Riechedly Bazoer: Ajax and Netherlands’ rising star
As the boos rang out around him and, among other things, a mobile phone flew from the 35,000 strong crowd and landed beside him, 18-year-old Riechedly Bazoer must have felt that, after seven years in PSV’s youth system, this was never how he imagined his first Eredivisie game in the Philips Stadion would go. Given the circumstances, though, he would not have expected a warm reception.
Such treatment is a harsh one to bestow on anyone, let alone a teenager, but for many PSV fans, it was deserved reception for a player who had committed the ultimate betrayal.
Having brought him in as a nine-year-old and helped develop him into one of Netherlands’ most talented prospects, Bazoer deserted the Eindhoven powerhouse at 16 for fierce rivals Ajax. That match, a 3-1 win for Ajax in March 2015, gave PSV fans their first chance to show Bazoer what they thought of him.
“I knew they resented me, but I didn’t think it would be so severe,” he told Voetbal International. “That hatred in the eyes of the fans…
“Only later did I come to think: What if that phone had hit me at full speed on the head?”
Sadly, the vitriol extended beyond the footballing context and the confines of the Philips Stadion.
“Around that match my number was posted on the internet, I have no idea why. But suddenly I was getting calls from unknown numbers and then I was rotten and reviled by PSV fans. Or else I received text messages that wished me everything. I was a dirty Jew and a traitor. Those kind of texts.
“It was sad, but on the pitch it didn’t bother me.”
The mere act of ditching PSV for Ajax may not have begotten that extent of brutal abuse on its own, but the fans’ anger was perhaps exacerbated by incredible loss. Having impressed and progressed through PSV’s youth system rapidly as a centre-back, the Utrecht-born player grew a reputation as one of the most promising youngsters in the country.
“Within PSV everyone was convinced that Riechedly was a super talent,” his former youth coach Roland Vroomans said.
Big, strong and intelligent with fine technique, Bazoer was a precocious talent. However, sure of his talents and an articulate youngster who found playing in his own age group too easy, he was seen as a somewhat difficult player to deal with as he began to argue with coaches.
Eventually, he was moved into the PSV Under 17s for the 2011-12 campaign, a particularly impressive feat given that, not only was he born in 1996, but in October of that year. Indeed, throughout Bazoer’s time in the academy, he was always the youngest and one of the minority who were born in the second half of the year. The only exception was in the U17s, in which a goalkeeper was two months younger and the only other player born after July ’96.
While the ex-USV Elinkwijk player was progressing through the system and developing at an incredible rate, other clubs began to show an interest. That players Bazoer felt were inferior to him were being preferred by coaches infuriated him, even when they were two years older, as was the case with Menno Koch, who spent the second half of last season on loan as part of the NAC Breda team which was relegated. He was justified in his scepticism of his prospects there, too, as very few players have emerged from De Herdgang and made a mark on the first team over the last few years.
Ajax and Manchester City offered him a way out and he came close to joining the latter, as he held talks with Roberto Mancini and started looking for accommodation.
“I went over and it was a special experience,” he told VI. “People like Patrick Vieira and Sergio Agüero came to have a chat with me and I talked with Roberto Mancini. Stars I knew on the PlayStation suddenly gave me attention.
“There was a three-year contract ready. Eventually my mother played a key role. She said I was too young to go abroad and felt I could develop in a familiar environment in the Netherlands.
“When we discussed these thoughts, Ajax came into play.”
Impressed by Ajax’s long-term plan to develop him into a midfielder and with his path to the first-team mapped out, Bazoer decided a move to the capital club was best and subsequently made national headlines when his decision was revealed.
At 16-year-old, he was immediately given his first taste of professional football as he was thrown into the Jong Ajax midfield for the first game of the 2013-14 season in Dutch football’s second tier.
From the beginning it was evident that Bazoer possesses a maturity beyond his years. A smooth and graceful player, his height and build give him a massive presence on the field while his passing and reading of the game helped him dominate the midfield.
One of the reserves’ most valuable players, it seemed obvious he would not have to wait very long for a chance in the Ajax first team. He had already been promoted through the youth teams at national level, having made his U19s debut as a 16-year-old.
As his development in the Jong Ajax continued through the first half of the 2013-14 campaign, De Boer could not hold him back any more and brought him on for his debut in the 5-0 drubbing of Willem II in December.
Although Bazoer sees himself as a deep lying central midfielder – a No.6, De Boer utilised him in a more attacking sense. Attempting to gain ground on runaway champions PSV, the Godenzonen boss decided to mix up the midfield by making Davy Klaassen the No.6 throughout the second half of the campaign, while Bazoer lined up ahead of him. However, the fluidity of the midfield saw them swap positions during games, as is Ajax’s style under De Boer.
“Riechedly is just a great talent,” the coach said. “The No.6 position is his goal and I see it in his future, but he is not ready to play there.
“In this place it is important to have a player who leads and pulls the team. Klaassen is doing that well at the moment and Riechedly also helps out. The time is getting closer that he will change position and take on those tasks.
“He is so talented and stable, I see him as a major force in the future of Ajax and Dutch football.”
While Bazoer may not have been playing in his preferred position, there was no indication of it in his suitability to his new role as he became a regular starter for Ajax in the second half of the season.
At over six feet tall and with an intimidating frame, it is hard to believe the midfielder is only 18-years-old, even more so considering his playing style. With his awareness and movement off the ball coupled with his control, strength and passing ability, the matured Bazoer looked right at home in the midfield which included Klaassen and Thulani Serero as well as €6.5 million January purchase Daley Sinkgraven. For a kid who had just emerged in the first-team, it did not take long before he could be seen instructing team-mates to pick up a run or directing them from the centre of the park.
With his anticipation and energy, Bazoer tends to play a box-to-box role, putting his solid tackling ability to good use and then linking up with the likes of Ricardo Kishna, Anwar El Ghazi and Arkadiusz Milik. And he gave a hint at how instinctive and composed he can be with his first and only goal of the season. Taking a chipped pass onto his chest inside the box, he lashed at it to send it beyond Sonny Stevens to give Ajax the lead.
In a particularly dismal campaign for Ajax, as they handed their Eredivisie crown to PSV having failed to mount a serious challenge, Bazoer was one of the bright spots.
He is, of course, nowhere near the finished article and must develop in some areas. For one, he still does tend to give the ball away a bit too frequently and is inefficient in his shooting. However, these are normal deficiencies for a young player to have. Considering his age and that he is without a full season in the first team, his starting level is very high.
The capture of Nemanja Gudelj to add to a midfield selection which already includes the very talented Klaassen, Sinkgraven and Serero, as well as Lasse Schone and Lucas Andersen, competition for places at Ajax is very high, yet it seems unlikely that Bazoer will not be a regular starter and a key performer under De Boer next term.
As the coach insists, this is a future star of the Ajax and Netherlands teams, it’s just that that future does not seem very far away at all.