12. Justin Kluivert
The name “Kluivert” is a name that football fans around the world know quite well thanks to the exploits of Patrick Kluivert, who was one of the world’s best strikers for nearly a decade in the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s. His son Justin is now getting ready to ensure the Kluivert name continues to be one associated with a terrific attacker as he gets ready for his first full season of professional football with Ajax.
Justin Kluivert has been in the Ajax academy since 2007, flying through the ranks from the F-pupils all the way up to de Godenzonen’s starting XI. Most graduates spend a season in the reserve side playing for Jong Ajax in the second division, but Kluivert’s skills were impossible to ignore as he essentially jumped straight from the U19s to the first team, only playing a handful of games for Jong Ajax. He made 20 appearances in all competitions last year, but with a full pre-season under his belt and the departure of Bertrand Traoré to Lyon, Kluivert is hoping to make this his breakout season.
The Ajax way involves academy graduates being given chances to be the core of the side, but unlike so many other clubs in Europe, Ajax fans do not overhype their young talents just because they are “their own.” Since Ajax is so well known for developing youngsters, most Ajax fans have been watching these talents or have known about them since they were very young. The fans want them to succeed and will always support them, but they know there is always another talented kid waiting in the wings. If the one in the first team starts to stagnate, there will be immediate calls to give a new talent his chance. This is what makes the relationship between the fans and the academy graduates so intriguing.
Justin Kluivert is Ajax’s best attacking academy graduate since Christian Eriksen, and it is crucial that the club develop him properly. While his talent is undeniable, Kluivert certainly has flaws that must be fixed if he is to become a world class player.
The fact that Ajax generally play him on the right wing is a problem that isn’t necessarily his fault. This isn’t a massive problem considering he has played on the right fairly often throughout his career, but it really hinders some of his qualities, and as a result, we don’t get to see his best when he plays there. Kluivert isn’t a player who relies solely on his pace to beat players, so he sometimes struggles to get past players down the right hand side. He’s a dribbler who aims to beat players with his skill and quick feet, a dribbling style more suited to a player who cuts in on his dominant foot or someone who plays through the middle.
Obviously, Kluivert is insanely skillful, so he still manages to get by opponents on the right side, but he generally has the most success whenever he plays on the left or when drifting infield. Hopefully, Marcel Keizer will soon adjust and start giving him minutes on the left hand side over Amin Younes, or play him up front alongside Kasper Dolberg or Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Kluivert has a Dries Mertens-esque playing style, and Mertens has truly only thrived once Sarri moved him to a more central position. Kluivert could do the same.
Nonetheless, if Kluivert does want to become a starter on the left hand side or perhaps play as a second striker, he’ll have to improve his end product dramatically. One of the biggest issues with Kluivert is his wasteful end product. His well-documented skill often gets him into fantastic goalscoring situations, but he routinely does nothing from these areas. Having terrific end product is what separates the good from the world class, and if Kluivert wants to reach those heights, he will need to improve his concentration in the final third and find the goal with greater efficiency.
Kluivert’s attitude has also continued to be a problem. Arrogance can be a key trait if you’re going to become successful; if you don’t believe in yourself, then no one will. But Kluivert has a tendency to turn that arrogance into petulance, which harms his overall game. He allows fullbacks to rile him up and he regularly loses his concentration after a few tussles with a defender. Once this happens, he’ll start trying too hard to get the upper hand over his defender and he’ll start to dribble too much. A lot of wingers, notably Neymar, have had this issue when they were younger, yet have now managed to limit, if not erase this drawback from their game. It’s clear that you can mature and stop letting defenders get to your head, and that’s what Kluivert will need to work on this year as well.
Kluivert is expected to be one of Ajax’s key players this year following Bertrand Traoré’s departure, and for an 18-year old, that’s a lot of responsibility. Add in the pressure of having Kluivert as his surname and you can see why Ajax needs to be cautious with their potential gem of a footballer. Seeing youngsters break through and become stars is what give Ajax fans the most joy, but seeing Ajax youngsters fail to live up to their potential is what gives them the most anger.
Justin Kluivert truly has the potential to become a world class talent. His technique borders on ridiculous for an 18-year-old, and he has the proper mentality to handle any challenge he may face. If he can improve on a couple things, if Ajax manage him well, if he isn’t given too much responsibility, and is allowed to develop at his own pace, then Ajax will have another Kluivert who could go on to dominate Europe.
By: Marc Geschwind/@mgesch13