Kasper Dolberg – How Huge Expectations Can Lead To Disappointment

IT is the start of an amazing season for AFC Ajax but no one knows it yet, Peter Bosz has just been appointed as the new head coach of Ajax. The decision didn’t go down well with a few hardcore supporters; their main problem with Bosz was his association with arch-rivals Feyenoord.

The protest coined the phrase ‘Wij zeggen nee tegen Peter B’ roughly translated to ‘We say no to Peter B’ (It rhymes in Dutch don’t worry). His lack of experience at major clubs was more of a side worry for the supporters after previous managerial spells with Vitesse, De Graafschap and Maccabi Tel Aviv. The Dutch manager was given one major objective – ‘Get Ajax back into the Champions league and win the Dutch title again’ Ajax drew PAOK Saloniki in the Champions league play off, with the first leg in Amsterdam. Many were surprised to see the name of the young Danish striker Kasper Dolberg popping up, Dolberg was part of the squad for the training camp but nobody expected that this young striker, straight out of the U19s, would be included in such a crucial match. Well, the masses were even more surprised when they saw the lineup. Kasper Dolberg appeared in the starting 11 on his debut in what would be a night to remember for the Ajax faithful and Dolberg himself. PAOK scored first and a lot of fans deflated through a lack confidence. But then in the 57th minute, Dolberg received the ball just outside the box; he shoots and beats the goalkeeper. The Amsterdam arena explodes and everybody suddenly knows the name of this young lad Kasper Dolberg. One question gets asked a lot after the match, who even is this guy? Well I will be covering his rise to fame here.

Kasper Dolberg was born in Silkeborg, a pretty yet small city in Denmark. He started off kicking the ball around in his parent’s back yard at the age of three and that was the start of something special. Dolberg was described as someone who just could not stop talking about football and his love for the sport. Kasper joined the local professional side Silkeborg IF at the age of eleven after being scouted at his amateur club. There were some concerns about his height, but this didn’t impact his career, eventually growing to the size of 1,86m. Dolberg grew as a person and as a player before catching the eye of scout John Steen Olsen, who also notably discovered players including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Christian Eriksen for the Amsterdam club. Dolberg joined the U19 squad and slowly turned into one of their most crucial players, he was eventually invited to join the main squad at their yearly training camp in Austria.

Dolberg left a mixed impression on Peter Bosz, Bosz saw that Dolberg was talented but he was also very quiet and a bit slow at times. Bosz said something that would be crucial for Dolberg: “You need to step up your mentality, you will not succeed in my squad otherwise”. Dolberg turned into a crucial player for Ajax after the PAOK game, he slowly turned into a real force to be reckoned with in attack and ended up winning the battle for the striker position after Arkadiusz Milik left to join Napoli. His first season was enormously successful. The young striker played 48 matches scoring 28 goals and amassing 8 assists. A major part of his success was his ability to link attacks and his flexibility, especially for a striker of his size. Then, a very familiar story raised its head -scouts. Clubs like Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Monaco were reportedly interested in his services and with this reported interest, expectations surrounding Dolberg grew. The Danish forward hit a poor period of form around December, bad timing for both Dolberg and Ajax. A goal drought that really needs some context; Ajax were trailing in their fight for the Dutch title, their conquest in the Europa league turned out to be very successful but not everything was so positive. Feyenoord were on top and Ajax constantly slipped up against smaller opponents. Dolberg needed to step up and the fans were expecting that of him, but he just couldn’t deliver. Dolberg didn’t score for multiple weeks and a few fans started to turn against the young prospect and started demanding a new striker. This didn’t develop so Dolberg ended up staying in the starting eleven and he eventually recaptured his great form.

The season was nearing its conclusion and there were multiple rumours appearing that no Ajax supporter wanted to hear – Monaco and Barcelona wanted to sign Dolberg in the summer. This 19-year-old from a quiet Danish town could suddenly move to arguably the biggest club in the world, but Ajax had no intention of letting him go for any offer, especially after the Davinson Sanchez transfer. Marc Overmars, the technical director of Ajax reportedly wanted €65m+ for the Dane. Monaco made an offer at the end of the transfer market but the story gets a bit murky from here on. Dutch media reported a massive bid in the region of €60m, but a few days later multiple French sources reported an offer of half of that price, claiming that the previous story was created to artificially raise his price. The specific price isn’t really important for this story, it just shows that multiple European giants were interested and that brings a lot of big expectations, especially for people who have never seen him play. But Dolberg stayed, a surprising verdict for a lot of supporters but one met with mutual appreciation. Nobody could have imagined that his second season would mainly consist of disappointing results, fighting in the Ajax leadership and a devastating injury that forced him to rest for an entire month. His second season will most likely be remembered as his worst. He has scored 8 times in 25 games. This doesn’t sound bad, right? Well, it actually doesn’t! But the major hype surrounding Dolberg saw him as a disappointment a one-season wonder that showed some nice things in a Mickey Mouse league. But a lot of supporters and less opportunistic followers saw him mature and diverting his focus from just scoring goals to becoming a crucial part in the buildup play. His passing ability improved greatly along with most other technical aspects. Don’t get me wrong Dolberg is still a rough talent but calling him a disappointment simply isn’t true. Dolberg still has a bright future ahead of him and staying at Ajax for another season could prove to be one of the best decisions he will ever make in what is a promising career.

By Rik Barendrecht with artwork by @cottodesign

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