To this day, enthusiasts of the beautiful game will still lapse into romanticism and nostalgia whenever the name of Amsterdam football club Ajax is mentioned. They reminisce over the innovative side of the seventies, in which wunderkind Johan Cruijff – under the wings of Rinus Michels, ‘The General’ – introduced the world to a revolutionary new playing style: total football. Younger generations are more likely to reminisce over Louis van Gaal’s star-studded team of world class talents in the mid-nineties, reclaiming the reputation that had faded a little over the years by taking the world by storm with free-flowing, dominant and attractive football, all the while ensuring a constant production-line of extremely talented youth academy graduates, ready to cement their names as legends of the game. The history of Ajax is a source of delight for football purists.
Unfortunately, the Amsterdam side has been forced to take a step back from the international spotlights over the last few decades. Besides the incidental success story – last year’s surprisingly exhilarating Europa League campaign, for example – the club is condemned to a supporting role on the world stage of football. While Ajax still work their magic at youth academy De Toekomst, it has become significantly harder to keep hold of these academy graduates for longer periods of time due to the ever-growing financial gap between Dutch football and the bigger European clubs and competitions. And with FIFA’s financial fair play program merely a formality, there’s no reason to believe any of that will change in the near future.
But it is what it is. Most supporters have made peace with the fact Ajax have become a training institute for the wealthy – peace with the fact players will give in to the temptation of fat paychecks before they reach their prime. We take pride in watching our boys take centre stage and excel after leaving Amsterdam for greener pastures. It’s the way of the football food chain.
However, the domestic league is a whole other ballgame. Contrary to the marginal role the Amsterdammers play in Europe, they remain the biggest club in Dutch football by a mile in every aspect of the game. Not only are they by far the wealthiest – various financial media outlets in Holland even questioned what on earth they’re planning on doing with all that money – but Ajax also possess the biggest stadium with state-of-the-art facilities, a world-renowned youth setup, a glorious and successful history and a massive attractive force for prospects all around the globe. All the tools needed to kick-start an age of domestic dominance and reach untouchable status in the Netherlands, much like Bayern Munich in Germany.
But that isn’t exactly the case. It´s even worse. Before Frank de Boer took over from Martin Jol in 2010 – and subsequently winning four consecutive Eredivisie titles – Ajax hadn’t managed to finish in first place for seven years in a row. The Amsterdammers haven’t taken home Eredivisie gold in any of the last three seasons either, even allowing arch-nemesis Feyenoord to win the league last year for the first time since 1999. The agony.
But there’s no need to go back in time to see the most blatant example of Ajax being their own worst enemy. It’s happening right now, right in front of us.
Last season saw Ajax somewhat re-establish the reputation of the brash, entertaining and innovative side they once were. Whilst the De Boer-era had been relatively successful, most fans couldn’t identify themselves with the conservative approach administered by the former manager, which often led to effective, but uninspiring, football. Peter Bosz – an outspoken Cruijff and Guardiola disciple – was appointed as De Boer’s successor, overcame adversity because of his Feyenoord past and disappointing results early on, and would go on to eventually reach the Europa League final. Of course, having a squad stacked with superb talent at your disposal helps, but the same can be said for De Boer.
We are back! #ajaman
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) 24 mei 2017
Bosz reintroduced the club to international success and allure, and did so in authentic Ajax style. He laid the foundation for the club to build on for years to come – to strive for and reach that untouchable status in the domestic league, and to become a serious contender in Europe again. No longer the laughing stock, no longer the rag doll. Ajax was Ajax again. Fans were proud, ecstatic and, above all else, optimistic for the future. With this team, players had openly expressed the desire to stick together for at least another season – qualification for the Champions League was to be only a formality. The sky was the limit.
How wrong we were.
Shortly after losing the Europa League final against Manchester United, Peter Bosz decides to hop on the train to Germany and sign with Borussia Dortmund following internal struggles and controversy. Despite being reluctant to leave Amsterdam, he couldn’t see eye-to-eye with the so-called technical heart of the club (Van der Sar, Overmars, Bergkamp) and drew his conclusions, much to the dismay of players, fans and even the supervisory board. Marcel Keizer, last year’s Jong Ajax head coach, was appointed as Bosz’ successor.
An exodus of players follows. Captain and fearless leader Davy Klaassen signed with Everton, Kenny Tete joined Bertrand Traoré at Olympique Lyon and Jairo Riedewald moved to Frank de Boer’s Crystal Palace. Heck, even Heiko Westermann decided to move on. And while Klaas-Jan Huntelaar returned home, the general consensus is that the depth of the squad – or lack thereof – is a real issue. New signings were a must, especially with the Champions League qualifiers drawing closer.
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) 15 juni 2017
New signings were not made by Ajax, however, and they were eliminated from the Champions League following a double encounter with Nice.
Days before the league’s opening game against Heracles, still waiting for the technical heart to properly balance and prepare the squad for the upcoming season, Tottenham Hotspur opened talks over the transfer of Davinson Sánchez. While the Amsterdammers play hardball and reject a first €40 million bid, the Colombian defender was subsequently left out of the squad for the first Eredivisie game of the season. His spot in the starting line-up went to Mitchell Dijks – yes, Dijks. The left-back, who’s services were no longer required, got a
second third chance to prove himself due to a lack of better alternatives.
Ajax lost to Heracles for the first time since 1965: 2-1.
With the transfer of Sánchez – last season’s player of the year – seemingly imminent, it’s absolutely baffling how the Amsterdam side went from an absolute high to a disastrous low in a matter of months. If anything, last season was the ultimate chance to firmly solidify the club as a domestic favorite and international contender, but instead Ajax will have to get back to the drawing board. Again. And while it’s easy to point the finger at Marc Overmars, one must admit he has clearly failed at composing an adequate team in time for this season. One cannot blame him for selling players who wish to leave, but the lack of a plan for signing sufficient replacements and strengthening of the squad is flat-out amateurish.
Speaking of amateurish. In the video below, Overmars is asked about transfer targets and claims he has a shortlist of about 10 players, but fails to name more than one. Cringeworthy, considering he’s the one responsible for incoming transfers and all that.
And how is that even possible for one of the biggest names in the history of football? How is that possible, not only for the biggest club in Holland, but also a company listed on the Dutch stock market?
How is it possible Ajax are still looking to fill the void left behind by outgoing transfers after the start of a new season? How is it possible they let go of a manager so easily who not only achieved so much in his first season with the club, but also symbolizes everything the club wants to stand for? And how is it possible they failed to capitalize on all the good stuff last season brought us?
And how is it possible they can get away with it?