In the 2017 Europa League Final, Manchester United, expectedly, triumphed over Ajax. While centre-back Davinson Sanchez was heavily praised among the Amsterdam club’s numbers for his gallant defending, it was substitute new kid, David Neres, who turned the heads of the Red Devils elite.
“Rooney knew my name! I couldn’t imagine that. At the end of the game, he greeted me and said my name. I couldn’t imagine. I was a bit upset because we lost the game. Then he came, greeted me, said my name, I even forgot the defeat. Pogba too, a few of Manchester’s players.”
David Neres, ESPN Brazil
So, who is David Neres, and can he become the next in a long line of stars to come out of Ajax?
Neres coming to Amsterdam
On 31st January of this year, Ajax completed the signing of David Neres, beating out competition from FC Porto – who are notorious for cultivating top South American talents – for a fee of £10.2 million. The transfer marks Neres as the most expensive foreign player to transfer to an Eredivisie club.
19 at the time of the transfer, 20 years old now, Neres played for the Brazil U20s, the Ajax U21s team in the Jupiler League, and the first-team in the Eredivisie and Europa League. Oddly enough, the only times that Neres contributed to the score sheet were in games that the Brazilian started, accumulating three goals and three assists through five starts.
“Neres is a player we have wanted for a while. He is one of the biggest talents in South America and it’s nice that he’s chosen Ajax.”
“I asked him if he felt he was ready. He simply answered: ‘I’ve always been ready.’ It was a great answer. With that response he showed he is a calm boy, conscious of his responsibilities.”
Sao Paulo football director Marco Aurelio Cunha, UEFA
What’s so great about David Neres?
There is so much to love about this latest Brazilian wunderkind. Standing at 5’8’’, David Neres has a low centre of gravity and utilises it by shifting around defenders with the ball glued to his feet. But he’s not just about the charge, Ajax’s young star makes intelligent plays, passing between his teammates and waiting for his opportunity to burst through the back line.
It’s also impressive how unselfish he is; even when bearing down on goal, if a teammate has a better angle, Neres will thread the ball through to them. The right winger weights his precision passes very well, with his deft touch helping to keep his team in possession, allowing for more chance creation.
What is almost traditional of young players coming out of Brazil, Neres possesses exceptional footwork and pace. He can dribble through and around defenders with ease, or he’s just as comfortable knocking the ball past them and using his lightning speed to get on the other end of his play.
The future of Ajax’s new star
As of the end of June, transfer rumours concerning David Neres are non-existent, which is to be expected as the 20-year-old has only been with Ajax for six months. However, he has a big season ahead of him which will undoubtedly put him on a few more radars.
Neres had a decent first season with the Eredivisie club, settling into the culture of the Netherlands and becoming accustomed to the football club, and did so while impressing when given the opportunity. Now, he has to build on that and claim a first-team place.
With his ability to play on either side of the field, there’s the potential for Ajax to boast one of the most exciting wing pairings in European football with Justin Kluivert – son of Ajax and Barcelona legend Patrick Kluivert – and David Neres.
In games that he started last season, Neres featured on the right with either Kluivert or German Amin Younes on the left. So, with Bertrand Traore returning to Chelsea after his loan spell, it would appear as though Neres’ only competition on the right is 19-year-old Vaclav Cerny – should the Czech permanently graduate from the U21s team.
The stage is set for David Neres to take control of the right wing, hopefully with Kluivert on the left, with the two having the skill set to switch wings if needed. If he can become a first-team regular, there’s no doubt that his playmaking ability and attacking threat will bring about even more goals for Ajax’s top scorer of last season, 19-year-old Dane Kasper Dolberg, who nailed in 23 goals in 48 games.
Ajax have lost a creative spark and goalscoring threat from the middle of the park in Davy Klaassen, who has moved to Everton for £22.95 million, so the likes of Kluivert and Neres will be relied upon even more to bring about goal scoring opportunities.
This incredibly young and talented team, the youngest starting XI to be named for a major European final at an average age of 22 years and 282 days, will be looking to improve as a team and as individuals as Ajax attempt to win their first league title for four years. David Neres is expected to play a major role in the Amsterdammers’ campaign next season, and if he can step up and grow into his lofty potential, elite clubs will be ready to pay huge sums to acquire the Brazilian star.