The Dutch Eredivisie has built up a reputation for being a haven for fantastic young talent to develop and blossom before moving on to better-paying and (debatably) better-quality leagues. In recent memory, players like Luis Suarez, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Jan Vertonghen have all made their first big steps in world football in the Netherlands. As these stars gradually grow older, a new generation of prodigies, both domestic and foreign, has emerged in the Eredivisie . Many of these youngsters would easily find homes in powerhouse clubs all around Europe, and given they ply their trade in the Dutch league, their transfer fees would not prove to be major stumbling blocks for many teams.
AC Milan have been heavily linked with one such talent, Ajax’s dynamic winger Anwar El Ghazi. With a €10 million move seemingly on the horizon, this would represent the continuation of the yearly exodus of Eredivisie players to clubs abroad. Fortunately, El Ghazi is far from the only quality youngster remaining in the league, and while the Rossoneri negotiators are in Amsterdam sealing the deal for their target, taking a look at some other players while they’re there could prove to be a shrewd idea. Several, if signed, would arrive as major improvements in positions where Milan need boosts the most, with the added bonus of being in a position to only better with time.
*NOTE: All tactics & formations assume El Ghazi makes the switch to Milan
Hakim Ziyech- FC Twente, 22 years old
The quiet star of the Eredivisie for some time now, Twente’s Moroccan international has never been in the center of the spotlight, instead enjoying massive under-the-radar success. Making a name for himself at SC Heerenveen before moving up to starring with Twente, over the last two-odd years he’s been one of the best and most consistent central midfielders in the league.
Ziyech is a prolific goalscorer, but this is not uncommon for players ahead of the curve in the Eredivisie, and his scoring record would almost certainly not translate to Serie A play. What would translate is his style of play. He is an attacking midfielder that comes into the fold from deep, weaving through defenders with sublime footwork and setting up himself and teammates to test the opposition goalkeeper. While his overall distribution needs a slight tune-up, when Ziyech gets near the box his passes become pinpoint-accurate, constantly creating opportunities for his team to score. Averaging three key passes per game and currently sitting at five assists, he has been the one bright spark in a horrid Twente side this season.
With Milan, Ziyech would find himself going forward to support the attack during offensive plays and hanging around near the center circle waiting for a counter during defensive stage of the match.
His ideal midfield partner would be Juraj Kucka, as the Slovakian’s solid defensive work would provide an opportunity for Ziyech to advance further upfield than he’d be able to with someone like Montolivo by his side. The Moroccan, like El Ghazi, would serve to supplement the front two strikers, alleviating scoring pressure while serving up opportunities for others.
Available for a rumoured €7-8 million at most, given Twente’s persistent financial issues Milan would likely be able to knock the price down a bit. Arriving at Milan Ziyech would be one of the club’s top central midfielders, and alongside Jose Mauri would lead the club’s youth contingent for years to come.
Kenny Tete- AFC Ajax, 20 years old
Ajax’s latest defensive product, Kenny Tete has exploded onto the scene this season in his breakout year, fully establishing himself as his club’s first-choice right back. An academy product, Tete started with making a name for himself as a Jong Ajax player before finally getting a chance at consistent league play at the end of last season and all of the current campaign. Frank De Boer has highly praised his prodigy, remarking in December, “Kenny has made giant steps forward. Especially defensively, he has done a great job. I do not think you’re happy when you [the opposition player] are standing in front of Kenny.”
Those were not empty words from De Boer. Compared to the rest of the league, Tete is far and away the best defensive fullback, but pitted against Milan’s right backs he blows them out of the water. He makes far fewer mistakes and provides a lot more defensive cover than either Abate or De Sciglio.
Tete’s defensive tendencies are likely due to his initial development as a center back before getting placed on the flank to guard against counterattacks resulting from winger dispossession. As such, he would have immense positive chemistry with Anwar El Ghazi. Putting their youth team and nationality links aside, Tete would perfectly balance out his countryman’s bombing runs with stellar work keeping opposition attackers at bay.
With the Rossoneri , the Dutchman would stay behind and not advance far up the pitch, waiting to dissipate opposition attacks down his flank. He would function similarly to a center back, except he’d be doing his work on the edge of the pitch instead of in the center. Moving around wherever his are needed most, Tete would also allow more attacking-minded center backs to have an opportunity to venture down the field.
Unfortunately, unlike Ziyech Tete is not likely to be available any time soon, as he has only recently begun making his mark with Ajax. The club’s coffers are not too empty, so barring an astronomically high offer the right back will most likely remain at the Amsterdam ArenA for the foreseeable future.
Mattias Johansson- AZ Alkmaar, 23 years old
A more attainable target than the aforementioned Kenny Tete, Mattias Johansson is another player that has flow under the radar in recent years. Plying his trade at mid-table AZ Alkmaar, the Swedish international is, much like Tete, primarily a defensive fullback. His tackling skills are sublime, and coming up against him one-on-one is rarely a welcome sight for attacking players. The 23-year-old has enjoyed a considerable amount of personal success ever since moving to AZ from Swedish side Kalmar FF in 2012, and despite only being with the team for four years, he already has almost 150 league matches under his belt.
Though he arrived a teenager with raw talent but not much else, Johansson has since blossomed into an extremely capable defender. He has been the standout at the back for his club season after season, earning a spot in the Swedish national team due to his consistently sound form.
At Milan he would fill the same niche that Kenny Tete would- a defensive fullback covering for El Ghazi’s runs.
Winning a higher percentage of duels and making far more important tackles per game, Johansson is not afraid to dig in and get dirty when the situation calls for it. Though some of his other skills still need sharpening, it is only in a league like Serie A where the Swede would get a chance to make further jumps.
Milan’s current right back Ignazio Abate falls behind in two of the five categories, and Mattia De Sciglio has not shown himself to be consistent or motivated enough to warrant the first-team right back slot. Johansson would arrive with something to prove, eager to continue the trend of phenomenal Swedish players plying their trade with the Rossoneri.
Likely available for fairly cheap considering AZ is far from the richest club in the league, for a relatively small investment Milan would not only get themselves a more committed young fullback than De Sciglio, but a defensive asset that could hold in him the potential to turn around the club’s fortunes.