Martinez, Antony, Tagliafico: How Ajax find South America's best youngsters

Karan Tejwani
Karan Tejwani Updated: 17 Jul 2022 18:09 BST 4 min read
Lisandro Martinez, Ajax, 2021/22

Another summer transfer window has brought about loads of links for Ajax players, with some of their top talents being chased by Europe’s biggest clubs.

The Amsterdam side have already lost Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui to Bayern Munich and Lisandro Martinez to Man Utd, but they may not be the only ones to depart this year.

Antony could yet follow Martinez to Ajax, as new Red Devils boss Erik ten Hag sees him as a possible option for his side’s attacking line.

Both players have impressed in the Eredivisie having moved to the Netherlands at a young age from South American clubs – and that policy is one that has been successful with Ajax for the last few years.

Ajax's history with South American players

Ajax previously did have a connection with South American talent – one of their greatest goalscorers in the 21st century, Luis Suarez, did well for them having moved from Uruguay (via Groningen).

However, since 2016, Ajax have been scouting extensively in Central America, as evident by their list of talents that have come from the continent such as Davinson Sanchez, David Neres, Edson Alvarez, Martinez, Antony and more.

It all started with the addition of Henk Veldmate to their scouting team – the Dutch scout previously worked with Groningen, and brought Suarez to Europe from Uruguay, and he joined Ajax in 2016.

Since then, along with Hans van der Zee, who was already a scout at Ajax, they have built a special relationship with the continent, even ignoring their previous policy of not signing from the continent due to third-party ownership.

“The mentality of players from South America is often different, complementary to the footballers we have in the Netherlands,” the club’s former Director of Football, Marc Overmars, said in 2019.

He added: “I’ve said before that in terms of mentality and attitude you don’t just see ten De Ligts coming out of training. So our scouts look for such qualities elsewhere. That way we can strengthen the team.”

“Scouting in Denmark or Belgium, for example, can be very successful. We still do that. But there are five million people living in Denmark. In Brazil, a country that has been world champion five times, there are over 200 million.”

Ajax have used their riches and resources to attract brilliant, young South American talent to the club since then, and have benefitted from it through sales and the obvious quality they bring to teams.

They also appoint people within the club to help youngsters settle in: Herman Pinkster is an example, as he acts as the bridge between player and club, helping them learn the language, adapt to local surroundings and more.

Additionally, the club are extremely helpful too, giving incoming players the opportunity to learn English as well as providing them a handbook of Dutch football concepts, terminology and more to help them understand the set-up.

Since 2017, from Colombia, they’ve signed players like Sanchez, who left for €42 million, over eight times the fee he signed for a year prior, as well as others like Mateo Cassierra and Luis Manuel Orejuela.

From Argentina, there have been players like Nicholas Tagliafico – a mainstay in the team for the last four years – as well as Lisandro Magallan and Martinez.

From Brazil, the likes of Neres and Antony have been brilliant wingers: the former was part of the brilliant 2019 team, while the latter could recoup a fee upwards of €60 million.

While other clubs across Europe’s big five leagues often benefit from Ajax’s work, it’s a testament to their scouting and foresight that they’re able to achieve so much with players others rarely have a look at.