rely on.
United forward Ibrahimovic, who is out of this week’s final in Stockholm with a serious knee injury, sprang to prominence as a young predator at Ajax.
Dolberg does not have the Swede’s hugely imposing frame, but he is no pushover either and is similarly fast making a name for himself in the Ajax red and white.
It has been a swift ascent for Dolberg, who was hardly known 12 months ago and only really made headlines in Europe with his two goals in the Europa League semifinal tie against Lyon.
“There are similarities with Zlatan,” said Bosz.
“Technically, and with his physical presence, and his ability to play with his back to goal.
There is indeed some
Zlatan in him.”
The senior Kluivert and the rest from 1995 inevitably ended up leaving Ajax for bigger clubs around Europe.
The Dutch side, for so long famed for their conveyor belt of young talent, know that their best players will be picked off.
If Dolberg bullies United like Ibrahimovic has bullied defences all over Europe during his career, the young Dane will also be off — and United have been linked with him.
Dolberg’s agent Jens Steffensen says the phone never stops ringing from interested clubs.
But Dolberg is under contract until 2021 and says he wants to stay in the Netherlands for another year to hone his game.
An impressive showing though in Stockholm would change that.
Dolberg, Kluivert and the others in this young Ajax side might however reflect they owe their coach at least another season.
Last year, when Ajax sold Polish striker Arkadiusz Milik to Napoli, Bosz put his faith in Dolberg to fill the void.
And Dolberg repaid his manager, hitting 16 league goals this season (22 in all competitions) and making his debut for his country.
Bosz’s commitment to youth, allied to Ajax’s run in Europe, will also inevitably bring him temptations away from Amsterdam.
The 53-year-old Dutchman is almost the antithesis of United opposite number Jose Mourinho, the arch pragmatist.
Bosz was a gritty midfielder as a player, in a career which included lifting the Eredivisie title with Feyenoord in 1993 and saw him capped by his country.
But as a coach he says winning is not enough, he wants his team to excite the fans too.
He made his name as boss at Vitesse Arnhem in 2013-2015 and has a fan in Mourinho.
But while Mourinho wants to win at all costs, Bosz has embraced the Ajax way of nurturing young talent to be confident and comfortable on the ball, something akin to the Dutch “total football” philosophy.
Bosz, who has a reputation as fiercely passionate and demanding, took over from Frank de Boer in 2016 and places great emphasis on recovering the ball as fast as possible — preferably within five seconds.
“My players are very young and have the physical abilities to exert such pressure,” he said.
Ajax’s Jairo Riedewald (left) and Vaclav Cerny train in Amsterdam ahead of their Europa League final against Manchester United in Stockholm today.