The stage is set for the next chapter of Atlanta United’s history, with Dutch legend Frank De Boer appointed the second manager in club history today. The move has plenty of upside: European pedigree, an understanding of what it means to be a top-class player, and a defined attacking style fans can expect to see at Mercedes-Benz Stadium next year. But Atlanta United’s youngest stars may have extra reason to celebrate.
Frank De Boer came through the Ajax youth academy, and that’s where he made his name, both as a player and as a manager. Ajax is a special club in that it is perhaps the best club in the world when it comes to youth development. Ajax youth products include former Ballon d’Or finalist Wesley Sneijder and Premier League stars Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld –– as well as legends of the past like Johan Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten.
But there’s one player in particular Atlanta United fans should know from De Boer’s days as manager of Ajax. In his first year in charge, De Boer saw potential in an 18-year-old playmaker. Even though they were in the midst of a title challenge, he gave the reins of his midfielder to the young Danish attacker. That player’s name was Christian Eriksen, who’s now one of the star players in the Premier League.
What that move shows is that De Boer trusts young players and is committed to youth development. That’s down to his background with Ajax, a team that is known around the world for producing world-class talent in their own youth system. And it’s a perfect fit now for Atlanta United, a club that’s committed to growing the game in the Southeast and cultivating the bright young talents within their developmental system.
“We were adamant to find someone who fit all of our criteria,” said Atlanta United president Darren Eales. “In addition to meeting our club’s core values, Frank’s philosophical views for how to play unequivocally aligns with ours. He also has a proven track record of developing youth players, with many of them going on to star for top European teams.”
So this appointment is good news for Atlanta United Academy products like Andrew Carleton, George Bello and even young players like Ezequiel Barco and Brandon Vazquez. It doesn’t mean they’ll be given the starting job right away, but they can come into the season motivated, knowing that if they perform on the field, they’ll get their chance. Atlanta United Vice President and Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra put it succinctly:
“His track record for player development, of pushing youth players into the First Team, speaks for itself,” he said.
But more important than any player, it’s a seamless fit into the philosophy of the team. It’s a sign from club leadership that no matter who’s in charge, the philosophy of the club, and its commitment to youth development will remain. That’s good news for the players, for the club, and for soccer in the United States.