The Eredivisie has been called the Mickey Mouse competition since before Walt Disney got the inspiration to draw the black mouse, it seems… But the so-called Big Leagues have lost some of its glory this season for me.
Bayern Munich, Man United and Barca were surefire champions on Boxing Day already, it seemed. While two weeks ago, five clubs in Holland were still battling for the title.
Sadly, however, Ajax has shown it’s men against boys in Holland. In the last weeks of the competition, the business end, Ajax demonstrates it wants it. Badly. While Feyenoord succumbed under pressure (physically and mentally) while PSV disgracefully disappoints. So much so that Mark van Bommel considers throwing in the towel and retiring.
What is going well in Amsterdam can clearly be summarized in three words: Frank de Boer. Sure, his assistants Dennis Bergkamp and Hennie Spijkerman (and Carlo L’Ami) will have an impact, just like Overmars and Van der Sar do great things in their suits and the Ajax scouting is able to find the talent, etc etc.
But to take all these great ingredients and to mix it all up into a winning team for three seasons in a row is quite a feat. And all that in non-matching clothes to boot! All Ajax staff wears the formal Ajax costume, bar head coach Frank de Boer who has his own personal fashion sponsor…. Something for Dick Advocaat to consider. He was still wearing his Russia National Team jacket in the PSV dug out….
Back to the field.
PSV – Ajax was a match between a team that really wanted it and a team that felt it merely deserved it.
PSV has spent millions on attacking talent in the last seasons. Matavz, Mertens, Narsingh, Lens, Wijnaldum and with Strootman and Van Bommel in midfield it seemed PSV would have all the ingredients to start winning titles again.
But someone in Eindhoven forgot you do need good defenders too. Scoring a lot is not a problem for the PSV team. But conceding a lot is doing them in.
Seasoned coach Dick Advocaat couldn’t find the right tone with his team. Where Ajax, Feyenoord and Vitesse are working with a coach that can relate to the 20 year olds, PSV decided to go for the veteran coach who is renowned for his “gun for hire” mentality. In a recent interview, he said “don’t expect me to go and check out a PSV youth team. Can’t be bothered…”. No wonder the spark was gone after a while.
Some old PSV icons, who are still involved at the club formally or informally (like Hans van Breukelen, Wim Kieft and others) are moving towards a coup in Eindhoven. Maybe not JC style so much, but the ex-players believe general manager Tiny Sanders is to blame.
Most pundits expect a different PSV next season anyway. Dries Mertens, Kevin Strootman, Ola Toivonen and Jermaine Lens will have moved on, while new coach Phillip Cocu will most likely replace a number of average players wearing the PSV jersey ( Hutchinson, De Rijck).
That will most likely improve the situation in PSV a bit, as the vibe in the dressing room has deteriorated. As Willem van Hanegem said in his column, he had heard from well-informed sources that most players were busy checking the American NBA results after their defeat against Ajax. He also heard that Mark van Bommel was most keen to put his studs not in an Ajax leg, but in Hutchinson’s for his continuous mistakes.
And Advocaat was heard muttering about Pieters’ mistake till late in the night. “What can I do, if an international defender like Pieters allows Boerrigter an open road to goal like this???”.
Van Hanegem went on to criticise Feyenoord too. He did not see a Feyenoord fighting for its last chance, against RKC. “Where is club love?” he muttered. “Should these guys fight till they can’t get up anymore, even if just for the fans who pay their high salaries?”. A often heard complaint by the Feyenoord legend. Ronald Koeman could only agree. “I still get tears in my eyes when I think how Duits was allowed to steam up into our defence. No one responded!”
The Feyenoord coach believes the selection of some of his youngsters this season for Oranje has not helped his quest.
All in all, Ajax is simply the best (again) this season.
Frank de Boer must be complimented for his work and Ajax fans will lose sleep this summer, as many European clubs will vie for his services, without a doubt. De Boer said “no” to Liverpool last season but what will he say if AC Milan, Barcelona or Manchester City comes to chat?
He earlier on said, he’d want an Alex Ferguson career at Ajax, so maybe it will all be well after all.
The man who helped Vermeer, Siem de Jong and Blind into Oranje and has made Christian Eriksen into one of Europe’s hottest midfielders will most likely see Dennis Bergkamp move to Arsenal. His successor is known already, what with Jaap Stam coming to the Arena, while Fons Groenendijk is also a highly respected coach in Amsterdam.
Ajax Godfather Johan Cruyff was pleased to see Ajax’ progress. “The performance can still be improved. It wasn’t great all the time. But the mentality was great. And Ajax has moved from “it’s nice to play good” to “we have to play good”. Frank de Boer is the right coach for Ajax. He made three changes and all three changes were aimed at winning the game. He didn’t make them because of PSV’s actions. It was not reactive, but pro-active. Things are looking up. Financially, the club is doing ok and winning the title this year again will help tremendously.”
Frank de Boer is one of the few players of a golden generation who is capable of transcending his passion as a player into his coaching. It took Jan Wouters a long while to find his mojo, while Rijkaard, Van Basten and Koeman had a hot-cold career so far.
It’s officially too early to congratulate the Sons of Gods, but their demonstration of will in the PSV-Ajax game clearly makes them the only club deserving of the title this season. And with a bit more luck in the draw next season (and Adam Maher for Christian Eriksen who will most likely move away from Amsterdam), the Champions League might prove to be a good platform for Ajax anyway…