Position(s): LW, RW
Preferred Foot: Left
Strengths: athleticism, physicality, finishing, weak-foot ability, 1v1’s
Areas for Improvement: weak-foot usage
Stats: 33 Appearances, 29 Goals, 18 Assists
After a season that would see their four-year domestic hegemony ended at the hands of Feyenoord and kick off the post-Erik ten Hag era with a trophyless campaign, Ajax have had a summer of rebuilding as they look to wrestle the Eredivisie title back from their eternal rivals. Sven Mislintat has been appointed as the club’s Director of Football, whilst Maurice Steijn has replaced John Heitinga as manager after guiding Sparta Rotterdam to a sixth-place finish.
Several key players like Jurrien Timber, Edson Alvarez and Dusan Tadic have departed, whilst Mohammed Kudus looks set to follow them out the door with a move to West Ham being lined up. They have replenished their midfield with the signing of Branco van den Boomen on a free as well as the signing of Benjamin Tahirovic from Roma, and they have fortified their defense following the departure of Calvin Bassey with Gaston Avila, Josip Sutalo, Jakov Medic and Anton Gaaei.
As far as their attack goes, they have signed the top scorer in the 2022/23 EFL Championship season in Chuba Akpom, whilst they have completed a deal for Carlos Roberto Forbs Borges after a sensational campaign at the academy level that would see him rack up 47 goal contributions in 33 appearances for Manchester City’s U-21 side.
Born in Sintra, Portugal to Bissau-Guinean parents, Borges left for England in 2015 and quickly established himself as one of the most exciting talents in City’s youth ranks, being named the U-18 Player of the Season in 2021, winning back-to-back English Youth League (U-18) and U-21 Premier League titles and finishing as top scorer of the Premier League 2 with 21 goals.
Borges has electric pace and acceleration and the clinical finishing to match the chances he creates for himself. His intelligent runs in behind enable him to peel off his marker and great a gap between him and the defence where he calmly finished with his left foot, drawing similarities to Leroy Sane during his time at City but with more physicality and weak-foot ability.
He is super direct with amazing technical ability, able to execute well-weighted passes whilst running at high speed and boasting great dribbling ability and plenty of flair and trickery to beat his man. His trademark move is to run at his defender with pace and as he gets closer to the goal, he’ll do a step-over to beat his marker, forcing his opponent to fix his hips before dropping his shoulder and breaking onto his strong left foot before powering a shot past the goalkeeper.
Borges possesses a lot of power and explosivity both in his ball-striking and general physique. His upper body strength makes him a much stronger dribbler as when he takes on players he’s able to shrug any challenges off him. He is great on both wings due to his technical ability and being very talented with both feet, although he has mainly operated as a left winger.
Despite being very talented with his right foot, he is very dominant with his left foot, but to take his game to the next level, he needs to be able to cut inside onto his right and create danger from his weak foot. The best wingers can go to the byline or cut inside onto their weaker foot, be that Ousmane Dembele, Bukayo Saka, Khvicha Kvaratshkelia, Heung-min Son, Gabriel Martinelli or Rafael Leao. In order to reach these levels, Borges must utilize both feet to make himself as unpredictable as possible.
Various clubs including Porto, Dortmund, Celtic, Southampton, Benfica, Bournemouth, Brighton, Nottingham Forest, Norwich and West Ham were all linked, but Borges ended up signing for Ajax for €14 million, signing a five-year contract. Borges came off the bench for the final minutes of their 4-1 win agaisnt Heracles to start the Eredivisie season, before starting and setting up Brian Brobbey’s opening goal within 25 minutes, only to replaced at the hour-mark for Davy Klaassen, who would equalize shortly after to secure a 2-2 draw vs. Excelsior.
Borges came on for Brobbey at halftime in the first leg of their Europa League play-off match against Ludogorets, with Mohammed Kudus completing his hat-trick and stretching Ajax’s lead to four and Olivier Verdon grabbing a consolation goal from the penalty spot. It was Kudus’ final match for the Amsterdam club, with West Ham completing a deal for Kudus for €45m plus a sell-on fee, securing vengeance on Ajax after narrowly missing out on the signing of Borges earlier in the summer.
Ajax tend to set up with a variation of a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 with a double pivot in midfield with any two of Branco van den Boomen, Benjamin Tahirovic, Silvano Vos and Kenneth Taylor, a more advanced midfielder operating in the #10 role (between Steven Berghuis, Davy Klaassen and Chuba Akpom), and Brian Brobbey leading the line at the center forward position, whilst left winger Steven Bergwijn is skilled at cutting in on his right and linking up with teammates in the final third.
Just like Kudus, Borges has the directness and loves to take on players. He scored goals for fun in the Premier League 2 and will be looking to do the same in the Netherlands, and his style of play means he could easily play off the right and cut in on his left foot to shoot from outside the box or cross into the box, whilst he is a strong dribbler who is capable of wriggling past his opponent, crossing it into the box and making a precise cutback into a dangerous zone.
With Kudus on his way out, the right winger position is up for grabs. Berghuis can also play there, as can Francescio Conceicao (his natural position), but they may just have the perfect replacement in Borges. Ajax will miss the Ghanaian’s dynamism, electric pace, and technical ability all combined with the ‘match-winning’ directness and goal-scoring ability, but Borges has what it takes to fill the void at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
Whether Frenkie de Jong at Willem, Lisandro Martinez at Defensa y Justicia or Kudus at Norsdjaelland, few clubs have done a better job of spotting raw gems and polishing them into Champions League-caliber players than Ajax. They will be looking to do the same with Borges, a player who, despite having played zero minutes of professional football prior to the move, arrives with plenty of excitement and high expectations.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / James Gill – Danehouse / Getty Images