The 10 teenage starlets who could be the next De Jong or De Ligt at Ajax

Matthijs de Ligt, Ryan Gravenberch, Frenkie de Jong
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The Dutch side are looking for the next young stars capable of reaching great heights. Goal looks at those currently shining in the youth system

Nearing the end of a spectacular season, Ajax are reaping the benefits of their formidable youth system and scouting network.

But with one star player already heading to Barcelona and Europe's top teams eyeing up their 19-year-old captain, the Dutch giants are already in danger of seeing this promising group torn apart in the summer.

The Amsterdam side are already looking for replacements for the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt and are already lining up summer transfers to plug those gaps, having sealed the signing of Razvan Marin from Standard Liege and Kik Pierie from Heerenveen.

Luckily for coach Erik ten Hag, Ajax also have a wealth of talent to call upon in their academy, with several budding stars excelling for the youth teams.

Here, Goal looks at the youngsters hoping to break into the senior squad in the next few years.

  1. Ryan Gravenberch
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    Ryan Gravenberch

    He is just 16 years old, but Ryan Gravenberch has already made his Ajax debut and has become a regular for Netherlands Under 19s.

    The central midfielder broke Clarence Seedorf's record as Ajax's youngest ever player when he made a brief appearance against PSV in September. He played a full 90 minutes in the KNVB Beker just a few days later as they trounced amateur side Te Werve, becoming the youngest scorer in the Amsterdam side's history, too.

    He has not turned out for the senior side since, but he is holding his own against professionals as a key player for Jong Ajax, having made 27 appearances in the second division. 

    "I'm pretty tall for a 16-year-old, so sometimes I don't realise that I'm a boy of that age," he said recently. "I feel like I'm just 18 or 19, like those other guys. I'm 16 and now I play against players who are 32. Of course they are physically stronger and also walk more. In the beginning I had to get used to that, but now things are going better."

  2. Brian Brobbey
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    Brian Brobbey

    Brian Brobbey is one of those strikers who makes an immediate impression on anyone watching him.

    Brobbey only turned 17 in February, but he is currently excelling with Ajax's Under 19s with an awesome goal record. He has been sailing through the youth academy since joining in 2010 and is blessed with a wealth of talent. He even already has 13 goals in 19 games for Netherlands Under 17s.

    "Brian Brobbey is the quickest here at Ajax," Under 19s boss John Heitinga told ESPN in January. "He does 30m in 3.7 seconds. He is 16, 91kg, his body fat is low, and his one leg jumping is higher than Cristiano Ronaldo."

    He has already featured twice for the reserves, so it would be no surprise to see him take on the experienced professionals in the second tier more regularly before long. The Ajax first team is the target, however, and he hopes to be in it by 2020. If he keeps scoring at this rate, he will likely meet his deadline.

  3. Sontje Hansen

    Sontje Hansen

    Sontje Hansen is another Ajax prospect excelling at a level beyond his years.

    The 16-year-old looked great for the Under 17s last season and was quickly moved up to the Under 19s this term. 

    Although he was initially seen as a striker, he has been used on both wings and in an attacking midfield role by coach John Heitinga, proving capable of scoring or creating goals from any position.

    Having already shown he can compete with older players, his first-team debut may not be too far away.

  4. Victor Jensen

    Victor Jensen

    Signed from Copenhagen for €3.5 million in 2017, Victor Jensen became the latest in a long list of Danes to head to Amsterdam.

    The 19-year-old attacking midfielder was introduced to the Under 19s, but he was immediately pushing for a place in the reserves.

    This season, he has made 20 appearances in the second tier of Dutch football with Jong Ajax and seems to be adapting well. 

    The Denmark Under 19 international recently netted his first goal for the Eerste Divisie team, getting the second in a 5-1 win over Roda JC.

  5. Nicolas Kuhn

    Nicolas Kuhn

    A winger with good technique who does not shy away from physical battles and has a talent for finding the net, Nicolas Kuhn has looked a promising signing since his €2 million move from RB Leipzig in January 2018.  

    After impressing with the Under 19s - he scored six goals in five UEFA Youth League appearances - the German appears to have secured a regular spot in the reserves. The increase in playing time is paying off, too, as the attacker scored his first professional goal in a 3-3 draw against Dordrecht.

  6. Kenneth Taylor

    Kenneth Taylor

    The 16-year-old midfielder has spent most of his life as a part of the Ajax set-up, having joined the famous academy in 2010, and has had a steady rise through the system.

    After impressing with five goals and seven assists for the Under 17s last term, he has been moved up to the U19s and has already been given a run out for Jong Ajax, playing 20 minutes against their PSV counterparts.

    The Alkmaar native is making himself known as a bit of a free-kick specialist and is performing well for Netherlands Under 17s, too, with four goals from nine appearances.

    "My personal goal is to play for Ajax [first team] as quickly as possible," he said last year after signing a contract that runs until 2021. "I want to play as many matches as possible and be important there."

  7. Quinten Timber

    Quinten Timber

    Five years ago, the midfielder made the controversial switch from Feyenoord to fierce rivals Ajax and has thrived in Amsterdam.

    The 17-year-old can play in both the centre of midfield and defence and has already made himself a key figure for Ajax's Under 19s.

    He has shown he can play an important role in the professional game, too, having recently scored his first goal in the second tier with Jong Ajax.

    His twin brother Jurrien is also part of the Ajax system as the two have spent 13 years playing in the same teams.

    They have already won the European Championship together with Netherlands Under 17s and are hoping they collect a lot more silverware together.

    "We both made the decision to go to Ajax," Quinten said last year. "It was a choice for the better club and youth education. It's nice that we were on the same page, because we want to play together as long as we can."

    He added: "We often hear that we are the new De Boer brothers. Then we laugh, but secretly we think: We are just the new Timbers."

  8. Lassina Traore

    Lassina Traore

    He is just 18 years old but Lassina Traore has already scored three goals from four games for the Burkina Faso national team and has been thriving with Jong Ajax since his arrival in January.

    The striker moved to the Dutch capital from Ajax Cape Town and was quickly thrown into the second team. He scored on his Eerste Divisie debut with a goal against Volendam and has added seven more since then. 

    He looks destined to make the step up to the senior team this summer, where he will start competing with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Kasper Dolberg.

    "This season is mainly a matter of acclimatisation for him," coach Erik ten Hag said. "He has a lot of talent and has made a good impression. We see that in the training sessions. From the summer he has to compete with the other attackers."

  9. Naci Unuvar

    Naci Unuvar

    In a youth system full of excellent young talents, Naci Unuvar may be the most precocious of all currently shining in the Ajax Under 19s.

    He is only 15 years old, but the midfielder and winger is already scoring and assisting with ease for John Heitinga's team and he excelled with the Under 17s in last month's Future Cup.

    "I am someone who directs people on the field, I take my team in tow and I make sure that everyone knows what the coach wants," he says,

    He also revealed he wants to break into the first team by the age of 17 and sees Cristiano Ronaldo and Ajax team-mate Donny van de Beek as his role models. 

    "Cristiano Ronaldo because he works so hard. His mentality is not normal, I look up to that. At Ajax I see Donny van de Beek as a great example. He plays at my position and has also become a fixture for Ajax from the youth," he said.

  10. Dominik Kotarski

    Dominik Kotarski

    The goalkeeper was signed from Dinamo Zagreb for €2 million in July 2017 but had to wait until he turned 18 the following February before he could play.

    The Croatian is already the first choice shot-stopper for Jong Ajax - keeping eight clean sheets in the league - and Croatia Under 19s but it is the first team that the man once dubbed a "young Edwin van der Sar" is aiming to reach.

    "I believe he has a great future ahead of him," former Dinamo Zagreb and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Zlatko Skoric said. "Technique is one of his best qualities. He can read a game well and is very involved and his footwork is phenomenal."