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Youri Regeer: Ajax's latest academy star set for first-team breakthrough

1:00 PM WAT 18/01/2022
Youri Regeer NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old is noted for his versatility, leadership and footballing ability, and now looks set to become a regular for the Eredivisie champions

The conveyor belt of talent emerging from the Ajax academy into the club's first team has shown no signs of slowing down in recent years.

Ryan Gravenberch and Jurrien Timber are just two of the Eredivisie champions' current homegrown talents who have become fixtures in Erik ten Hag's side, as well as full Netherlands internationals before their 21st birthdays.

If there is one position on the field, however, where Ajax seem to currently have a never-ending supply of youngsters emerging, it is at right-back.

Sergino Dest, Noussair Mazraoui and Devyne Rensch have all developed into becoming senior internationals having come through the ranks in Amsterdam, with Dest, of course, having already flown the nest to join Barcelona.

It is expected that Mazraoui will also leave the club this summer, with his contract set to expire at the end of June, while many believe that teenager Rensch will eventually be moved into central defence, meaning there is likely to be an opening in the position in the not-too-distant future.

Given recent form, there is a good chance it will be filled by another academy graduate, with 18-year-old Youri Regeer having made quite the case for inclusion in the club's first-team plans, even if he has rarely been thought of as being a defender.

A midfielder by trade, Regeer has shown immense versatility since he joined Ajax as a 14-year-old in 2017, and over the course of the current campaign has thrived playing at right-back, suggesting he will be the next cab off the rank in that position sooner rather than later.

Despite having only turned 18 in August, Regeer is already the captain of Jong Ajax, who play in the second tier of Dutch football, and has over 60 matches at that level under his belt already having become the fourth-youngest debutant for the team when he made his bow in early 2020.

A first-team debut in December's cup win over Barendrecht has since followed for a player who has been destined to become a footballer since his very early years.

“He's never really done anything different in his entire life. From an early age he was already playing with a ball," his father, and former Telstar midfielder, Arend Regeer tells GOAL.

"Having fun in football has always been a priority, that is no different at Ajax now.”

Regeer Jr. began his footballing education at local club SV Zandvoort, though he initially was not allowed to join in when he first turned up at the age of four.

“As a youth player, he liked doing everything,” his father says. "He played up front, in defence, and also took part in goalkeeper clinics. He even won cups as a goalkeeper!"

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Regeer went onto join ADO Den Haag at the age of 12 as both Ajax and AZ Alkmaar rejected him at trials, though two years later, the former liked what they had seen of Regeer and brought him to the capital.

There he was part of a celebrated group of players that included highly-touted talents such as Gravenberch, Rensch, Naci Unuvar, Brian Brobbey and Sontje Hansen, and as such Regeer would sometimes fade into the background, noted more for his versatility and being a team player rather than his ability.

That said, his willingness to play any and all positions meant he was able to take opportunities to fill gaps at a higher level, and he made sure to take them.

For example, when then-Ajax Under-19s coach John Heitinga required someone to play as a right-sided forward against Valencia in the group stage of 2019-20 UEFA Youth League, Regeer was called upon, despite having only just turned 16.

He returned his manager's faith, however, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-3 win over the Spanish side that, in part, led to him being the youngest player called-up to the Netherlands U17 squad for the 2019 World Cup in Brazil.

After suffering a painful 3-0 defeat to Japan in their opening game, the Dutch brought Regeer into the starting line-up, deploying him as a holding midfielder in the group stage before dropping him back further to become a ball-playing centre-back in the knockout rounds.

In the semi-finals against Mexico, however, it was Regeer who missed the crucial penalty in the Netherlands' shootout loss in a moment that could have broken a less resolute individual.

“The World Cup was a big blow, and the first few days after were very hard," Regeer told Voetbalzone. "But I wanted to play the next match at Ajax anyway, and I scored twice.

"That was a turning point. I knew I was back on the right track."

Regeer has been on the right track ever since, and his tally of five goals and nine assists for Jong Ajax this season marks him out as being one of the best players in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie, particularly given he has played predominantly as either a holding midfielder or at right-back.

“I prefer to play as a number six or number eight, as a box-to-box midfielder,” Regeer tells GOAL. "This year, I mostly played at right-back. If you look at my numbers in the first half of the season, they are excellent from that position.

"I know that there may be a chance to break through to the Ajax first team at right-back, rather than as a number six, and so I have to keep doing what I can to make that happen.”

Away from the pitch, Regeer remains grounded for a player on his apparent pathway, with his father describing him as being "someone who gets along with everyone".

“He's a very down-to-earth boy," Arend Regeer adds. "He occasionally goes along to help out SV Zandvoort U21 with their training, which I think is very nice to see.”

Following his first-team debut in late 2021, Regeer would have been hopeful of further catching Ten Hag's eye at Ajax's winter training camp, only for the trip to Portugal to be cut short after just two days due to a Covid-19 outbreak.

If he was disappointed, Regeer did not show it when Jong Ajax returned to action on January 10, as he broke the deadlock against FC Utrecht while being played in yet another different position, as Heitinga deployed him as a number 10.

“Youri is a very important player for us. He takes a leading role both on the ball and in the defensive aspect of the game, and it is not for nothing that he is our captain,” Jong Ajax's assistant coach, Michel Kreek, told GOAL post-match.

"He is an incredibly driven young player who is versatile while being above average in almost every position. That is, of course, very advantageous if you can be distinctive in so many positions.

“Youri recently made his debut in the first team, so the potential is there. If he gets the chance, I am convinced that he can play very well as a right-back for the first team, too.”

The next aim for Regeer is to make his top-flight debut as he attempts to become a regular in the Ajax side over the course of the next few years, though there are question marks over his future given his contract is set to expire at the end of the season.

"It's not an issue for me, I'd rather keep that to myself," he says amid reports that talks are progressing well regarding a new deal. “Playing for the Ajax first team is, of course, the most important thing for me, but we will soon see what will happen."

Ajax will hope that Regeer sticks around to make the leap in the coming months. Whether it is at right-back or elsewhere, he certainly has the talent to fill any gaps that may emerge in one of Europe's most exciting young squads.

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