Davy Klaassen's departure from Ajax marks the end of an era. The midfielder brings an end to a 13-year tie to the club in search of a new challenge.
In teaming up with Ronald Koeman at Everton, he has made a good step to a Premier League team with big ambitions.
The €27 million fee is an exceptional return for the Amsterdam side and expectation will be huge for someone who attracted interest from Napoli and Roma. But Ronald Koeman was a key influence in his signing and noted his progress in a recent interview.
“I spoke a few weeks ago with Ronald Koeman about Everton," he said upon signing. "I wanted to come here and check if this was the right club for me and since I came here I feel so happy. It’s a great club.
“The moment that I spoke with the manager directly I got a good feeling. He’s an honest guy, we talked about the club, about the way he wants to play and that gave me a positive feeling."
The likely departures of Romelu Lukaku and Ross Barkley mean Everton need to make some key signings as they pursue European football. In Klaassen, they have added a three-time Eredivisie winning midfielder who has made 37 appearances across the Champions League and Europa as well as 14 caps for Netherlands.
The crucial aspect for Klaassen is what Everton demand of him. He will complement Idrissa Gueye and Morgan Schneiderlin in the midfield to add more of a presence in attack. The Senegal international was the Premier League’s top tackler in 2016-17 and makes key interceptions, while France’s Schneiderlin has thoroughly impressed since joining from Manchester United in January as a great companion with his ball-winning ability and long passes.
Neither player adds a great deal to the final third, though, and here Klaassen will be a key presence.
He is not a creative player like Barkley, but the England international’s switch to the right side last season and the reported pursuit of Gylfi Sigurdsson suggests they will find it elsewhere. That will free Klaassen to make good use of his strong attacking positioning to set others up and chip in with goals. He scored 44 and made 29 assists in 126 league appearances, starting with one just 39 seconds into in his debut and closing with another in his final league appearance in May.
His Ajax education and time in Frank de Boer’s and Peter Bosz’s teams means he has spent his entire career pressing defenders off the ball and can lead the charge for Koeman’s men defensively in that regard.
There is a subtlety and simplicity to Klaassen as a player whose anticipation makes him a big threat around the box when it comes to following up passes and shots and fighting for loose balls.
The Hilversum native has grown into a well-rounded midfielder in his steady development which has seen him excel in deeper roles as a more controlling presence instead of a direct threat. Even amid patches of poor form, he justified his continued selection with goals and assists.
“Klaassen is developing well,” Guus Hiddink said in March. “He doesn’t just perform for himself, but he carries the entire team in tow. I like to see that.”
The former Netherlands boss has also tipped him to join one of the "top six clubs in Europe.”
Louis van Gaal, who gave him his first Netherlands cap against France, has spoken highly of his development, Johan Cruyff compared him to Xavi and Toni Kroos and De Boer saw him as an on-field coach.
In his solitary season with Ajax, new Borussia Dortmund coach Bosz saw a bit of himself in the captain: “His reaction speed is high and he has a good shot,” he told Fox Sports. “Davy is a very complete midfielder. I sit with him sometimes. Then I sometimes tell him my plan and I ask for his opinion. I was also a player like that, so I think he'll be a coach one day.”
It seems Ajax had written the captaincy into his destiny early on. He joined them aged 11 and rose through the youth academy to team up with De Boer in the Under 19s.
The club legend went on to take charge of the first-team in December 2010 and came calling for the midfielder a year later, giving him his debut against Lyon in the Champions League. Days later, he made another cameo against NEC and found the net immediately.
Only three more appearances in the league followed, but his appearances against Real Madrid and Manchester United showed there were big plans for him. In the meantime, he remained crucial to the U19s, captaining them to the 2012 league title.
He lost an entire year of his development soon after, though, when an injury he picked up in a reserves game turned complicated. He returned to action early in the 2013-14 campaign and scored in his second league appearance for De Boer’s side, adding a few more before an excellent hat-trick against NAC Breda.
Since then, he has been a constant presence for the Amsterdam side. He finished that season with a league crown and the Johan Cruyff Prize for young player of the year, then the Netherlands Player of the Year award followed in 2016.
Despite big interest from Napoli, Klaassen stayed to work with Bosz and enjoyed an excellent season amid big changes to the side. He worked well alongside No.10 Hakim Ziyech and combined with Kasper Dolberg up front as Ajax developed into a better pressing and more clinical team.
His two goals against Schalke in the Europa League quarter-final were crucial in a first leg they should have won by a large margin, giving their campaign a great boost. But it is usual for Klaassen to be decisive. He was often the one to open the scoring or make the difference in a narrow game in his best season, ending with 20 goals in 50 games in all competitions.
Klaassen had to choose his next step carefully after a steady development in the Eredivisie. In England, he will have to get used to a more robust and intense style, but just like following his idols Jari Litmanen and Dennis Bergkamp in taking Ajax’s No.10 jersey and the captaincy, he will see that as a new challenge to be conquered.