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Justin Kluivert: Roma’s Raw Dutch Talent

It’s not always easy following in a famous and talented father’s footsteps – just ask George W Bush and Paul Dalglish. Two extreme examples perhaps, but the truth is many have failed to live up to the pressures and hype that accompany the progeny of the successful.

At just 19 years of age Justin Kluivert, son of Patrick, has already been the subject of an €18.75 million transfer deal, while following in his father’s footsteps in leaving the comforts of home, and Ajax in particular, for the challenge of Serie A.

Whether he goes on to emulate the success achieved by his dad remains to be seen but one thing that is apparent is Kluivert Jnr’s rise thus far has been rapid. Just 15 months after making his full debut for Ajax first team in the Eredivisie, he was running out as a full international for Holland in their friendly 3-0 win over European Champions, Portugal.

A product of Ajax’s youth programme, Kluivert came through the ranks and first played for Jong Ajax (Ajax’s reserve side) in the Dutch second division (Eerste Divisie) before promotion to the first team.

Deployed as a winger rather than the more straight forward striker his father was, Kluivert is seen as a less ‘selfish’ player. This is not meant as a derogatory dig at Patrick, rather an observation that Justin’s game involves creating assists for others in preference to being an out-and-out striker.

After making his first team debut in January 2017, Kluivert stayed in and around the first team for the remainder of the season. However, to his immense disappointment, he was an unused substitute in Ajax’s 2017 Europa League Final defeat to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United.

After the game, Mourinho was said to have spoken with Kluivert in general terms about his progress and sounded out a possible future move to Old Trafford. After discussions and deliberations, Justin and his father between them decided that a move anywhere abroad could wait and particularly so in the case of a high-pressure move to Manchester United.

Instead, Kluivert settled down and enjoyed a full and productive first full season as a regular in the Ajax first team. Playing 30 league games in 2017-18, Kluivert scored a more than respectable ten times, including netting a hat-trick in a 5-1 victory over Roda JC.

As the season rolled into spring, once again rumours surfaced of a possible transfer away from Ajax. It was this period that saw him called up to the Dutch national team for the first time under Ronald Koeman. Koeman was among those urging Kluivert to resist the lure of an overseas transfer at this point in his career, urging him to continue honing his trade domestically.

However, come the end of the season, and Ajax had once again finished runners-up in the Eredivisie. It was then that Kluivert Snr is said to have received a phone call from A.S. Roma legend, Francesco Totti, enquiring about his son’s plans. Discussions then took place which culminated in Justin signing for Roma for a reputed €18.75 million. Afterwards, Patrick Kluivert seemed to confirm Manchester United’s interest in Justin when he gave an interview explaining they had chosen to move to ‘an important club’ rather than a ‘massive one’.

The 2018-19 season began with certain sectors wondering whether the youngster would go straight into the team and if he did so what kind of effect he would play. As it has turned out, Kluivert hasn’t nailed down a regular starting berth but still has made more than 30 appearances in total thus far.

Kluivert made his Champions League bow this season, appearing in five games as Roma failed to mimic last season’s success in reaching the semi-finals in bowing out this time round to Porto in the last sixteen.

Kluivert’s form has been promising as he has settled into a new country and a new playing style, but although he has more strings to his bow than being purely a striker, he will be looking to improve his strike rate as he progresses. Goals have so far been hard to come by for him since joining Roma and up until the middle of April he has netted just a solitary goal in both Serie A and European competition.

For all of the fanfare surrounding him, Kluivert seems to be level-headed and capable of keeping his feet on the ground. When he joined Roma he requested to be given 34 as his squad number. This was in honour of his ex-teammate at Ajax, Abdelhak ‘Appie’ Nouri, who wore the same number during his short-lived career. Nouri was tragically cut down in his prime when he suffered permanent brain damage after collapsing on the field of play.

As Kluivert continues with his career, he will continue to be compared with his famous father, whose success he will no doubt continue to seek to emulate. Whether or not his career will continue to follow the same upward trajectory will be fascinating to watch.

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David Nesbit

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