When Davinson Sanchez arrived at Ajax last year, he saw it as the ideal springboard for greater heights in Europe.
“I can learn a lot and achieve my personal goals,” the 20-year-old said. “Ajax is the best club for me to grow as a player.”
Signing a deal until 2021, the Amsterdam side expected to get a few years of service from their €5 million investment. However, the classy Colombian centre-back’s seamless transition into the team and excellent displays suggest he will not be around for long.
To team captain Davy Klaassen, that is only logical: “He is a beast. I understand why he has been associated with top clubs. He has the stature, the power.”
“There is a danger of a quick departure as Sanchez displays himself so impressively on the European stage,” Ruud Gullit wrote about him in De Telegraaf . “Jaap Stam was the last Ajax player with such defensive qualities.”
The defender has been quiet about the reports, merely stating it is “a great honour” to be linked to Barcelona. Given he already snubbed the chance to sign for Barcelona B last year, he won’t be shaken by the rumours but it is something he may soon have to seriously consider.
Goal’s Barcelona correspondent Ignasi Oliva understands Sanchez is high on Barca’s list of targets for the centre of defence. Jeremy Mathieu will leave Camp Nou, while the future of Javier Mascherano remains a doubt. The Argentine’s departure would leave them seeking two or three young defenders who can compete for playing time.
The gap may be big, but the South American who says he “will do anything to succeed in Europe” is already at a high level. He has been in Colombia’s national team for their most recent World Cup qualifiers, playing once – 90 minutes against Argentina.
His Ajax career was delayed slightly by his involvement in Atletico Nacional’s Copa Libertadores campaign, playing every minute as they lifted the continental title for the first time in 17 years. Although he missed pre-season and the first Champions League qualifier and Eredivisie games, he was immediately a first-team regular for Peter Bosz’s side.
The Eredivisie has been a stroll and he has been key to the campaign which puts them within 90 minutes of their first European final in two decades.
“I am a spirited defender who likes to have the ball at his feet. That's one of my strengths,” he said.
It’s clear he likes to get into the action. He has attempted and completed more passes than anyone else in the Eredivisie. A lot of those go straight to his central partner, but he fits Ajax’s style as an attack-minded defender and has come up with five goals, including an overhead kick past Tim Krul and a daisy-cutter from outside the box against Heracles.
That urgency is evident throughout his game as he challenges and closes down every ball. Although his timing is good, he is too eager to go sliding in even though he makes great use of his body when he stays up. That need to go straight for the ball instead of watching his man can leave gaps in the defence, which left Ajax fragile at times against Schalke in the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final when they attacked with width and speed.
Combined with his ferocity, his height and power give him a real advantage in the air - Nick Viergever is the only Ajax player to have won more aerial duels, and he has three goals from 15 headed attempts..
His first season has been fantastic and there are already questions over his need to stay in Netherlands. Starring in a young and exciting team looking to build on a memorable campaign will give him a chance to develop, and it offers stability to a youngster who has been going non-stop since January 2016.
"On the streets, fans like getting a picture with me and I see positive reactions," Sanchez said in an interview with Voetbal International last month. "Of course, I find that beautiful, and from the first day the club has helped everyone feel at home. My girlfriend has come along, and my mother and two brothers have also been over. They see that I'm alright here and that I know how to find my way.
“In South America, Ajax is known as the pathway to a rewarding career in Europe. I just got here, I want to be of great value to the club before I take the next step.”
A strong display to help Ajax protect their 4-1 lead over Lyon from the first-leg would go a long way to proving his worth, but that next step may come sooner than expected.