It was interesting to hear Marc Overmars – Director of Football at Ajax – say in the summer that the Dutch giants may be too reliant on their famous youth system following the unexpected exit from both the Champions League and Europa League.
Only he will know his true motivations for the comments and how he views Ajax’ future transfer policy but there is lots to consider, following a frustrating summer transfer period. It’s perplexing to see a football club reach the Europa League final, announce record profits and then fail to progress as an organisation, in the way that Ajax has.
And the answer could lie in the Premier League as to why. If you look at the most recently successful ex-Ajax players in the world’s greatest league, the names that immediately spring to mind are Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Davinson Sanchez, Luis Suarez and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
None of them are Dutch and some of them were bought by Ajax from other clubs. Of the recent Dutch players to come from Ajax – you have the likes of Davy Klaasen and Jairo Riedewald – both struggling to make an impact, Mike Van der Hoorn – a bit part player and Vurnon Anita – good but unspectacular. Only Daley Blind stands-out as a Dutch, Ajax bred player in the Premier League.
Competing at the highest level
If you use this ‘on the back of a fag packet’ analysis as evidence, then it’s clear that whilst Ajax is a breeding ground for very talented players – it hasn’t exactly churned out world-class Dutch players from its academy in recent years.
Stars like Dennis Bergkamp, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder – it’s been a while. And this group are very much part of a by-gone era; two golden generations that have passed. But when is the next generation coming?
It may be around the corner with the likes of Kluivert, De Ligt, Eiting and Nunnely forming this.
But if it isn’t then Ajax may need to alter its transfer policy – and potentially its wage structure – and buy more imports (some older ones too) to play alongside the youth players, because it simply must remain part of the football conversation and it must keep striving to reach finals, even if that means diverting from its traditions when required. Football is changing and with Dutch football in a state of flux both at a club and international level, there may be much more in Overmars’ comments than first thought.
Does the club’s future rely on it spending some of the money it’s currently stockpiling for shareholders? Or will it always rely predominantly on academy prospects, even if the next generation isn’t as good as the last?