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De Jong to Tadic: six players behind Ajax’s Champions League revival

De Jong to Tadic: six players behind Ajax’s Champions League revival

Indirectly, a former Barcelona legend contributed to Ajax’s demolition job at the Bernabéu on Tuesday night. Onana is a star product of the Samuel Eto’o Foundation, an academy based in Douala. He moved to La Masia as a 13-year-old in 2010 and spent five years in the youth system. The route to Barça’s first team was complicated and Onana was keen to try his luck elsewhere.

Ajax signed him after being impressed by a Uefa Youth League performance against them in November 2014 and his initial chance to shine came when Jasper Cillessen left for – of all teams – Barcelona in August 2016. Onana can deal with the ball at his feet while his speed and reflexes stand out, too. There is a sense of unfinished business about his time at Barça. “You have to do everything right here before going back, but I’d like to return,” he said last year.

De Ligt’s achievement in Madrid was extraordinary in its own right. How many 19-year-olds have captained their side to a win of such magnitude? But then the centre-back is a remarkable figure who should become one of the standout players of his generation. He has it all: the physique of a player in his mid-20s, leadership skills beyond his years and technical qualities that make the game look simple.

At the start of the decade, De Ligt was an outstanding tennis player and won his local club championship. He excelled at hockey too but his all-round gifts soon crystallised on the football pitch. Barcelona and Manchester City have been linked with the young Dutchman, but he coolly replied “Ajax” when asked to choose between the two.

3) Noussair Mazraoui (Right-back)

It was Mazraoui who, straining every sinew to keep the ball in play on the Bernabéu’s right touchline, caused the VAR delay that became the crux of Tuesday night’s shock. The move itself, showing lung-busting determination and then the presence of mind to distribute coolly, was characteristic of a 21-year-old who has come from virtually nowhere to be one of the most exciting right-backs around.

Mazraoui, who has been with Ajax since he was eight and at one point appeared likely to leave the club, was a midfielder by trade but has shone since making his breakthrough in February 2018. “He could become a very interesting wing defender,” the manager, Erik ten Hag, said later that season. That has not stopped the Dutch-born player making headlines further forward, scoring big goals against Bayern Munich and Benfica

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