In Football Manager 2017: The Ajax Journey, Alex Dieker looks to take Ajax back to European glory by using three R’s: Recovery, Revitalization, and Redemption. Recovering Ajax as the main Dutch superpower will mean using shrewd business, a strong youth policy, and tactical awareness to bring the Amsterdam club back to its usual Eredivisie dominance. To revitalize Ajax means to regain the club’s status as one of the world’s premier youth academies by using a “conveyor belt” system of bringing young players into the first team as star players get sold on. Finally, Alex will look to bring redemption back to the club by winning the Champions League and becoming the world’s strongest squad.
With the Football Manager Year cycle almost over, it’s imperative that I do everything I can to win the Champions League with Ajax in the upcoming seasons. We have the squad strength, tactical awareness, and experience. We’ve held on to our star players longer than ever imaginable. Will this be the season?
Ajax now has a supreme squad with world class players such as Ché Nunnely, Patrick Gijzen, and Pablo Dragún. The 2022/2023 transfer windows were about adding good depth in positions that needed it. Roberto Freyfeld was our largest signing at €9 million (€11.5m) from Mexican club América – a well-rounded midfielder who can fill in as an inverted wing-back on the left. Gianluca Belfiore is in the side for that very role in defense. Bought from Juventus for a mere €5 million (€5.5m), the 21-year-old has great physical and mental attributes. With the departure of long-time servant Eric Tayou to Dortmund for €16m (€23.5m), Belfiore played a key role throughout the season.
Paulo Henrique joins Ajax for €3.9m as a backup right-winger: some competition for Ricardo Correa Rodríguez. The final notable purchase was the cheapest one out of all the youth signings. Only €150k (€195k) was spent to acquire Kristijan Perkovic from Zrinjski in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Perkovic is already competing with Youssou Ngom for a backup role behind Dragún.
When Édipo Felipe’s release clause (€34.5m) was activated by Schalke in January, I wasn’t surprised. The Brazilian winger was playing second-fiddle to Juan Pablo González for a year-and-a-half but deserved to lead a team on his own. The sale wasn’t too concerning, especially considering the fee, because I simply recalled Angel Girault from his loan at St. Ettiene to provide a spark off the bench. Ruud van der Wal and Clement Delmas were frustrated with their lack of first team action and were sold for fair fees. Jack Reekers unfortunately refused to negotiate a contract renewal, so Celta Vigo signed him on a free to join van der Wal.
When I first started this story, winning the Eredivisie was an ambitious goal that wasn’t achieved in the first two seasons. However, by the time the first league game rolls around nowadays, there’s very little doubt in my mind that we will win it.
Bar losses to AZ, Utrecht, and Twente, Ajax remained undefeated throughout the season. It wasn’t our best overall performance in league history, but I often rotated the side to prepare for Champions League football. At the end of the season we managed to stay top over PSV by 11 points, but the Eindhoven club were the only real challenge we faced. Unfortunately, the gaps in quality between Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord are quite capacious. In addition, the rest of the league is even further behind.
Champions League Group Stage
The past few seasons have seen us glide through the Group Stages with little to no issue. That fact held true for this year as well – a group with Barcelona, Olympiakos, and Anderlecht couldn’t manage to beat us once. Four wins and two draws, both against Barça, meant an easy path to the knockout stage in first place.
Portuguese giants Benfica faced us in the Round of 16. As we took the flight to Lisbon, I was quietly confident of our chances. The team we faced consisted of many regens, mostly Brazilian. A young, strong team –we knew ourselves to be outmatched physically. However, our technical ability and mental strength are what makes us great.
On the flight back home, I realized I’d been wrong to be so confident. Two goals were allowed by us with no response. The mighty Ajax were in desperate need of a comeback so early in the tournament.
The Amsterdam ArenA was rocking on a cool March night. I started in-form striker Robert Nees (on his way out to Dortmund on a free at the end of the season) over Mattia Schnyder. My faith in the wanting-away man was rewarded ten minutes before the half, as the physical German forward notched a goal to halve the deficit. “Let’s push on further!” I told the boys at halftime.
Push on we did. Attack after attack on the left, center, and right kept easing closer to an equalizing goal. Star players González and Nunnely were running the show with their pace and passing, but nothing was coming off. In the end, nothing came off at all.
Another heartbreaking loss in the Champions League was made even worse since it occurred in only the first round. If we’re to stand a chance at winning the title, performances like that against sides of equal skill to us aren’t going to cut it. While passing through another year without a CL title is bad, it’s made even worse that I’ve promised most of my stars that we’d at least make the latter rounds.
The summer of 2023 is going to be arduous. My ability to maintain squad strength and happiness will be put to the test as the likes of Gijzen, González, Nunnely, Zajic, Michiels, and Dragún will likely try and engineer moves away. Will I be able to keep hold of my uber-talented squad, or will this Ajax story crash and burn just as quickly as it took off?
That will be answered next time. For now, here are some screenshots for you to feast your eyes on.