Name: Ryan Gravenberch
Date of birth: 16-05-2002
Place of birth: Netherlands
Height: 1.90 M
Preferred position: central midfielder, attacking midfielder
Other position: Defensive midfielder
Previous club: Zeeburgia (youth)
To become Ajax’s youngest ever player, breaking a 26-year-old Clarence Seedorf record in the process, is a tremendous show of faith, and a sign that you might just be destined for the very top. The man to do that was Ryan Gravenberch, a shy, lanky midfielder, who in 2018, made his Ajax debut at the age of just 16 years and 130 days.
Since then, it would be fair to say that the Dutch youngster has stalled somewhat in his development – with Gravenberch featuring just three times for the Ajax first team this season. His natural ability has never been in question, as Ryan has always been blessed with a unique God-given talent. Tall and rangy, quick over a short distance, a wonderful striker of the ball, and, perhaps most important to the Ajax scouts, he has a superb eye for a pass. Few doubt his ability, the only thing that some call into question, is his attitude. Gravenberch has a cool, laidback approach to life, the likes of which we perhaps associate with a bygone era. His father describes how the young Ryan would sometimes drift away from the task in hand, football games included. He even called his son a “strange guy” after his quirkier antics became something of a running joke in the Ajax set up. But if you want the answer as to why first-team appearances have been in short demand on late, and why the likes of Noa Lang and others have pushed on ahead – then perhaps his personality traits give us a small clue.
That aside however, it is important to note that Ryan is still just 17 years of age, and that the talent has no sign of being wasted just yet. Gravenberch has enjoyed a superb season for Jong Ajax, where he has scored six times so far, contributing with four assists. Furthermore, these haven’t exactly been average goals or assists either. The Dutchman has a flair for the spectacular, as well as a habit of scoring from long-range. He is also a master of the through ball, timing it to perfection when Jong Ajax break away on the counter. Combine this with his obvious physical advantages, and you have one hell of a prospect. But that’s just the problem – now is the time to go from prospect to prodigy, just like Frenkie De Jong, Mohammed Ihattaren and even Noa Lang have done before him. The next step will be a crucial one.
Clearly, though, the Dutch national set up also sees something they like in Gravenberch. The imposing midfielder has featured in various carnations of Holland’s youth system, from the Under 16s, to Under 19s – where he currently plays. In fact, it is for the Under 17s, in 2018’s U17 Euro Championships, that I first watched a young, raw Ryan Gravenberch. While attending various games at that championships, I had the privilege of watching Holland, the eventual winners. Two players in that Dutch squad caught my attention almost immediately – Ryan, and Mohammed Ihattaren. It’s no surprise to me that Mohammed has gone on to impress in the Eredivisie – but it’s now Ryan’s turn to show the world exactly what he is capable of.
There will never be a better time than now for Gravenberch to break into the Ajax first team. Following Frenkie De Jong’s departure last summer, the club signed more experienced players to fill the void that the Barcelona man left behind. Razvan Marin and Edson Alvarez are clearly talented young players but make no mistake about it – if Ten Hag thinks he has another gem waiting to be unearthed, he won’t hesitate to give him opportunities. Now is the time for Ryan to establish himself as that next gem. Opportunities have, and will come again, but the 17-year-old has to make the most of them – just like Lang has of late. If he can do that, you can be sure that the Ajax hierarchy will push for him to be more and more involved, sensing they have another generational talent on their hands. Many have compared Ryan to Paul Pogba, a relatively apt comparison, given his physical attributes, and their similarities as footballers. However, the young Gravenberch, cannot fall into the same unfulfilled promise trap (at club level at least) that Pogba suffers from today.
In terms of what comes next, that will very much depend on Ryan himself, and on whether he can sufficiently impress the powers that be at Ajax. You get the feeling with Ten Hag and co, that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, as Noa Lang’s recent run the side confirms. If the Dutch boss sees form, desire, and the right attitude, little should stand in the way of the 17-year-old making an impact in senior football. He has every attribute you’d want from a modern midfielder, and in that sense, his future is very much in his own hands