After a remarkable campaign helping Ajax clinch a record-extending 35th Eredivisie title, midfield dynamo Ryan Gravenberch has scooped the prestigious Johan Cruyff Trophy.
The coveted gong, which is awarded to footballers under the age of 21, has sat on the mantelpiece of some of Dutch football’s most prodigious talent over the years.
Gravenberch, the latest disciple of Ajax’s majestic footballing institution, has now followed in those fabled footsteps, emulating many of his Ajacied predecessors by collecting the end-of-season bauble.
His midfield exploits for Erik ten Hag’s side culminated in a Europa League quarter-final run, an Eredivisie trophy, and a KNVB Cup triumph.
And Gravenberch was the fulcrum of that run; he truly embodies the free-flowing doctrine of Ajax, making him a true exponent of Cruyffian football, and as such, a deserved winner of the Johan Cruyff Trophy.
But many have clinched the revered accolade since its rebranding in 2003, some who went on to great heights, and others who faltered under the weight of expectation.
With that in mind, what happened to every winner of the Johan Cruyff Trophy?
Arjen Robben (2003)
Club: PSV Eindhoven
After his meteoric rise to prominence with Groningen and later PSV – which brought about an Eredivisie title – Robben relocated to west London in 2004, where two Premier League titles followed him with Chelsea, before Real Madrid prised him to the Bernabeu three years later.
Bayern Munich followed next, completing his immaculate CV, and he’d go on to form one of the continent’s most devastating wing-partnerships with Franck Ribery.
— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) May 18, 2019
Wesley Sneijder (2004)
One of the most talented playmakers to ever emerge from the club’s esteemed ranks, Sneijder is another who transitioned from Dutch football to the hallowed Bernabeu turf, moving from Ajax in 2007.
He clinched one La Liga title during his time in Spain, but will be most fondly remembered for playing a star role in Jose Mourinho’s treble-winning Inter Milan side, with the Nerazzurri famously securing the Champions League title in 2010.
The former UEFA midfielder of the season is now happily retired.
Salomon Kalou (2005)
Having exploded onto the scene at De Kuip with Rotterdam-based club Feyenoord, Mourinho soon snapped him up at Chelsea in 2006, where he enjoyed six years at Stamford Bridge, memorably winning the Champions League in 2012. The Ivorian also clinched a Premier League title to boot, but soon fell down the pecking order, and transferred to Lille in 2012 before he decided to cut his teeth in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (2006)
Bracketed with the likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy upon his emergence onto the continental stage, Huntelaar unquestionably had a lot to live up to, but the prolific marksman has certainly done his Dutch forerunners proud.
The 76-time Dutch international has played for European heavyweights Real Madrid and AC Milan across his career and is also Schalke’s second highest goalscorer of all time. He returned to Amsterdam in 2017 and played an instrumental role in the club’s sensational 2018/19 run, scoring 23 goals and carving out 10 assists. ‘De Hunter’ has since hanged up his boots.
Ibrahim Afellay (2007)
After helping boyhood club Boeren to four Eredivisie titles, Afellay took the prestigious road to Barcelona in 2010. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out at the Camp Nou for the midfield marvel, whose career was blighted by persistent injury problems.
Temporary stints at Schalke 04 and Olympiacos followed, before the former Barca player pitched up at the unlikeliest of destinations: Stoke City. His maiden campaign was a hit in Staffordshire and the Dutchman soon endeared himself to the Potters faithful, though it didn’t last long as Paul Lambert banished him from the club and he’s since left following their relegation returning to PSV before calling it a day.
Miralem Sulejmani (2008)
After just one appearance for Partizan Belgrade, a 17-year-old Sulejmani left the comforts of his Serbian homeland for pastures new, joining Heerenveen in 2007. His debut season was exceptional as he produced a 15-goal haul, prompting Ajax to break a Dutch transfer-record to secure his services. The 30-year-old proved a solid acquisition, but left five years later for Benfica, though he was unable to impress at the Estadio da Luz and has been operating on the wing for Young Boys since 2015.
Eljero Elia (2009)
Club: FC Twente
The Dutch pace-merchant was a frightening prospect on the wing for Steve McClaren’s Twente, wowing De Grolsch Veste with his blistering speed. It didn’t take long for Europe’s elite to start paying attention, and the incisive winger soon found his way to Juventus via Hamburger SV.
His season-long stay with the Old Lady fostered a move to Werder Bremen in 2012, before enjoying a temporary stint in the Premier League with Southampton, though he would ultimately settle for Feyenoord in 2015 – winning an Eredivisie title – before joining Istanbul Basaksehir two years later.
Gregory van der Wiel (2010)
The first defender to win the award, Van der Wiel was ‘Total Football’ incarnate during his fledgling years; he was the archetypal modern full-back: attack-minded, versatile, adept on the ball and defensively capable. It is little wonder then why Paris Saint-Germain made a move for his signature in 2012, where he won eight trophies before joining Fenerbahce in 2017. He has since moved on to Cagliari, Toronto FC and is now a free agent.
Christian Eriksen (2011)
After mesmerising the Amsterdam Arena with his scheming intelligence and elegant gait, the great Dane has since become Spurs’ catalyst, their assist grandmaster and two-time Player of the Year. His world-class vision and elite end product have been pivotal for Mauricio Pochettino’s success in north London.
Eriksen would leave for Inter Milan, where he would lift a championship, but a serious cardiac incident at Euro 2020 seemingly put an end to his career but the Dane has fought back and can now be found plying his trade with Brentford.
Adam Maher (2012)
Club: AZ Alkmaar
The Morocco-born Dutch international had the cream of the continent queuing up to acquire his talents at one stage, and after two enthralling seasons at the AFAS Stadion, PSV landed the midfield marvel, though Maher was unable to truly showcase his worth in Eindhoven and he since returned to AZ before joining FC Utrecht.
Marco van Ginkel (2013)
Chelsea thought they pulled off a real coup when they signed Van Ginkel from associated club Vitesse, but a culmination of strong competition and a serious knee injury have since seen the 29-year-old become a cog in the club’s perennial loan machine – most recently turning out for PSV, where he clinched two Eredivisie medals, Van Ginkel has since made Eindhoven home.
Davy Klaassen (2014)
Everton fans look away now. Klaassen was formidable as Ajax reached the Europa League final in 2017, prompting the Toffees to courier £23.6m to Amsterdam for his name, but a woeful stint on Merseyside has placed his name on a growing list of failed Farhad Moshiri signings – though he is now revitalising his career with boyhood club Ajax following a stint at Werder Bremen.
Memphis Depay (2015)
Many were tipping Depay for Red Devil greatness upon his arrival at Manchester United, and with fellow countryman Louis van Gaal at the helm, it looked a match made in heaven. However, the tempestuous forward never quite fulfilled his undoubted potential at the Theatre of Dreams, but he certainly realised it with Lyon, winning the Ligue 1 Goal of the Year in 2017 and those performances earned him a dream move to Barcelona.
Vincent Janssen (2016)
Club: AZ Alkmaar
Janssen probably won’t go down in Dutch folklore with the likes of Marco van Basten and Ruud van Nistelrooy following an uneventful spell at Tottenham, it’s hard to imagine the 27-year-old once netted 31 goals across a single season for AZ. He’s now turning out for Mexican outfit Monterrey.
Kasper Dolberg (2017)
Dolberg is still only 24, but big things were expected of him after a breathtaking maiden campaign in 2016/17, with his talismanic influence yielding 23 goals. His progress, for one reason or another has since stunted, however, but he’s starting to rekindle his once promising career in Ligue 1 with Nice.
Matthijs de Ligt (2018)
Leader. Captain. Teenager. Yes, this impeccable brick wall had yet to turn 20 while leading the Amsterdammers, and for good reason: he possesses maturity well beyond his years and a grandeur reminiscent of some of the finest centre-backs to grace the game. De Ligt bleeds red and white, but is now representing Italian giants Juventus and should he continue his early excellence, he will no doubt earn a seat in the pantheon of footballing greats one day.
Frenkie de Jong (2019)
De Jong is a custodian of Ajax football, with his metronomic passing accuracy and innate vision already at world class level. There are echoes of Andres Iniesta about his play, which is certainly exciting news for Barcelona, as they welcome the midfield magician to their ranks this summer.
It was a rollercoaster journey for Ajax this season and De Jong was at the heart of the club’s operations, helping them to one last hurrah with an Eredivisie before leaving for Barça.
Ryan Gravenberch (2021)
The Covid-19 pandemic meant there was no 2020 winner. That lost 2019/20 season was Ryan Gravenberch’s breakthrough, the impressive young Ajax midfielder carried his form into the forthcoming campaign and would find the net six times in all competitions while creating a further six more. The 19-year-old Amsterdammer also earned the first of 10 international caps in March 2021, he’d score his first Netherlands goal against Georgia before the 2020 European Championship got underway.