Squeezed out of a place in the Ajax Amsterdam midfield, it seemed all that Mohammed Kudus was ever going to get were scraps of playing time.
That was certainly the case during the final season of Erik ten Hag as head coach, and Kudus’ fortunes didn’t look like improving a handful of games into the tenure of Alfred Schreuder, Ten Hag’s successor.
Kudus saw just about 100 minutes of action – all as a substitute – in Ajax’s first six matches across all competitions, but the last few games have seen him enjoy something of a renaissance, a long-awaited return to prominence.
Kudus stole the show in Ajax’s opening UEFA Champions League group game last week, scoring one goal and assisting another – doing both quite brilliantly – and putting in an all-round excellent shift as Rangers were dispatched in some style, justifying Schreuder’s decision to hand him a first start of the campaign.
And with that Kudus earned a second, when Heerenveen visited the Dutch capital mere days later. Again, the Ghanaian sparkled, scoring twice in a 5-0 rout. But while Schreuder is only now finding a place for Kudus in his team, he already appears to know exactly where on the pitch the former Nordsjaelland starlet might thrive: in front of goal.
That’s where Schreuder has preferred to play Kudus – whether from the off or off the bench – to remarkable effect. There is now certainly every motivation to keep Kudus right there, that ‘false nine’ role he’s beginning to own, even at the expense of a ‘traditional nine’ like Brian Brobbey (who, with the No.9 on the back of his shirt, is already dressed the part).
Like Kudus, Brobbey has Ghanaian roots. Unlike Kudus, though, Brobbey wasn’t born in Ghana and has hardly – if at all – spent any time in the west African country. Bred in Amsterdam, Brobbey is a local boy who came through the Ajax ranks; save a nine-month period in 2021 spent during a rather short-lived and terribly disappointing stint with RB Leipzig, he has been at the club the whole time.
The 20-year-old has every right, then, to believe it’s his turn to lead Ajax’s line.
To lose that spot to Kudus – who has only been at Ajax two years, and who is a midfielder by trade – hurts, and it showed in Brobbey’s attitude after replacing Kudus in the aforementioned game with Rangers (much to Schreuder’s displeasure).
After Kudus again sparkled against Liverpool at Anfield in Tuesday’s Champions League game – what a finish he came up with for the visitors’ leveler! – it looks like Brobbey’s disappointment would last a little longer. While the centre-forward watches in misery as Kudus roars, however, there would be just-as-keen, more delighted observers.
Ghana would have loved to have a striker Brobbey’s profile spearheading the Black Stars’ attack, given the struggle for goals in Otto Addo’s World Cup-bound team. But Brobbey hasn’t yet turned his back on an implied commitment to play for the Netherlands – no, don’t hold your breath – and the current options available to Addo and his technical crew aren’t particularly prolific.
Here comes Kudus, though, scoring for fun these days, with five goals in his last four games (three of them starts).
Kudus, it must be said, has previous job experience of being the leading man in attack, doing so for some 18 games while on the books of Nordsjaelland, from where he moved to Ajax. But he only got four goals and an assist in that position, proving more productive from midfield (eight goals and three assists in 23 appearances) for the Danish outfit.
He’s just so much better at this striking thing now, isn’t he?
Whatever Schreuder is doing with Kudus must be right, as it’s clearly working and unlocking new levels to the boy’s game, and Addo would do well to take a cue.
Ghana only needed Ajax to hand Kudus enough minutes to keep him warm and fresh and ready for the FIFA World Cup that comes up later this year, but Schreuder has now done even more, showing how Kudus could meet arguably Ghana’s greatest need at the moment.
Kudus may well be the goalscoring ace Addo never knew he had in his pack. He’s only scored five times in 16 international games thus far – not bad by any stretch, considering he’s been relied on more for his creative powers – but that return, should Ghana figure out how to tweak his settings accordingly, could get much higher.
Ajax have shown the way, right?
Yaw Frimpong – Ink & Kicks