The most successful football player in the world

It was the summer of 2001 when Maxwell Scherrer Cabelino Andrade, better known as Maxwell, landed in Amsterdam. Arriving from Brazilian club Cruzeiro, the left back would be the first Brazilian signing since injury time hero Wamberto.

Though Wamberto will always be remembered for his wrongfully allowed offside goal in the KNVB Beker final against FC Utrecht in 2002, Maxwell would turn out to become the most decorated Brazilian to ever wear an Ajax shirt. And to most that came as a surprise.

Six years before his arrival, Márcio Santos joined the Amsterdam side. Unlike Maxwell, Santos was known worldwide after reaching the pinnacle of his career in 1994, winning the FIFA World Cup with Brazil after beating Italy on penalties in the final. The celebrated centre-back arrived in Amsterdam as the succesor of Frank Rijkaard, but failed to live up to the high hopes and expectations. Santos couldn’t keep up with the legendary Ajax generation and had his worst moment on December 22nd 1996. During Ajax – PSV, Santos came on the pitch for Mario Melchiot, but was forced off the pitch only 19 seconds later following a direct red card. To this day, the Brazilian still holds the Eredivisie record for receiving the fastest red card as a substitute.

Maxwell however, had a much better start in Amsterdam. In his first season at Ajax, the left back played a total of 30 games in all competitions. Under the reign of Co Adriaanse and later Ronald Koeman, Ajax would win the national double that year. The following season, the Brazilian would take up a much bigger role within the squad, appearing in 45 games throughout the season. Despite starring alongside the likes of Rafael van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Steven Pienaar and longtime friend Zlatan Ibrahimović, the Amsterdammers failed to take home any silverware. However, they did manage to reach the quarter finals of the Champions League and were only knocked out by a very late and traumatic AC Milan goal at the San Siro. It would be the last time up until the 2016/2017 season that Ajax reached the quarter finals of a UEFA competition.

The following season Maxwell would go on to play 38 games for Ajax in all competitions. The biggest success that season would turn out to be the 29th domestic Eredivisie title, but European success like in the previous year was out of reach. In the group stage of the Champions League, Ajax finished fourth in a group with Club Brugge, Celta de Vigo and AC Milan. The national cup campaign was also one to forget, with the Amsterdam side getting knocked out by NAC Breda in the round of 16.

Maxwell’s personal best season in Amsterdam would follow the next season, despite the Amsterdammers having a troublesome and trophyless season. The relationship between two of Ajax’ biggest stars at that time, Zlatan Ibrahimović and Rafael van der Vaart, turned sour as a result of an altercation during a friendly game between Sweden and the Netherlands. In a duel during that game, Ibrahimović injured Van der Vaart. The Dutch midfielder claimed that Zlatan injured him on purpose, while the Swedish attacker denied those allegations.

The majority of the public chose Van der Vaart’s side, leaving Ibrahimović booed at the next home game for Ajax against NAC Breda. The Swede decided to let his feet talk and scored one of Ajax’ and his personal best goals ever by dribbling past many of NAC’s players and eventually placing the ball in the back of the net. It would turn out to be his last game for the Amsterdammers, being sold on deadline day of the 2004 summer transfer period to Italian giants Juventus.

Ajax had to continue the season without it’s best striker, but Maxwell stood up to take a leading role in the team. The Brazilian turned out to be the strongest player throughout the season and had good hopes to win at least one prize with Ajax. However, disaster struck and the semi-final clash in the Dutch Cup against Willem II would turn out to be his very last for Ajax. The leftback tore his ACL and Ajax’ key player had to be replaced. Willem II would go on to eliminate the Amsterdammers from the competition, and PSV grabbed hold of the Eredivisie title later that year.

Though his season ended in personal drama, Maxwell was crowned Dutch footballer of the year.

Despite still recovering from his injury, Maxwell had decided to leave Ajax the following year. He left for Internazionale, and subsequently went out on loan to Empoli for half a season to prevent I Nerazzurri from exceeding the maximum amount of allowed non-EU players in their side.

In Milan, he would soon be reunited with his buddy Ibrahimović, who left Juventus after a matchfixing scandal of giant proportions. Maxwell would stay for a total of three seasons with the Milan giants, before moving to Barcelona for the same period of time. After his stay there, French side Paris Saint-Germain picked him up. The now 35 year old Maxwell is – despite his age – still a very much appreciated force in the French capital.

Maxwell picked up an impressive amount of trophies and awards throughout his career. One at Cruzeiro, six at Ajax (two league titles, two KNVB Bekers and two Dutch Supercups), five at Inter, ten at Barcelona and fourteen so far at Paris Saint-Germain. The 36 prizes that he’s won in his career make him the most decorated active football player in the world.

After their time at Ajax, Maxwell and Ibrahimović would meet again at Internazionale, Barcelona and PSG.

The Brazilians that came to Ajax after Maxwell were a lot less successful at the club. Despite becoming one of the best left-backs in the world at Atlético Madrid, Filipe Luís never played in a single game in the first team of Ajax. Leonardo had his highlight against Fiorentina in the 2007/2008 edition of the UEFA Cup, by scoring a late winner in the Amsterdam ArenA. Zé Eduardo and Kerlon are the living proof that a footballer can’t be judged solely based on YouTube videos.

But there’s light at the end of the tunnel. January signing David Neres’ start in Amsterdam is very promising, scoring in all of his first three Eredivisie starts. The last Ajacied who managed to do that was none other than Luis Suárez. Hopefully Ajax’ latest Brazilian signing will go on to become just as successful as Maxwell.