It has been a strange last few weeks for Mohammed Kudus, during which he reportedly came quite close to ending his time with Ajax Amsterdam at the two-year mark and reaching for the prospect of life in the Premier League.
A rumoured move to Everton fell through, amid doubts over just how much playing time Ajax gaffer Alfred Schreuder was going to afford him. Kudus hadn’t started any of the team’s first six games of the campaign, despite impressing the new trainer – appointed after Erik ten Hag joined Manchester United – in pre-season.
Not that Kudus playing a peripheral part left Ajax struggling, however, and Schreuder had little reason to rejig a side that had won all six games, some by rather comfortable margins. Kudus’ case wouldn’t have been helped by reports that he’d missed training just to force the aforementioned summer exit.
Eager to make what impact he could, however, Kudus scored in Ajax’s last league game, a 4-0 demolition of Cambuur. Schreuder took note, responding favourably by naming Kudus in the starting lineup for Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League Group A opener at home to Rangers, last season’s Europa League runners-up.
Not one to miss a chance, Kudus put on a brilliant display, hardly putting a foot wrong all-game. He completed each pass (26 in all) and take-on (5) attempted, provided a delightful assist – had to watch that a few time just to be convinced he meant it, such was the deftness with which he executed the move – and scored unarguably the best of Ajax’s four goals.
The latter contribution saw him peel and hold off attention from Rangers captain James Tavernier after picking the ball some distance outside the box, before slamming it across the opposing goalkeeper with that sweet left foot of his. It was the prism through which the superlative nature of his overall output could be best-appreciated.
Quite deservedly, then, Kudus was named Man of the Match, on his very first Champions League start since picking up a serious injury only nine minutes into his debut in European football’s premier club competition against Liverpool just around this time in 2020.
Between that game (which he started brilliantly, by the way, also at the Johan Cruyff Arena) and the latest, Kudus had managed just 20-odd Champions League minutes, yet you wouldn’t have known it as he went about his job expertly – even in an unusual centre-forward role – against hapless Rangers.
Kudus hasn’t suddenly made himself undroppable, and Ajax fans shouldn’t expect a replication of the exact set of standards Sebastien Haller came up with last season, but he has definitely given Schreuder plenty to think about.
Not picking Kudus for games – or not giving him as many opportunities as he merits – would now raise more eyebrows than before, especially in Ghana, the midfielder’s homeland. There, hopes are high about the pivotal role Kudus – the buzzing, beating heart of the Black Stars‘ attack – could play at the FIFA World Cup later this year.
Kudus needs a steady run of games to keep him warm and ready for that crucial assignment, and the fact that he hadn’t had much of a look-in thus far under Schreuder was of legitimate concern among his countrymen.
Hopefully, then, this showing – in the same competition that saw his Ajax career almost blighted before it had even properly blossomed – would spark a turnaround in fortunes, a return to better times, for Kudus.
“More is on the way coming,” was Kudus’s post-match statement of intent.
And that’s primarily a message for Schreuder, who – like his last three predecessors – might be hairless, but certainly isn’t clueless.