Carel Eiting – Ajax’ midfield professor

Carel Eiting is highly intelligent and self-aware, so much so that he frequently apologises to reporters when he answers a question with a cliché. He studied Economics and accrued a high level of pre-university education with his former teammate Kaj Sierhuis as his teammates frequently refer to him as the ‘professor’. He came through at Ajax with Donny van de Beek and Abdelhak Nouri who were a year older than him as his maturity has constantly been at the forefront of his development as a player. The deep-lying playmaker’s opportunities have been derailed by a left knee injury which was meant to sideline him for two months, but continuous pain forced him into surgery which denied him the opportunity to participate in Ajax’ historic season. He has the potential to influence Erik ten Hag’s renovated Ajax this season.


Eiting was born in Amsterdam as his brothers are hockey players while in the latter stages of his youth career, he began to devote his mind and body to football. He exempted coke and fizzy drinks from his diet and began to eat healthy while during pre-season last year, he worked hard on his physicality and improving his pace over short distances. Ten Hag began to include him in his starting lineups during pre-season and in the early stages of the UEFA Champions League Qualifiers. Against Sturm Graz, he was deployed at the base of midfield next to Lasse Schone as their solidity allowed Van de Beek to push forward in the possession and pressing phase.


In the first leg, he grew into the game after Schone went off as he earned a starting place for the next leg. His distribution was precise and calm as there was a moment where he held the ball, waited for a passing option before he played a sublime through ball to David Neres whose cross found Huntelaar at the far post for his shot to be saved. In the second-half, he played another through ball into the wide channel for Noussair Mazraoui to cross for Dusan Tadic to tap in at the far post.


Eiting’s performances in these matches was impressive as he was not playing as a pivote but adjusted by moving wide to create overloads and work combinations with wide players before he would chip or work through balls for them into space. He earned a place in Ajax’ starting lineup for their Eredivisie opener at home to Heracles as he was willing to play the ball and drive through pressure. He worked early passes into the attacking half which were so crucial to Ajax’ attacking play as he continued his good run of form while Ajax struggled to a home draw.


The deep-lying playmaker would earn another opportunity at home to FC Emmen as he had a clearance which Hakim Ziyech, Tadic and Huntelaar put pressure on as Tadic won possession before Huntelaar played through Ziyech who cut past his man and finished at the near post with aplomb. Eiting has a trademark chip from the top of the box to create opportunities for teammates in the final third as he used this to cross for Huntelaar to score a header at the back post.


The 21-year-old was pivotal in ensuring Ajax’ qualification into the UEFA Champions League while he also participated in the group stage. At home to AEK Athens, he played deeper than Schone in a defensive three-chain or in the six space before pushing higher up in approach play in the opposition half. The midfield duo created and manipulated passing avenues to Tadic and Ziyech before counter-pressing with vigour to sustain Ajax attacks. In the second-half, Eiting played a through ball to Nicolas Tagliafico who mis-kicked a cross over the keeper and into the net. Eiting would suffer the first stanza of his knee injury which would keep him out till January.


In the new year, the youngster would join Ajax on their mid-season training camp in Florida as he was deployed at the base of Ajax’ midfield against Flamengo in the blistering heat. Eiting controlled the game, stringing things together from deep while pinging cross-field balls across the pitch, one of which was to Noa Lang who mis-kicked into the path of Jurgen Ekkelenkamp who had his shot saved. Unfortunately, the youngster would face the second part of his injury which would deprive him off football until the new season.


In pre-season this year, he returned nursing his injury and having specialised training sessions with increased competition for game-time. Jurgen Ekkelenkamp and Ryan Gravenberch are making inroads into first-team football, Razvan Marin whose transfer was announced in January has adjusted quickly while Schone is enduring at the base of Ajax’ midfield at 33-years-old. Eiting picked up where he left off in Florida as against Istanbul Basaksehir, he was involved in Ajax’ opening goal. Ajax played the ball out to Veltman with one touch passing movements before Eiting received the ball, drove to the edge of the box to play in Tadic who played in Van de Beek to cross for Kasper Dolberg to tap into an empty net.


Eiting played at the base of midfield, sometimes dropping into the wide centre-back role of the defensive three chain before moving back into the centre when the ball moved out wide. Four days later against Watford, he partnered with Gravenberch in midfield as Eiting would drop into the three-chain while Gravenberch would move into the six space in build-up. In the dying minutes of the game, with the scores deadlocked at 1-1, Lang dribbled out of a glut of players to have his shot blocked. Eiting took the deflection on, picked his head up and provided one of his trademarked delicate chips for Jurrien Timber to head in Ajax’ second goal.


The brilliance of Eiting is his intelligence as his mind processes information and situations incredibly quickly – sometimes too quickly for his own teammates – as he shows poise and precision as a ball-player from deep, carefully crafting attacks. He also possesses the potential to be a creative force in the opposition half, working combinations, rolling accurate and perfectly weighted passes through the lines or using chips to create opportunities on goal. Him and Marin are at the forefront of the midfield battle to partner Schone as Eiting could even wind up replacing the Dane. His father and management showed sound judgement to advise him to perfect his traits as a deep-lying playmaker due to Ajax having a shortage of options in the position.


“Carel really is a controlling midfielder playing football. This is how we like to see them at Ajax. With a lot of ball feeling in his left leg. That way you can safely play him in the cover, after which he ensures the correct continuation. Preferably into the depth as quickly as possible. With the game insight, Carel knows in advance where that ball should go. He always thinks ahead. I think his main point for improvement is that his game can be even more direct and faster. Certainly, in his position that is important. But I’m not worried about that. Carel is very eager to learn and constantly improving,” said Ajax legend Sjaak Swart to Voetbal International in August 2018.


Eiting is studious and well-learned as his perceptive thinking is not just limited to the football pitch as he frequently thinks tactically about football when he is away from the pitch. There is also a humility to the player as he never tries to outthink his coaches while he is certainly a player that Erik ten Hag likes. Still only 21 with the only other midfield controller Schone, 33, there will be opportunities for him this season and in the future. He joined De Toekomst at 7 or 8-years-old as John Van den Brom who was Head of the Academy at the time, lobbied for his move, convincing his parents which proved an astute piece of judgement and scouting.