Frenkie de Jong of Barcelona in action during the LaLiga Santander match between FC Barcelona and Club Atletico de Madrid at Camp Nou on February 6, 2022 in Barcelona, Spain.

A sensational XI of Ajax academy graduates playing elsewhere in 2022

Ajax have put together another brilliant team and in 2022 are set to go deep in the Champions League as well as snatch another Eredivisie title. So just imagine what they’d do if they could keep hold of all their academy graduates.

The Dutch giants have long been known as one of the most productive clubs in Europe when it comes to young talent.

Following the playing ideals Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels instilled at the club, Ajax’s youth coaches train up technically proficient footballers quicker than Disney churns out Star Wars spinoffs.

As well as the brilliant youngsters they’ve currently got at the club – the likes of Ryan Gravenberch, Jurrien Timber and Noussair Mazraoui spring to mind – there are players forged in the Ajax fire plying their trades at top clubs all across Europe.

We’ve picked out some of the best and brought them together into an XI that would give any side in the world a run for their money. We’ve even been able to cobble together a pretty incredible subs bench.

GK: Marco Bizot

The first on this list and – let’s be honest – the least well known. Bizot is not a superstar like some of his fellow Ajax academy graduates, but he’s been a solid performer this season for Brest, who currently sit comfortably mid-table in Ligue 1.

He made his Netherlands debut in 2020 and he’s even got an assist for Brest this season, so he definitely merits his place.

RB: Sergino Dest

Dest’s Barcelona future is somewhat uncertain with the ancient-but-not-yet-decrepit Dani Alves having usurped him in Xavi’s starting XI, but the Dutch-born USA international remains an outstanding talent, with his lightning speed and attacking incision.

Ajax – who sold Dest to Barca for €20million in 2020 – are reportedly considering a deal to take him back to Amsterdam, but Chelsea have also been linked with a move to strengthen the wing-back options in Thomas Tuchel’s squad.

CB: Matthijs De Ligt

De Ligt was the rock at the heart of the defence in the Ajax side that was oh-so-unlucky to miss out on a Champions League final in 2019, despite being a teenager at the time.

His performances in that incredible European run sparked a scramble for his signature among Europe’s top clubs.

Barcelona were apparently very keen, but according to a report published in Spanish daily SPORT in February 2022, De Ligt was warned off joining the Catalan club by captain Gerard Pique.

The two apparently met in the Caribbean whilst on holiday and Pique told De Ligt to go elsewhere as he wouldn’t get many minutes on the pitch at Camp Nou. Insecure much?

Anyway, De Ligt ended up at Juventus, where he won Serie A in 2020 and a Coppa Italia in 2021. He’s not always reproduced his Ajax form in Turin, but he’s still only 22 and has done enough to suggest he’ll be a world-class defender for years to come.

Cesc Fabregas celebrates after scoring for Arsenal.

READ: 13 players who played on through injury: Fabregas, De Ligt, Ronaldo…

CB: Sven Botman

The 21-year-old Dutchman left Ajax for Lille in 2020 without ever having made a first-team appearance for the Amsterdam club. But in France, he’s gone on to establish himself as one of the finest young defenders in Europe.

Playing alongside the relatively jurassic Jose Fonte, Botman helped the Lillois to the Ligue 1 title in 2021. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s composed and he’ll likely be leaving northern France for big money in the near future.

Newcastle were reportedly desperate to add him to their ranks in January, while Spurs and AC Milan have also been linked.

LB: Mitchel Bakker

He’s still only 21 and he’s already played first-team football for Ajax, Paris Saint-Germain and Bayer Leverkusen and won five major trophies. Pretty bloody good if you ask us.

Though he didn’t quite settle in Paris and went looking for guaranteed first-team football in Germany, PSG inserted a buy-back clause when they sold him, so they clearly think highly of him.

Like Botman, he was also linked to Newcastle in January. But who wasn’t?

DM: Frenkie de Jong

He’s tall, he’s handsome and he’s really very good at football.

Part of that same crop as De Ligt, Pique didn’t tell De Jong to do one and he got his move to the Bernabeu.

It’s not all been smooth sailing since then, but when asked about him on the 2022 World Cup’s Insta feed his new manager Xavi said: “When Barcelona signed Frenkie de Jong, it made me happy.

“I wished him good luck on Instagram, he responded very well, saying ‘Thank you, it’s an honour’. I consider him a footballer that can mark an era at Barcelona…

“I think he is an extraordinary footballer, he’s not afraid of getting the ball in areas that make it difficult to turn, he’s such a good player.”

If he’s good enough for Xavi, he’s good enough for us.

CM: Donny van de Beek

Yeah, yeah, we know, he’s struggled at Manchester United. But Van de Beek is still a fine player.

In fact, we’d even go so far as saying he’s the most Ajax-y of all the academy graduates in our XI. His passing, his movement between the lines and his awareness when moving forwards all mark him out as the quintessential Dutch midfielder.

He’s now found a way out of his Old Trafford frustrations and we think it’s safe to predict that every little thing is gonna be alright for the 24-year-old once he gets a proper run in a team that suits him better.

CM: Christian Eriksen

After what happened to Christian Eriksen at last summer’s Euros, it’s just a delight to be able to put Eriksen in this team, to be honest.

Eriksen was not allowed to play in Serie A with implantable cardioverter-defibrillator that was sewn into him after his cardiac arrest so he’s had to leave Inter, with whom he won the league in 2021.

But he’s been given the opportunity to return to the Premier League with his old Danish youth-team manager Thomas Frank at Brentford and we can’t wait to see him caressing free-kicks into the top corner again.

RW: Donyell Malen

Much to the chagrin of both Ajax and Arsenal – the two clubs that brought him up – Donyell Malen turned into one of the finest young players on the continent at PSV, scoring 27 goals in 2020-21.

He was terrific at the Euros last summer, lighting up the Dutch team with his dribbling and directness, and he earned himself a move to Borussia Dortmund as the replacement for Jadon Sancho.

He started life at the Westfalenstadion a little quietly, only scoring his first league goal in mid-November, but he’s been excellent since and put in his best Dortmund display yet against Hoffenheim in late January, getting two assists in a 3-2 win.

CF: Kasper Dolberg

Dolberg’s only 24, but has already had a bit of an up-and-down career.

He burst onto the scene in 2016-17, scoring 23 goals in his first year in the Ajax first-team and being linked to all of the world’s biggest clubs. He then had two quieter seasons, playing a minimal role in the 2018-19 Champions League run, and was eventually sold to Nice for €20million.

He struggled to settle on the Mediterranean coast, though, famously having his watch nicked by one of his team-mates and suffering s few injury setbacks.

Yet in 2021-22, he’s upped his game again, going into the season off the back of an excellent Euros and forming a fine strike partnership with the deliciously talented Amine Gouiri.

LW: Noa Lang

Lang has been outrageously good since leaving Ajax for Club Brugge in 2020, and at 22 has marked himself out as another future star with his performances in the 2021-22 Champions League.

Liverpool, Leeds, Arsenal and AC Milan are all interested. Why wouldn’t they be when he can score goals like this?

Bench: Steven Bergwijn, Justin Kluivert, Quincy Promes, Stanislav Lobotka, Anwar El Ghazi, Toby Alderweired, Jairo Reidewald, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jan Vertonghen.

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