Who is Ajax star Ryan Gravenberch?

Robin Bairner
Robin Bairner
  • Updated: 17 May 2021 22:14 BST
  • 6 min read
Who is Ajax star Ryan Gravenberch?
© ProShots

Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch is the latest young prospect to roll off the production life of the Netherlands side.

While many of Europe’s biggest clubs have been linked with the 18-year-old, Manchester United, Barcelona and Juventus have been most readily associated with him in the media.

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But what is the youngster’s background and why is he so highly thought of?

Ryan Gravenberch: Ajax’s latest rising star

Aged just 18, Ryan Gravenberch is regarded as the hottest property to have just broken through the Ajax academy.

He is a young man well steeped in the history and tradition of the Amsterdam outfit, having been with them since he was eight. By the time he was 16, meanwhile, he was handed his professional debut in the second flight with Jong Ajax. Less than a month later he was playing in the first team against PSV.

Gravenberch snapshot:

NAMERyan Gravenberch
D.O.B (AGE)16 May 2002 (18)
FAVOURED POSITIONDefensive midfield
DOMINANT STYLEDeep-lying playmaker

Indeed, when he turned out against PSV, he became Ajax’s youngest ever league debutant, surpassing the record of another storied midfielder, Clarence Seedorf. He was just 16 years and 130 days old.

It was not until the latter part of the 2019/20 season, however, that he became a regular in the first-team squad. His status had been elevated by a goal and an assist against Den Haag three days before Christmas, but the coronavirus crisis prevented him from making too strong a mark on the team.

Gravenberch, however, is now fully established as an Ajax regular. He has missed only two matches this season – both were due to coronavirus – and otherwise he has played virtually every minute for the Dutch league leaders.

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  • In terms of offensive production, he has been limited to assists in a 5-1 win over Heerenveen and another in the 13-0 win over VVV, but this is not his primary job.

    So strong were his performances that in November 2020, he bypassed the Netherlands Under-21 team and was thrust into the full national squad.

    What type of player is Gravenberch?

    Ryan Gravenberch has often been compared to Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba. While some young players might be eager to play down such a lofty comparison, he has embraced it.

    “I hear that all the time,” he told NOS. “I know that we’re the same type of player but my idol is Zinedine Zidane.”

    Like Zidane, Gravenberch is a player who primarily thrives because of his technical abilities, though he does so in a much deeper area of the pitch. He typically plays as a defensive midfielder and behaves as a deep-lying playmaker.

    Who is Ajax star Ryan Gravenberch?
    © ProShots - Who is Ajax star Ryan Gravenberch?
    TOUCHES P9095.12nd at Ajax
    INTERCEPTIONS P90233rd at Ajax
    FINAL THIRD PASSES P9029.6.2nd at Ajax

    Indeed, there are perhaps closer similarities to be made to Frenkie de Jong, another former Ajax graduate, given his skillset.

    He is a player who likes to dictate the pace of the game and seeks to exploit the space in front of the opponents’ defence, which is why he is short on assists and goals. The teenager covers the whole left side of the pitch between the penalty boxes, despite being naturally right footed.

    He is more reminiscent of Pogba, though, when he begins to dribble, becoming difficult to stop when he gets up a head of steam. He uses his body well when dribbling and is remarkably strong for his age.

    While he is accomplished in his role, there are areas of his game that could certainly be polished.

    Gravenberch stats (Eredivisie 2020/21):

    “I’m bad at heading the ball for a tall player, I found it difficult as a kid,” he admitted, and it is certainly a shortcoming for him.

    His tackling and blocking statistics do not look too clever either, but where he does excel is in his game intelligence. He robs a high volume of possession from opponents because of his ability to intercept passes.

    Given his attributes, it is possible that he is used in a more advanced area in years to come.

    He’s not a finished product yet, but it is easy to see why so many of Europe’s top clubs are interested.

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