Football News

Zlatan Ibrahimovic: Ajax are the world’s best club at developing young players

By Harry Edwards

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has rejoined AC Milan

Published: 15:56, 14 April 2019

LA Galaxy striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has hailed Ajax as the best club in the world at developing young players.

For a long time, Ajax have been lauded for their youth system which has produced the likes of Johan Cruyff, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Wesley Sneijder and Christian Eriksen among untold others.

How good is Ajax’s academy? Five key things to know…

  1. Ajax have always been known for their youth system, bringing through a number of footballing greats over the years.
  2. The likes of Johan Cruyff, Edgar Davids and Wesley Sneijder have all played for the Ajax youth team at some point.
  3. This season, Ajax boast highly-sought after young stars in Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt.
  4. Ajax started with four academy graduates during famous 4-1 win over Real Madrid this season and introduced a further three from the bench.
  5. And Ibrahimovic, who joined Ajax as a teenager, believes the club are the best in the world at developing young talent.

Ibrahimovic himself joined Ajax from Malmo in 2001 as a 19-year-old and spent three years with the Dutch club before moving on to Juventus, the start of his very successful playing career.

And the Swede believes there is no better place for a young player to start his career than the Johan Cruyff Arena.

“As a young ambitious football player, there is no better club than Ajax,” he told Voetbal International.

“The way of training, the philosophy of the club, the fellow players with whom you are surrounded as a youngster: it is all at a very high level. I would advise any talent to start his career at Ajax.”

While Ajax have been suffering in the past as a result of their young stars being poached from teams across Europe, under Erik ten Hag this season the Amsterdammers have found their footing once more.

With the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt key, Ajax are in with a chance of reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League, drawing 1-1 with Juventus after their quarter-final first leg.

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And Ibrahimovic believes this season is just another example of why Ajax are so good at what they do.

He added: “That is precisely what I find so strong about the club: the long period in which they prove that their philosophy works. It is incredible how many top players they have produced.

“If you have the right mentality, it is easy to take big steps at Ajax: keep your eyes and ears wide open, learn from the professionals at the club and work hard.

“These are the first steps to becoming one of the best football players in the world. I am still grateful to Ajax for being the first foreign club to offer me that.”

One key example of a player currently using Ajax to propel himself is midfielder De Jong, whose performances this season have earned him a move to Barcelona in the summer.

Van der Sar: Ajax players believe in the project

According to former Ajax goalkeeper and current chief executive Edwin van der Sar, the club’s success this season has come as a reward for the players’ belief in the system.

“That’s what we promised a couple of years ago when we stated the project to bring Ajax back to the European forefront, to the top 20 European clubs, regarding playing more regularly in the latter stages of European football,” he told BBC Sport.

“The players believe in the project, believe in the power of Ajax – how they can express themselves, how they can develop themselves.

“The leagues in the countries around us are probably more interesting and played at a higher level, but in general we are happy with the way we have moved things forward with Ajax, together with Marc Overmars as technical director to establish a squad that can compete at the highest level.”

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