Oh my Goodness, where to start!!?!?
Well, with that comment from a blog guest the other day, saying Ajax isn’t getting enough airtime here. If they reach the bloody finals a bit more often, I can write more about them! Just kiddin’ of course ;-).
However, I did check the past posts and I don’t think Ajax fans have anything to complain about. The majority of posts is on Oranje, of course. Other than that: Johan Cruyff got a lot of exposure, as did Piet Keizer, Marco van Basten, Ruud Krol and even a recent Peter Bosz interview… So…. Just sayin’!
But now Ajax deserves all the exposure here, until Feyenoord wins the title coming Sunday. Or next season. Or sometime in 2034…
I have been heavily enjoying Ajax’ development this season. It was like a perfect machine being made by Dr Frankenstein (Peter Bosz). Very clunky and rusty in the start of the season, and amidst the groans and moans from the dissatisfied players (Gudelj, El Ghazi, Bazoer, Tete) slowly the ideal Ajax team emerged. For me, Tete still is much better than Veltman as RB and I do like to see more of Riedenwald too, but boy, Bosz got his boys swinging!
Ajax has been nothing short of spectacular these past weeks/months. They surely have Feyenoord worried. The football machine from Rotterdam has been winning games based on their power, strength, mentality and will and quality to simply kill games. Ajax has been winning games on class, speed and skill. The youngest team ever to reach the EL finals.
The irony is, that a number of years ago, one Johan Cruyff – you may have heard his name before – went to Amsterdam with velvet gloves on to preach another footbal revolution. His words: “If we want to compete with the best and have more European successes, we need to go back to our football vision of Total Football and develop classy youthful talents and build a team around them!”
He was ridiculed by most. “A Dutch team will never win a big European trophy anymore” everyone said. Cruyff put people like Overmars, Van der Sar, Bergkamp and Jonk into the Ajax management structure and Wim Jonk was charged with developing talent. The revolution didn’t go too well. Frank de Boer appeared to be a pragmatic coach, and despite winning titles, his Ajax was heavily criticized for being dull and boring. In Europe, De Boer never made the grade.
So Cruyff was basically pushed out of Ajax with velvet gloves, and poor Wim Jonk became the sacrificial lamb.
Jonk and Cruyff (Stam and Overmars behind them) taking on the Ajax Revolution…
Now, almost two years later and one year after JC’s passing, Ajax did exactly what Cruyff/Jonk stood for.
They are in the EL finals with a young team brimming with Academy prospects (Tete, Riedewald, De Ligt, Van de Beek, Kluivert, Dolberg, Nouri) and some older players developed at and by Ajax (Klaassen, Veltman) and some stray cats (Traore, Neres, Viergever). Cruyff will potentially turn in his grave or smile in his grave… I am sure Wim Jonk will look at this success with a smirk. He had to go, while doing El Salvador’s work at the Future (“De Toekomst”, the name of Ajax’ youth grounds).
But even though Cruyff, Van Gaal, De Boer, Bergkamp, Overmars and Jonk all had a big hand in this success, it took an Ajax outsider to actually make it all work. The ingredients were there, the chef had yet to find the best combination for the tastiest dish.
Peter Bosz, ex-Vitesse and ex-Feyenoord. The man with the armband, when Feyenoord won the title under Van Hanegem in 1993. De Kromme got frequently annoyed with Professor Bosz who already demonstrated traits of a coach when playing as a defensive mid in the Feyenoord team. He had his time in France, Japan and in the Bundesliga before returning to Holland, where he coached Heracles, was Technical Director at Feyenoord (not too successful I might add) and took the coaching reigns again at Heracles, Vitesse before leaving to work in Israel with Jordi Cruyff. Bosz was always a Cruyff adept and had a lot of time with both Jordi and Johan when working with the “son of”… His teams, whether Heracles or Vitesse, always played attractive and at time suicidal offensive football. The match Bosz – Ajax was an obvious one.
Peter: “You have as much chance to beat us as the length of your willy!”
In typical Cruyff style, Bosz forced his vision onto the team, with the risk of getting it wrong. When Ajax played in the CL qualifications, it simply had to beat Rostov to progress in the CL but Bosz refused to be pragmatic, as a result, Rostov tore Ajax apart.
He took it on the chin. Copped the criticism and the fact that his tactics cost Ajax millions of CL prize money. He seemed unphased. He even said he didn’t need to get Hakim Ziyech, but succumbing under the immense pressure of the fans, the Ajax management decided to sign the wizard of Twente. Bosz made a statement by declaring “Ziyech wasn’t ready for Ajax yet”. He took the fight to the strongwilled Moroccan playmaker and benched him a number of times and criticized him in public.
Bosz won the battle. Ziyech had to be taken off his high horse and with Gudelj and Bazoer going through the exit, Ziyech would grasp the spot in midfield, alongside Lasse Schone, the man who can do it all (but play 90 minutes on full speed) and Klaassen. The Ajax Duracell man. Bosz struggled to get his team going on a consistent basis but in the Europa League games, Ajax impressed.
Peter Bosz butted heads with some players
Celta de Vigo was brushed aside, and a B-team took care of Standard Liege. Celta, not a bad team. They ended up playing the other semi finals and ex-Feyenoord striker (and ongoing legend) John Guidetti almost exited Man U from that finals in the last second of their match. That would have been something!
The secret to this Ajax? 1) Great youth development and therefore amazing skills. 2) No fear, the Amsterdam arrogance, if you will. 3) No pressure, being the underdog suits Ajax. 4) tactics. Bosz has it spot on. From the choice of Stanley Menzo-ish goalkeeper Onana to the mercurial and ice-cold Dane Dolberg. And then there is the 5 seconds rule. Like JC, like Pep, like Simeone, Bosz expects his team to hunt like wolves when the ball is lost. Schalke couldn’t deal with it, Lyon couldn’t deal with it.
It was clear that whenever Ajax dropped the intensity (whether due to fatigue or simply not executing the tactics), it would get in trouble. Domestically and internationally. Schalke got 3 goals against Ajax. And so did Lyon. That is a risk. But Bosz is from the school of “whatever happens at the back, as long as we simply score one more”.
De Ligt with a teenager mistake
With Ajax playing Man United in a 1 leg tie for the title, I feel they have a massive chance to get it right.
Yes, Man United has more money. Yes, Man United has the big name players and the big ego coach. But Ajax might well have the best team. A team with nothing to lose!
The key for Ajax in the coming years is to try and keep the top players in Amsterdam for a while. Should Ajax win the EL, they’ll qualify for the CL immediately. What an income stream. This might definitely help Overmars and co. to keep the likes of Dolberg, Sanchez and Klaassen one more year. Klaassen was said to be on his way out, but with this European title and another run in the CL, he might well be convinced to add one more season. Ziyech might also stay on. He’s not too keen on an overseas adventure. He picks his career path well. From Heerenveen, he could have gone to Feyenoord, but the Rotterdam club didn’t guarantee him a starting spot. So he went to Twente first. I can see him add one more season to Ajax at least.
Dolberg would do well to stay a bit longer too. He’s only 18 years old. Other players flirting with a move: Kenny Tete. For me, another outstanding performance vs Lyon when he came on for Veltman. I hope he’ll stay, I can’t imagine Veltman keeping Tete out much longer. Sanchez might be a problem though, the phenomenal Columbian – another MOTM performance by him – is on the short list of the PSG’s, Barcelonas and Man Uniteds of this world…
The games vs Schalke and Lyon will have warmed a lot of hearts internationally and nationally for Ajax. In particular, the home games. Away, they were a tad vulnerable. Overwhelmed maybe. Out-challenged at times physically and some players do still make silly decisions under pressure. Yes, De Ligt is in his right to make a couple of mistakes. He’s 17 years old. You take the bad with the good. Same for Dolberg and Kluivert. But Nick Viergever, the hero of Gelsenkirchen, is no spring chicken anymore and he was the zero this time. The second goal was the result of a weak clearance from him. The third goal went via his knee but can’t blame him for that, but the two yellow cards were downright stupid. Ridiculous. No need for him to do what he did.
Bernard Traore moving back to London is not a bad thing either. Yes, he works hard for the team in that right wing back role and impresses at times, but he’s also quite blind once he’s on a roll and he lacks the real goalscoring desire. There were two or three situations where he should have gambled and make a run into the goal area, when a cross came in meant for Dolberg. He could have had two tap ins. Time for an Ajax lad to take his role. Why leave Kluivert or Neres on the bench and prefer a loan player?
Davey Klaassen and Appie Nouri: “We gaan naar Zweden toe!” (JR: “We’re off to Sweden!”)
Anyway, Dutch football is suddenly giving us some excitement! Last season, PSV got the shivers into Atleti, this season Feyenoord returned to the fore again as domestic challenger (fingers crossed for Sunday!!) while Man United’s scalp was seized in a European campaign cut short by a ridiculous decision in an away game (unfair penalty and sending off of Boteghin).
With players like Karsdorp, Vilhena, Berghuis, Elia, Toornstra, Kongolo and the likes of Lammers, Hendrix, Willems, Propper and talents like Tete, Van de Beek, Kluivert, Riedewald, De Ligt and others (Ayoub, Ake, Hoedt, De Roon, Memphis) the future isn’t that bad…
Ajax made it to the finals of the Europa Cup in 1969 for the first time and lost that match. A year later Feyenoord won it and Ajax followed suit three times in a row. With Oranje lagging behind in 1974 with a memorable turn at the World Cup.
Good times ahead!! Big congrats to Ajax for their totally unexpected campaign. JC is dead, love live JC!