2017 22under22 Countdown – #18: Kasper Dolberg

“Kasper Dolberg has a very great future. He is a fantastic player.”
–Jurgen Klopp


Date of Birth: October 6, 1997 (19 years old)
Nationality: Danish
Position: Striker
Club Appearances: 40 (18 goals)
International Appearances: 1
EiF Ability Rating: 62

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.*


This is the fifth installment of EiF’s 2017 22under22 project, a countdown in which we will reveal the top 22 players in the world who were born no earlier than 1995. We move to #18 with the latest youngster to make his breakthrough at AFC Ajax: Kasper Dolberg. After moving to Amsterdam a few seasons back, Dolberg has worked his way into the first team and is scoring goals for fun. Drawing comparisons to past Ajax greats such as Marco van Basten, Denmark’s future striker has shown exactly why some of the world’s biggest clubs are all over him.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more successful football academy than Ajax Amsterdam, and it’d be just as difficult to find a club more dedicated to developing the members of that academy. While the improvement of home-grown Dutch players has been prioritized, the club has developed a strategy of buying young foreign players to imbed into the academy. The hope with these players is that they eventually become good enough to make it in the first team. Luis Suárez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are the names that come to mind, and Kasper Dolberg is making his claim to be mentioned among these greats.

Kasper Dolberg was born in Silkeborg, Denmark and joined the youth academy of Silkeborg IF at 12 years of age. He joined Ajax for about a quarter of a million euros in the summer of 2015 at the age of 17. The club decided to play Dolberg in the Under-19’s squad, where he made an immediate impact. It wasn’t until the next summer that he was given a chance in the first team. Dolberg was thrust into the starting lineup in a Champions League qualifier against PAOK, scored a beautiful longshot into the bottom corner, and never looked back. The young Dane has scored 18 goals in 40 appearances this season, while also contributing 7 assists from the striker position. His exploits in Holland earned him a call up to the Danish national team in November, where he made his debut at 19 years of age.


Strengths


Dolberg
Dolberg made his senior international debut for Denmark in November of 2016 (Photo: Ajax Daily)

Dolberg is an extremely well-rounded striker, especially for a player of his age. John Steen Olsen, the scout who uncovered Dolberg for Ajax (along with Ibrahimovic, Eriksen, and others), is quoted in saying that Kasper’s “speed, technique, intelligent play, and [aerial ability]” are what make him special. That being said, his best attribute is his finishing ability. Ajax’s play style usually forces the forward to contribute to most phases of play, which doesn’t allow Kasper to poach around goal for easy finishes. He is instead forced to create his own chances by either dribbling into a shooting position or cutting into open space. Once he has a sight at goal, you better believe he knows exactly where to place the ball. Curled, chipped, driven, or tapped, Dolberg will put that ball in the net, whichever way is necessary. His long shots aren’t too shabby either.

What’s amazing about Dolberg is how intelligent and aware he is for such a young player. Whether he has his back to goal, is dribbling towards a defender, or is running into the box, the kid almost always makes the right decisions. This attribute, along with his great passing ability, allows for him to know exactly where and when to send a pass to a teammate. If he’s crowded with multiple defenders, he doesn’t panic. Dolberg has that calm, slow-it-down sense about him, similar to what you see in players like Andrés Iniesta and Mesut Özil. That being said, when it’s time to make a move, he does it in an efficient and direct manner.

Part of what allows Dolberg to wind his way out of tough situations is his great ball control. Ball control in this instance includes both his dribbling ability and first touch. Having played as a winger for the Ajax youth squads, Kasper is used to running at defenders and beating them into the box. When he gets the ball after coming short into the midfield, he does a superb job of controlling the pass, turning and cutting out the defender, and creating a chance for a teammate or himeslf. Being a lone striker with wingers who have a tendency to cut inside, Kasper Dolberg is accustomed to floating out wider than the average striker. This makes his dribbling ability very handy in a variety of situations.


Weaknesses


Dolberg
Some of young Kasper’s most brilliant performances have taken place on the European theatre (Photo: BT)

As previously mentioned, Dolberg’s short passing/lay-off ability is near perfect. His long passing, however, is another story. The young Dane has 7 assists this season, with 5 coming in the Eredivisie. This is not a bad statistic by any stretch of the imagination, but he really needs to look for the cut back when under pressure in the box. That’s not to say Dolberg is a selfish player; he isn’t. But to become a more well-rounded striker he will need to add more awareness to his arsenal.

Speed is also a slight concern for Dolberg. Standing at 6 foot 1 (1.87m), you wouldn’t expect the lanky teen to be able to run past defenders like Aubameyang. With that being said, he sometimes loses chances because a defender beats him to the ball or closes him down too quickly. Anyway, as he keeps getting smarter and more knowledgeable about opponent positions, Dolberg will simply understand that he needs to get rid of the ball sooner or make a different run. One of my favorite Johan Cruijff quotes is “if I start running slightly earlier than someone else, I seem faster.”


Kasper Dolberg is destined for greatness. In his first professional season, he has claimed the forward spot as his own in one of the world’s most historically successful clubs. His instinct, ball control, and pure finishing ability all accumulate to create a complete forward. A couple more seasons of development at Ajax would do him wonders, but you can’t blame clubs like Manchester City, Manchester United, and Liverpool for sniffing around the wunderkind. Expect to see Kasper Dolberg move up this list in the next year or two.

Next: No. 17, Manchester United’s explosive striker Marcus Rashford.

Previous: No. 19, metronome of Real Betis’s midfield Dani Ceballos.