For a long time a unique selling point for the Eredivisie has been its pool of promising talents.
Consequently, it’s among Europe’s youngest top divisions and, being armed with that knowledge, there’s always the distinct prospect of watching a future Ballon d’Or nominee in action.
This past season has been no exception as we’ve seen numerous youngsters grab headlines whilst continuing their development in a ridiculously attack-minded league. So it really isn’t surprising to find the current crop of ‘next big things’ either in midfield, out wide or up front.
But who are they? We’ve picked out 10 such individuals who enjoyed a strong 2020/21 campaign and worth keeping an eye on.
10. Mike Trésor Ndayishimiye
Club: Willem II
Even in a modest top-flight there are still levels. Willem II finished one place above the relegation zone but took a point off runaway champions Ajax, something only Twente, Utrecht and PSV Eindhoven could say. Much of Willem II’s success lay at the feet of Belgian attacking midfielder Mike Trésor Ndayishimiye, who joined them on a permanent basis last summer following an initial loan from NEC, his first professional club.
The former Anderlecht academy graduate was responsible for 37.5% of their league goals (four goals and 11 assists). In fact, only two players created more goals than him last season: Dusan Tadic (17) and Steven Berghuis (13). If he carries on this upward trajectory it won’t be long before clubs beneath the ‘big three’ are vying for his signature.
Finishing just four positions above Willem II were former Dutch champions FC Twente, who also endured a frustrating campaign. The loss of exciting 23-year-old Czech winger Václav Černý to a serious knee injury early in 2021 undoubtedly impacted their creativity and counter-attacking prowess, but they still rolled with the punches. Having an equally-gifted scorer helped.
Danilo, on loan from Ajax, started like a man possessed having bagged nine goals in Twente’s opening nine league games. He’d enter a lull before registering four goals across his final six Eredivisie appearances. Marc Overmars and Erik ten Hag would have been keeping tabs and, you never know, he may very well be in line to be Sébastien Haller’s understudy next season.
8. Owen Wijndal
Daley Blind’s involvement at Euro 2020 is touch and go, but if he is absent then Netherlands boss Frank de Boer has options at left-back, where the veteran Ajax defender-cum-midfielder normally plays at international level. Patrick van Aanholt and Nathan Aké are likely alternatives but Owen Wijndal is De Boer’s current go-to choice.
The young AZ full-back has been ever-present in Oranje’s recent 2022 World Cup qualifiers (even grabbing a pair of assists in the 7-0 rout at Gibraltar). His rise to prominence has understandably raised some eyebrows, considering his lack of experience on the grandest stage, but so far he’s taken everything in stride. Wijndal ended up creating six league goals which is one fewer than last term. He will only continue to get better.
7. Myron Boadu
Speaking of the Cheeseheads, there’s no question they possess the best collection of young talent in the Netherlands top-flight. Creating stars is something AZ have become good at, but keeping hold of them is another story altogether. They will not want to lose their leading marksman Myron Boadu anytime soon but AZ’s No.9 has attracted plenty of interest.
A modern-day poacher, Boadu, cut from the same cloth as compatriot Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, lives for goals and scored 15 of them in the league last season, including a hat-trick in a sensational performance against Feyenoord in February. It proved to be his most prolific campaign, beating the 14 he managed in 2019/20, a season where Boadu earned a first national team call-up. Given the plethora of competition (either Luuk de Jong or Memphis Depay can lead the line) Boadu will need to bide his time before regularly turning out for his country.
Arriving from another country, let alone continent, means there is certain to be a period of adjustment. That wasn’t the case when Brazilian winger Antony swapped boyhood club São Paulo for the bright lights of Amsterdam last summer. Immediately thrust into Ten Hag’s first team, after impressing during pre-season, the forward created two goals and scored four across Ajax’s first six Eredivisie outings.
His creative output aside, it’s Antony’s fearlessness that has excited many. It will never get old seeing a winger to beat a full-back through speed or trickery. Right now Ajax’s latest must-see forward is potential personified. Producing nine goals and eight assists in his debut campaign presents a solid foundation. He’s got the wherewithal to reach the next level and it will be interesting to see if he does.
5. Calvin Stengs
Boadu’s partner in crime Calvin Stengs has a tremendous upside. But, worryingly for AZ, he is represented by super-agent Mino Raiola so you can bet a number of clubs across Europe are keenly aware of the exciting Dutch winger. Since turning pro, Stengs has scored 15 goals and recorded a further 17 assists for his teammates but it’s not just the numbers which makes Stengs a name to remember.
He boasts excellent technique and confidence beyond his years. From an aesthetic standpoint Stengs , who learned his trade on the streets, meshes the classic and contemporary. A real mercurial winger. His ambidexterity, guile and electric pace have made him a defender’s nightmare.
4. Joey Veerman
The first ‘Golden Boy’ recipient Rafael van der Vaart knows a thing or two about rising stars. Now a television pundit, he recently made headlines when offering his opinion to who the Eredivisie’s best player was. As it turned out he wasn’t representing any of the usual suspects. That honour belonged to mid-table Heerenveen and their impressive midfielder Joey Veerman, who the ex-Spurs man likened to Andrea Pirlo, an exaggeration perhaps but you can see that elegance in his play.
“Delicious balls, all tailor-made. It all looks very easy for him. It took no effort for Pirlo either. Everything is so relaxed, off the cuff. He also likes to play football. I like it when a player does that. Footballers like Veerman are of a dying breed. That’s why I love those kinds of players,” Van der der Vaart said. What no one can doubt is he’s the heart and soul of this current De Superfriezen team. The question is, for how much longer?
3. Teun Koopmeiners
The future of Oranje’s midfield looks healthy, especially as Teun Koopmeiners continues to make strides in his development. Another immensely talented AZ footballer who played an instrumental leadership role as they finished third last season. Although he is primarily a ‘defensive midfielder’, that defined role did not stop Koopmeiners from chipping in with 15 goals and five assists.
If anything we could see him transforming into a robust box-to-box midfielder; a threat in the opposition half and a presence in his own, breaking up attacks as well as starting and finishing them. His impeccable tackling and good positional sense allows him to win possession and subsequently distribute it effectively, but what impresses observers the most is his engine; those runs enable him to cover ground, and is something highly valued by national team boss De Boer.
2. Donyell Malen
Club: PSV Eindhoven
Before suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2019/20, the sky was the limit for Donyell Malen who just earned his first international appearances. There were expectations for him to play a prominent role for Netherlands at Euro 2020 last summer before it was rescheduled, giving him an opportunity to resume his career with this goal in mind. Malen returned with a point to prove and he’s gone about business like any upstart young striker.
A near ever-present under Roger Schmidt (just missing two league games) Malen ended his 2020/21 campaign with 19 league goals, by far the most he’s produced in a single Eredivisie season. The bulk of those appearances came at centre-forward but, given his ability to play across the frontline, the former Arsenal academy star could become a handy weapon for the Dutch at the forthcoming European Championships if he’s called up as expected.
1. Ryan Gravenberch
No team is more synonymous with youth development than Ajax who, since September 1981, have fielded at least one academy graduate in their starting XI – a run of 1,850 consecutive matches and counting. The current poster boy of their illustrious finishing school is Ryan Gravenberch, arguably the Eredivisie’s most exciting prospect.
Prior to breaking through under Ten Hag there were excitable murmurings about his potential. Some earmarked him as Frenkie de Jong’s natural successor and while he is stylistically different Gravenberch is equally gifted. Still a teenager, he’s in the perfect environment to grow and truly fulfil those burgeoning expectations. The current ‘Dutch Football Talent of the Year’ he can easily forge a stellar decade-long partnership at international level with the man he succeeded in Ajax’s midfield.