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Going into this 2012/13 season’s UEFA Champions League, I doubt AFC Ajax were given much of a chance to do well by most Football fans, if any at all. To be frank, my humble self didn’t give them much of a chance either.
With hindsight, looking back at Ajax’s results and performance in Group D, we can only be happy that a footballing institution as prestigious as Ajax can still do (relatively!) well despite not having the riches of a Manchester City or an Anzhi Mahkhachkala. Money isn’t always everything.
Much has been said about Ajax’s prestige and rich Footballing history. Thinking of Ajax, names like Johan Cruyff, Rinus Michels, Dennis Bergkamp, Edwin van der Sar and Patrick Kluivert come to mind. Everyone knows that Ajax have 1 of the best academy systems in the Football World – in recent times, producing Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Gregory van der Wiel and Maarten Stekelenburg to boot.
Recently, young Dane Christian Eriksen has been on the lips of many, being touted as “the next Michael Laudrup”. While Eriksen is a classy young playmaker that I really like, this piece will look at another Ajax midfielder – Siem de Jong.
Perhaps Siem de Jong’s younger brother Luuk de Jong is a bigger name to fans worldwide, what with Luuk’s move to a bigger stage – Germany’s Bundesliga – last summer. That said, Siem de Jong is no less a player than Luuk.
Statistics and progress over the years:
Coming off the Ajax bench to make his Eredivisie debut aged 18, Siem de Jong scored an equaliser in stoppage time to salvage a point away to Sparta Rotterdam. In his 2007/08 debut season, he was the only player, aged below 20, in the Eredivisie to make more than 20 1st team appearances. Such a statistic at a club like Ajax speaks well of Siem de Jong’s promise.
*correct as of 5th February 2013. “Europe” includes – UCL & UEL qualifiers(qualification playoffs). “Cup” = KNVB Beker + Johan Cruyff Schaal.
As seen in the statistics table, Siem de Jong has proven himself to be a reliable goalscoring midfielder, with an overall 65 goals in 201 appearances for Ajax over 5.5 seasons, at the time of writing. While his goalscoring record in the UEFA competitions isn’t particularly eye-catching, a look at the most recent figure – 3 goals in 6 UCL appearances this 2012/13 season – suggests that he is starting to step up to the plate when it matters, not that he wasn’t already doing so.
Such an impressive 0.5 goals-per-game in the UCL this season is made more impressive when one considers that Siem de Jong and Ajax came up against 3 strong teams (Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City) – all of whom are, at the time of writing, the defending champions of their respective leagues.
Furthermore, 1 goal in a 3-1 UCL home win over English moneybags Man City and a brace in a 2-2 away draw in the return fixture finally brought the promising Dutchman into the limelight, especially where the English media’s line of sight is concerned.
Examples of Siem de Jong’s big-game contributions:
• KNVB Beker QFs – Extra time winner(3-2 win vs NEC Nijmegen)
• Eredivisie – 2 goals in a crucial match(4-0 win vs Vitesse Arnhem) while chasing for UCL qualification
• Eredivisie – Matchday 34. Winner-takes-all. 2 goals in a title-decider(3-1 win over FC Twente)
• Eredivisie – Matchday 33. Both goals in an important win(2-0 vs VVV-Venlo) that ensured Ajax retained their title.
Quite clearly, Siem de Jong is no bottler when it comes to the most important occasions.
With him proving his reliability, another interesting aspect to his game is his aforementioned positional change – pushing further forward to playing as a Number 9 when required.
Starting out as a central midfielder, Siem de Jong has proven to be a versatile player, being able to play in almost any midfield or attacking position. The turning point in his versatility would be the 2011/12 campaign. With Ajax facing an injury crisis up front(most notably Kolbeinn Sigþórsson breaking a bone in his ankle), de Jong was called upon to play as a makeshift Centre Forward. That positional change proved so effective that the 1-cap Dutch international ended up as Ajax’s top scorer in both the Eredisivie and KNVB Beker.
His experience of playing up front has added another facet to his game. Siem de Jong would set a new personal best for goals and assists if he plays the 2nd half of this 2012/13 campaign as he has the 1st. With 12 goals and 7 assists in 31 appearances across all competitions at the time of writing, the Dutchman would, hypothetically, finish the season with 20 goals and 12 assists if he makes as many as his 52 appearances in 2010/11.
The present and a look to the future:
Fast forward to the present day, Siem de Jong is a Dutch international – 1 cap and being selected in the provisional Oranje squad for the UEFA 2012 Euros – and has, to say the least, established himself as 1 of the best players in the Eredivisie. Made captain of Ajax last summer when Jan Vertonghen left the Amsterdam ArenA for the greener pastures of White Hart Lane, Siem de Jong does not lack leadership qualities either.
Looking towards the future, Siem de Jong will be a good signing for most teams. Rated at £7 million by Transfermarkt, at the time of writing interested clubs would probably have to fork out an estimated £8 or 9 million for such a well-rounded midfielder whose contract expires in the summer of 2015. 2 Eredivisie titles (2010/11 & 2011/12) and 1 KNVB Beker winners’ medal (2009/10) show that this promising Dutchman has the “winning mentality” that is highly sought after.
Considering all of the above, this goalscoring captain of Ajax could very well be a bargain signing in-waiting.
Written by Mark Ooi
Follow him on Twitter @MarkOoiZW
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