Jan Vertonghen (€12 million) (8/20)

Few foreign players have managed to establish themselves as Ajax fan favorites as much as Jan Vertonghen. While it’s nearly impossible for anyone to reach Jari Litmanen levels in terms of popularity, Jantje certainly came close.

Vertonghen’s Amsterdam adventure began in 2003 at the age of 16, when he left then feeder club Germinal Beerschot for renowned Ajax youth academy De Toekomst. The belgian defender – who in fact started out as a midfielder – first rose to Mokum fame because of a bizarre goal he scored in a KNVB Beker game between Ajax Reserves and Cambuur Leeuwarden during the 2005/06 season. After Cambuur had kicked the ball out of play so that an injured Jong Ajax player could get treatment, Jan attempted to pass it back to the keeper in an act of sportsmanship but instead saw the ball sail into the back of the net. Golazo! A proper introduction.

But it wasn’t always fun and games at the start of Vertonghen’s professional football career. He was sent out on loan to Eredivisie side RKC Waalwijk for the second half of the 2006/07 season, where he would make 12 appearances and score 3 goals in the process – one of them against Ajax. Even worse, that specific game ended in a 2-2 draw and the Amsterdammers would miss out on the Eredivisie championship that season on goal difference. Thanks a lot, Jan!

Not the ideal foundation for a youngster looking to claim a spot in the first team of Ajax, but Vertonghen’s talent and dedication would quickly dissolve any grudges or ill-will amongst the Amsterdam fanbase. Oh, Johan Cruijff openly expressing his admiration for you doesn’t hurt either.

Following the departure of John Heitinga to Atlético Madrid at the start of the 2008/09 season, Vertonghen became Thomas Vermaelen’s first-choice partner in the heart of defence and cemented his spot in the Amsterdammers’ starting line-up for years to come. He emerged as one of Ajax’ best players, was named club captain by Frank de Boer and won the Eredivisie player of the year award before joining Tottenham Hotspur on a €12.5 million deal at the start of the 2012/13 season.

But the main reason for Vertonghen’s immense popularity is his passionate contribution to Ajax lifting the Eredivisie trophy in 2011 – the first title win since 2004. Not only did it put an end to an extremely painful and uncharacteristic title drought, the Amsterdammers finally got to stick that symbolic third star on their shirt for 30 Eredivisie wins in total.

Jan knows how to get the party started, too. He was even suspended for two games for singing something about cockroaches following the 2010 KNVB Beker win over Feyenoord.

Written by Kevin Suave

Founder and owner of AjaxDaily. Stuck in the nineties. Adores Jari Litmanen.