Naci Unuvar: Ajax's teen superstar set to replace Chelsea-bound Ziyech

Naci Unuvar NxGn
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The 16-year-old has already played and scored for the Dutch giants' first team and is expected to step up and play a key role in 2020-21

After losing Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt last summer, the Ajax exodus is set to move into overdrive in the coming months, with a number of those who played a major role in their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019 set to depart.

Donny van de Beek, Andre Onana and David Neres continue to be linked with moves away from the Eredivisie champions, while Hakim Ziyech already knows his next destination after agreeing a €40 million (£33m/$43m) move to Chelsea.

Ajax would not be Ajax, however, if they did not already have ready-made replacements emerging from their famed youth system, with teenagers Ryan Gravenberch and Lassina Traore having already made their mark on the first team this season.

The likes of Sontje Hansen, Jurrien Timber, Kenneth Taylor, Danilo and Brian Brobbey are likely to join them in the senior squad in the next months and years, but perhaps the best of the lot is the player being tipped to step into Ziyech's shoes.

Naci Unuvar will not turn 17 until June, but he has been a household name in both the Netherlands and Turkey for years, with clubs such as Manchester United and Barcelona having shown an interest in him during his development.

But after becoming the youngest player to ever score on their senior Ajax debut, the stage is now set for Unuvar to take the next step and lead the club into their latest chapter.

Having been picked up by the Amsterdam outfit at the age of eight, Unuvar was a regular in Ajax's Under-19s side by the time he was 15 and in 2019 was voted De Toekomst's greatest talent – a prize that has previously been won by Justin Kluivert, De Ligt and Van de Beek – after firing the U19s to the league title.

He followed that up by playing a leading role in Netherlands' successful U17s European Championship campaign, with Unuvar scoring the fourth goal in the Oranje's 4-2 win over Italy in the final.

He has confirmed that he intends to continue representing the country of his birth despite Turkey trying to tempt him to switch allegiance to the nation of his family.

Naci Unuvar Ajax 2019-20

Unuvar's memorable summer would continue in August as he became the first player to score at Barcelona's new Johan Cruyff Stadium in a friendly between the U19 sides from Barca and Ajax to mark its opening.

He would add a second later in the game in front of the watching Lionel Messi, with the winger showing no fear and plenty of flair in an attacking performance that resulted in Barca deciding to monitor his progress ever since.

The 16-year-old has spent the majority of the 2019-20 campaign playing for Jong Ajax in the second tier of Dutch football, but was afforded a senior debut in the KNVB Cup in January as the first team took on amateur side Spakenburg.

Ten Hag threw Unuvar on for the final 15 minutes to a huge ovation from the home supporters, and was rewarded when the fleet-footed wideman won a penalty in the closing stages.

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Despite more experienced players being on the pitch, Unuvar, at the age of 16 years and 223 days, stepped up himself to convert from the spot.

“I wanted to ask permission from Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and he immediately said that I should do it. I am always cool with penalties and luckily it hit the mark," Unuvar told the club's official website following the 7-0 win.

"Now, it is important to become physically stronger at Jong Ajax and hope that I can gain more minutes in the first team as soon as possible."

Naci Unuvar GFX

Unuvar's debut was a thrill for many who have followed his career, not least Ziyech himself, who has acted as an on-field mentor for his fellow winger.

“Hakim posted a video to Instagram celebrating my goal and afterwards he said in the locker room that he is proud of me. It was a very nice moment," Unuvar added of the player he is set to replace next term, with his favoured position at present on the left-hand side, though he is comfortable with both feet.

"His favourite role is to play as a No.10, but then you get traffic from all sides. That is really different in the first team when compared to youth football," former Ajax and Netherlands playmaker Rafael van der Vaart told De Telegraaf the day after Unuvar's headline-grabbing debut.

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"That positive arrogance on the field is something I love. Any talent that is currently breaking through at Ajax seems to have the right attitude. 'Just give me the ball and it will be all right,' they radiate. And I think that's wonderful."

With Ajax in a fight with AZ to defend their Eredivisie title, it is unlikely Unuvar will be afforded any more opportunities in the first team upon the season's resumption, but it seems an almost certainty that Ten Hag will call upon him for the 2020-21 campaign in Ziyech's absence.

With his mentor gone, many believe Unuvar's talent will see the student go on to surpass the master's achievements in the game.

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