On 8 May 2012, AZ-midfielder Adam Maher was chosen as Eredivisie Talent of the Year by a jury of 10 prominent members of the Dutch football society. He was now the “chosen one” that’d get the honour of being awarded the Johan Cruyff Prize, which goes hand-in-hand with the previously mentioned title, following into the footsteps of Christian Eriksen, (10-11), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (05-06), Wesley Sneijder (03-04) and Arjen Robben (02-03).
This article, however, will not focus on the remarkable season the young AZ starlet has had, but on other young talents that have graced the Eredivisie this season. From the best of the rest, so excluding Maher, I will select a top 6 of players under the age of 21 that have impressed me the most during the 2011-2012 season, complete with a bio and a video that showcases their abilities. Grab yourself a seat, hang on and enjoy the ride!
6 – Yanic Wildschut
Born and raised in Amsterdam, Wildschut started out his career at amateur side DWV before moving to Volendam’s youth, being picked up by Almere City’s youth, leaving them for amateur side RKSV TOB and eventually ending up at Ajax. In the Dutch capital, the young winger annex striker showed potential but not the needed grit and he was eventually told to leave.
In 2010-2011, Wildschut joined FC Zwolle and played an outstanding season in the Jupiler League, playing 33 games, scoring 3 goals and gaining some vital experience. In the following summer, Eredivisie side VVV came knocking for the youngster and the pacey starlet joined them as a stand-in for Ahmed Musa. But his role would prove to be different, as he quickly made the left wing position his own and was one of VVV’s few bright spots in the relegation-fight 2011-2012. With 7 goals in 29 games, he finished as the club’s topscorer and attracted the attention of many clubs with his electric, powerful style of play.
5 – Zakaria Labyad
Labyad was born in Utrecht and started his football career at Elinkwijk, just like previous PSV youth products Ibrahim Afellay and Ismaïl Aissati. At the age of 11, Zakaria was invited on a PSV talent day and joined the Eindhoven side not long after. In 2010, at the tender age of 17, Labyad made his debut in the side and was slowly introduced to the side by manager Fred Rutten.
The 2011-2012 season would prove to be his breakthrough season in Eindhoven, as he began as the squad’s starting right winger on the back of some impressive games at the end of last season. The talented dribbler put in some good shifts and spent most of season in the starting 11, occasionally switching to midfield, despite PSV’s disappointing year. Despite issues regarding his contract and persona, the 19-year old kept his head down and finished the season with 6 goals and 7 assists.
4 – Filip Đuričić (Heerenveen)
Đuričić signed for Heerenveen in 2010, after having had a successful trial at Manchester United but failing to obtain a work permit. The “Balkan Cruyff” played some impressive games for the Frysian Under-19 team and his talent was soon recognized by new manager Ron Jans, whom brought him into the senior squad for the 2010-2011 season.
The Serbian talent experienced a rough first season though, having fitness problems at the start of season and often starting matches from the bench as the team didn’t play well under Jans. In 2011-2012, he and Heerenveen were back though and made themselves known by actively participating in the title race throughout the season. Despite playing a role of lesser note than Heerenveen’s deadly trio up front (Dost, Assaidi and Narsingh), the youngster proved to be an important cog in the Frysian season, finishing this year with 10 goals and 10 assists behind his name.
3 – Jordy Clasie
Feyenoord youngster Jordy Clasie was born a few miles away from Feyenoord legend Willem van Hanegem’s home, in Haarlem, and started playing football for local side DSK. In 2000, at the age of 9, Clasie joined the Feyenoord academy and began his ascendancy to the top of Dutch football with one step at a time. Finally, in 2010-2011, Clasie made his Eredivisie debut with Excelsior, on loan from Feyenoord, and played an impressive season under Pastoor.
At the start of the 2011-2012 season, the young midfield general returned to his club and was given his chance by new manager Ronald Koeman. In the following games, Clasie widely impressed both friend and foe with his amazing vision, passing range and ball-winning abilities and was even touted as a possible Oranje player by several pundits. He eventually ended up guiding Feyenoord to Champions League football, alongside Guidetti and Vlaar, and proved to be an integral part of Feyenoord’s “spine”.
2 – Ola John
Ola John fled from war-stricken Liberia at the age of two, along with his mother and two brothers, for Holland. Not long after, the boys were recognized as outstanding football talents and all three John’s were enrolled into the Twente/Heracles-academy. Eventually, the youngest John, Ola, made his debut in 2010 in the KNVB Cup.
That season didn’t prove to be his big breakthrough, though, as he spend his time in between the Twente first team as an understudy and the reserves. In the following year, under Co Adriaanse, Ola John did get his chance and proved to be one of the most intelligent and exciting Dutch youngsters out there. When Adriaanse left for McClaren, he kept his place in the side, despite Chadli returning from injury, and continued his ways, eventually ending up with 8 goals and 15 assists at the end season. A remarkable performance given his tender age of 19 and a sign that Ola John’s one of the first big talents to come from the Twente academy.
1 – Christian Dannemann Eriksen (Ajax)
Eriksen moved to Amsterdam from BK Odense in October 2008 and developed himself nicely with Ajax’ Under-19 side before making his breakthrough in the senior side in 2010. Since then, the young Danish playmaker has never looked back and has been one of the squad’s most important members, constantly sought after by numerous European top clubs.
This season, the 20-year old international played his second full season and often found himself under criticism because of his (lack of) goalscoring form, by both friend and foe, despite his respectable number of 7. The real difference Eriksen made in Ajax’ title-run was found in another statistic though, assists. Throughout the games, he racked up an impressive number of 15, which is only bested by Heerenveen’s Luciano Narsingh, and assisted his club considerably in winning another piece of silverware.