‘SO good in the small space’

‘SO good in the small space’
Mohammed Kudus

NOS Football

  • Sam Porskamp

    Follows Ajax on behalf of NOS Sport

  • Sam Porskamp

    Follows Ajax on behalf of NOS Sport

Hidden in his sports scarf, Mohammed Kudus is the last Ajax player to enter the training pitch on Wednesday afternoon. Once inside the lines, the 22-year-old ball wizard thinks nothing of hiding. For weeks now, he has been the standout in the Amsterdam side and trainer John Heitinga cherishes his talent.

“He has so many individual qualities,” said the coach during a press talk moments later at the Johan Cruijff Arena. Today the Europa League intermediate round match against Union Berlin awaits there (kickoff 6:45 p.m.).

Germany’s number two has been the surprise in the Bundesliga this season and has been praised for its organized and tough play. Not surprisingly, Ajax are looking at Kudus’ qualities.

Good in the small space

Heitinga: “We often play against compact organizations and he is terribly good in the small space. He can score a goal, accelerate through and create a stall situation. I think we should be happy that we have guys like that playing in the Johan Cruijff Arena.”

Heitinga praises Kudus: ‘And there is still a lot of room in it’

Whereas under the fired Alfred Schreuder he shuttles between bench and base, under John Heitinga Kudus is one of the first names to appear on the match sheet. Not in the striker, as under Schreuder, but in a free role from the right.

That Ajax can look upward again is largely due to the whims of Kudus. And with the Ghanaian starting on the right, the shuffling on that side seems to be a thing of the past. Even though Kudus himself says he still prefers to play in midfield.

The most important thing for Kudus is that together with his fellow players – in particular with Steven Berghuis he forms an ironclad pair – he gets the freedom to do what he is good at. Dribbling, passing, creating chances and switching positions a lot. Then it doesn’t matter where he plays.

Indeed, in September, Kudus was also praised to the skies in the British media as a striker after his world-class goal against Liverpool. “This is the next gem from the Ajax school,” the English newspapers said.

Twice close to leaving

Kudus is fast making good on that prediction, and to think that twice he would have been close to leaving Ajax altogether. In the summer, Kudus is close to a transfer to English side Everton. However, Ajax did not cooperate and the transfer fell through at the last minute.

Even in the winter transfer window, Kudus is pushing for a departure, and from Ajax’s perspective that does not seem like a crazy idea. Under Schreuder, he is not a regular base player and at the World Cup, despite Ghana’s early elimination, he played in the spotlight.

Clubs like Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool have tens of millions left over for Kudus, who transferred from Denmark’s Nordsjaelland for nine million in 2020.

Revived Kudus darts, dribbles, juggles and scores at Ajax

But Kudus remains, and with the pursuit of the KNVB Cup, Europa League and national title in mind, Heitinga is rubbing his hands that the dribbler is still playing soccer in Amsterdam. Since Heitinga’s arrival, Kudus has distinguished himself in every match with a decisive action or goal.

Is he currently playing at the top of his game? Heitinga doesn’t think so. “He is lifting the team to a higher level, but I also think there is still a lot of stretch in Kudus.”

Kayleigh Williams