Peter Bosz is one of the most progressive coaches in European football and his Ajax project began with a tough period of adjustment but is now on an incredible upward trajectory. 21-year-old Daley Sinkgraven who was once hailed as a midfield prodigy has got in on the ground floor as a budding fullback.

  • By Chaka Simbeye
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sinkgraven ajaDaley Sinkgraven joined Ajax as one of the brightest young attacking midfielders in the Eredivisie from Frisian talent hotbed, Heerenveen. The same club that nurtured the creative genius of Luciano Narsingh and Hakim Ziyech but Sinkgraven has taken the long route to regular first team football and has found himself in a completely new position. He had limited success as creative left winger while he struggled with the physical responsibility of a box-to-box midfield role but after a gradual adjustment period, he has begun to look the real deal at left back.

Sinkgraven losing possession in the UEFA Champions League Qualifying round against Rapid Wien for the Austrian team to score and Jasper Cillissen to rush out of his goal to give the youngster a haranguing was as brutal to watch as Sinkgraven’s bewildered facial expression as he trudged back into position to restart the game. After a similar incident happened for Celtic to score against Ajax at home in the Europa League groupstage, it seemed that Sinkgraven would struggle to find a place in the side after Amin Younes became the undisputed left winger and Davy Klaassen the undisputed attacking midfielder. The 6.5 million euros Marc Overmars spent to pry him away from Heerenveen looked like a total blunder.

One position Ajax are not short in is in midfield as Sinkgraven seemed to be a player who looked a level below the starters and who blocked the path for youngsters like Donny Van De Beek, Abdelhak Nouri and Frenkie De Jong to the first team. Sinkgraven found himself playing with Jong Ajax as it seemed him and Richairo Zivkovic who was signed from Groningen exhibited Overmars lack of nous in the transfer market. Many were shocked to find Sinkgraven’s name on a starting lineup this season, let alone at left back as Peter Bosz made an inspired choice to use Sinkgraven’s technical skills and energy to move the ball forward with more zest and impetus.

Ajax’ defence is now made up of a 20-year-old sweeper-keeper in Andre Onana, a centre-back playing at right back in Joel Veltman, last season’s third or fourth choice centre-back in Nick Viergever, the domineering 20-year-old Colombian in Davinson Sanchez and an attacking midfielder at left back in Sinkgraven. Last season’s first choice left back was Mitchell Dijks who is a product of the Ajax academy and was part of the team that made it to the final of the 2011/12 Nextgen series with Veltman and Klaassen but moved permanently to Willem II before being brought back last summer. Dijks is a physically imposing specimen of a player who cherishes physical battles and overlapping his winger to pump crosses into the box as he even earned a call-up to the Dutch National Team last season.

From the beginning of the positional change, Sinkgraven always seemed like a midfielder playing at fullback as he enjoyed underlapping his left winger Younes to help string together passing sequences in the middle while from a defensive standpoint he thrived in positioning himself in a position to intercept long diagonal balls to wingers from the opposition. He struggled in the one-on-one tussles which are so imperative to the life of a modern day fullback and always positioned himself too centrally which forced his teammates to drift out wide to cover him and gave opposition wingers more time and space on the ball. He also made a huge blunder in Der Klassieker against Feyenoord as he mis-controlled a ball as the last man to be robbed in possession by Bilal Basacikoglu for the young Turk to go one-on-one with Onana.

Sinkgraven has now grown as he is beginning to relish the physical contests with wingers and has become more willing to challenge his man one-on-one. He also makes crucial interceptions and acts as an extra midfielder when Ajax are in the build up phase as he normally pushes inside to give the man on the ball an extra passing option. Younes has been the perfect winger as his style is to isolate his fullback out wide and then cut inside with mazy runs to the top of the box as this has allowed Sinkgraven to play more centrally until the German is in possession.

Sinkgraven has three assists this season as his peach of a cross for Kasper Dolberg’s third goal against NEC Nijmegen was one of his finest deliveries. His strength is the poise that he brings in possession as he is more involved in Ajax’ style of play than most fullbacks in Europe. However, he will need to curtail his nasty side as he has five yellow cards in his last 10 games with two consecutive yellows. His challenges could be timed better but that should come with more experience in the role. Sinkgraven admitted himself as a naturalised midfielder that he felt uncomfortable seeing himself as a fullback.

“I wanted to play and then playing every minute is a chance to show you. Only left back I would have never expected. In the first two league matches of the season I had a place, but as a left attacker. And all my life I mainly played as a midfielder. If you suddenly see your name on the board as a left back, which feels very uncomfortable, ” said Sinkgraven to Voetbal International earlier this season.

Bosz pitched the change in position as an opportunity and mentioned the likes of Wim Suurbier, Winston Bogarde and Michael Reiziger to inspire Sinkgraven to be willing to adapt to a new position. As a result, Sinkgraven has usurped Dijks and has seen his most regular spell of football since joining Ajax which has coincided with the Amsterdammers 19 match unbeaten streak as they haven’t tasted defeat since the 28th of August. Bosz has even lauded the youngster, tipping him to remain in the position going forward.

“He has since so many games played at the position that I want to speak no more of an experiment . Daley is doing well. He makes mistakes, but that’s a matter of getting used to. Moreover, I see defenders around the world who make mistakes. When I look at the overall picture, I think he can be a player who can fill very well in the future. Sinkgraven can be a very modern fullback, ” Bosz said to Voetbal International.

Sinkgraven is currently nursing himself back from an injury he picked up against Groningen last weekend but his performances have been brilliant recently. A few weeks ago, he returned to Heerenveen in a tough game and went off to a standing ovation as he has gone from being a liability to one of Ajax’ most integral players. Against Heerenveen, he had an 88% pass success rate (90% in the final third) won 5 tackles and made one block while against Groningen he had 3 interceptions and 11 ball recoveries. Overall he has 1 goal and 3 assists this season, he makes 2 tackles and 2 interceptions per game with 1 key pass and 2 dribbles. He makes 40 passes at a succession rate of 85% with 3 accurate long balls per game which is impressive for a fullback according to WhoScored.

Sinkgraven is only 21-years-old and regular game time in an entertaining Ajax side who are performing exceptionally in the Europa League and the Eredivisie can only aid his development. Lasse Schone who has spent a large majority of his career as a forward is now thriving at the base of the Ajax midfield as Bosz has made two of the most inspired positional changes in recent history. Sinkgraven’s confidence has grown with his increased game time and responsibility as he can grow into one of the leading fullbacks in the Eredivisie.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)