Analyzing Ajax’s potential signing Calvin Bassey

Lisandro Martínez is set to join Manchester United after they agreed on a deal with Ajax for the Argentinian central defender. The club from Amsterdam is now looking to replace the 24-year-old defender and their main target reportedly is versatile Rangers defender Calvin Bassey. Calvin Bassey is a 22-year-old defender who came through Leicester City’s youth set-up, joining the Rangers in the summer of 2020 on a free transfer. Bassey has both the Nigerian and English nationality and was born in Aosta, Italy. He has played 65 matches for the Rangers. In this article, I will analyse whether Calvin Bassey is a good fit for Ajax.

In order to analyse whether Calvin Bassey will be a good Martínez replacement, it is important to understand what qualities an Ajax defender usually needs to have. I will list the main four aspects here:

  • An Ajax central defender needs to have good ball progression in the build-up
  • An Ajax central defender needs to be capable of winning back possession high up the pitch
  • An Ajax central defender needs to be capable to defend in a high defensive line
  • A defender generally needs to be capable of defending well near his own box, especially in the Champions League this is pretty important for an Ajax central defender

Ball progression

An Ajax central defender needs to have good ball progression in the build-up. It is important that an Ajax central defender has a good passing technique, vision, passing range and close control. It is also generally important that an Ajax central defender dares to play risky passes, but without many of them failing. This all plays a part in good ball progression.

On the ball, Calvin Bassey is not a very adventurous passer. The Rangers defender, in the build-up, mainly goes for the safe option which means that he plays plenty of sideways passes or even backwards to the goalkeeper. When he receives the ball in the build-up, he often takes a few touches forward assessing his options. He sometimes tries to play a long pass towards the attackers, but also turns back to the goalkeeper and plays a backwards pass. Bassey has decent vision – he spots his teammates in space well but his delivery is pretty inaccurate, despite having a good long passing technique. His short passing technique is also good and is capable of playing one-touch passes with both his right and left foot.

The Nigerian defender sometimes seems to take too long before releasing the ball. It has happened a few times that he got himself into trouble as the opponent managed to pressure Bassey into making mistakes on the ball. Despite this, Bassey generally is pretty composed on the ball and he does not panic if he is being put under pressure near his own penalty box. It rarely happens that he dribbles past his opponent near his own box, but he dares to do so in certain situations. His receiving skills from ground passes are good, but he occasionally struggles to control aerial passes. This can be a problem if he’s put under high pressure.

Concluding, Calvin Bassey is composed on the ball but far from a good ball progressor. He occasionally makes some mistakes on the ball but has the potential to grow into this role, as he has a good technique and vision. However, he needs to be more comfortable playing forward passes and release the ball sooner at times. It would take some time to get used to playing progessive passes, but I think he has the potential to get better at this. He does not have to become as good as Martínez/Blind/Timber at this, but he needs to at least reach Schuurs’ level on the ball.

Here you can see a few clips of Bassey’s on the ball tendencies, which show what kind of player he’s like in the build-up:

Defensive qualities in the opposition’s half

Now that we’ve discussed his on the ball tendencies, it is important to analyse his defensive qualities in the opposition’s half. I’ve watched Rangers in a few different games with different playing styles. For example, in the Europa League, Rangers had a slightly more passive/cautious and direct approach, while in Scotland they are a bit more aggressive going forward and patient in the build-up.

In the domestic league, Bassey gets into a lot of duels on the opposition’s half. The Nigerian defender steps up very often and is a very proactive and aggressive defender. He has the tendency to often play on the opposition’s half and likes to contest duels in that area. The 22-year-old is very inconsistent in the duels high up the pitch. He seems less comfortable in those duels and acts differently in duels near his own box. Bassey relies on his physical strength too much and needs to be more cautious in duels on the opposition’s half, as he often gives away fouls and basically loses ground duels because he relies on his strength too much. He sometimes get dribbled past as well, especially against quick, agile wingers he struggles as Bassey’s reaction time in 1v1 duels is not super quick. I have some clips of that later in this analysis.

Losing duels high up the pitch also means that he is out of position when the opponent progresses the ball further up the pitch quickly, which happened occasionally against Celtic in the semi-finals of the cup. But don’t get me wrong, I think he reads the game pretty well because he is almost never found in no man’s land when stepping up. If he would win those duels he would help Rangers to recover possession high up the pitch and maintain the pressure on the opponent.

Concluding, I think he already has the right mindset while defending for Ajax, but he just needs to gain more experience in this aggressive playing style. Bassey will be just fine in most matches in the Eredivisie, but would need some time to adapt in the Champions League defending in this playing style, I think. However, he has the potential to be a very good aggressive defender on the opposition’s half, because he has all the characteristics to grow into this role. By gaining more experience, he will get smarter in duels on the opposition’s half.

Here are a few clips of his duels against Celtic:

Losing duels on the opposition’s half also implies that he is not that great at defending in a high defensive line. However, I don’t think that this is the case and as mentioned, I think he has the potential to get a lot better defending in the opposition’s half. This also has to do with his defensive ability in his own half, but I will talk more about this later in the analysis. To be capable of defending in a high defensive line, it is important that the timing and anticipation of the defender are good. The defender also must be mobile and have above average pace and acceleration. In addition, I think it’s also important that a player has good defensive vision, meaning that he needs to scan often and be one step ahead of the rest.

Calvin Bassey has great recovery speed, meaning that he is capable of getting back into the duels after he gets dribbled past. He is a good athlete, but occasionally he seems pretty heavy-footed when turning. This is especially against quick, agile wingers who change directions quickly. The Nigerian defender does not seem super quick, but also not slow, in the first meters but is capable of generating more speed over longer distances. Standing at 1.85 meters with a muscular build, Bassey has great strength and physically dominates a lot of opponents. As mentioned before, Bassey reads the game pretty well and gets into the duels in the right positions. He does well to anticipate where the passes are going and sometimes seems to be one step ahead of the opponent.

Defending on his own half

I think that Calvin Bassey excels when defending on his own half when Rangers have a more cautious approach. He does not get into isolated duels that often and has excellent defensive decision-making and uses his body perfectly in 1v1 duels on his own half. This will be important for Ajax in Champions League matches against stronger opponents.

On his own half, Bassey is more cautious and stays in the defensive line more often. He is always aware of his surroundings and scans a lot. By doing that, he knows when to step up and when to stay in line. Bassey closes gaps towards the wing very well and he can do this because he has good defensive awareness on his own half. In the 1v1 duels on his own half, Bassey is very dominant. He uses his body and athleticism very well in those duels. The defender can keep up with his opponent on the first meters and uses his physical strength and relatively long legs to get in between the opponent and the ball. This helps him to recover possession in defensive 1v1 duels on his own half.

Calvin Bassey is pretty strong in aerial duels, he has a good leap and often jumps higher than his opponent. He defends set-pieces really well and is almost always well-positioned. Apart from Eintracht Frankfürt’s equalizer in the Europa League final, Bassey has great anticipation when dealing with crosses and his positioning is great. He is composed and comfortable in his own box and looks very dominant.

The Nigerian defender sometimes seems to react late to direction changes of opponent (clip 2 and 3), which you can see in the clips down below. In those situations, he seems a bit heavy-footed in the first meters trying to turn, which is not that strange looking at his build. But, when sprinting, he is capable of keeping up with quick players like Jota. In the first clip, he reacts pretty late to a run in behind. For someone of his build, Bassey is very athletic and quick on the turn.

So, does he fit Ajax’s playing style?

I think that Calvin Bassey currently is more suitable to a more balanced playing style. However, with Bassey’s characteristics I think he could grow into this role (Ajax) pretty quickly. He has good athleticism and is quick, reads the game pretty well, has good anticipation and is has a good passing technique. Bassey needs to be more comfortable in the duels on the opposition’s half and work on his on-the-ball ability. Moreover, he would also add much to Ajax’s game defending set-pieces. Ajax need a player who’s strong in the air and Bassey would sort that problem. His lack of ball-playing ability would not be a problem in the Eredivisie, as Schreuder could sort that problem by playing Blind and Timber next to/in front of him.

Considering that there is a lot of room for improvement, I think that every fee above €15m would be steep, but as he is one of the better options out there I’d rather see Ajax spending too much on a central defender than buying an average defender like Magallan for €7m-€10m. Bassey would do well in the Eredivisie but in the Champions League, he would need some time to grow into the attacking playing style of Ajax. However, Bassey would sort out the lack of aerial ability in the defence and looks like a very powerful, determined player who could also play left-back in emergency situations.

Thus, I think that Bassey would be a good signing but I think that Facundo Medina, for €12m, would be a better option if available.

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