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News & Comment

Talent Scout: Ola John, Twente 


For a country ranked so high in the footballing pyramid, talent from it's shores continues to represent remarkable value. We're talking about the Netherlands, the original home of total football, and mother land to some of European football's greatest ever players.

But while the national league, the Eredivisie, continues its consistent production line of exciting talent, the onlooking elite are becoming increasingly less patient in waiting for it to mature. Gone are the days when the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Dirk Kuyt and Ruud van Nistelrooy were given time to fully prove themselves before leaving, clubs are now heading straight to source.

The productive academies of Ajax, AZ Alkmaar and Feyenoord are just some of those who have had their gems taken away in recent seasons, with foreign outfits taking advantage of contract law in the Netherlands, to secure prospects for nominal fees in their teenage years.

The decision to leave early may well prove to be the correct one for some, but the amount of unfulfilled Dutch potential rotting in reserve teams around the world is making many think twice. FC Twente 's Ola John was fiercely chased by Manchester United and Arsenal after just a handful of first-team appearances 18 months ago, but after snubbing their big money offers he has now developed into one of the Eredivisie 's best players.

John knows better than most the pitfalls of leaving for England too early, after his brother, Collins John, went to Fulham in 2004, after coming through the Twente system and making just 35 appearances. The transfer came too quickly, and despite some initial success, six clubs later, the now 26-year-old finds himself as a free agent.

Ola knows he now must choose his next career move wisely, having followed the same path. Born in Zwedru , Liberia, John moved to the Netherlands aged two, after his father was killed during a bloody civil war. He, like Collins and other brother Paddy, joined Twente 's academy setup to begin his football education.

He would go on to debut for the first-team in 2010, aged just 18, before Premier League sides Arsenal and then United attempted to wrestle him away three months later. They failed, John signed a new deal, and the rest is history. This term, he's cemented himself as a regular in the Twente lineup, after turning in a stunning cameo performance against Benfica in the Champions League qualifying round last June.

All that, and John is still only 19, with lots of raw qualities that mean he can be shaped into pretty much any type of forward. At home on either flank or down the middle, the Netherlands Under-21 international is very much a modern winger.

John's game is based around speed and skill, using his direct dribbling to isolate defenders, before delivering crosses, or cutting inside with real unpredictability. He's also genuinely two footed, so can hug the touchline or drift into the centre comfortably.

At just a touch under five foot 11 inches, and with a skinny but athletic physique, he's not much of a presence, but his decent height and good leap mean he can win flick-ons and also link the play well at times. However, while learning about that, as well as better positioning and full back covering is for the future, for now, just give the boy a ball and watch him work his magic - that's the secret to his success.

John's mix of blistering pace and determination is a difficult blend to deal with, but add to that an accurate and vast range of crossing techniques on either foot, and you have a winger with real end product. He does need to work on releasing the ball quicker, and putting more pace on the final delivery, but he's already racking up the assists.

The only real downsides comes in instinctive situations. John is an average finished when in front of goal, lacking composure and sometimes confidence in the box. When given time to think about a shot, he's scored some stunning efforts, but natural goal scoring isn't in his nature. He also struggles when choosing which skill to use to get him of situations, many times over complicating it and loosing possession.

However, with some more physical development and better coaching, he could very well be an option as a striker one day. In the meantime, John is having fun terrorising defenders out wide, and should he continue to keep developing in such a rapid manner, may well be handed an offer he can't refuse next time the Premier League comes calling.