Justin Kluivert A key cog in Netherlands U21 success

Justin Kluivert: A key cog in Netherlands U21 success

In this blog, FA Game Insights Analyst Katie Sorenson and FA Technical Lead (5-11) Pete Sturgess take a look at Justin Kluivert’s journey and how he has been a success in the Netherlands U21 team, especially during the recent U21 Euro 2020 tournament.

Despite a rocky season within club football, Kluivert has gone from strength to strength in the Netherlands U21 team.  The Netherlands missed out on a place in the final due to a 2-1 loss to eventual winners Germany in the semis, but Kluivert was still able to showcase the skillset that first got people talking about him when he burst onto the scene in his first professional season at Ajax aged 18.  

Background and player journey   

Kluivert is a product of the famous Ajax academy, where he was named ‘Talent of the Future’ in 2017. An award won in previous years by players like Christian Eriksen, Donny Van De Beek and Matthijs de Ligt. It was strongly believed that Kluivert would make it to the top like those before him. 
 
Before making his name for the 1st team, Kluivert gained valuable experience playing for Jong Ajax in the Eerste Divisie. This league is the second tier of Dutch football, and benefits young players coming through the academy system, as they gain experience playing senior football earlier on in their development, as opposed to the U23 leagues we see here in England. His impressive appearances in this league saw him make his debut for Ajax’s 1st team at the age of 17 during the 2016/17 season, scoring his first Eredivisie goal just two months later. After 56 appearances for the Ajax first team, Kluivert got his big money move to Roma (£15 million) in 2018, making him the ninth most expensive player that Ajax had sold at the time, and also the most expensive transfer out for a player under 20 for Ajax. He spent last season on loan at RB Leipzig, making 27 appearances and scoring four goals, as the team finished in 2nd place in the Bundesliga.  
 
Kluivert is not the only footballing star in his family. He is the son of former player Patrick Kluivert. Who himself came through the Ajax academy, joining the club at the age of 5, going onto become one of the most decorated players in Dutch football history. His coaching career has seen him manage Ajax U19, whilst Justin was playing for that particular age group. Patrick more recently has acted as director of youth football at Barcelona, ensuring that academy players on the pathway to the senior team adhered to the ‘Johan Cruyff’ philosophy.   
 
Patrick has previously spoken very highly of his son. When he moved to AS Roma, he said, “I’m very satisfied with what he’s doing. He doesn’t talk much, but he’s someone who knows how to listen and is motivated.” However, he did hope that Justin would stay at Ajax for another season, rather than moving to Serie A. “I wanted him to stay at Ajax for another year, but he made his choice."  
 
Despite the fame of his father, his role model lies elsewhere, mostly due to the fact his father was a striker. He has said of Cristiano Ronaldo, “He plays in the same position. I really admire his skills but also his mentality, in the way that he truly lives for football, even at his age and having achieved so much. I saw the documentary about him and thought: ‘I want to be like him.” 
 
On 20 July 2021, Kluivert joined Ligue 1 club Nice in France on season-long loan with an option to buy. If Kluivert had of stayed at Ajax like his father hoped, where could his football journey have taken him now?  

U21 Euro 2020 

During the tournament, Kluivert attempted 27 take-ons across the tournament, the fourth most for a wide player (out of 39 left/right midfield players) and completed 17 of these attacking 1v1s (63%), the 3rd best return for a wide player during the tournament. His excellent ball mastery and nimble feet may be the reason why he suffered 17 fouls whilst on the ball, the most fouled player for a wide player during the qualification and knock out stages of the tournament, and the 8th most for every position.  

Kluivert did not only demonstrate excellent 1v1 skills during the tournament, he also was able to provide a good end product at the end of those mazy dribbles. During the knockout and group stages, Kluivert attempted 23 crosses, the highest for a wide player. The next highest was 16 by his Dutch teammate Kadioglu. These were not just hit and hope crosses either, as he was able to find a teammate and look to create goal-scoring opportunities in the box on 8 of these crosses (35% cross completion).

Coaching considerations & practice design 

Kluivert is the perfect example of a player who plays without fear and shows excellent bravery and confidence on the ball to take players on 1v1. His ability to play and look comfortable on either wing is a big plus. He has excellent pace which allows him to receive the ball in behind in the channels, to cause havoc for opposition full-backs or centre backs who have been dragged to defend in wide areas.  
 
Players who are natural dribblers and are confident to take this into pressurised game situations are hard to find. He would be a good example for our “stay on the ball” messages and our Master the body – Master the Ball ones. 

  • Mastery of ball – running at speed with the ball at feet 
     
  • Mastery of body – willingness to run into advanced positions to penetrate and attack (and also to recover and defend 

Justin Kluivert himself said “train hard and show your class at every opportunity.”  

Questions 

  • Should we invest more in ‘B teams here in England rather than the current U23 league system? 
     
  • What benefit does a strong support network have on player development? 
     
  • How can we develop more players that want to get on the ball and run at players? Is it a tech/psych balance? 

Comment below.

Image credit: Chris Ricco - UEFA

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