Wunderkids: Building football’s most exciting young XI – week three: Ryan Gravenberch, midfielder


It is the stuff of management dreams – a blank cheque to build the most exciting young starting XI in world football.

But that is exactly what new BBC Sounds podcast Wunderkids is offering, in fantasy form at least, over its 11 episodes. The first three episodes are available to listen to now.

The Wunderkids team, in conjunction with BBC Sport, have come up with 11 players – and presenter Steve Crossman will be joined by experts to discuss the latest inclusion, with one new player revealed each week.

So far, new Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez and Bayer Leverkusen winger Florian Wirtz have made the cut – and now Ajax midfielder Ryan Gravenberch joins them.

Who is he?

Ryan Gravenberch
Ryan Gravenberch has scored 10 goals for Ajax in 93 games

At just 19, Gravenberch has already played 93 times for Ajax and 10 for the senior Netherlands team, including twice at Euro 2020.

He is a deep-lying central midfielder with a great engine who chips in with the odd goal too, becoming the youngest player since 1981 to score in a Dutch Cup final last season.

In 2018, aged 16 years and 130 days, he became the youngest player to feature for Ajax in the Eredivisie – beating a record set by the legendary Clarence Seedorf in 1992.

The brother of ex-Reading striker Danzell Gravenberch, Ryan has been compared to compatriots Frank Rijkaard and Frenkie de Jong – and called a “better version of Paul Pogba”.external-link

Manchester United and Liverpool are among the European giants linked with a move to try and lure him from Ajax.

What does the expert say?

Ryan Gravenberch
Ryan Gravenberch has started in 19 of Ajax’s 24 league games this season

De Telegraaf journalist Marcel van der Kraan

“If you look at his father, he’s 6ft 5in, a giant of a guy. Surely that’s where the height came from. Ryan has an athlete’s body.

“This is maybe why he stood out so early and why Ajax picked him, with his great skills and technique, and brought him to the academy. They could easily put him three or four years above his own age. That’s when people started to find out this kid was only 12. They thought he is going to be a world beater.

“This happens to almost every kid who is tall and of Surinam background. He gets that label – ‘this is the new Frank Rijkaard’. Everybody thinks he is the ideal player to follow in the footsteps of Rijkaard, but that’s a massive expectation, it’s almost too big for him. Nobody can be the next Rijkaard.

“He is a wonderful kid. When he was 16 and made his debut I couldn’t believe my eyes. So far he’s handling it all really well.

“That night in the Champions League against Liverpool at the Amsterdam Arena [in the first game of last season’s group stages] he was given a place in the starting line-up. He handled it as if it was a normal thing and as if the Champions League was his playground.

“Ajax manager Erik ten Hag loves players like Gravenberch, a player who can make that team tick.

“I’d say it’s 60% that he will go [this summer], 40% he will stay. I think he’d be a Barcelona player and if Xavi wants to play the tiki-taka style he’d be ideal for that.”

What does the fan say?

Juan Kaluf from We Talk Ajax:external-link

“What makes him so special is his physical presence. He has played a lot of matches, he knows how to drive the ball forward and play in tight spaces and he’s very agile considering how big he is.

“It makes us very proud to see him come through the academy, it’s wonderful. He reminds us of Frenkie de Jong because of the style of play, his role in the team, but they’re not exactly the same. He sits deep and drives the ball forward.”

Wunderkids XI so far

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