Since 2018, when he won the first Abdelhak Nouri Trofee for his success in Ajax’s academy, Ryan Gravenberch has been deservedly heralded as one of the finest young players on the face of this planet, and he’s been on an upwards trajectory every since.
He was handed his senior debut in 2018/19, became a squad player in 2019/20 and a first-team star in 2020/21, and the next step is a first international start for the Netherlands.
The hope is that we’ll get that on Monday when the Netherlands face North Macedonia. An eagle-eyed camera operator for NOS clocked some notes from Dutch assistant Dwight Lodeweges which appeared to show Gravenberch as a first-time starter alongside Donyell Malen, who is in for his first tournament start.
It’s time to get very, very excited. Gravenberch is an outstanding midfielder who is just waiting for the chance to explode on the global stage, and his time is now.
Likely to replace Marten de Roon as the Dutch’s holding midfielder, Gravenberch is more of an attack-minded player than his role might suggest. He’s fantastic at anchoring a midfield and shielding his centre-backs, but Gravenberch is always looking for a way to impact games in attack.
A typical play from Gravenberch will see him press an opponent into making a mistake, using his towering frame and imposing physique to bully them away from the ball, but it’s the next step where Gravenberch is at his best.
Capable of turning defence into attack in less than an instant, the midfielder is one of the most progressive midfielders in the Eredivisie. You’ll regularly see Gravenberch go full Yaya Toure and charge from one end of the pitch to the other, using his deceptive agility to weave past defenders like no defensive midfielder should be capable of. All of a sudden, his side are in control.
Now, against North Macedonia, there’s a good chance there won’t be too many defences that need turning into attacks. The Dutch can expect to dominate possession, and while that doesn’t exactly play into Gravenberch’s strengths, he’s capable of adjusting his game to his surroundings. After all, he plays for an Ajax side who have won the last three Eredivisie titles. He’s not exactly drowning in defensive responsibility.
What you’ll see from Gravenberch is a dominance in the middle third, keeping the Netherlands in control and pushing them forward whenever North Macedonia secure a second of air. Expect plenty of driving runs into the box and a lot of neat passes to create chances for his team-mates.
While a breakout performance against North Macedonia can only do so much for a player’s reputation – compare it to the response to Billy Gilmour’s dominance over England – it’s a perfect platform upon which Gravenberch can continue his rise to the top.
All he needs is just one opportunity to prove he belongs on the international scene, and Monday’s game could be it.