Football Features

Every Johan Cruyff Award winner, and what happened next

By Ben Green

Published: 22:50, 29 November 2022

Netherlands appear to have entered a new era with 12 of their 26-man squad for the 2022 World Cup being aged 25 or under.

The Oranje have always been good at producing young talent, so this shouldn’t be a surprise, but what is interesting is that six of their squad have also won the prestigious Johan Cruyff Award since its rebranding in 2003.

For those who don’t know, the Johan Cruyff Award is given to the talent of the year in the Eredivisie as recognition of their performance across a season. But that isn’t all, as the winner also has the opportunity to build a “Cruyff Court” in an area of their choosing to make exercise and sport more easily accessible for youngsters.

Now, there are no nationality requirements for the Johan Cruyff Award which means that it is open to more than just Dutchman and we have seen a number of foreign winners over the years. But the list is dominated by Dutch stars. Jurrien Timber was the most recent recipient of the Award, collecting it for his 2021/22 campaign with Ajax, and the centre-back appears to be one of Van Gaal’s first-choice defenders at the World Cup.

Across the years, some Johan Cruyff Award winners have gone on to great heights, while others have 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.

Wesley Sneijder (2004)

Club: Ajax

One of the most talented playmakers to ever emerge from Ajax’s esteemed ranks, Sneijder is another who transitioned from Dutch football to the hallowed Bernabeu turf, moving from Amsterdam 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.

Salomon Kalou (2005)

Club: Feyenoord

Having exploded onto the scene at De Kuip with Rotterdam-based club Feyenoord, Mourinho soon snapped Kalou 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. Kalou is still playing, signing for Djibouti Premier League side Arta/Solar7 after a spell in Brazil with Botafogo.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (2006)

Club: Ajax

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 Ajax’s sensational 2018/19 run that saw them minutes away from the Champions League final, scoring 23 goals and carving out 10 assists. ‘De Hunter’ has since hanged up his boots.

Ibrahim Afellay (2007)

Club: PSV

After helping boyhood club PSV 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. Afellay returned to PSV after Stoke were relegated from the Premier League and has since retired.

Miralem Sulejmani (2008)

Club: Heerenveen

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 now 33-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 spent the next seven years operating on the wing for Young Boys.

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. Elia returned to Netherlands in 2020 with FC Utrecht and then ADO Den Haag, but left the latter in the summer and is yet to find a new club.

Gregory van der Wiel (2010)

Club: Ajax

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. A year in Italy with Cagliari followed his short stay in Turkey and Van der Wiel’s last spell at a club came at MLS club Toronto, which ended in 2019 with retirement.

Christian Eriksen (2011)

Club: Ajax

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 is now part of the Manchester United midfield following a brief stay at 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. However, Maher was unable to truly showcase his worth in Eindhoven and after spells with FC Twente, AZ Alkmaar and FC Utrecht, Maher is now playing his trade in Saudi Arabia with Damac.

Marco van Ginkel (2013)

Club: Vitesse

Chelsea thought they pulled off a real coup when they signed Van Ginkel from associated club Vitesse, but a culmination of strong competition and multiple serious injury issues saw the 29-year-old become a cog in the club’s perennial loan machine. He has since returned to Netherlands with PSV on a permanent basis, having spent two loan spells there, and is captain but once again injuries appear to be getting the better of Van Ginkel.

Davy Klaassen (2014)

Club: Ajax

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 and is also key to Van Gaal’s Dutch side.

Memphis Depay (2015)

Club: PSV

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. Although things haven’t been perfect in Barcelona, Depay continues to thrive at international level for Netherlands and is Oranje‘s star.

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 28-year-old once netted 31 goals across a single season for AZ.  He’s now turning out for Belgian outfit Royal Antwerp after a spell with Monterrey in Mexico and is part of the Netherlands’ World Cup squad, starting their opening game against Senegal, having only recently ended a five-year exile from international football.

Kasper Dolberg (2017)

Club: Ajax

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, and he is currently on loan at Sevilla from Ligue 1 side Nice.

Matthijs de Ligt (2018)

Club: Ajax

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)

Club: Ajax

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 was certainly what caught Barcelona’s eyes when they signed him after Ajax’s Champions League run.

After a rocky start to life at Barcelona, which included them trying to get rid of him in the summer, De Jong is now one of Xavi’s go-to men and dominates the midfield for the Blaugrana.

Ryan Gravenberch (2021)

Club: Ajax

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. However, Gravenberch is the only one of the past seven Dutch Johan Cruyff Award winners not to be in the Netherlands’ World Cup squad, seriously struggling after making the move to Bayern Munich in the summer.

Jurrien Timber (2022)

Club: Ajax

The latest winner of the Johan Cruyff Award, Jurrien Timber only turned 21 in July but already has 95 appearances for Ajax across all competitions including 65 in the Eredivisie. His presence at the back has helped Ajax seal the past two league titles and earned him 11 caps for Netherlands – he’s even replaced De Ligt in Van Gaal’s back three at the 2022 World Cup, starting alongside Virgil van Dijk and Nathan Ake.