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Remember Abdelhak Nouri as Ajax verge on glory

In recent times, doubts had arisen about Ajax's ability to continue producing stellar talent thro...

Remember Abdelhak Nouri as Aja...

Remember Abdelhak Nouri as Ajax verge on glory

In recent times, doubts had arisen about Ajax's ability to continue producing stellar talent through their academy.

And while astute signings of both youth players like Frenkie De Jong and experienced names like Dusan Tadic have been key, the Ajax youth ranks have also been very productive.

Indeed, 19-year-old captain, defensive lynchpin and the hero of the Champions League quarter-final second leg win over Juventus, Matthijs De Ligt, is one of the major examples in the current squad. Donny van de Beek who netted against Tottenham last Tuesday is another. He also joined Ajax in 2008 as a schoolboy, before progressing through the ranks.

Should they finish the job against Tottenham tonight at the Johann Cruyff Arena, Ajax will return to the Champions League final for the first time since the generation of 1995 and 1996. That was a side built around a core of academy-produced talent.

But there is also a sense of poignancy around a young player who won't be playing tonight. But he would likely have been involved in different circumstances.

Abdelhak Nouri

Abdelhak Nouri was born in Amsterdam in April 1997, just short of a year after Ajax's last Champions League final appearance. Indeed, he was born just 16 days before Van de Beek and the two joined Ajax U12s the same year aged 11. Both then went on to progress through the ranks.

Van de Beek was the first to make his first team debut in 2015, before Nouri followed suit a year later. And he was an attacking midfielder of rich promise, who had represented the Netherlands national youth teams from Under-15s all the way to a multitude of Under-19 caps.

Here's just one example of an outstanding bit of skill from the UEFA Youth Leagues back in 2015:

Nouri found himself promoted to the Ajax first team for the start of last season. But unfortunately, that pre-season, his progress halted in tragic circumstances.

Ajax were facing Werder Bremen in a friendly that July, featuring the young talents currently on the verge of a Champions League final.

De Ligt and Van de Beek started, as did Hakim Ziyech and Tottenham defender Davinson Sanchez.

Frenkie De Jong and David Neres came off the bench. And so did Nouri.

But with 20 minutes left on the clock, the then 20-year-old suddenly slumped to the ground. The footage shows him stationed near the Ajax left flank and slowly taking to the turf and lying on his back.

As the gravity of his situation became apparent, medical staff from both teams took the field to aid him. Airlifted from the field by helicopter, Ajax confirmed shortly after the abandonment of the match that Nouri had suffered cardiac arrhythmias.

Number 34

Days later the extent of his condition became clear. He had suffered severe and permanent brain damage. And after waking from his coma, his family have been able to confirm that he is able to communicate with them by movements of his mouth and eyebrows.

Question marks did follow regarding his on-field treatment and Ajax later admitted liability.

"We recognise our responsibility and liability for the consequences of this," Ajax general manager Edwin van der Sar had said.

Leaving football aside, it's a horrific situation for such a young man and for those around him.

And it's also important in the context of Ajax's achievements this season to remember him.

Indeed, he wasn't far from Van de Beek's thoughts after the win over Juventus. The midfielder had scored on 34 minutes - a poignant number. It was Nouri's shirt number and Van de Beek was keen to reference his good friend afterwards.

"After scoring a goal in minute number 34, I thought of him. I won’t ever forget it."

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Abdelhak Nouri Ajax Amsterdam Champions League Donny Van De Beek Frenkie De Jong Matthijs De Ligt Tottenham