Ajax’s youth academy is Dutch football’s most renowned nursery. From Dennis Bergkamp to Wesley Sneijder, and from Patrick Kluivert to Ricardo van Rhijn, they’ve all enjoyed the Ajax football academy. In the ‘Full of promise’ column, we focus each month on a player who is on the verge of a breakthrough into the spotlight. In this edition: Ilan Boccara.
Ilan Boccara is watching television on Wednesday evening with more than just average interest. The top UEFA Champions League match between FC Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain is of special interest to Jong Ajax’s 19 year old midfielder. The six years he spent in PSG’s academy formed Boccara, and he hasn’t forgotten that. In fact, the youth international is a big fan of the French giant. “Paris Saint-Germain is in my heart. Just like Ajax. Both clubs have changed my life.”
So it happens that on his free Saturday evening in Amsterdam, Boccara chooses to watch a match in the French competition instead of a duel on Eredivisie Live. Of course he follows Ajax closely, but he watches Paris Saint-Germain matches when he can. He then gets to see world-class stars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva and Javier Pastore in action. This is the exact reason that he moved from Paris to Amsterdam last summer. “Since Qatar Sports Investments took over the club in 2011, the philosophy has changed completely. It’s extremely difficult or players from the academy to break through to the first team. You actually need to be equal to all of those revered, amazing players. That’s why it was a logical step for me to choose Ajax. There, the youth players have great opportunities.”
Boccara got the first confirmation that he’d made the right decision on September 22, 2012, when he made his debut for Ajax. Six weeks after signing, he was allowed to have a taste of the end goal: Ajax’s first team. In the final minutes of the away game against sc Heerenveen, he came in to replace Lasse Schöne. In the absence of Christian Poulsen (unavailable) and Eyong Enoh (injured), coach Frank de Boer called on the reserves’ midfielder. Until now, there has only been that one performance. But Boccara hadn’t expected more. “I’m focusing on the upcoming season. From that moment, I want to be a part of the A-selection. This first season with Jong Ajax is useful for my development. It’s a big change after six years of being taught in France. In the last six months, I’ve been able to take my time to get used to the Ajax philosophy. I’ve also learned the Dutch language. When the new season starts, I’ll be ready for it.”
The Dutch language is new for Boccara. Although his mother is Dutch, French was always spoken at home in Paris. At the age of 19, he set out to master the language. He’s been successful, considering his smooth Dutch during the interview. “Via Ajax, I’m taking Dutch lessons twice a week. Next to that, I’m learning a lot from my team mates.” Add in his Dutch grandparents in Amstelveen, and suddenly Boccara’s world is completely oriented in Dutch. “Until last summer, I barely had time to come to the Netherlands because of my busy schedule with training, matches and studying. Now I see my grandparents a couple of times a week.”
The Ajax jersey from his debut match hangs in France. It has a place of honour in the Boccara household. “My father has been an Ajax fan for almost his entire life. For him, it’s fantastic that his son has played in an official Ajax match.” Boccara junior himself doesn’t have any jerseys hanging on the wall. Nor does he have any great role models. “I try to learn something from everyone. At Ajax for example, that’s from Toby Alderweireld and Christian Poulsen. I can learn a lot from Poulsen especially. He plays the same position as I do and he’s always in the right place. That’s an attribute. In addition to that, as the most experienced man on the team, he exudes a certain calm. I remember that kind of thing.”
The key to a successful career, according to Boccara, lies in the ‘mentality’ area. The youth international says that’s his strongest point. As a ball seizer at midfield, a mentality of steel comes in handy. “Getting balls away from others is sort of second nature to me. I’ve been doing it since I was really young. It’s a role that fits me. I need to relieve the defenders and attempt to break off the opponent’s attack as early as possible. That’s my job. It helps to always take that extra step more than your competitor. And the same goes for within the team. I try to distinguish myself this way. That’s where my strength is.”