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Gravenberch is different gravy™

There are few other clubs better at producing and developing young talent better than Ajax. The Dutch giants have an esteemed youth academy and reserve team (Jong Ajax) that have churned out superstars like Clarence Seedorf, Frank de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard and countless others.

In fact, Seedorf held the record for the youngest ever debutant at 16 years and 242 days till 2018. The player who set the new record has become a regular starter for the team from midfield and is destined for a huge transfer in the near future.

 

That player is, of course, Ryan Gravenberch, a central midfielder who can play in the holding role along with making advanced runs. Still only 19, he has made over 100 professional appearances already for the two Ajax sides combined and appeared at Euro 2020 with the national team as well.

With his current contract set to expire in 2023 and salary negotiations at a standstill so far, Ajax are willing to sell him this year in order to avoid losing him for free.

 

Bayern Munich have submitted an official bid already to sign the player in the coming summer. No doubt, there will be many more such offers. Gravenberch is one of the Europe’s premier midfielders and is ready to take the next step.

 

Playing career so far

Having been born in 2002, Gravenberch joined amaetuer side AVV Zeeburgia in the seventh-tier of Dutch football in 2009. The club has earned a reputation of being the first team for many successful footballers including Kenny Tete, Joshua Brenet, Luciano Narsingh being some of the most well-known names. Gravenberch would only spend a solitary season there before moving onto the Ajax Youth Academy in 2010. He would slowly make his way through the different age levels before truly breaking out in 2018.

 

Having won the U17 Euros with the Netherlands, Gravenberch won the inaugural “Abdelhak Nouri Trofee,” which recognizes the best player in the Ajax academy along with the Eredivisie title and KNVB Cup double in the following season. He would make almost 50 appearances for Jong Ajax before alternating between the senior side and youth team during the 2019-20 season. Gravenberch became a regular for Ajax from 2020, making 32 appearances enroute to having a solid season that really made him a household name in the country.

 

Three goals, five assists, Ajax Talent of the Year, and Dutch Talent of the Year are the personal accolades he picked up in his first full campaign, along with winning the league and cup double of course. The fact that it was his first proper year at the senior level, it is clear that Ryan Gravenberch was a special talent who can reach way further heights.

 

Stats

The first thing to know about Ryan Gravenberch is he is always very involved in the game. Whenever Ajax is building up from the back or in need of an overload of bodies in the final third, the 19-year-old can be found with ease. That is evident from some of the key stats put together by FBREF surrounding the midfielder as he is shown to be an elite ball carrier and receiver.

Stats of Ryan Gravenberch
Stats for the past one year. Data from FBREF

 

From the above chart, it is clear that Gravenberch is both a player who can move with the ball and can be found at the end of passes. His propensity to dribble and increased touches inside the opponent’s penalty area show how far forward he often takes up positions. Erik ten Hag sets his side up in a dynamic and fluid manner, in order to blaze through opponents. Gravenberch’s 2.73 shot-creating actions per 90 is incredible given that he starts matches from a double pivot but plays alongside the frontline at times.

 

The defensive side of his game, however, is something that can be worked towards and there is no suggestion that he cannot improve there. 2.09 interceptions per 90 are a decent return for a midfielder but Gravenberch is really lacking in other indicators. 12.83 pressures, 1.00 blocks, and 1.46 tackles per 90 are all in the bottom 10 percentile when measured against similar players over the last one year. Gravenberch’s ability to play in a free roam manner enables his teammates to understand the play and drop back as and when required.

 

What the stats do not tell

Gravenberch’s 6’2’ frame makes him a lanky fit but it is incredible how agile and smooth he moves with or without the ball. Though his physicality certainly needs improving, the tactical nous of gliding into spaces and being found in dangerous areas are already important facets of his game.

 

A big part of his development right from the early years has come under the watchful eyes of Ajax’s coaches, and most importantly, ten Hag. The former Bayern Munich II and Twente manager has continued to build on the work of his predecessors by developing one of the most exciting teams on the continent.

With Gravenberch, everybody knows there will not be too many goals or assists from the player but what the team benefits is from how well the fit is.

 

Without the ball, Gravenberch gets into the channels extremely well to draw defenders and make spaces for his teammates. Gravenberch has an extremely cool head on his shoulders and his decision-making is on par with any experienced pros in the game right now.

 

What makes him special 

When you win the league’s best player award in your first full season as a regular, there’s always something that gets the world excited. Ryan Gravenberch’s progression over the past two seasons has been staggering as he is already performing at an even better level. Though he has played only 21 games, certain parameters have been on the rise nonetheless.

 

Eredivisie  Shots p90 Chances created p90 Dribbles succeeded p90 Aerials won p90 Blocks p90
2020-21 1.62 1.27 1.75 1.31 0.10
2021-22 2.03 1.33 2.78 1.45 0.17

 

Likewise, he has regressed in some areas including passing accuracy p90 (49.4 from 66.3), and interception as discussed above. Ajax can expect some more goals from him before the season ends with an xG of 2.56 currently, but the fact that he is getting assists shows his eye for the final passes that unlocks opposition defences. Gravenberch has enough time to really make these stats world class and though the Dutch league may not be the most competitive, the impending move away to an European giant is sure to mark the next step in his career.

 

Potential

Ryan Gravenberch has already made 10 appearances for the senior international team, all of them coming last year. He scored against Georgia back in June, becoming the second–youngest Oranje player in more than a decade to do so. Having announced himself to the world with Ajax, he is definitely going to be on his way out after this season.

 

Gravenberch will not be short of options, with Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid and more set to battle it out for his signature. However, given the fact that his agent is Mino Raiola, the contract talks will definitely need some time to get done.

The Bavarians have taken the headstart after discussions with Raiola recently. Their midfield does need enforcing with Correntin Tolisso becoming average and Marcel Sabitzer needing more time.

 

Getting Ryan Gravenberch will definitely put in a solid plan for the eventual succession of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric. It will be interesting to see which club eventually gets the blossoming star and improves their team.

Ratul Ghosh
His name means Red and a fan of devilish food, which equals to his favourite team being Manchester United. Can be found sleeping or in front of the TV otherwise. Hates waking up early but loves staying up late for football.

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