Ajax’ South-American shopping spree: hidden gems and great disappointments

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For many years the Ajax scouts looked to Scandinavia as their main hunting ground, and everyone around the club grew accustomed to seeing Danish and Swedish players mixing in with the Dutch.

In recent times, Ajax’ focus has clearly shifted away from Northern Europe, and especially towards South America. Sporting Director Marc Overmars has repeatedly poached players from Argentina, Brazil, and Colombia over the past few years.

The influence of Henk Veldmate has been clearly showing since he joined Ajax as Head of Scouting in 2016. Specifically targeting South-American players, Veldmate has successfully provided a lot of names to Overmars, in the same way he once provided the name of Luis Suarez to his former club Groningen.

No fewer than nine players have joined Ajax from across the Atlantic over the course of the last three years. Some of those experienced great success in Amsterdam, while some struggled and had to move on. In a short overview, provided by the NOS, we’ll evaluate each individual transfer as either a hit or a miss.

Hit: Davinson Sánchez
In the summer of 2016 Ajax won the signature of a twenty-year-old Colombian for five million euros. Despite his youth, Davinson Sánchez was already a big and strong defender, referred to by manager Peter Bosz as “a monster”. It did not take Sánchez long to win himself a spot in the starting line-up, and he quickly became the solid rock on which Ajax built their defence. Although he was only with us for one season, Sánchez was hugely important for the team that reached the final of the Europa League in Stockholm. When he left for Tottenham Hotspurs in 2017, Ajax made a profit of 35 million euro.

Davinson Sanchez of Ajax celebrates his goal against AZ

Miss: Mateo Cassierra
Along with Davison Sánchez came Mateo Cassierra ahead of the 2016/2017 season. Cassierra was also from Colombia, did also cost around five million euro’s, but never managed to show the same talent as his compatriot. In the shadow of Kasper Dolberg, Cassierra was quickly sent to play with Jong Ajax in the second division. He scored a total of 18 goals in his first season for Jong Ajax and won the championship, but never really troubled the first team. He ended up on loan away at Groningen and was later sold to the Portuguese side Belenenses, to quickly be forgotten.

Mateo Cassierra celebrates the 2-1 against MVV in the game that Jong Ajax became champions

Miss: Luis Manuel Orejuela
Orejuela was signed from Deportivo Cali one year after Cassierra arrived from the same club. The third Colombian on this list was quite an obvious bad buy, even for only 3,65 million. The young right-back played just one match in the Eredivisie, and three in the KNVB Cup, while mostly playing for Jong Ajax. He never impressed in either defensive or offensive roles and is currently on loan at Cruzeiro in Brazil. It is unlikely that he’ll return to Amsterdam after his loan spell.

Luis Orejuela sitting on the bench against VVV Venlo

Hit: David Neres
When he first arrived in Amsterdam in January 2017, Peter Bosz decided that David Neres needed time to adjust to his new surroundings and his new club. It would take quite some time for Neres’ qualities to start showing, and his relatively large transfer sum of twelve million euro’s seemed to be weighing on him. Nevertheless, the sleepy-eyed winger gradually grew more confident and more valuable to the team under Marcel Keizer and Erik ten Hag. With hugely important goals against PSV, Real Madrid and Juventus, one might say Neres developed the invaluable habit of peaking at the right times. He does not always start for Ajax, and almost left for China last winter for that reason, but everybody seemed content when Neres extended his contract with three more years in the end. David has since been rewarded for his performance in Amsterdam with a spot in the prestigious Brazillian national team.

David Neres celebrating the 3-0 against Feyenoord

Promising: Danilo Pereira
To many people, Danilo Pereira will be the least familiar name on the list, which makes a lot of sense considering he is yet to make his debut for Ajax. Now twenty years of age, the Brazillian all-round attacker just started his third season in red and white and will be hoping to gradually draw the attention of Erik ten Hag over the course of this campaign. He bagged an impressive total of nineteen goals in thirty-six caps for Jong Ajax so far, and while it’s too early to label him as a hit, Danilo Pereira is definitely a promising player.

Danilo Pereira da Silva during Jong Ajax – NEC Nijmegen

Hit: Nico Tagliafico
The left-back position had long been a difficult spot for Ajax to fill by the time Nicolás Tagliafico joined the club in the winter of 2018. It quickly became apparent that Marc Overmars had finally found a reliable and undisputed left-back, who left Argentina for a measly fee of four and a half million euro. He impressed the entire Johan Cruijff Arena when he made his debut in the always-important Klassieker against Feyenoord, and never gave up his place in the starting line-up since. Tagliafico is one of the more experienced players in the squad and distinguishes himself with high work-rate, vision, and attacking prowess. He also captained the Albiceleste, the Argentinian national team, on multiple occasions. The transfer of Nico Tagliafico can be regarded as one of the best in recent years, but there’s a reasonable chance that his name might not be chanted through the Arena for much longer, as many clubs are said to be after his signature. He may have extended his contract last summer, he might not do it again.

Nico Tagliafico celebrating his 2-0 against Feyenoord

Miss: Lisandro Magállan
When the Ajax board was anticipating Matthijs de Ligt to leave the club in the summer of 2019, they decided to invest in a proper replacement half-way through the season. They determined that Lisandro Magállan would have to be the new centre-back of Ajax, and he was acquired from Boca Juniors for nine million euros. Just like his countryman Tagliafico, Magállan made his debut in the Klassieker against Feyenoord. Ajax lost that day, however, and in dramatic fashion. Magállan made an uncertain and confused impression, and in the rest of his six caps for Ajax, it was quite obvious that he struggled to keep up with the pace and the level of his teammates. He soon got overtaken by Joel Veltman and Perr Schuurs in the squad’s hierarchy and was forced to look elsewhere for playtime. He is currently on loan at Deportivo Alavés, for whom he plays every single week.

Lisandro Magallan and Nicolas Tagliafico celebrating the championship

Promising: Lisandro Martínez
When one Lisandro left, another joined. For seven million euro’s Ajax obtained an intelligent, multifunctional defender called Lisandro Martínez, yet another Argentinian. While the original idea behind this transfer was to prepare for the inevitable departure of Tagliafico, Martínez surprised a lot of people by fighting his way into the starting eleven on two very different positions. He made his debut as a centre-back but impressed the most as a holding midfielder, displaying a great talent for delivery in the build-up play. To some extent, he filled the vacancy that Frenkie de Jong left in midfield, and he added a healthy dose of South-American fighting spirit to the mix. It’s a little too early to evaluate this transfer, but it’s fair to say that Lisandro Martínez is off to a very good start.

Lisandro Martinez during Chelsea – Ajax

Promising: Edson Álvarez
The ninth and final name on this list of South-American players is technically not South-American at all. Edson Álvarez, who is a Central-American from Mexico, was targeted for the exact same reasons as his South-American colleagues, however. According to Erik ten Hag, Álvarez has a winner’s mentality that reminds him of Davinson Sánchez or Nico Tagliafico. He arrived from Club América for a whopping fifteen million euro and is expected to play a big role for Ajax in the coming years as one of the centre-backs. However, he had never even played as a defender for Ajax until he was forced to come on in the bizarre match against Chelsea after both Blind and Veltman were sent off. He played most of his minutes for Ajax on the midfield, where he has made a decent, yet unnatural impression. Whenever Erik ten Hag decides to compose a more offensive-minded team, Edson Álvarez is the first person to be redirected to the bench, but that doesn’t have to mean his transfer was a mistake. His time will come.

Edson Álvarez celebrating his goal against Lille

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4 thoughts on “Ajax’ South-American shopping spree: hidden gems and great disappointments

  1. Here’s my ranking of these guys, tell me if I’m wrong.
    1. Nicoooo
    2. Davinson
    3. Neres
    4. Martínez
    5. Edson
    6. Pereira
    7. Cassierra
    8. Magallán
    9. Orejuela

  2. This article reminds me of Felipe Luis playing for Ajax but never making it to the first team. I always find this kind of funny.

    1. Mexico is in North America. Linguistically it is Latin America. Geographically it is in the northern hemisphere and considered part of North America

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