Following on from Ajax’s dream double winning, Champions League semi-final reaching season last year, interest in their star assets was inevitable. With Frenkie de Jong’s move to Barcelona finalised in January, and Matthijs de Ligt signing for Juventus after a long, drawn-out transfer saga, Ajax desperately needed to find quality replacements.

  • by Ellis Douglas
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However, Ajax, being the club that they are, had already prepared well in advance. The Jong Ajax squad is always teeming with talent. Players like Carel Eiting, Jurgen Ekkelenkamp and Dani de Wit, who have been learning the Ajax style of play from a young age, will all be desperate to make the vacated de Jong position their own.

The de Ligt shaped hole, however, has noticeably fewer options to fill the void. This lead Ajax to spending big (relatively) on three central defenders in Edson Álvarez, Lisandro Martinez and Kik Pierie this transfer window. Meanwhile, signed from Fortuna Sittard for a meagre two million euros two years prior, Perr Schuurs looks like he could be the one to take the reins.

Equipped with solid technical ability, excellent anticipation, exquisite calmness and a tendency to prioritise ball retention, Schuurs appears to be much more de Jong than de Ligt. And is there any better fit for a technically gifted central defender than at the heart of an Ajax back four? (Barcelona perhaps, yes, but still.)

On top of his technical cornerstone, Schuurs, unlike many other technical players, is not afraid to stick his head where it hurts. At six feet three inches tall (1.91m), he has the ideal frame for holding off attackers and winning more than his fair share of headers aided by his brilliant anticipation. Given time and plenty gym work, Schuurs could develop into a defender of real stature and authority, not just a “tip tap Charlie” as Tony Pulis likes to coin any defender who doesn’t pass the ball at least 25 meters a time.

Another way in which Schuurs is reminiscent of de Jong is how comfortable he appears to be on the ball. In Ajax’s 2-0 victory over PSV in the Johan Cruyff shield, the Eredivisie season’s traditional curtain opener, Schuurs appeared to be very calm every time he received the ball. He wanted the ball in his own half and the opposition’s – exactly what Ajax want from their central defenders. When he did receive the ball, it was often a simple pass, off either foot, to a nearby teammate to continue circulating the ball but that certainly isn’t the ceiling of his passing abilities.

For the opening goal of the game, Schuurs received the ball and took a couple strides forward before slipping a firm pass through two lines of PSV players to the feet of Tadić, who laid it off smartly to Veltman, eventually leading to a goal. This exemplified just how important having a defender who can play from the back is. Had the ball gone long to Dolberg who knows what could have happened.

Additionally, he has shown multiple times, for both Fortuna and Jong Ajax, that he can zing a 50-metre pass right to the feet of his intended target with ease. This range of passing from a defender is similar to that of ex-Ajacied Jaïro Riedewald. Riedewald found himself playing at full-back, centre-back and defensive midfield whilst at Ajax and I see no reason why Schuurs cannot do the same.

Still, versatility at times can be more of hindrance. Riedewald these days is finding playing time at Crystal Palace harder and harder to come by. This is perhaps down to him not having a set position. He is not quick enough to be an effective full back in the Premier League whilst he isn’t physically strong enough to cut it as a central defender either. With this and his versatility in mind it is easy to see how Riedewald has become something of a utility player; jack of all trades, master of none.

In order to avoid similar pitfalls, Schuurs should always play centrally when possible. Perhaps the odd game in midfield would aid his development, but for the sake of his long term future central defender should be his regular position. With the right aid and coaching, Schuurs has every chance of becoming more Gerard Pique than Jaïro Riedewald.

With his expert poise and coolness, Schuurs has all the makings of an Ajax star. Should he add a little more strength and athleticism to his game he could become a genuine, worldwide superstar. With the coolness and slick passing of de Jong, coupled with the heading and tackling abilities of de Ligt, he has the foundations to become a leading, archetypal Ajax defender. With de Ligt and de Jong leaving behind massive boots to fill, it appears Schuurs has taken one from each – and he’s wearing them in wonderfully.




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