Joost van Aken reveals he played left wing for a football legend years before joining Sheffield Wednesday
Sheffield Wednesday defender Joost van Aken is battling back from injury in order to play a part in the Owls’ Championship run-in and fight against relegation.
The Dutchman who looks increasingly likely to be leaving the club at the end of the season when his contract runs out, is understood to be edging closer to a return to action with only nine games to go this season.
And while his big money move from SC Heerenveen hasn’t gone quite as club or player would have wanted, it may well be that his ball-playing ability fits in nicely with Darren Moore’s new style of play at the club.
The 26-year-old was brought through his young teenage years at the academy of Dutch giants Ajax, where ‘total football’ is practised from first team to the very youngest juniors.
van Aken spent time looking back on his time at Ajax with The Star earlier this year and recalled a world class football education that delivered the skills that encouraged Wednesday to bring him in on a four-year contract in 2017.
And he could have hardly had a better mentor, a 112-cap former Ajax and Barcelona legend who is now the manager of the Dutch national team.
“My coach [at Ajax] was Frank De Boer,” van Aken remembered. “It was his first year as a coach and that’s sometimes how they do things, they start with the youth.
“It was incredible, but at that age you don’t think too much about these kind of things, you live in the moment.
“Now when I have got older you sometimes look back at think wow; big name, big player, big academy, but I didn’t realise it at the time. It was amazing really.”
Though he had by then moved on to fellow Eredevisie side Heerenveen by then, he earned two international under-21 caps in 2014 and burst into first team football as a 17-year-old.
The Dutchman has from time to time spoken about the differences between Dutch and English football, revealing last year that he chose to go on loan at German side VfL Osnabrück over a club back home because the German football style is closer to that in England.
“I arrived there when I was about 12 years old and was there until I was 15,” he said on his time at Ajax. “To be in that academy, one of the best in the world, was a big honour for me.
“They don’t put you in one spot or position. They don’t say ‘you’re a striker’ or ‘you’re a centre-back’, they believe that at that age you should be able to play every position and experience all the different roles.
“It’s once you get older, when they see the shape of your body, you speed and these things, that’s when they give you one spot on the pitch. When I was there I played left-wing, left of midfield, centre-forward, centre back. That was good, to experience the different places.
“It was all based around the skills and was more focused on possession.
“We were one of the best youth teams in Holland, almost every game all season we had the ball and it was all based on possession.”