What happened to Ajax and the Netherlands team’s special bond?

On Wednesday night, the Netherlands suffered a last-gasp 2-1 defeat against England in the semi-finals of the European Championships, courtesy of a 90th-minute strike from substitute Ollie Watkins.

It was a familiar story for the Netherlands at the European Championships. The heartbreaking late defeat means that the Oranje have lost three of their five semi-finals, with their only triumph in international football coming in 1988’s European Championships.

Only Two Ajax Players In The Squad

It was a disappointing result for the country as a whole. However, the two Ajax players within the Dutch squad, Steven Bergwijn and Brian Brobbey, may well feel disappointed that they didn’t have a bigger impact on their team’s campaign.

Bergwijn was one of the few Ajax who enjoyed a decent 2023/24 campaign with the Amsterdam giants, scoring 12 goals and producing four assists in a woeful campaign for the club. The winger’s form earned him a place in the Oranje squad for Euro2024.

However, despite starting two games against Romania and Turkey, he played just over 90 minutes, being substituted in both encounters after underwhelming performances.

Although Brobbey is still young, the forward will be disappointed that his only appearance at Euro2024 came off the bench in stoppage time against England when his team was desperate for a goal.

Former Ajax academy graduates Ryan Gravenberch and Matthijs de Ligt also failed to appear at Euro2024, while veteran former academy graduate Daley Blind made just one solitary substitution appearance, which lasted just a minute.

More former Ajax alumni Frenkie de Jong and Jurrien Timber would have likely played vital roles for Ronald Koeman’s team in the summer, but injury scuppered their chances of selection.

In many ways, Bergwijn and Brobbey’s summer experience sums up what has become a lost connection between the country’s most successful club and the national team.

Special Bond Lost?

There was once a special bond between Ajax and the Oranje. When thinking of the Netherlands national team, it’s almost impossible not to think of Ajax.

Ajax has produced many of the national team’s best players in the past. The biggest one of all is, of course, the great Johan Cruyff, who was one of the beautiful game’s greatest players.

Cruyff was an integral part of the Oranje’s team at the 1974 World Cup, in which they came so close to becoming world champions, suffering a 2-1 final defeat against arch-nemesis Germany.

That World Cup almost announced the Dutch as a genuine footballing force on the world stage. However, during the tournament, Cruyff was not the only Ajax player to contribute to the team’s run under legendary head coach Rinus Michels.

Six players from the capital club were in the Oranje squad in total, including another great, Johan, Neeskens, Arie Haan, Wim Suurbier, Johnny Rep, Ruud Krol, and Piet Keizer. There would have been more, but defender Barry Hulshoff missed out through injury.


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Some would argue that the 1974 World Cup team didn’t just contain Ajax players but mostly consisted of players considered legends at the Amsterdam club.

When the Oranje won their only international silverware in the 1988 Euros, key players such as Ronald Koeman, Frank Rijkaard, and Marco van Basten either came from the club’s academy or the Amsterdam club played a big part in their development.

The Oranje’s squad for the 2010 World Cup included five academy graduates, including goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, Wesley Sneijder, Johnny Heitinga, Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart.

Netherlands Need Ajax To Do Well

The lack of players associated with Ajax’s current squad may illustrate that the club or team is not in the best of shape. In recent decades, the capital team has become recruitment experts, buying low and selling high in the transfer market.

Or, even better, producing players from the academy who they sell for hefty fees, which keeps the club financially stable. The same fate probably awaits talented young defender Jorrel Hato, who has already attracted interest from some of Europe’s biggest football clubs.

While selling players at a profit is good for the club’s financial health, it also weakens the team on the pitch. It could be argued that Ajax has operated by the same sustainable system for decades, but it has been more successful than in recent transfer windows.

Recently, players seem to have left Ajax very early in their careers and established themselves elsewhere. That has given them a lesser connection to the club. In turn, the connection between those players representing the Oranje and the club becomes lesser.

Considering the season Ajax just experienced, it would be silly to suggest that more Ajax players should have been in the Netherlands Euro2024 squad. The only player close to selection was the aforementioned Hato.

Fewer quality players are coming through the club’s De Toekomst academy, so the club has had to recruit from far and wide. The fact that more foreign players are in the Ajax squad now than in the past has probably also played a crucial role in diluting the connection to the national team.

Another problem for Ajax is that their traditional ‘big three’ rivals, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord, have started to catch up with the Amsterdam club when it comes to producing players from their youth ranks.

Both clubs have experienced recent success, with homegrown players at the heart of their successes. The Euro2024 squad was littered with either current or former players from Ajax’s two main rivals.

Neither club can be blamed for Ajax’s current distance from the national team. These things work in cycles, and the Amsterdam giants will no doubt recover in the future and rebuild their special bond with the Oranje.

However, the decline of the Netherlands’ biggest club in recent years, both on and off the pitch, could contribute to the pair’s inability to match the homogeny of previous decades.

Does the special bond between Ajax and the Netherlands national team still exist?