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Tijjani Reijnders has key Netherlands midfield role at Euro 2024 but history suggests Milan man can rise to challenge

With exclusive insight from his former coach Pascal Jansen, we take a look at why AC Milan's Tijjani Reijnders is capable of rising to the challenge in the Netherlands midfield at Euro 2024 following the injuries to Frenkie de Jong and Teun Koopmeiners...

Netherlands midfielder Tijjani Reijnders will now have a big role to play at Euro 2024
Image: Netherlands midfielder Tijjani Reijnders will now have a big role to play at Euro 2024

“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Pascal Jansen tells Sky Sports. This was 2022 and Tijjani Reijnders had finished the season strongly with AZ Alkmaar. “He smashed everyone in midfield.” But this ambitious player wanted more.

"He came up to me and said, 'Coach, I have played 50 per cent of the minutes but I need more.' I told him that the impact that he had made at the end of that season had to be the standard for next season. He said, 'No problem, that is what I will do.'"

AZ played 54 matches in all competitions in the following campaign and Reijnders started every single one of them. "He took off and never looked back," recalls Jansen. "He just went on and on." The reward was a move to AC Milan last summer.

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The Opta supercomputer has England as favourites to win the Euros at 19.9 per cent

"I have seen him grow. He has improved himself so, so much. He made the next step and just continued. That surprised a lot of people but not me because I could see that he was on his way, especially in our European games. He made the difference."

This summer, he will carry the responsibility of directing the Netherlands midfield at Euro 2024. Losing both Frenkie de Jong and Teun Koopmeiners is a big blow for Ronald Koeman and his team but there is confidence that Reijnders can step up again.

He has replaced Koopmeiners before. Now 25, Reijnders was born in the same year as his fellow Dutch midfielder but was a relatively late bloomer in Alkmaar. While Koopmeiners was a regular at AZ, he was out on loan playing for RKC Waalwijk.

"AZ were very successful with Teun and Fredrik Midtsjo in midfield so Tijjani was fighting against those two. He had the ability to play as a 10 but he was not as good there as in midfield. So he was competing with those guys and he had to wait his turn."

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With Koopmeiners moving on and Reijnders returning from his loan "a more mature player", there was an opening. But it was not straightforward. "We were not good enough in that midfield so I had to readjust again. He had to be patient."

Tijjani Reijnders of AZ, AZ coach Pascal Jansen celebrate the victory during the Dutch Eredivisie match between AZ Alkmaar and Go Ahead Eagles at the AFAS stadium on September 26, 2021 in Alkmaar, Netherlands.
Image: Tijjani Reijnders is embraced by Pascal Jansen during their time at AZ Alkmaar

It was only in what would prove to be his final season at AZ that he truly blossomed. That ever-present season was a testament to his robustness as well as his quality. What had changed? Jansen sees it as a prime example of a player seizing his chance.

"Once he went in, he improved himself daily. Just by playing, feeling the confidence from his coach and from the team, he matured. He had all the tools but it was when he got the opportunity to show them that he delivered. He made more impact.

"He was very important in the build-up phase. He could feel when he needed to come deep to support Jordy Clasie. But he was also able to carry the ball, provide assists and take shots from distance and score goals. He just became very productive."

AC Milan midfielder Tijjani Reijnders had a strong debut season in Serie A
Image: AC Milan midfielder Tijjani Reijnders had a strong debut season in Serie A

That productivity has been similarly evident throughout his debut season for Milan. Reijnders ranks among the top 10 players in Serie A for chances created from open play, passes completed in the final third of the pitch and through-balls.

"The fun thing about Tijjani is that he is always smiling. You can see, literally, in his body language when he is enjoying himself. I was curious how his adaptation phase would go in Milan but I could see from his body language that he was doing well.

"When he made the transfer to Milan, I could see the same Tijjani in a different environment, improving himself again. His family have supported him all the time and encouraged him to play to his potential. They pushed him in a good sense."

Tijjani Reijnders' heatmap and passing sonar for AC Milan in the 2023/24 Serie A season
Image: Tijjani Reijnders' heatmap and passing sonar for AC Milan in the 2023/24 Serie A season

His father Martin was a professional footballer and continues to handle much of his affairs. Even the decision to choose Milan was the right balance between career strategy and emotion. "Tijjani is a very steady and calm personality," adds Jansen.

"There were other clubs interested in him. Very big clubs." There were even talks with Barcelona but Milan's plan for him persuaded him that it was the best option. "He was very keen to get that move. Playing for the Rossoneri has a special meaning.

"He wanted to play for Milan with the big history of Dutch players." At the San Siro, he is following in the footsteps of that legendary trio of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard who inspired the club to European glory in 1989 and 1990.

Of course, all three won the European Championship the last time that Germany hosted the tournament in 1988. Reijnders will feel that sense of history, an awareness hinted at by the fact that he will be wearing the No 14 jersey synonymous with Johan Cruyff.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - MARCH 22: Tijjani Reijnders celebrates after scoring to make it 1-0 The Netherlands during an international friendly match between the Netherlands and Scotland at the Johan Cruyff Arena, on March 22, 2024, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Image: Tijjani Reijnders celebrates after opening the scoring against Scotland in March

In March, he scored his first international goal, a stunner against Scotland in the stadium named after Cruyff. His form for his country means he would likely have started anyway regardless of the injury crisis. Now, he will be particularly important.

"The way that he has been able to continue to progress has been unbelievable," says Jansen. "He has put himself on the map with some really good performances for the national team." Ready to shine? "I have no doubt in my mind. None whatsoever."

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