After losing Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt last summer, the Ajax exodus is set to move into overdrive in the coming months, with some of individuals who played a significant part in their conduct to the Champions League semi-finals at 2019 place to depart.
Ajax wouldn’t be Ajax, but if they didn’t already have ready-made replacements emerging from their famed youth program, with teens Ryan Gravenberch and Lassina Traore having already made their mark on the first team this year.
The likes of Sontje Hansen, Jurrien Timber, Kenneth Taylor, Danilo and Brian Brobbey will likely join them at the senior squad in the upcoming months and years, but maybe the best of this lot is that the player being tipped to step into Ziyech’s shoes.
Naci Unuvar won’t turn 17 until June, but he’s been a household name in the Netherlands and Turkey for decades, with clubs like Manchester United and Barcelona having shown an interest in him throughout his development.
But after becoming the youngest player to score on their mature Ajax introduction, the stage is now set for Unuvar to take another step and lead the team into their most recent chapter.
Having been picked up from the Amsterdam outfit in age eight, Unuvar was a routine in Ajax’s Under-19s side at the time he was 15 and in 2019 was voted De Toekomst’s greatest gift — a prize that has previously been won by Justin Kluivert, De Ligt and Van de Beek — after shooting the U19s into the league title.
He followed that up by playing a major role in Netherlands’ successful U17s European Championship campaign, with Unuvar scoring the fourth goal from the Oranje’s 4-2 win over Italy at the closing.
He’s confirmed that he plans to keep to represent the nation of his birth regardless of Turkey trying to lure him to change allegiance to the state of his loved ones.
He would add another later in the game before the watching Lionel Messi, with the winger showing no fear and lots of flair in an attacking operation that led to Barca deciding to track his progress ever since.
The 16-year-old has spent the vast majority of the 2019-20 effort playing for Jong Ajax in the next grade of Dutch football but has been given a senior debut at the KNVB Cup in January as the first group took on the amateur side Spakenburg.
Ten Hag threw Unuvar on for the last 15 minutes to a massive ovation from the house supporters and was rewarded when the fleet-footed wideman won a penalty in the final stages.
Even with more experienced players being on the pitch, Unuvar, at age 16 years and 223 days, stepped himself up to convert from the spot.
I’m always cool with penalties and fortunately it hit the mark,” Unuvar told the club’s official site after the 7-0 win.
“Now, it’s necessary to become physically stronger at Jong Ajax and hope I can gain more moments in the first team as soon as possible.”
“Hakim posted a movie to Instagram celebrating my target and later he said in the locker room he is proud of me. It was a really wonderful moment,” Unuvar added of the player he’s set to replace next semester, together with his favoured position at present on the left-hand , though he’s familiar with both feet.
“His favorite role is to play as a No.10, but then you get visitors from all sides. That’s actually different in the first team when compared to youth soccer,” former Ajax and Netherlands playmaker Rafael van der Vaart told De Telegraaf the afternoon following Unuvar’s headline-grabbing debut.
“That positive arrogance on the area is something I adore. Any talent that’s now breaking through at Ajax appears to have the perfect attitude. ‘Just give me the ball and it is going to be all right,’ they radiate. And I think that is superb.”
With Ajax in a struggle with AZ to defend their Eredivisie name, it’s improbable Unuvar will be afforded any more chances in the first team upon the year’s resumption, but it appears an almost certainty that Ten Hag will call upon him to the 2020-21 effort in Ziyech’s absence.
Together with his mentor gone, many think Unuvar’s ability will observe the student go on to surpass the master’s accomplishments in the game.