Tijjani Reijnders: Modern Midfielder

One of the new players that has generated the most excitement at Milan is Dutch midfielder Tijjani Reijnders. His press conference was shamefully plagued with embarrassingly inane questions asking him to compare himself to legendary Dutch players who have played at Milan before, to which he repeatedly and patiently replied that he does not think it is fair to compare players. (Don't even look up the 'Golden Delicious Reinders apple' question.) The club itself had him pretend to paint and sign a fake Van Gogh portrait of himself at his signing, because Italians are always threading the needle of xenophobia and racism with their tired stereotypes and misguided comparisons. Which is such a tragedy, because he seems to be a very kind person and a very intelligent player, and unique to any other player we have had before. It would have been nice for them to simply focus on who he is and what kind of player he is, which, by his own admission, is a modern midfielder.

His career has been building up to this point, and he is ready for a big club.

While Milan is hell-bent on over-selling Reijnders' Dutch origins, they have not even mentioned that he is half Indonesian through his mother, who is from Ambon, Maluku in Indonesia. That fact is noteworthy, because Milan has an amazing fanbase in Indonesia, and Reijnders is the first player to play for Milan with Indonesian heritage. Too bad Cardinale is only obsessed with the U.S. market. I suppose Indonesia is not one of their top three markets they are targeting, according to Furlani. Which is truly a shame, because the fans in Indonesia are some of the most devoted and incredible fans this club has in the world.

A fantastic family heritage, now he is hoping to add trophies as a legacy.

Milan has also not talked about his footballing heritage, as he is both the son of a professional footballer, Martin Reijnders (alternate spelling: Reynders), and older brother to Eliano Reijnders, who is also a midfielder and professional footballer. All three have played for their local club PEC Zwolle at one point. His father was even an assistant manager and sometimes player for the club while Tijjani was in the youth system, but also played in the United States and Finland during his career. His brother spent his youth career at the club as well as the first four years of his senior career, but spent the past year on loan to FC Utrecht's reserve team, Jong FC Utrecht.

Former football player Martin Reijnders with pics of sons Eliano, left, and Tijjani, right.

Tijjani, who just turned 25 while on Milan's U.S. tour, was born in Zwolle, Netherlands, and began playing football with WVF Zwolle at the age of five. When he was nine years old, he went to PEC Zwolle (at that time still known as FC Zwolle,) where he played until he was 13. In 2011, he joined the youth system of FC Twente. He stayed there and made it to their U17 team until he was released in 2015. He played just one year for CSV '28 Zwolle before returning to PEC Zwolle. He played a year for their U19 team and made one senior team appearance, then moved to AZ Alkmaar in 2018. 

A young Tijjani while in the FC Twente youth system.

Reijnders played primarily for the reserve team, Jong AZ, for the better part of 2018-2021, going on loan for six months to RKC Waalwijk in 2020, making only eight appearances for them. In all, he scored 19 goals and 13 assists in 92 appearances for the AZ reserve team, which eventually earned him a spot in the first team. It was this past season, 2022-23, that he had his breakout season, making 34 appearances and scoring seven goals along with three assists in all competitions. This included the UEFA Europa Conference League, where AZ Alkmaar defeated the likes of Lazio on their way to the semifinal, going out to eventual winners West Ham.

Tijjani while at PEC Zwolle.

When it comes to Reijnders' style of play, we already got a glimpse of him in the friendlies on the U.S. tour. He was one of the standouts in the friendlies, and even had a couple of Milan's best chances on goal vs. Barcelona. He describes himself as a modern midfielder, a box-to-box player who can also drop back deeper and play more defensively. He excels at playing with a very attacking, creative style, he dribbles very well and likes to create chances. He is quick and strong for his size, even if perhaps he is lacking a bit defensively.

Reijnders had a great season with AZ Alkmaar, even going to the UECL Semifinal.

This self-assessment is confirmed by this excellent scout report by Marc Lamberts. The report details his season last year for AZ Alkmaar, comparing him amongst the top players in the Eredivisie, as well as highlighting his qualities and strengths and listing some of the areas he can improve on. Additionally, there is information about the various roles he has played in midfield, and some excellent video footage from last season. 

All of the things that made him great at AZ are so needed at Milan.

Milan and the journalists are so busy trying to compare him to past players that they have failed to notice the qualities that he brings to the team that are unique to other players we have seen before. His ball recovery rate in the middle of the field in particular is something we have desperately been lacking in, and his creativity and drive to push forward on every play certainly seems to be in line with Pioli's desired style of football. Speaking of Pioli, if Reijnders needs to improve his defensive actions, I cannot imagine a better manager to help him with that, as we have seen so many players improve in this area over his time at the club.

This could work out really well for both of them.

Reijnders also mentioned that he is not afraid to make mistakes. He is confident, but not overly so, and seems to be very hard working. He jumped at the chance to move to Milan, and held out for this transfer ahead of other clubs, even turning down an offer from Barcelona to join Milan. He is also coming to Milan at his peak, obviously, having received his first call up for Netherlands senior team in May, though he has yet to make an appearance (he has made three appearances for Netherlands' U20 side previously.)

Reijnders got a taste of Serie A vs. Juve in the U.S. and passed with flying colors.

Clearly, he has worked hard to reach this point, signing a contract with Milan through 2028, and is hungry to repay the faith the Club have shown in him. Having moved around quite a bit during his youth career, he seems sure of himself and ready to demonstrate that last season was not just a one-off, that he is ready for the jump from the Eredivisie to Serie A. While there is concern about Milan changing so many players this summer, as well as management changes that could impact the success of the club this season overall, in addition to a brutal opening ten matches, it is hoped he will be able to rise above all of this and still continue on his trajectory of progress.

Ready to have a starring role at Milan.

Ideally, everyone will stop comparing him to every Dutch player or stereotype they can think of and will start actually watching him play. Because he is a very exciting player to watch, and he should be able to earn a starting spot in Milan's currently transforming squad. He said a number of times that he is here to win trophies, so it is clear that he is not lacking in ambition, either. He is not just another copy-and-paste player from a specific nationality or style of play, he is his own player and brings unique qualities that will benefit this specific team at this particular time. Tijjani Reijnders is a modern midfielder.

This post inspired by the music of David Bowie's "Modern Love"

Our next match is 
the Trofeo Silvio Berlusconi
Monza vs. AC Milan
Tuesday, August 8, 2023 • 21:00 CEST (3pm EDT)

Our following match is 
a training friendly
AC Milan vs. Trento
Wednesday, August 9, 2023 • 18:00 CEST (12noon EDT)

Tijjani Reijnders: Modern Midfielder Tijjani Reijnders: Modern Midfielder Reviewed by Elaine on 11:00 PM Rating: 5
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