2018 22under22 Countdown – #18: Justin Kluivert


“Justin Kluivert has a long way to become that good, but Neymar had that too. You can’t compare them right now, but if you look for similarities, he’s that type of player. He can turn so quickly and after he is gone.” – Ronald de Boer

Date of Birth: May 5th, 1999 (19 years old)
Nationality: Dutch
Position: Winger
Club Appearances: 64 (15 goals, 10 assists)
International Appearances: 1
EiF Ability Rating: 56.5

*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.

Justin Kluivert has a big decision to make this summer. Does he stay at Ajax and continue to hone his skills in a slightly more comfortable and easier setting, or does he move on in search of a new challenge that could either catapult him to stardom or ruin his career?

As of now, it seems Justin has picked the latter, as he’s reportedly expressed his desire to Ajax’s Director of Football, Marc Overmars that he wants to leave. His agent, the infamous Mino Raiola, has been key in this decision and is apparently intent on having Kluivert join a new club. Roma have the biggest and most tangible interest and reportedly have agreed personal terms, meaning all that needs to happen now is for both clubs to come to an agreement on the transfer fee.

If this move transpires, it will be a mistake.

Justin Kluivert is one of the most technical youngsters I’ve ever seen in world football. This isn’t hyperbole. The skills, flicks, and tricks that he pulls off on a weekly basis continually leave you stunned. You get the sense it’s how Santos fans felt watching Neymar every week when he was a prodigal teenager (even though Neymar was certainly superior to Kluivert at the same age). Some, like in the quote by Ronald de Boer that started this piece, have already made the comparison between Neymar and Kluivert. The flashy tricks, the arrogance, the charisma. All are reminiscent of a young Neymar back in Santos.

However, while you truly should not understate how incredibly talented Kluivert is, you cannot lie to yourself — he is not ready for a big move.

I’m going to stick with this Neymar comparison for a second to illustrate a point (which again you should not take too literally as Neymar was a much better player at this age).

Before Neymar made his big move to Barcelona, Neymar had been in Santos’ first team for four and a half seasons, had played over 200 matches, had scored over 100 goals, had made over 40 appearances for Brazil, had scored over 20 goals for Brazil, and had led Brazil to a Confederations Cup title and Santos to a Copa Libertadores title.

Kluivert hasn’t even come close to replicating that kind of success.

Obviously the moves in question are different — one went to Barcelona, while the other is rumored to be going to Roma, but the idea is the same. Kluivert wants to elevate his career, earn more money, and play in a side that just reached the semi final of the Champions League. But, in my opinion he needs to focus on playing week in, week out, and dominating in Holland before he can even think about moving on. Kluivert shows flashes of brilliance every week, but he hasn’t been able to perform consistently and even more tellingly, he’s generally struggled in most of the more difficult matches in Holland.

However, ignoring all of the potential issues that could go wrong if he does move on, let’s look at why he’s so highly regarded in the first place.

To put it quite simply, he has everything to become a potential world beater. He’s quick, he’s fast, he’s insanely skillful, and he’s intelligent. Justin came up through the Ajax academy with a target on his back — that’s what happens when you’re the son of Patrick Kluivert. But, despite the pressure on him to succeed, he handled it beautifully. He kept his head down, worked hard, and rose through the ranks before eventually making his first team debut last January.

“Cristiano Ronaldo is a role model for me. He is really dedicated to his life as a footballer and that’s something I can learn from and I want to be doing myself as well.” – Justin Kluivert

He quickly became a key member of the first team squad as Bertrand Traore was away with Burkina Faso at the African Cup of Nations and Kluivert took his chance. Dazzling with his quick feet and unwavering belief to take players on, Kluivert added a new dimension to a thrilling Ajax side that would go on to make the Europa League Final. One particular moment that stood out in his debut season was his brilliant assist vs. Schalke in the quarter finals. Picking up the ball on the right, Kluivert toyed with his defender before dinking in a perfectly weighted cross for Klaassen to stroke home. It was essentially the moment where everyone realized Justin was the real deal.

Performing in a European quarter final at the age of 17? Yeah that’s pretty special.

He shined a few more times throughout the season, but was generally left to be an impact player off the bench as Amin Younes and Traore manned the flanks. But, this season he became a starter as Younes fell out of favor and Traore moved on to Lyon. Immediately, Kluivert showed why the Ajax left wing would remain in good hands. Using his pace, skill, and trickery, Kluivert put in some inspired performances including a fantastic hat trick against Roda that highlighted all of his talents. The immaculate first touch, the quick and incisive dribbling, the clean shooting technique. I can comfortably say, in terms of quality of each goal, that it was one of the best hat tricks I’ve seen.

However, despite his many qualities, Kluivert has to improve. As I’ve said, he has everything you need to be a world class player, he just needs to put the pieces together more frequently. He often is content with a nice skill, goal, or pass, and then won’t show enough desire to get on the ball as much. Almost as if he’s saying “hey, look at that nice play I made, that’s enough for me.” If he truly looks up to Ronaldo, then he should know to never be content. Always look to be better, always look to score one more goal, dribble one more player, assist one more teammate.

Essentially, Kluivert needs to be more consistent. That’s an easy buzz word to throw around for talented players, but it could not be more true in this case. One day, he looks like the best youngster in Europe and the next, he looks bang average. That’s to be expected for such a young player, but is another huge reason why he isn’t ready for the big move. A few bad games in a row at Roma, and Cengiz Under, Stephan El Shaarawy, and Diego Perotti will be there to take your place and the fans and manager will grow disgruntled. A few rough games in a row at Ajax is a different story.

Kluivert is in the perfect home. He starts every game, he knows the club, and it’s a club in desperate need of a player to lead them to a title. Despite their many talented players, Ajax haven’t won a league title in four years. This is a great challenge for Kluivert and one he should be excited about. Look at the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, and Daley Blind in the past. They could’ve left a bit sooner, but they embraced the challenge, took on the responsibility and proved they could first win in Holland and be consistent every week before moving on.

Kluivert doesn’t necessarily have to win the title, but until he shows more consistency and can dominate the league like he should be able to; he should hold off on moving. Many players have left too early in the past (Ryan Babel, Roysten Drenthe, etc) and their careers suffered because of it.

A move to Roma is tantalizing and it could certainly work out for him, but if Kluivert wants to maximize and fulfill his enormous, massive, huge potential, then he should remain at the legendary Dutch club for *at least* one more season.

Written by Marc Geschwind (@mgesch13)