Johan Cruyff will always be a factor at his two favorite clubs, Ajax and Barcelona. His opinion will be heard. He will voice it himself ( in meetings, via his column or via his connections) and usually the club listens. There are always times when some faction is in charge that opts to ignore JC, but at the end of the day, his opinion will be noticed.
As a result, his work and his vision can be seen at clubs like Feyenoord, AC Milan, Liverpool and Manchester United, while coaches like Arsene Wenger and Joachim Low have admitted to be influenced by him.
At this stage, in the Eredivisie, Feyenoord rules. Sure, PSV wins the title and Ajax probably finishes second, but in terms of youth development, it seems Feyenoord has leapfrogged Ajax over the last years, with talents like De Vrij, Martins Indi, Clasie, Karsdorp, Nelom, Van Beek, Vilhena, Achabar and Boetius all making it big while the likes of Ake and Rekik also came through the Feyenoord system.
De Vrij is making big impressions in Europe while Sven van Beek will be right behind him one can only assume.
Feyenoord HAD to change their strategy, after signing big name players (with big paychecks) failed and the shenanigans of Wotte, Gullit and Bosz almost bankrupted the club.
It was Cruyff adept Stanley Brard who organised Feyenoord’s youth system, mentored by none other than Wim Jansen and the rest is history.
Currently, Ajax’ biggest talent – Bazoer – was actually developed by PSV.
So, when Martin Jol was playing more realistic football as Ajax coach, Cruyff had enough and stepped in. He started the so-called Cruyff revolution. And with ex Ajax players and icons like Frank de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp, Wim Jonk, Marc Overmars, Bryan Roy and Orlando Trustful (ex-Feyenoord, not Ajax), Cruyff took the club by storm. With support internally from the likes of Mark Geestman and Ruud van Duyvenbode in the admin side of things and in governance, Johan modelled a new organisational structure. From now on, the technical triangle would determine the technical future of the club. The technical triangle being the head coach Frank de Boer, the youth coordinator Wim Jonk and bridge between senior and youth, Dennis Bergkamp…. In the background, Edwin van der Sar is the commercial director while Marc Overmars is technical director at board level.
But…Cruyff does things the JC way. He is a supported of seagull management. This means: coming in from high up, making a lot of noise, and flying off again, leaving a heap of shit. The shit he left, is basically no real in-depth deployment of the structure. It’s more like “you guys do this together and sort it out. Bye. Or better: adio!” And off he went to Barcelona.
Anyone with know-how of organisational design knows you need to do more than that. You need clarity in communication structures, in authority, tasks and responsibilities. Who is responsible for what? KPIs. Etc.
Not something JC will worry about. But with Overmars in the role of technical director – as Ajax is a public company and needs a formal structure – the role of the technical triangle is a bit unclear. Is Overmars part of it? Does Frank de Boer report to Overmars? At De Toekomst, the youth center of Ajax, the situation is not much better. Jonk is supposed to be the leader, but his communication and management skills seem non existent. The second in command at the youth center, a certain Ruben Jongkind , seems to have taken the lead but the poor lad is an athletics coach. So guess what. The emphasis in the Ajax youth center is now all about running and fysiology. And even worse: talented youth coaches like Ronald de Boer, Michel Kreek and Orlando Trustfull have all left. Ronald de Boer is doing tv analyst work, Trustful is coach of Oranje’s youth teams.
Ajax’ De Toekomst (The Future) youth center
It was always the plan to have at least one ex Ajax icon to manage a youth team. Now, after three years, that plan is in the bin. The new strategy is to have coaches rotate every couple of weeks. This is why Trustfull left: “I am happy for Ajax to determine what they think is best, but I feel I can deliver best when working with one team for a whole season.” Other coaches who managed a team have left as well, such as Fred Grim, Yannis Anastasiou, Heini Otto, Michel Kreek and Dean Gorre. Grim and Kreek are now at Almere City, Gorre and Anastasiou have gone abroad while Otto is currently leading Ajax Streetwise, a humanitarian project. Jongkind attracted new coaches, none of them with a football or even Ajax history, but former coaches in American football, athletics, triathlon and pole jump. There are still a couple of individual coaches, such as Simon Tahamata, Richard Witschge and Bryan Roy.
Jonk has refused to spend more time in the technical triangle meetings as he believes Frank de Boer ignores the Ajax youth and buys players Ajax doesn’t need to buy (Van der Hoorn, Duarte, Sinkgraven, Sigthurson, Viergever) while Frank de Boer and Marc Overmars don’t see eye to eye for the same reasons.
And in all of this, the battle between Cruyff and Van Gaal has a role to play as well. Because Bergkamp, Roy, Jonk are most likely all Cruyff adepts, but players like Frank de Boer and Marc Overmars are more Van Gaal supporters. When Cruyff was wielding his influence in Ajax a couple of years back, De Boer never commented on his “revolution”. Always said he was there to focus on the first team and he never wanted to interviewed about it. Only once, when pressed, did he say he was keen to utilise JC’s football know how. But as Martin Jol strikingly said, when his days at Ajax were running out: “If Cruyff is on the stands and shakes his head, you know what time it is….”.
When De Boer was winning title after title, he seemed an untouchable. Now, with a lot of slow backpasses and slow build up, there is no escaping anymore. The minute Cruyff uses his column to address you and your performance, you know you are in trouble.
Sadly for Ajax, the only way they know to make it work again is to ask El Salvador to come to Amsterdam again and fix the issues. Sadly for Ajax, the well paid executives (Overmars, Van der Sar, Jonk, De Boer, Bergkamp) can’t seem to fix it by themselves. Cruyff said it eloquently back in 2013: “They were all great players. They were able to find each other on the pitch without a problem. Surely, they will be able to sort things out.”
It seems not. End of the month, JC will be reporting back in De Arena to sort his pupils out. Board member, former Ajax (and Feyenoord) player, and lawyer Keje Molenaar: “There is a lot to do, but Johan is aware of the situation and is aware what needs to happen. He won’t be racing down immediately, but that has also to do with his agenda.”
Molenaar: “Cruyff will focus on taking the tension away and making sure all factions work and talk together again. But key is also the quality of the play on the pitch. We need to play Ajax style football again and make sure we get people to come back to the Arena.”
Cruyff responded as well: “I think Ajax is in good shape. Four titles in a row, lots of young players coming through and their quality improves by the year. But now we need to take this hurdle and make another step forward. We need to stop playing the ego game and swallow our pride and get on with it. The distance between the youth center and the first team needs to be closed. We need to develop players that will stop the management in trying to find better alternatives.”