How AZ draws talents from front yard of rival Ajax: ‘Seventy percent from Amsterdam’

How AZ draws talents from front yard of rival Ajax: ‘Seventy percent from Amsterdam’
Wouter Goes after winning the UEFA Youth League

NOS Football

AZ’s youth team made history this week by becoming the first Dutch club ever to win the UEFA Youth League, in extraordinarily impressive fashion. Where do all the Alkmaar talents come from anyway?

From Amsterdam. And from the surrounding area, to be precise. While Ajax’s youth training program has, after several fat years, come under fire, the Alkmaarders are successfully fishing in the Amsterdam pond.

“Seventy percent of our players come from the Amsterdam area,” technical director Max Huibert told me after the 5-0 win over Hajduk Split in the Youth League final.

Four strongmen

A look at Europe’s best youth team reveals at least four of its star players are from or around Amsterdam.

Captain Wouter Goes was born in the capital, started playing soccer at ASV Arsenal, played four years in youth at Ajax, and moved to AZ as a 12-year-old in 2016.

The cradle of Ernest Poku, who scored two goals in the Geneva final, was also in Amsterdam. He played soccer at SV Robinhood and AFC before joining AZ as a fifteen-year-old.

Goalkeeper Rome-Jayden Owusu-Oduro – hero of the penalty shootout in the semifinals – and Jayden Addai – who shot AZ into the lead in the final – are both from Purmerend, under the smoke of Amsterdam. Owusu-Oduro came through D.V.C. Buiksloot (now ASC De Volewijckers) to AZ’s youth academy, Addai through VPV Purmersteijn.

Goalkeeper Rome-Jayden Owusu-Oduro after winning the Youth League final

The large number of players from the outskirts of Amsterdam also has to do with the club’s move in 2016 to a state-of-the-art sports complex in Wijdewormer, which is closer to the capital than to Alkmaar.

“In the past, the players had to sit in a van for half an hour, three quarters of an hour,” Huiberts said. “That has decreased considerably now, guys live in the vicinity of our training complex. That gives you extra time to train more and give attention to your players. That’s an advantage.”

But the move had another advantage. “Players also used to choose another club sometimes, because AZ was quite a distance away,” said Paul Brandenburg, head of youth training since 2015. “We moved closer to our kids and that gave a boost.”

Moreover, the Alkmaarers also deliberately scout in and around the capital, and talent days are also organized there.

Amsterdammers in the A-selection

Of the four ‘Amsterdam’ Youth League heroes, Goes and Poku already made their appearance in AZ’s first team. The Alkmaar A-selection has more players who were plucked from the capital’s front yard at a young age.

Myron van Brederode, who is having his breakthrough this season, was born in Hoofddorp, but ended up in AZ’s youth team as a thirteen-year-old via local SV Overbos and Amsterdam’s AFC.

Together with Maxim Dekker, Van Brederode was present with AZ in the Youth League last season, where the adventure ended in the eighth finals. Dekker is from Rijsenhout – 20 kilometers from Amsterdam and 48 from Alkmaar – and has played with the youth of AZ since he was thirteen.

Goalkeeper Hobie Verhulst is an Amsterdam native and was lured to Alkmaar as an eleven-year-old via Koog aan de Zaan, where he is now on the bench after a series of wanderings.

Trio of 50 million

But it is not only Wijdewormer that has a great attraction for young soccer talents from Amsterdam. Even before the move in 2016, they knew how to find their way to Alkmaar. Like the big names from the AZ selection that caused a furor in the late decade.

Myron Boadu was born in Amsterdam and started playing soccer at SC Buitenveldert. There, at age eleven, he was spotted by Ajax, but rejected after a practice placement. A year later he joined AZ, where he fared much better.

Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu

Guus Til was born in Zambia but grew up in Amsterdam-Zuidoost. AZ took him away from SV Diemen at the age of thirteen. And Adam Maher, born in Morocco, also learned to play soccer in Amsterdam before walking into the Alkmaar youth academy at the age of eleven.

Calvin Stengs is from Nieuw-Vennep and is also a product of the Alkmaar youth academy. The Boadu-Til-Stengs trio eventually earned AZ a total of 50 million euros with transfers to AS Monaco, OGC Nice and Spartak Moscow.

Less lucrative transfers at the time were for Joris van Overeem, Derrick Luckassen and Marko Vejinovic. They are well known AZ names who had their cradle in the Amsterdam area.

So what is the secret of AZ’s youth academy, in which a lot was deliberately invested after the bankruptcy of DSB then-money lender Dirk Scheringa?

“There isn’t really any,” technical director Huiberts stated earlier this week. “Make sure you bring a lot of talented people together, with a good program and good facilities. We’ve been doing that well for years, I think. And stick to your vision, regardless of periods of setbacks or just success.”

Jealous of AZ

AZ’s youth training is thus flourishing as never before, with a European Cup as proof. Moreover, the club is purveyor of Oranje under-17 and Oranje under-19.

Ernest Poku in Orange under 19

How different is the mood at the rival in Amsterdam. In the A-selection of Ajax there are still only two Amsterdammers: Brian Brobbey and Steven Bergwijn. The up-and-coming talent Jorrel Hato comes from Rotterdam. Kenneth Taylor notabene from Alkmaar.

Would they at Ajax be jealous of AZ?

“I find it difficult to say anything about that, because I’m not aware of the program they run there,” Huiberts said. “I do know that by also good players play and good people walk around.”

Head of youth training Brandenburg refers to the other counter: “You have to ask Amsterdam, you have to be at Ajax…”

Kayleigh Williams