Amourricho Van Axel Dongen, Ajax’s teen star turned down Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
The 17-year-old winger has already made his first-team debut in Amsterdam having been named the club’s Academy Player of the Year for 2021
It has become a cliche by now, but Ajax’s academy remains one of the best at producing and developing talent anywhere in the world.
That the conveyor belt continues to run in Amsterdam is clear just from looking at Erik ten Hag’s current squad, which sees recent academy graduates Ryan Gravenberch, Jurrien Timber and Devyne Rensch playing key roles.
However, in recent years, there has been a lack of forward players, and particularly wingers, among those to have made waves at the Johan Cruyff ArenA.
Former NXGN winner Justin Kluivert was the last to emerge, scoring 13 goals and laying on 10 assists in 56 appearances before leaving for Roma in 2019.
But that may be about to change. The current Jong Ajax squad is packed with promising wide attackers, including Naci Unuvar, Sontje Hansen and Christian Rasmussen.
The player that has pushed himself to the front of the queue in terms of breaking into Ten Hag’s squad, however, is even younger than those three teenagers.
“I think there are enough talents around to make the grade,” John Heitinga, the manager of Jong Ajax, tells GOAL.
“The latest one who managed to break through, or at least play in the first team a few times, is (Amourricho) Van Axel Dongen.”
Van Axel Dongen has emerged over the past 18 months as one of the jewels of the Ajax academy, with the 17-year-old impressing all who have seen him play or train at the Toekomst training centre.
A member of the club’s youth system since 2013, the winger’s creativity and speed is exhilarating to watch, and his performances in 2020-21 have already earned him the Abdelhak Nouri Trophy, which is awarded each year to the best player in the Ajax academy.
Gravenberch, Rensch, Unuvar, as well as Matthijs de Ligt and Christian Eriksen, are all previous winners of the prize, putting Van Axel Dongen in esteemed company, though it is another Ajax legend who first inspired him: Clarence Seedorf.
“I look up to him very much,” the teenager told Trouw. “My mother pointed him out to me and then I started to get to know him by watching videos. He was a good footballer, but also a good person.”
“He (Seedorf) sent Amourricho a message via Instagram in which he said that Amo was doing well and that he should continue like this,” Van Axel Dongen’s father, Otmar, revealed to Ajax Showtime after his son picked up his trophy in June.
“That was a really happy moment. Amourricho really liked that, and it motivates him to continue getting better.”
Van Axel Dongen took his first footballing steps at the famed Zeeburgia academy.
Based in Amsterdam, it has helped develop a number of professional players, though initially Van Axel Dongen was not at the level required and was pulled out of the club.
He did not appear on Ajax’s radar until he was playing for amateur side OSV, when scouts took notice of his explosiveness and confidence while carrying the ball.
From there, he underwent a trial at the Eredivisie giants, before officially joining the club alongside his friend Gabriel Misehouy – himself a potential star of the future.
Van Axel Dongen, who plays predominantly off the left-hand side, quickly began to skip different age-group sides, catching the attention of a number of Europe’s elite clubs in the process.
Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund all made plays to sign the wide attacker, but he instead committed his future to Ajax, signing his first professional contract at the age of 15, saying: “My goal was to stay here regardless. I want to succeed at Ajax.”
Since then, Van Axel Dongen marked his debut for Jong Ajax – who play in the Dutch second division – with an assist, before finding the net himself in his second appearance five days later.
This season, he captained Ajax during their UEFA Youth League campaign, scoring four goals in five games to catch the eye of Ten Hag, who in turn handed the wideman a first-team debut in December.
That is one of three first-team appearances Van Axel Dongen has now made, and he is expected to get further opportunities once he has recovered from the ankle injury that has ruled him out of action for the past month.
“Amourricho has a lot of potential,” Heitinga says. “He has high expectations of himself.
“He is a boy who makes the difference. He has great individuality, but can run both on the outside and inside, and has power.
“He is a boy on a mission, he knows what he wants and is very aware of the steps he has to take.
“He occasionally trains with the first team, where you can see that he is being challenged because it all moves even faster.
“You can see that Amourricho is a talented player. The spotlight is now on him.”
That spotlight got slightly brighter during the January transfer window, when the sale of David Neres and failure to sign a replacement left Ajax a little short of depth in wide areas.
In Van Axel Dongen, though, Ten Hag could already have the answer to his problems, as well as a player who can buck the trend of recent Ajax academy stars by flourishing out wide.