When Erik ten Hag was announced as Manchester United manager, director of football John Murtough talked up his track record of working with young players.
Murtough said: “Erik has proved himself to be one of the most exciting and successful coaches in Europe, renowned for his team’s attractive, attacking football and commitment to youth.”
Like Manchester United, Ajax have a flourishing academy set up, and Ten Hag has made excellent use of it during his four-and-a-half years at the Dutch club.
Academy stars have formed the bedrock of his success, and while several key played were brought into the first team before his arrival, Ten Hag has kept it going, handing debuts to 21 academy players.
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The 21 Ajax players handed debuts by Ten Hag
Ten Hag has continued to give chances to academy players this season, with 21 players making their Ajax competitive debuts under his management.
A list documented by Ajax Showtime shows the 21 players handed opportunities by him, with some going onto become first team regulars coveted by Europe’s biggest clubs.
Here is a look at all 21 Ajax debutants under Ten Hag, including where each player is now in their careers since the manager gave them their big break…
1) Noussair Mazraoui: He made his Ajax debut in just Ten Hag’s third ever Ajax game. Now 24, the right-back is a regular for Ajax under Ten Hag, making 33 appearances this season. He is expected to leave Ajax on a free transfer this summer and clinch a big move, with Bayern Munich chasing him.
2) Dani de Wit: Made 14 first team appearances for Ajax before leaving for AZ Alkmaar. The 24-year-old midfielder is a regular, scoring seven goals in 30 Eredivisie games this season.
3) Jurgen Ekkelenkamp: The midfielder played 40 times under Ten Hag for Ajax before being sold to Hertha Berlin, where he has played 20 times this season.
4) Azor Matusiwa: He played just once under Ten Hag. The defensive midfielder is now a regular in France with Ligue 1 side Reims.
5) Kaj Sierhuis: The young striker made three appearances for Ajax. Now 22, he is at Eredivise side Heracles, but tore his ACL in February.
6) Ryan Gravenberch: The midfielder could be Ten Hag’s biggest success story. Gravenberch has made 102 appearances for Ajax, scoring 12 times, and the Dutch side will struggle to keep him beyond this summer.
7) Mitchel Bakker: He played twice for Ajax before quitting to sign with PSG on a free transfer. This didn’t work out, and the 21-year-old left-back is now a regular for Bayer Leverkusen.
8) Noa Lang: The winger recently went viral in a clip of Ten Hag shouting instructions at him and ordering him not to answer back. Despite scoring four goals in 14 games for Ajax, Ten Hag shipped him out on loan to Twente, before selling him to Club Brugge. He has nine goals and 14 assists in Belgium this season.
9) Sergiño Dest: After 38 appearances for Ajax, Barcelona paid £19 million to sign versatile right-back Dest, a US international. The prospect has made 21 La Liga appearances for the club this season.
10) Sontje Hansen: The young winger was just 17 when he was handed his debut by Ajax in 2019. He is still at Ajax, playing in their under-21 side.
11) Naci Ünüvar: Left-winger Ünüvar (above) is a serious prospect, making his debut in a 7-0 KNVB Cup win in 2020. Still playing for Ajax’s under-21 team, the young Dutchman has scored 16 goals and provided 12 assists in 31 games.
12) Danilo Pereira: The 23-year-old striker has a decent record of 9 goals in 20 appearances. But the Brazilian is only a bit-part player, and could leave on a free transfer when his contract expires this summer.
13) Jurriën Timber: A real success story. Timber has been linked with a move to Manchester United, and been raved about by Marco van Basten. The centre-back earned plaudits at the weekend for filling in at right-back. A regular in Ten Hag’s side, the 20-year-old has made 71 Ajax appearances already, plus six senior Netherlands caps.
14) Brian Brobbey: A fascinating case, Brobbey quit Ajax on a free transfer last year to sign with RB Leipzig, before re-signing for Ten Hag in January, showing the manager does not bear a grudge. He has struck four goals in seven games since his return, and has 28 games for the club in total. He said at the weekend he would not mind following Ten Hag to United, but be warned, like Gravenberch, he is a Mino Raiola client.
15) Devyne Rensch: The 19-year-old right-back is a bright prospect, racking up 52 appearances already, including 24 this season. He has already been capped by the Netherlands, and could be a outside bet for a player who Ten Hag considers for United in the future.
16) Kenneth Taylor: Despite the English-sounding name, Taylor hails from the Netherlands. The 19-year-old central midfielder is still at Ajax, with 18 first team appearances.
17) Victor Jensen: The attacking midfielder made two substitute appearances under Ten Hag. He is currently on a loan at Norwegian side Rosenborg until the end of December.
18) Youri Regeer: One for the future, Ten Hag gave Regeer his debut in the KNVB Cup last December. The 18-year-old central midfielder has played twice for the first team, scoring once.
19) Amourrichio van Axel Dongen: An extravagant name with a special talent, Van Axel Dongen (above) is a winger who Goal report turned down Chelsea and Bayern Munich. Ajax’s Academy Player of the Year in 2021, he made his first team debut in the Eredivisie in January. He is still just 17-years-old.
20) Kristian Hlynsson: An Icelandic central midfielder, Hlynsson is a regular for Ajax’s under-21s. The 18-year-old has made two first team appearances for Ajax, each time as a substitute, and remarkably scored twice.
21) Liam van Gelderen: The most recent debutant, Ten Hag gave full-back Van Gelderen his debut against NEC at the weekend in the midst of the title battle, after Perr Schurrs picked up an injury. Although watch out, he is another with Raiola as an agent.