Eredivisie revelations 5: 17-year-old Zivkovic ready to take Holland by storm
Over the next few days, BeNeFoot will countdown the top 10 revelations to come through in the Eredivisie this season.
We look at the brightest players who have emerged and impressed fans and pundits alike with an excellent 2013-14 season. Numbers 10 through 6 have already been unveiled and today we continue the countdown with number five.
Richairo Zivkovic – By Michiel Jongsma
While loads of young footballers fade away after upon big clubs in their teens, there are always some exceptions. Richairo Zivkovic was rumoured to be approached by Manchester City, PSV and Ajax among others as a youngster, but chose to stay at FC Groningen and has now, at 17, finished his first full season in professional football with over 30 matches and 11 goals under his belt. His excellent performances earned Zivkovic a €2.5 million transfer to Ajax. The Amsterdam club is rumoured to have their eyes on another striker to give the teenager some extra time to develop, with several names mentioned as first striker next season. But given that Zivkovic has been more productive than Ajax topscorers Sigthorsson and Schone with 10 league goals, is it really necessary to protect the Dutch U19 youth international from vying for a first team spot?
Zivkovic is the youngest player to score 10 Eredivisie goals in the last decade and his talent was always quite obvious. When he joined his first football club as an eight-year-old, amateur club FVV Foxhol, he almost immediately moved up an age category, going on to score 32 goals in one season. The Assen-born forward moved to Groningen aged 11 and when he was interviewed that year for FC Groningen TV, the commentator signed off with saying that ‘maybe we could see him in the first team of in about 10 years’.
The years that followed up to his debut were a bit rockier than the mere five years that separated his debut and the interview suggest. Zivkovic, whose father stems from Curacao but was brought up by his Serbian mother, struggled to find the right
motivation around the age of 15 and in an attempt to get him motivated again, was moved up an age class. It was then he started to show his class again. Within months, he moved from the 14-16 age category to the Groningen reserves, prompting interest from some of the biggest clubs in Europe. In an attempt to win the young forward over, he was promised a chance to fight for a first team spot soon and after signing his first professional contract, he was handed his debut in the senior squad against Heracles Almelo by manager Robert Maaskant. With his 6 minute cameo in that game he became the youngest Groningen player ever (16 years and 88 days), breaking the previous record of Arjen Robben.
It wouldn’t be the last record he took from the current star player of Bayen Munich. In the rest of the 2012-13 season, he struggled with the sudden rise he had encountered, but on the first matchday of 2013-14, he was back. He had set himself a few goals and Zivkovic took his first objective scoring in his first league appearance that season (vs. N.E.C. 1-4). With that, he branded his name on another clubrecord, becoming the youngest goalscorer for the club from the North. In the following matches, he was brought on by new coach Erwin van de Looi and quickly added to his tally, making his name as an impact sub.
On the 3rd of November, Van de Looi found the time right to trust his young prodigy with a starting place. With that, he became the youngest starter in the Eredivisie for over 3 years. Zivkovic gave a decent account of himself over the course of a few matches, but when the more experienced Michael de Leeuw was back from injury the youngster was put out of the limelight for a while again.
In the playing time he was given though, Ajax had seen enough. This forward could become a top player for years to come. One and a half years after their earlier approach, Ajax sealed the deal, meaning the 17-year-old striker would join the Amsterdam club after the summer for a reported fee of €2.5 million plus add-ons. The confidence boost brought on by his pending transfer, he quickly reclaimed a starting spot in the Groningen team.
With five goals in seven matches, as many in his 22 matches before, he was instrumental in his side’s bid to set a new club record in terms of consecutive wins. Despite his age, Zivkovic presented himself as a very mature striker. From his first game, he had shown his ability. His pace, his strength, his vision and decent technique too. But most of all, the youngster seems unimpressed by whatever goes on on the pitch. He was pushed over out of nothing during the last league game of the regular season and instead of being angered, he later told a reporter that he saw it as ‘a compliment, apparently he had a hard time stopping me’.
Groningen finished seventh, earning a spot in the Eredivisie play-offs. In the fight for a Europa League spot, the Trots van het Noorden ran rampant over Vitesse, beating them 4-1 in Arnhem after winning the home leg 1-0. In that match in the GelreDome, Zivkovic once again showed his composure as he made it 2-1 to his side. Instead of celebrating wildly, he remained so calm afterwards that some thought the goal was ruled out. Some may confuse this with arrogance or a lack of joy. But the young attacker just feels he should be able to score in each and every game. Judging by his first full season as a professional player, he might be right.