It’s Saturday afternoon. We’re at the Sportpark de Toekomst, Ajax’s youth team stadium. This is the first time we’re seeing Kasper Dolberg, who is making his debut for the Ajax U19 side, playing against traditional rivals PSV – could he do something? Instantly, I was amazed. After his first touch of the ball, I saw enough. I knew then that I was looking at Ajax’s future young superstar striker. I wanted to write about him straight away but my colleagues were telling me to relax. “We need to wait and see more”.
Four weeks later it was confirmed. One of my colleagues wrote first about Dolberg. A young player that had the ability to be the focal point in the attack, that had everything in his game to succeed as an Ajax striker; emphasis on Ajax striker. A lot of clubs in Europe have different standards for their strikers – some want one that is technically good enough to play in tight spaces, some want one comfortable enough to drop deep, some want a target man for the long ball but at the club from Amsterdam, you need to be complete – you need to be good on the ball, you need to be good going deep, good at combination/link up play, good with your feet and head, and aerial duels. Good at scoring and assisting. That is exactly what Dolberg brings. He had everything you need in an Ajax striker.
John Steen Olsen, the scout that also discovered Ibrahimovic and Eriksen, initially had him down as a left winger but after one training session the Ajax youth coaches Wim Jonk and Ruben Jongkind saw enough – this young man was definitely a striker. Although the coaches wanted to work longer with Dolberg to precisely analyse and build up his profile, Marc Overmars, the director of football at Ajax, trusted the eye and track record of Olsen enough and brought Dolberg in.
It turned out to be a masterstroke. In youth football, Dolberg shined in his new position as striker, dominating the youth league with consistently good game actions and goals. The only problems he had was the amount of injuries suffered during his first season as an Ajacied. On the pitch, he sometimes grew out of games and seemed like he lacked balance at times, but the class was always there – especially at the start of the season.
The evident quality of Dolberg saw Peter Bosz take him along with the first team in the first training camp of the season in Austria. He was the club’s first choice striker at the time, as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar stayed at Gelsenkirchen, which made the club decide to bring in Mateo Cassierra to compete for the number 9 shirt. The twenty year old had to compete with Dolberg for that first choice spot but it was never in doubt for Kasper.
Dolberg quickly proved that he was ready for the level of football and announced himself on the world stage on his official debut. Ajax legends like Cruijf and Patrick Kluivert scored on their debut, and the 18 year old Dane did exactly the same. He positioned himself between the lines, was played in by Jairo Reidewald, turned superbly and shot with his right foot: 1-1. Kasper scored a crucial equaliser in the Champions League qualifier vs. PAOK.
The tone was set. Although no one knew him, 26th July 2016 was the start of a beautiful, high level career. Many found it hard to trust a striker that just arrived, but Kasper continued to surprise fans, analysts and opponents. Goal after goal, game after game: it was clear that Ajax had a rough diamond, and it was clear how important he was to Bosz’ attacking game.
He was the complete forward. When on the ball, he was a reliable focal point where midfielders and defenders could comfortably break the lines with vertical and diagonal passes towards him. In the combination/link up play, he ensured midfielders could be dynamic enough, which in turn created space for wide players. He can improve in the air, but in the 16 yard box he was deadly. The numbers don’t lie. 16 goals in the Eredivisie as a teenager, whilst also scoring enough in Europe.
The numbers however, are not too important when it comes to Kasper. His attacking play, fluent technique, shot power, quality in link up play and most importantly his character are incredible and special. As mentioned above, Dolberg is complete in all the basics. On the counter, against the deep block, with through balls – he is dangerous. On top of that, he can create by himself too.
What ‘Dolle’ often does is make himself available to combine and link up, then moves. He isn’t just limited to that however. He likes turns away from his defender and move into the channels – a variety of play. His goal against PEC was a perfect example, After being played in, he spun the defender, dribbled, took in away his defender with his movement and shot hard with his laces into the bottom corner. A world class goal.
That goal was one of the many, different type of he’s scored. The quality of his shot is beautiful. If the ball lies well on his right foot, there are not many that can hit the ball as good and hard as Kasper. That’s why he’s great in short distance shots. In a one on one, he doesn’t stutter. His goals versus Feyenoord and Lyon are perfect examples. When put through on goal with speed, he comes eye to eye with his goalkeeper, who can come out quickly – but it doesn’t matter. He’ll subtly stick it over the the keeper.
With all of his footballing ability, one of the best things about Kasper is his fantastic character. I don’t know many footballers that are so emotionless on the pitch when things are going bad. Never does he gesture or swear at the referee – he knows what he needs to do. He knows what the opposition has done. Foul not given? No problem for Dolberg. That is not to say that he doesn’t have emotion – he just doesn’t show it. He is always his calm self, no matter the situation. He is the ideal professional – never gets in trouble off the pitch, and is always in top physical condition.
What I will say is that Dolberg can be distinguished as one of the biggest talents in Europe. He’s on all the lists and has massive media attention and all the top clubs are interested. He doesn’t always shine, but if you look well enough he does more often than not. He is a deadly finisher, possesses all facets that a striker needs in his game and can – I think – play in any system. Naturally, he still has to learn, but don’t forget his age. He is only 19. In his first pro year he has become a Danish international and played lots of games, despite having injury problems in the past, which is extremely positive.
Naturally he’ll have a dip in form, be less noticeable and perform less – but you have to look past that and keep the faith because overall he is truly a top striker. Everyone in Europe saw his performances last year – defenders from every country and competition will have to deal with a teenager that has not yet reached his full potential. He already has a price tag of 40 million minimum as it stands. Staying at Ajax is the ideal environment for him to improve and the Amsterdammers can in a year or two or three, truly cash in, especially in today’s market.
Dolberg is the darling of the neutral football watcher. Never cheats, works hard and does something special when you watch him. The upcoming season for Ajax could render all of this even moreso if we look at the appointment of new coach Marcel Keizer. The new coach puts more emphasis on midfield dominance and ball possession is focused more centrally which should translate in more creativity and better, more quality chances voor Dolberg. Dolberg is in this system the end point so he should continue and improve his scoring form from last season. He is one of the most complete forwards in Europe at the moment. He still has a lot to learn, we saw that in the Europa League final – but he is just beginning his career, his potential is massive and he’ll only become better. Mark my words.
By: Sjors van Veen/@SjorsvanVeen. Translated by Thomas Anderson/@andoculture.