Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu epitomise the Dutch academy model player. FTF spoke to their academy coach to see how they may fare at their respective new clubs.
There can be fewer things more demoralising to a fan than a squad exodus. Losing one star player is hard, but often reflected on as a necessity. To lose multiple players in one swoop can feel brutal.
AZ Alkmaar fans, and indeed fans of all the Eredivisie clubs will know this feeling. A strong performance or season can catalyse interest beyond the border. The Spanish, English, Germans etc rarely wait to pounce on prodigious Dutch talent.
This summer will feel like the nadir of all exoduses. Captain and talisman Teun Koopmeiners looks set to depart for Atalanta. Winger Calvin Stengs has already secured a move to OGC Nice, and striker Myron Boadu is also soon to arrive in France.
Being at a club like AZ Alkmaar carries this fact. A club that will nurture and develop talent into consistent ability and performance. The club is under no illusion in it’s role in these players’ careers. To firstly identify their ability, then develop it, then sell it on and replace with the next sapling.
For these players though, brought through the ranks of a club like AZ, what is their story? We spoke to former youth coach of AZ, Koen Stam, on the unique qualities of two of these players, and what qualities he saw in them that will hold them in great stead as they depart for France.
These are the inside stories of Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu.
Despite being two years apart in age, Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu made their AZ debuts in the same year. However, both were denied a significant run at the first team due to serious injury.
Stengs had been fast-tracked into the senior setup ahead of the 2017/18 season, but suffered a terrible knee injury in his pre-season debut. He would not return until the following November having missed the entire 2017/18 season.
Boadu too had to wait for his first run of games. At the incredibly tender age of sixteen, he was included with Stengs in the AZ first team squad for the 17/18 campaign. As fate would have it, a similar knee affliction would keep him out for that season as well.
When Boadu got his chance, he took it and ran. The electric centre forward scored against NAC Brada to become AZ’s youngest ever Eredivisie scorer at just seventeen.
Stengs would grow into his first team berth more gradually. A way more fitting of the player profiles embodied by the two. He is a graceful and elegant creator utilising poise and timing. Boadu is a destructively fast striker, built to blister away from defences.
This slightly later bloom was witnessed first hand by Koen Stam:
‘Calvin has always been very small, a real late ripener. As a result, he was challenged to be technically 100% and distinctive with his game intelligence.’
This contrasts somewhat with the coach’s recall of the even younger Myron Boadu he worked with.
‘Myron played against seniors at the age of 15. The he already scored a lot. The physical trainers paid a lot of attention to his explosiveness and movement skills.’
Honing their arts
Different players, with very different skillsets. Yet developed and grown on the same training pitches at the very same time. How does this come to be in such a way, and how do coaches such as Koen Stam maintain their players’ individuality without compromising the wider club vision?
There is certainly a joy to watching AZ. Whilst they might lack the nous and savviness to win a league title, they thrill in their attacking verve, and display a holistic sense of fun in their play.
The club’s vision of 50% of any given matchday squad being comprised of academy graduates maintains this. Talented children and teenagers allowed to play with fun, and have fun together. It is what allows the likes of Teun Koopmeiners, Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu to play with such freedom.
‘He was, and still is, uninhibited. Myron has fun playing football and enjoying himself.’
This quote sums up the breeding ground AZ cultivate. The expression of character in football is often what sets apart the players that become great, yes, but also adored. The ones fans attach themselves to.
Breezing into the final third with ball at feet, Calvin Stengs looks to be having fun. Wheeling away in celebration after burying a one on one, Myron Boadu is having a ball. This arguably comes before any specific technical development work.
Technical development just happens to be the name of AZ’s game too. And in growing a cultured attacker like Calvin Stengs, one sees the value in such attention.
‘When he turned seventeen, you saw that he was very technical, and had special insight. Especially when taking up positions between the lines.’
These are the areas Stengs impacts most. Starting on the right wing and drifting centrally between the lines to poke passes through for Boadu.
Turning good into great
The dearth of quality right wingers in Europe is quite extraordinary. Jadon Sancho’s arrival at Manchester United has largely been heralded as a necessity for this very reason. Sancho or bust.
When considering alternatives, Calvin Stengs was rumoured to be of interest. Not only does he play on the right, but is young, technically excellent, and offers a left footed option on that side. As alternatives go, he seemed the perfect name.
This is missing the point of a player like Stengs. Whilst Sancho, who himself is no typical right winger, explodes both inside and outside of fullbacks, Stengs is more of a glider. Drifting away from challenges rather than skipping. His recognition of space appears so fast that it requires little physical carry.
As a left footed creator in this mould, Mesut Ozil appears a more sensible comparison. Like the German, Stengs too can infuriate when not on the winning team. Such a lucid and elegant style only gratifies when contributing to a winning formula. Luckily he plays in a side that rarely drift outside of Holland’s top three sides.
‘Arne Slot (AZ manager at the time) regularly played him as the ’10’ in important matches. He also played in midfield during his youth, and I think Calvin can even play as the right striker as well.’
Stengs could already count himself among the Eredivisie’s top wingers and attackers by the time he departed this summer. His assist and creative figures are testament to this, let alone the enchanting manner of his play. The question of turning this into a career of even greater note, lies not only in his next destination, but between his ears.
‘By growing physically and personally, I think Calvin can take the next step up in his career in France. He has the potential to be a Champions League level player.’
Nature vs Nurture
The question of where natural and nurtured talent lies must be a point of contestation for top academies. Recognising the need to accentuate a rare facet in a player’s game can propel them to a higher level. equally, rounding off those rougher edges and promoting a collective identity of playing in a team, is essential to do this too.
Watching Myron Boadu now, it seems obvious that speed and acceleration are such natural assets. Yet Koen also reveals that a more technical facet of Boadu’s game is also inherent.
‘Some of his coaches game him certain details in the academy, however Myron was (and is) a natural goalscorer.’
In two full seasons of senior football, Boadu has already scored twenty nine non-penalty goals. In 20/21, his fifteen goals came from only 24 shots on target. A deadeye finisher at a seriously young age.
The same attention to detail can be said to have been paid to Calvin Stengs. Although an incredibly fluent and natural dribbler and passer, Koen explains that refining this creative art was key to their work with the player.
‘We paid a lot of attention to him choosing the right position between the lines in the right moment, and in his viewing behaviours. This was so that when he has the ball he can directly make the right choice forward.’
Having a forward like Boadu ahead of him will have honed this pass picking potency. Boadu is a livewire striker, probing spaces between centre back and full back to burst in behind. Syncing this up with the timing of Stengs’ deft through passes will only have benefitted both players.
Nice’s Calvin Stengs
The departure of Calvin Stengs this summer was seen as an inevitability. That he would arrive on the French south coast was less so.
OGC Nice had suffered a turgid, if safe, couple of seasons. The Patrick Vieira years had shown promise at certain points, before tailing off dramatically in a slow and tepid playing style.
The hiring of current league winning manager Christophe Galtier changes everything. The former Lille coach is a specialist at milking squads of their potential, and producing remarkable outcomes from lesser fancied groups. He alone boosts the potential of their side.
Throw in the uncertainty surrounding French football’s finances and the failed television dealings, and the appointment appears a masterstroke. Every side, bar for the Parisian giants, are in strife, so strike now to try and nip in ahead.
Their recruitment too has been fascinating. Accruing Jean-Claude Todibo from Barcelona is smart business for a player that knows the club well. The arrival of Calvin Stengs for just £13 million however could be the purchase of the year. If personal and technical development are the USPs of this new coach, the Stengs’ potential could explode.
Galtier’s flexibility to flit between a 4-4-2 and a 4-2-3-1 would likely see Stengs feature regardless. In the former he could easily start as the right sided midfieder, drifting centrally with an attacking full back providing width outside. A 4-2-3-1 would even see Stengs placed in the attacking central role behind Kasper Dolberg.
The Dane is a very different partner than Boadu. Dolberg is broad and strong, and links play proficiently. Such a player could see Stengs’ scoring output rocket. He has yet to pass seven goals in a league season, so there is scope to build.
Under a coach like Galtier, in an exciting project like Nice’s, this step could define Calvin Stengs for the better.
Monaco’s Myron Boadu
At the time of writing, Myron Boadu is yet to be confirmed as a new signing for AS Monaco. The noises coming out of his camp, and those touted by the more reputable sources, claim it is a matter of when rather than if however.
Whilst Stengs and Koopmeiners were unlikely to ever stay beyond the last campaign, it was reasonable to predict Boadu to stay for one more. Still only twenty, and progressing the way he is, it certainly would have done no harm to continue at AZ for a final season.
Yet the prospect of him joining Monaco is tantalising. A youthful club on the rise, with a growing coach and philosophy of promoting young players. They are also playing the Champions League this coming season. There could be no better place for Myron Boadu to leap forward.
The youthful renaissance at Monaco has been overseen by Niko Kovac. Young twenty-somethings like Aurélien Tchouaméni and Youssouf Fofana have flourished under his tutelage. If there is a club, and coach, to benefit a young striker like Boadu, in a new league, Kovac and Monaco take some bettering.
‘Myron needs people who pay a lot of attention to him. People who are demanding but really do believe in him.’
‘Myron will be able to take the step, from child and good player, to top footballer.’
Both these moves for these particular players are sensible, measured, and exciting. Neither club will over burden them with expectation. Boadu may be playing in the Champions League, but he still will be largely sheltered from the rest of the continent.
It shows the smart recruiting of French clubs to identify and attract players of this ability, potential, and reasonable price point.
Ligue 1 is a league of improving quality, and the environments offered to these young players to grow, will smooth their transitions from the home comforts of Alkmaar.
Losing three players of Koopmeiners, Stengs and Boadu’s ilk will no doubt sadden fans of the club. Yet it is part of the experience of following a club like AZ Alkmaar. Eyes will already have fixed on their respective successors, and even their successors’ successors.
‘I say to players in the academy: “The personality and grit-factor makes someone who is seriously good at football into a seriously good football player.”‘
Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu are already seriously good at football. Their experiences in France could be the catalysts to turn them into seriously good footballers.
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