884 minutes without a goal, but Bergwijn slowly scrambles under Heitinga

884 minutes without a goal, but Bergwijn slowly scrambles under Heitinga
Steven Bergwijn at Ajax training session

NOS Football

  • Sam Porskamp

    Follows Ajax on behalf of NOS Sport

  • Sam Porskamp

    Follows Ajax on behalf of NOS Sport

With a nifty passing move, Steven Bergwijn outplayed FC Emmen player Mohamed Bouchouari on November 12 last year, only to shoot the ball devastatingly into the crossbar from the edge of the penalty area. It was his last goal for now, as the left winger has since gone 884 minutes dry for Ajax and the Dutch national team.

Bergwijn’s first season with the Amsterdammers has been a succession of disappointments and frustrations. On Thursday night, for example, he got involved in a riot after the painful elimination in the Europa League against Union Berlin. Coach John Heitinga then said of his team, “Maybe there were also frustrations about the way this season is going …”

Those words certainly apply to Bergwijn. The right winger was tired of sitting on the bench at Tottenham Hotspur and returned to his childhood sweetheart for a record 31.25 million euros last summer. He wanted to get minutes again, regain the joy of playing soccer and play a big role in the Champions League.

Conversely, Bergwijn was expected to be an immediate reinforcement for Ajax, especially in the big games. Bergwijn’s start in Amsterdam was promising. With eight goals and ironclad actions, he had a big part in Ajax’s good season start. Analysts at the time seemed united in their view: Bergwijn was too good for the premier league.

Bergwijn’s last goal: magnificent pounder against Emmen

The 25-year-old striker himself knew better. “I don’t think I’m too good for this level. I can learn anywhere.” As it turned out, because after that strong start, things soon slowed down.

Tap back

The ease with which he passed his men early this season was traded for fear of looking up his opponent and a lot of taps back. But the biggest difference is that Bergwijn is no longer decisive with goals, not an insignificant measure for a striker after all.

“Yes, but I think people who only look at that have little understanding of soccer,” he said recently in the Algemeen Dagblad. “It’s not only about efficiency, but also about how you make your team play better.”

Looking at the difference in statistics between Bergwijn in the first seven games and the last 23, the outfielder has a point. What stands out is that at first he crept much more into the role of finisher, but in the matches after that he had more eye for his fellow players.


In his first seven games, he not only recorded many more goals, but also significantly more shots, shots on goal, expected goals and ball contacts in the opponent’s penalty area, statistics agency Opta calculated. After that, those figures fell a lot lower, but he did create more for his fellow players (assists, chances created and crosses).

The same experts who so applauded the player early this season are now wondering if Bergwijn has not been a mis-buy. But those who look beyond goals and assists alone see that there is hope for Bergwijn, especially since the arrival of Heitinga.

Under the new coach, he is steady on the left, while under Schreuder he was roaming more often. Heitinga saw that Bergwijn provided a lot of work against Sparta last weekend and expressed that he was not worried about Bergwijn. “Stevie has so many qualities, that goal will come naturally. If he just does what he needs to do, it will come to him naturally.”


Under Heitinga, Bergwijn is slowly creeping up. Against Union Berlin he played weakly, but was important with an assist on Mohammed Kudus. Especially in the premier league, he showed small signs of life in recent weeks.

Under Heitinga he sees more crosses coming, dares to put in a dribble more often, wins more personal duels and perhaps most importantly: he shoots towards goal a lot more often (3.9 to 2.5 shots per ninety minutes).

So a goal for Bergwijn seems like a matter of time. After all, you have to shoot, otherwise you can’t score. Ruud van Nistelrooij’s ketchup theory is also a soccer wisdom Bergwijn can cling to: once an attacker has scored a goal, a whole bunch more will automatically follow.

Kayleigh Williams