A double Dutch delight has Oranje dreaming
As part of a Netherlands team that has risen from the depths of despair, Nathan Ake believes the future is bright, the future is Oranje. And his optimism and enthusiasm is understandable when you consider the young talent the Dutch now have at their disposal, including two players seemingly destined for greatness.
In defender Matthijs de Ligt, 19, and 21-year-old midfielder Frenkie de Jong, Bournemouth’s Ake says they have superstars in the making.
Coveted by Barcelona and Manchester City among many leading teams, the pair are set to leave Ajax for sums that could together top £120 million in the summer.
And Ake, 23, told Sport360°: “If they asked, I would say to come to the Premier League, it’s a very nice competition. But it’s up to them.
“I think they will do well in the Premier League. Both of them are very good. I think they can do really well because they are top players for sure.
“They have the potential to be world class, superstars, 100 per cent. I think everyone can see that. If you can play in the national team at that age and for Ajax every week then they must be good.
“Matthijs is very good, just 19-years old. To be captain of Ajax at that age, what he’s doing, and to play like this shows he’s a very good player.
“He’s got everything really, he’s calm on the ball, calm in defence, can defend one v one and is good in the air too. He’s got everything to be a top player.
“When we meet up he hasn’t asked me about the Premier League, but just how my club is doing, how I’m doing and I ask about him, just normal conversations.
“I’m not surprised people are talking about him and Frenkie. They are very good players, they show it every week in the league, and in the Champions League too, playing really well, so it’s normal that people are going to talk about them.
“At the youth levels in Holland they teach you to be confident on the ball, to play and both of them are doing that.
“Frenkie is quite chilled, but he’s fearless on the pitch. He goes out and does his thing, every time. He’s consistent and he’s a nice guy as well.
“What’s also good is they don’t worry about the pressure, they just go out and play. There is a lot of pressure on them outside, they are in the papers every day, but they don’t show that when they play in the games.”
The duo will also be central to the Netherlands’ bid for Nations League glory next June.
Stunning wins over France and Germany in the group saw them seal a semi-final meeting with England, a remarkable transformation of fortunes after they had failed to qualify for Euro 2016 and then the World Cup finals in Russia.
Ake says credit is also due to coach Ronald Koeman, who replaced ex-UAE boss Dick Advocaat in February.
“It was tough before, but the team is doing really well now, much better, as we have shown in the Nations League,” added the centre-back.
“The new coach has come in and done really well. He’s got the team really united and it’s been good so far and hopefully we can continue that in the future.”
Ake, who has 10 caps, will hope to play his part for the national team after an impressive start to the season that has also seen him linked with City, Manchester United and Tottenham.
Having joined the Cherries for £20m from Chelsea in 2017, he admits more first-team football has helped his progress and he relishes the challenge of facing the top teams, despite Saturday’s 3-1 loss at the Etihad to City.
“I’m really happy under this manager [Eddie Howe], he’s giving me games, showing faith and I’m learning a lot,” he added. “I’m playing more games, getting more experience and it’s been good. Tough games, like against City, is a good way for me to learn and to grow.”
He is also learning from Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk, whose Liverpool side visit Bournemouth on Saturday.
“Of course he is someone I admire and want to follow,” said Ake, who made his league debut for Chelsea at 17 after arriving from Feyenoord a year earlier.
“Virgil is a very good player and I look at him on the field to see what I can improve, what he does. I’m trying to take things from him, but also off the pitch.
“When you talk with him he’s very humble, very nice. In training sessions and in games, he’s always talking to you, to get you in the right positions and to prepare for those match situations, trying to get you ready. He’s become a leader for the national team.
“He’s a very good leader, the captain of our group and you can see how he pushes us and lifts us. You see what he did in the game against Germany, the way he helped us through to the semifinals with that equalising goal [in the 2-2 Nations League draw]. He’s a top player.”
Van Dijk’s Reds will pose another tough test for Ake, but he says they will learn from the loss at City.
“They are very ruthless,” he said of Pep Guardiola’s champions. “They get a small chance and they score, they have top players and you can’t give teams like that chances, especially after we had competed so well.
“It will be the same against Liverpool. Those teams are similar and very difficult to play against.
“Liverpool’s attack is strong. You just have to be prepared, have to be focused all the time. Top players like [Mohamed] Salah can do anything at any time so you have to be ready.”
Back in the big time: Nathan Ake is a Dutch regular.
Hot prospect: Matthijs de Ligt (l).