Siem de Jong – The captain abandons ship for Newcastle
Frank de Boer has been lauded as the manager that led Ajax to four Eredivisie titles in a row for the first time ever. In his shadow has stood captain Siem de Jong has been essential to a side that, despite a constant change of personnel, has been able to dominate the Eredivisie for a longer period than ever in the history of the Amsterdam club. With de Jong bound for Newcastle, the last and most reliable of De Boer’s trusted lieutenants leaves for a new adventure. A deserved move and the versatile midfielder took a long way to become, eventually, a modern club legend.
The attacking midfielder, whose brother Luuk spent the second half of last season on loan at Newcastle, was 16 when he made the move to Ajax from De Graafschap before making his debut in the first team two years later. From that match against Kozakken Boys began a long journey from a promising youngster to a talisman of a history making Ajax team.
Slotting into a team which consisted of the likes of Luis Suarez, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Jaap Stam, Maarten Stekelenburg, Johnny Heitinga and Urby Emanuelson, De Jong scored on his Eredivisie debut, finding the net against Sparta just five minutes after his introduction to secure a point against the Rotterdam club. The son of two international volleyball players, he would go on to become an important part of the side. While he wasn’t the most productive in front of goal, his strike in a 2-2 draw with Feyenoord went a long way to winning the hearts of the Ajax faithful.
The following season was much less fruitful for de Jong, as new boss Marco van Basten overlooked him for the likes of Ismail Aissati and Jeffrey Sarpong. However, Martin Jol gave him back his place a year later, allowing his development to resume and his influence in the team to grow.
When Frank de Boer took over midway through 2010-11, De Jong kept his place, going on to score eight goals in 14 games, compared to the three he scored across the rest of the season. The last two goals, however, were the most crucial. Ajax had clawed their way back under De Boer to head into the final week of the season just one point behind leaders and reigning champions Twente – who they met in the Amsterdam Arena in the final game of the season. De Jong scored the crucial opener before netting the crucial 3-1 goal 12 minutes from time to secure his side’s first league title in seven years.
De Boer made the player a more important part of the team from then on, putting his intelligence, technical excellence and passing ability to good use as he tied the midfield together with the defensive Vurnon Anita and the creative wonderkid Christian Eriksen. His versatility became absolutely crucial at times, too, having been utilised up front for a large part of the next three years of further Amsterdam dominance in which they beat the likes of Manchester City, Barcelona and Manchester United in Europe and claimed a further three league titles. Following the sale of Jan Vertonghen to Tottenham Hotspur, De Jong took over as captain of the team and his influence became much greater and once again when Eriksen joined the defender in London.
As Ajax grew stale, predictable and slow in the 2013-14 season after the young attacking midfielder’s departure, de Boer switched the team about once more to compensate for the void. With Lasse Schöne moving from the midfield to the right wing, Daley Blind from left-back to centre of midfield and de Jong becoming the dedicated centre-forward, Ajax regained their positivity and fluidity and went on to win that fourth consecutive league title – a record run for the club.
Now though, as he departs, it feels like an era is coming to an end. De Jong is the only player left who has been an integral part of each of Ajax’s run of four consecutive league titles. Daley Blind, Nicolai Boilesen and Kenneth Vermeer all remain as well, but have all spent time out of form and out of the team. However, he departs as a player who has won the hearts of the Ajax fans and has written himself into the history of the club.
At 25, a move to the Premier League seems timely for Siem de Jong. While the creative burden at Ajax has always been with others, there are few players that can capitalize on that as well as de Jong can. Most comfortable next to a creative midfielder, Siem de Jong has shown he is an incredibly composed finisher, a physical presence and a very intelligent user of spaces opening up, something that would serve him well in the English top tier of football. While Siem de Jong isn’t as technically proficient as one might expect from a player groomed in the Ajax Academy, he still has a decent enough technique to cope with the rigours of football at the top level, but it might take him some time to hit the ground running.
Siem de Jong has shown both his maturity and adaptability through the years, something that should help him overcome his problems moving to a new club and a new competition. At Ajax, he had his best years playing alongside Christian Eriksen. If Newcastle can find him a partner in midfield of a similar calibre, Siem de Jong might well be one of the signings of the season.