[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ver the years Ajax Amsterdam has made a habit of housing Danish football’s finest talents. The famous red and white jersey has been graced by the presence of Søren Lerby, Frank Arnesen, Jan Mølby, Jesper Olsen, and more recently Christian Eriksen. Following in illustrious footsteps is Kasper Dolberg, the newly crowned winner of this season’s Johan Cruyff Award. In part one of a multi-part preview of the Europa League final, Rant looks at Ajax’ blonde danger man.
To say that the 2016/17 campaign has been a breakthrough season for the Silkeborn native is something of an understatement. In terms of raw numbers, he has scored 23 times for Ajax in all competitions, including an 18-minute hat-trick against NEC. The young Dane also provided a further eight assists, meaning that he has been directly involved in 31 goals this season. Not bad for a début professional season.
Kasper Dolberg, 2016/17
He joined Ajax in the summer of 2015 after being discovered by Danish scout John Steen Olsen. Olsen has a keen eye for talent: he was responsible for bringing Zlatan Ibrahimović to the Dutch club in 2001, as well as helping the Amsterdam club recruit Viktor Fischer and Christian Eriksen. If Olsen’s track record is any indicator, then Dolberg is already on the path to bigger things.
What makes the teenager one of the most sought after young players in Europe is a mix of physical and technical talents. Dolberg stands at 6′ 1″ and is both quick and agile; he will no doubt become stronger in the years to come as well, but already has the raw tools to become a complete forward.
Then there’s his footballing ability, of which there is plenty. Dolberg’s appreciation of space is something to note, with the 19-year-old possessing an uncanny knack of finding pockets of room that he exploits with more than a fair degree of efficiency. Whether it’s finding areas to link up play, or to shoot, Dolberg displays a good reading of game situations and reacts accordingly.
José Mourinho will certainly be concerned with Dolberg’s ability to score a variety of goals. He has a knack of sniffing out chances like a poacher, is able to punish defensive lapses, and can create a something out of nothing. Indeed, the Dane’s crucial strike against Lyon in the Europa League semi-final second leg at Parc OL was exquisite in its execution. However, if that crazy semi-final clash against the French side is anything to go by, Dolberg will need to have his shooting boots on given Ajax’s propensity to present gilt-edged chances to the opposition.
Even when the striker is not prowling for scoring opportunities he’s always looking at ways to bring his colleagues into play, indicating a maturity about the function of the team, not just individual accolades.
Kasper Dolberg, 2016/17
Dolberg is equally comfortable playing off the last defender or dropping deep to link play, which fits nicely into Ajax’s attacking system. What is most striking is that when Dolberg does drop deep to make himself available for a teammate he doesn’t stay there once the ball is laid off – the Dane likes to get forward, ensuring that he’s always in a dangerous position to create or finish chances.
It’s that all round play that makes Dolberg so dangerous because he is capable of hurting opponents in a number of ways and doesn’t appear fazed by big games. Still a teenager, he holds a level-headedness will be both tested and an asset in the Europa League Final.
By all accounts the Ajax star has his feet firmly planted on the ground. In an interview with FourFourTwo Dolberg confessed that his initial goal for this season was to establish himself as a key player in the reserve team and hope to play a few games with the firsts. That all changed when Ajax sold Arkadiusz Milik to Napoli, opening up a place in Peter Bosz’ first team. Needless to say, Dolberg has more than stepped into the breach.
Transfer speculation has already begun, but the player also recognizes that he still needs time to develop as a player admitting that “it’s too big a step to go to (Manchester) City or United now. It’s important to keep on playing as I don’t know what will happen in the future.”
Dolberg, whose form has earned him an international cap, indicated to Elf Voetbal that he’ll spend another year with Ajax to continue his development. He understands the value of experience and garnering as much playing time as possible. In the long run that will will no doubt make him a better player, and from Ajax’s perspective the player’s transfer value is likely to keep rising.
Still, Dolberg is only 19 and United’s backline, shaky as it is, possesses enough experience that is shouldn’t be surprised or taken back by the Dane’s talent. Antonio Valencia and company need to show a healthy level of respect, discipline and awareness, because the Ajax number 25 has the ability to make a match-winning difference.
One day, Dolberg could very well be United’s number nine, but come Thursday night José’s men would be well advised to keep an eye on the Ajax striker.