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Top 10 Players to Graduate From the Ajax Academy

The biggest story this football season has been Erik ten Hag's Ajax side taking the Champions League by storm. 


One of the prominent attributes of that team is the presence of youth team graduates, especially leaders of the team such as captain Matthijs de Ligt, who has been linked with Barcelona, midfield controller Frenkie de Jong, who has already agreed to join Barcelona and attacking midfielder Donny van de Beek, among others. 


Ajax has always been a treasure trove of talented academy graduates, and have a history of producing some of the greatest players football has ever seen. Here's a list of their ten greatest academy graduates of all time:


Honourable mentions: Sjaak Swart, Wesley Sneijder, Jan Vertonghen

10. Edwin van der Sar

Edwin van der Sar is one of the greatest goalkeepers in football history, and is one of the most decorated players of all time, with 27 major trophies in his 20-year career. He is also one of a few players to have won the Champions League with two teams - Ajax in 1995 and Manchester United in 2008.


A calming presence in goal, which was revolutionary in its own right and an exception rather than the norm for goalkeepers, Van der Sar broke the code and is loved by the football community as a whole. 


Far from his playing days, he's now the CEO of his beloved club Ajax and runs one of the most successful projects football has seen. 

9. Frank de Boer

Frank de Boer is considered as one of the most significant role models for the modern day ball playing defenders, and was claimed to have a "left foot as good as any other creative midfielder" out there. 


Having spent most of his playing career at Ajax, he won five Eredivisie titles, one UEFA Cup and one Champions league during his stay in Amsterdam. He is also the second most-capped outfield player in the history of the Netherlands national team, Wesley Sneijder the only one with more. 


After his retirement, he coached a young Ajax side to four Eredivisie titles in four seasons. 

8. Patrick Kluivert

Patrick Kluivert broke out into the Ajax first team along with other young superstars to form the Golden Ajax Generation of the 1990s. He, however, became the generation's poster boy after scoring an 85th minute winner in the 1995 Champions League final against AC Milan in Vienna. 


While being generally skillful, speedy and extremely intelligent on or off the ball, his decision making was his only fault, as he would miss the easiest of chances, only to score a solo goal in the next minute. Regardless, he had a great record for the Dutch national team, scoring 40 goals in 79 games, and was named among the 100 best living footballers by Pele.

7. Edgar Davids

Nicknamed "The Pitbull", Edgar Davids was exactly what he was described to be, by then manager Louis van Gaal. An absolute engine in midfield, he would not only break up attacks, but help man-mark dangerous players and sometimes even carry the ball from defence into attack with his irrefutable stamina. 


During his latter playing days, especially for Netherlands, he showed impeccable technique, vision and dribbling, which helped him win a host of trophies for Juventus


Suffering from glaucoma, he was forced to wear his iconic goggles while playing, making him instantly recognisable. 

6. Frank Rijkaard

One of the many Ajax products to make the move to AC Milan, Frank Rijkaard was an absolutely spectacular holding midfielder, who could literally do everything on the pitch. A tough tackler, he could come up with spectacular goals, pull off passes of dizzying vision and man-mark some of the most dangerous players he's come up against with ease.


Considered one of the greatest midfielders in footballing history, he came third twice in the Ballon d'Or voting, playing in a position which is often overlooked by many. 

5. Clarence Seedorf

One more from the Golden Generation of the 1990s, it's widely accepted that Clarence Seedorf is the greatest midfielder of his generation and is one of the most uniquely well-rounded midfielders in the history of the game. 


Seedorf was a talented, hardworking and versatile player, who was gifted with strength, pace, stamina and notable physical attributes, which allowed him to play anywhere in the middle of the park and contribute both offensively and defensively. 


His tactical intelligence, elegance on the ball, creative vision and more routinely made the difference both in attack and in defence.

4. Marco van Basten

Three-time Ballon d'Or winner Marco van Basten had an unbelievable strike rate while at Ajax, scoring 153 goals in just 172 games. 


Considered the greatest goal-scorer before his injury caught up with him and before Ronaldo Nazario came to being, he also led Netherlands to their only major international trophy, the 1988 European Championship. 


In the same tournament, he netted a goal considered the greatest volley ever scored, a volley from a tight angle that some of the top players in the world after him have attempted, but failed to pull off.


Dubbed the Swan of Utrecht, he was impossible to get off the ball and showed elegance and temperament beyond his age, even during his formative years. He also possessed an often underrated vision, allowing him to play as a second striker when the occasion demanded it. 

3. Dennis Bergkamp

Louis van Gaal once famously said that Bergkamp would have more highlights in his worst game than most players would have in their best. 


One of the true artisans of the beautiful game, he had statistics that would back up his quality too, scoring 122 goals in 237 games, all of them while playing on the right or directly behind the striker in Ajax's famed 3-4-3. When he started playing for the Ajax under-19 side, he was 16 years old, and he broke into the first team when he was 17, which is an indicator of how good he was. 


A first touch to rival the absolute greatest in the world, no one would ever doubt "the Non-Flying Dutchman" and his quality, even if they had only watched only one game of his. 

2. Piet Keizer and Ruud Krol

Ruud Krol was widely considered as direct competition to Franz "Der Kaiser" Beckenbauer, as the latter created the sweeper role, while the former perfected it. A player who had absolutely every technical attribute down to a tee, his creative and defensive ability enabled him to play anywhere across defence and midfield, even playing directly behind the striker on multiple occasions. 


Piet Keizer was most often Rinus Michels and Stefan Kovacs' best attacker and driving force. Yes, even ahead of Johann Cruyff. In a statement by Dutch writer Nico Scheepmaker, he said "Cruyff is the best, but Keizer was better." 


He also played mostly down the centre as a false nine, connecting midfield to attack and exchanging positions outside to keep the "Total Football" going, scoring 190 goals in 490 games for Ajax. 

1. Johann Cruyff

Was there ever any doubt as to who would be the greatest Ajax academy graduate? Johann Cruyff is the true football revolutionary, making sweeping changes to Total Football, initially injected into the club's DNA by Rinus Michels and Stefan Kovacs. 


He perfected the 3-4-3 by making it a 4-3-3, avoiding every possible error and compressing the style of defending, making even that look elegant.


And as a player? Well, Cruyff has been described by many as a bolt of lightning, one minute in front of the opponent, and the other behind him, threading the perfect pass through or scoring the perfect goal to cap off a team move while playing for club or country. 


One of the rare beings to be considered on both the greatest managers and the greatest players lists, Johan Cruyff was much more than just another football manager or player, he was truly celestial.

Looking at the 10 greatest players to come out of the Ajax academy