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Kik Pierie - Ajax's new teen star set to step into De Ligt's shoes

7:00 AM EDT 8/1/19
Kik Pierie, Ajax
The 19-year-old arrived in Amsterdam this summer having already made over 60 Eredivisie appearances in his young career

Being tasked with replacing a departing club captain is rarely straightforward for any player. But when said skipper was the man who led your new club to the Champions League semi-finals and is widely regarded as the best young centre-back on the planet it is doubly difficult.

But that is the mission for Kik Pierie as he attempts to step into the shoes of Matthijs de Ligt at Ajax this season. Signed from Heerenveen before the 2018-19 campaign was even up, the 19-year-old is expected to make the required step up and become a key figure in the Dutch champions' squad over the next 12 months.

A relative veteran given his age of 66 senior club matches, Ajax beat off competition from PSV and forked out €5 million (£4.5m/$5.5m) to bring Pierie to the Johan Cruyff ArenA in the knowledge that it was highly likely that De Ligt would depart Amsterdam over the summer.

And while fellow centre-backs Edson Alvarez and Lisandro Martinez have also arrived and academy graduate Perr Schuurs has impressed during pre-season, Pierie's arrival means there is genuine competition between four strong candidates to start at the heart of Erik ten Hag's defence when the club kick-off their Eredivisie campaign against Vitesse on Saturday.

Sporting director Marc Overmars has been keen to ensure that Ajax do not lose their "Dutchness" in the wake of De Ligt and Frenkie de Jong's exit, and Pierie's signing is testament to that policy. That said, the youngster could yet go onto represent a country other than the Oranje.

Despite captaining the Netherlands Under-19s side, Pierie - who can also play as a left-back - has an American passport having been born in Boston, and has previously been approached by the United States authorities to gauge whether he would be willing to switch allegiances.

"The American sports culture and mindset appeals to me, but on the other hand I am also a proud Dutchman," he told Leeuwarder Courant when asked whether he had ever considered representing the country of his birth, and that mindset of which he speaks has certainly allowed him to accelerate through the Dutch footballing system at a rate of knots.

"I really think the sky is the limit," he told NOS after just a week of training with Ajax. "I want to be in the first team as quickly as possible. It is not going to be easy, but I have not come to play for Jong Ajax for many years. If I do then I will have done something wrong."

Coming from a player who at the age of 11 predicted that one day he would play for Ajax before joining Barcelona and it would be an understatement to describe Pierie as a supremely confident individual.

That self-belief was on show for all to see when as a 16-year-old he made his debut in a Europa League play-off decider against Utrecht, who were ironically managed by Ten Hag at the time, and was tasked with marking Sebastien Haller - a player who two years on has just signed for West Ham in a club-record £40m ($50m) deal.

While Heerenveen were defeated, Pierie passed with flying colours, and by the start of the next season was a regular starter, playing all but three of his club's Eredivisie matches.

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"I was thrown for lions at a young age and that made me independent," he recalls of the match. "I felt like I was supposed to play at that level, so it went okay." There's that confidence again.

As such, replacing De Ligt is unlikely to daunt a player who will have come up against the majority of the strikers he faces domestically throughout the campaign. Whether he can make the step up as Ten Hag looks to do the impossible and repeat their heroics on the continent is the big question surrounding the teenager, but all signs are that he will not be fazed by the task.