On September 23 2018, Ryan Gravenberch became the youngest player to have ever featured for Ajax at 16 years and 130 days, surpassing Clarence Seedorf’s record by 112 days – what were you doing when you were 16?
And since then, the now-19-year-old has progressed into a key player for the Dutch giants, endearing himself to just about anyone who has witnessed him grace a football field in the process. So much so that in March, he was made into a fully-fledged international by Netherlands manager Frank de Boer.
Heading into this summer’s delayed European Championships, Gravenberch will be the starlet in a strong and exciting Netherlands side. So we, at 90min, though we’d run you through all you should know about the young maestro.
After being awarded the inaugural ‘Abdelhak Nouri Trofee’ (recognising the Ajax academy’s best talent) back in 2018, Gravenberch has rapidly established himself in the senior starting XI. Two goals and an assist in nine Eredivisie appearances in the 2019/20 campaign (before it was suspended) has been followed by an impressive three strikes and five assists this season.
The midfielder has missed just two Eredivisie games for the title-winning side and ranks second at the club for appearances across all competitions this term – second only to Dusan Tadic. His consistently mature performances throughout the campaign have earned him international recognition with a first call up in November, before eventually making his debut in March, featuring in all three of the Netherlands’ World Cup qualifiers.
His sensational campaign has seen him win the Eredivisie player of the month for March, the 2021 Marco van Basten Award (Ajax Talent of the Year) and the 2020/21 Dutch Football Talent of the Year – which, all at just 18 to 19 years of age, has well and truly put him in the spotlight for the upcoming Euros.
Gravenberch has actually been used in a variety of positions throughout his career. At youth levels, he was often used as a striker and left winger while, more recently, the Ajax man featured at right back for his national side against Gibraltar.
However, there’s no doubt that Gravenberch is at his most effective in midfield. He has been utilised as a number ten and as a holding midfielder on numerous occasions for Ajax, but has been most frequently utilised as the former.
Gravenberch has been incessantly compared to Paul Pogba for a few years now and, with dangly, long legs allowing him to effortlessly protect the ball and break free from tight spots, long-range shooting ability and his height-defying elegance in possession, it’s easy to see why.
In fact, the midfielder’s former youth coach Brian Tevreden actually thinks he’s even better than the Frenchman, once saying (via liverpoolecho.co.uk): “Technically, I would say he’s a better version of Pogba in his best days at Juventus, in terms of his technique and his presence on the pitch. He’s very dominant like Pogba was, and that’s what I see in Ryan.” Now that is some call, Brian.
“He has a lot of capacities, especially in an attacking sense…but he also comes to understand ‘that other work’ better and better.”
– Erik ten Hag
“De Ligt might have been an exception at that age, but Gravenberch has unrivalled qualities.”
– Ronald de Boer
“He is the greatest talent in the Netherlands.”
– Wim Kieft
After the latest updates, you can find Gravenberch at a 77 base overall rating, and at his age that’s special.
And, although he comes with a hefty £22m value, he’s only going to get better and better – and better – potentially reaching an overall rating of 89 given the right training regime and game time. With a weekly salary of just £5.3k, he’s well worth it.
The midfielder doesn’t come with the tag of ‘wonderkid’ on Football Manager (although, surely that has to change soon) but he is still lined up to become one of the superstars of Dutch football in years to come.
With very impressive starting stats in mental and creative areas – combined with a good level of consistency – you’d be a fool not to take a punt on him.
The 19-year old has been wearing the adidas Nemesis 19.1 throughout this season and will likely pick up a Euro 2020 variant of those to feature for the Netherlands.
Gravenberch hasn’t started for his nation yet and, with the quality of Frenkie de Jong, Gini Wijnaldum, Davy Klassen and Marten de Roon on show, Frank de Boer probably won’t use the European Championships as an opportunity to throw the youngster in at the deep end.
Having said that, the midfielder has featured in the Netherlands’ last three matches and provides De Boer with a guaranteed ‘X Factor’. So, if the Flying Dutchmen find themselves through to the knockout stage with the third matchday still to come, expect the 19-year old to start.
In any case, his ability to create attacks from deep make him a valuable asset – one that will surely be utilised in one way or another throughout the Netherlands’ run in the tournament.