John Heitinga (€10 million) (3/20)

A defender known for putting team performance above that of his own, John Gijsbert Alan Heitinga was brought through the Ajax Academy from a young age. He made his first team debut at the age of 17 in August of 2001 after over a decade spent in De Toekomst. A well-rounded defender, capable of playing in midfield or out on the right, ‘Johnny’ was most often played at the heart of Ajax’s defence. His physical might and positional awareness made him a feared defender –one who had the courage and mindset to play successfully in a tactic emulating that of Holland’s Total Football system. 

Johnny Heitinga was a part of a new wave of young stars in Amsterdam, including the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, and even Zlatan Ibrahimović. The young Dutch defender made his breakthrough in the 2001/2002 season as a first team player, but two major knee injuries the next season kept him sidelined. Heitinga recovered well though, and by 2008 had become one of the most feared and respected players on the Ajax squad. What he meant to the Ajax faithful, as well as the talent he put on display in Amsterdam, is perhaps best summarized in this clip of a goal against bitter rivals Feyenoord.

It was one of Heitinga’s final moments of brilliance in his first Ajax tenure, as that summer he was sold to Atlético Madrid for €10 million. With a staggering 214 appearances for Ajax under his belt, the 24-year-old Heitinga felt he could accomplish so much more in the European game. He was a clear first team defender for the Spanish giants, making 34 appearances in all competitions during the 08/09 season, but was sold to Everton FC the next summer for a stingy €6.8 million.

A fruitful four-and-a-half year spell for the Toffees ensued for Heitinga, one filled with plenty of tough tackling and some match-winning goals. Perhaps his most memorable moment during the spell was that in an orange kit, as he played a crucial role in defense during Holland’s run to the FIFA World Cup Final in 2010. The defender was sent off in the Final against Spain, which his nation lost 1-0, but his exploits to bring the nation to that moment won’t be forgotten. 

Heitinga joined Fulham on a free transfer in January 2014, but it wasn’t quite a pleasant spell as the side were relegated from the Premier League. Hertha Berlin acquired his services that summer, but a flying start gave way to less appearances and an injury that saw Heitinga relegated to no more than a bench player. In the Summer of 2015 – aged 31 – Johnny Heitinga returned home to Ajax.

The 87-times capped Dutch international retired the next year to join Ajax’s coaching staff, something that many former Ajacied have done after their spectacular careers. Johnny learned the ropes of coaching by assisting Marcel Keizer with the U-21 team, but this past summer took the reins of the U-19’s as manager. Many criticize how successful Heitinga will be as a developer of youth talent, but one thing is for sure: Johnny will give everything for this club. His passion is evident, his respect and understanding for the game is obvious, and he will always be a part of AFC Ajax.

Written by Alex Dieker

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Crossbar Post, as well as a writer for AjaxDaily and lover of all things Ajax!