THE START OF A NEW ERA?

Dol­berg leads im­pres­sive Ajax gen­er­a­tion

New Straits Times - - Sport -

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.

AFP PIC

Ajax’s Jairo Riede­wald (left) and Va­clav Cerny train in Am­s­ter­dam ahead of their Europa League fi­nal against Manch­ester United in Stock­holm today.

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