The 20 most expensive outgoing Ajax transfers of all time

The €40 million sale of Davinson Sánchez to Tottenham Hotspur during the most recent summer transfer window broke both Ajax and Eredivisie records. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the first time the Amsterdam side got robbed of a star player for mucho dinero. Here’s a list of the 20 most expensive outgoing Ajax transfers of all time.

#20 Finidi George (€10 million)

19th of April, 1995. A date engraved into every Ajacied that’s lived through the famous last Champions League winning stint, as it marked the real return of the club on the international stage. It was the day that German superpower Bayern Munich was beaten at home 5-2. 5-2! In a European semi-final. The most memorable moment though, remains forever attached to a memorable name.

Marc Overmars had the ball at his feet on the left side of the box. A casual pass was played wide, with Jari Litmanen stepping out to pick it up. Or did he? The Finnish legend faked a first touch and let the ball slip on through his legs, onwards to the next station. On the edge of the box, right in front of goal, the ball then found a swinging Nigerian leg. In one fluid motion, it was driven straight at goal from the outside of the boot. What followed was a goal of extreme beauty, as the sphere was curling away from the goalkeeper and ended up hitting the back of the net in the top corner. Finidi George.

It struck people as a surprise Ajax had a tall, lanky winger from Nigeria on trial at the start of the 1993 season. It was even more surprising to most, that George was handpicked by Van Gaal (and supposedly even signed by him through his own wages) to join the first squad. But Finide soon proved why Louis was right, as he is so very bloody often.

Eradicating Peter van Vossen from the starting eleven, Finidi quickly became a fixed starter for Ajax in the revered 4-3-3 formation. His speed, trickery, modest personality and awareness quickly turned him into a real fan favorite at De Meer, resulting into the crowd frequently chanting his name and the Nigerian responding with his characteristic thumbs up.

In his time in Amsterdam, which ended in 1996 when he left for Spanish side Mallorca, he won the Champions League, Club World Cup and three Eredivisie titles. Furthermore, he was part of the legendary Super Eagles side that seized the 1994 African Cup of Nations. Retiring in 2004, he would sadly never return to the form he displayed in Holland.

#19 Sunday Oliseh (€10 million)

“It’s very good to be back home.” Sunday Oliseh only spent two seasons at AFC Ajax, but the impact the club had on him is clear. The former Nigerian midfielder was speaking at a youth team match at De Toekomst in 2011 – five years after his retirement. Oliseh’s career winded through Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Italy, but the career of the soft-spoken man began in his native Nigeria.

Born in Abavo – a southern village about a three-hour drive away from Jay-Jay Okocha’s birthplace of Enugu – in 1974, Sunday Oliseh began his footballing career in the big city of Lagos. As a teenager, he moved to Belgium to play for RFC Lüttich. The defensive midfielder progressed enough to move to Serie A side Reggiana in 1994 at the age of 19.  Sunday’s silky-smooth skills, exceptional physical play, and passing vision earned him a €1.5 million move to Köln in Germany the next summer.

Oliseh’s ability to cover the defense of the German side for two seasons, as well as his knack for scoring some important goals, drew interest from none other than Ajax Amsterdam. Two seasons removed from their Champions League triumph, Ajax purchased the 22-year-old midfielder for €2.3 million. Often used as a centre-half in an attacking Ajax system, Sunday Oliseh still managed to score eight goals in 54 Godenzonen appearances from 1997 to 1999. The Nigerian also made a name for himself on the world stage, scoring a memorable goal to help the Super Eagles down the mighty Spanish 3-2.

Oliseh moved on from Amsterdam to Turin, finding himself subject to a 10 million Euro transfer to Juventus in 1999. The masterful midfielder won a league title and two Dutch Cups during his stint at Ajax and still has many fond memories of his admittedly short time with us. Unfortunately, Oliseh wasn’t able to stamp his play style on The Old Lady, so he was once again off to a different club the next summer – this time back to Germany: Borussia Dortmund.

Sunday Oliseh’s influence wasn’t quite as large in Germany as in Amsterdam, but he managed to help Dortmund win the 2001/02 Bundesliga title as a rotational option. A loan spell in 03/04 with VfL Bochum signaled a downturn in his Dortmund career, and in 2005 he moved back to Belgium to play out his final season with KRC Genk. Sunday Oliseh retired in 2006 as a fantastic player, yet one who never quite settled in one place. His fondest memories will probably be of his times at Ajax, as the Nigerian appeared 76 times for the Amsterdammers – more than at any other club.

Now a days, you will find Oliseh managing Dutch second division side Fortuna Sittard. He had spells as a manager in Belgium and even for the Nigerian national team, but the draw of the Netherlands seems too strong for him not to have come back. Oliseh is an intelligent man – his calm demeanor and understanding of the game makes you wonder just how far he can progress in the game as a coach. Could we possibly see Sunday Oliseh return to Ajax in a managerial role one day? I wouldn’t put it out of the realm of possibilities.

#18 John Heitinga (€10 million)

A defender known for putting team performance above that of his own, John Gijsbert Alan Heitinga was brought through the Ajax Academy from a young age. He made his first team debut at the age of 17 in August of 2001 after over a decade spent in De Toekomst. A well-rounded defender, capable of playing in midfield or out on the right, ‘Johnny’ was most often played at the heart of Ajax’s defence. His physical might and positional awareness made him a feared defender –one who had the courage and mindset to play successfully in a tactic emulating that of Holland’s Total Football system. 

Johnny Heitinga was a part of a new wave of young stars in Amsterdam, including the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, and even Zlatan Ibrahimović. The young Dutch defender made his breakthrough in the 2001/2002 season as a first team player, but two major knee injuries the next season kept him sidelined. Heitinga recovered well though, and by 2008 had become one of the most feared and respected players on the Ajax squad. What he meant to the Ajax faithful, as well as the talent he put on display in Amsterdam, is perhaps best summarized in this clip of a goal against bitter rivals Feyenoord.

It was one of Heitinga’s final moments of brilliance in his first Ajax tenure, as that summer he was sold to Atlético Madrid for €10 million. With a staggering 214 appearances for Ajax under his belt, the 24-year-old Heitinga felt he could accomplish so much more in the European game. He was a clear first team defender for the Spanish giants, making 34 appearances in all competitions during the 08/09 season, but was sold to Everton FC the next summer for a stingy €6.8 million.

A fruitful four-and-a-half year spell for the Toffees ensued for Heitinga, one filled with plenty of tough tackling and some match-winning goals. Perhaps his most memorable moment during the spell was that in an orange kit, as he played a crucial role in defense during Holland’s run to the FIFA World Cup Final in 2010. The defender was sent off in the Final against Spain, which his nation lost 1-0, but his exploits to bring the nation to that moment won’t be forgotten. 

Heitinga joined Fulham on a free transfer in January 2014, but it wasn’t quite a pleasant spell as the side were relegated from the Premier League. Hertha Berlin acquired his services that summer, but a flying start gave way to less appearances and an injury that saw Heitinga relegated to no more than a bench player. In the Summer of 2015 – aged 31 – Johnny Heitinga returned home to Ajax.

The 87-times capped Dutch international retired the next year to join Ajax’s coaching staff, something that many former Ajacied have done after their spectacular careers. Johnny learned the ropes of coaching by assisting Marcel Keizer with the U-21 team, but this past summer took the reins of the U-19’s as manager. Many criticize how successful Heitinga will be as a developer of youth talent, but one thing is for sure: Johnny will give everything for this club. His passion is evident, his respect and understanding for the game is obvious, and he will always be a part of AFC Ajax.

#17 Jesper Grønkjær (€11.5 million)

The mass exodus at Ajax following an extremely successful mid-nineties tenure left no man untouched. Besides a large portion of the squad leaving for greener pastures, Barcelona snatched head coach Louis van Gaal as well.

More-or-less starting from scratch, Morten Olsen was appointed as Van Gaal’s successor and responsible for leading the club into a new era. Possessing deep knowledge of Danish football, Olsen recommended the signings of iconic midfielder Michael Laudrup as well as relatively unknown 20-year-old Aalborg BK winger Jesper Grønkjær. Both players arrived in Amsterdam, the latter costing Ajax a transfer fee of €5 million.

Grønkjær turned out to be a perfect fit: a pacey and technically gifted winger with great dribbling skills, tailor made for the Amsterdammers’ characteristic 4-3-3 playing style. Spectacular to watch and a constant threat to opposition defenses when fit and in form. Unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case. Grønkjær would never reach his full potential due to inconsistency and susceptibility to injuries.

But that didn’t stop him from pleasing the Amsterdam crowd. The Dane was named Ajax player of the year by the fans at the end of the 1999/00 season, attracting the attention of numerous European top clubs in the process. Jesper would eventually sign with Premier League side Chelsea at the end of 2000 in a deal worth €11.5 million, making him the then most expensive Danish football player of all time. In 70 official appearances for Ajax, Grønkjær found the back of the net 16 times and assisted 7 goals.

Grønkjær would remain at Stamford Bridge for four years. Relatively unsuccessful one-season spells at Birmingham City, Atlético Madrid and VfB Stuttgart followed before returning to Denmark to play for FC Copenhagen. After five seasons with the Danish giants, Grønkjær officially announced his retirement from football in 2011. Having dealt with numerous injuries throughout his career, he stated: "I'd like to be able to go jogging when I have played my last football game. I want a life without aches.”

He would play his last game against his first club, Aalborg, and scored the final goal in a 2-0 win. A storybook ending to a career with plenty of ups-and-downs.

#16 Andy van der Meyde (€12 million)

Arnhem born and bred Andy van der Meyde was spotted by an Ajax scout at the age of 15 whilst playing for amateur team Vitesse 1892. As a fan of the Amsterdam side, the teenage winger didn’t have to think twice after receiving an invitation to join the ranks of the illustrious Ajax youth academy. Oozing with confidence, talent and plenty of potential, it was only a matter of time before Andy would take centre stage in the Amsterdam ArenA.

Fast-forward 10 years later, Van der Meyde found himself fallen out of favour at Premier League outfit Everton, drowning his god-given talent in Bacardi, cocaine and women. The player once considered one of the best wingers in Europe failed to ignore the temptations of Liverpool nightlife, squandering his once so promising career in the process.

Van der Meyde was part of one of the most talented, successful and stacked Ajax teams in recent history. After establishing himself as a first team regular in the 2000/01 season - playing alongside future football icons such as Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Maxwell and Zlatan Ibrahimović - he quickly made name for himself as a conventional Ajax winger, defined by dexterous dribbling and accurate crosses.

Under the tutelage of Ronald Koeman, that Ajax side would go on to reach the Champions League quarter-final in 2002/03. Despite being eliminated by Milan after a dramatic last-minute goal from the Italians, both the team and it’s individual players had left an emphatic mark in international football. Van der Meyde had already done so earlier during the campaign, scoring a screamer in and against Roma after just 36 seconds of play.

We all know how it goes. As soon as a Ajacied stands out from the crowd he is bound to be tempted by fat paychecks of Europe’s bigger clubs, as was the case with Van der Meyde. Unfortunately for him, his €12 million move to Internazionale marked the beginning of the end of his career. He made 32 appearances for the Italian giants over the course of two seasons, but failed to become an undisputed first team regular.

Following his departure from Inter Milan in 2005 there were rumors of a return to Ajax - as well as interest from Tottenham Hotspur and AS Monaco - but instead Van der Meyde signed with Everton. And that’s where the definitive demise of his career set in. Being one of the highest paid players at the Liverpool side at that time, the sky became the limit for the Dutchman: “I bought a Ferrari and the first stop was the Newz Bar, a popular place in Liverpool. After a couple of hours of alcohol I drove to the nearest strip club. Getting drunk in a strip club in the middle of Liverpool was not very smart. But I had a strong longing for naked women.”

Having made just 20 Premier League appearances over the course of four seasons, things would take a turn for the worse after Everton decided to release Van der Meyde in 2009: “I took coke and alcohol and partied seven days a week. I couldn’t concentrate on football or anything else for that matter. Partying was what my life was about. Liverpool is dangerous if you don’t know how to control yourself. I realised Liverpool would kill me. I needed to leave.”

And leave he did. Van der Meyde made an attempt to reignite his career at Ajax rivals PSV, but decided to hang up his football boots after not making a single official appearance in Eindhoven that season. Clean, sober and disillusioned, Andy now earns his money as somewhat of a TV personality in Holland. Unfortunately, we’ll never find out how far his star could’ve reached on the football pitch. Van der Meyde played 122 official games for Ajax, scoring 21 and assisting 33 goals.

Written by Kevin Suave

Founder and owner of AjaxDaily. Stuck in the nineties. Adores Jari Litmanen.