New Season: Ajax

With the World Cup behind us, we’re going to look ahead to the new season. Focus on the top 3, initially and some of the upcoming talents in Holland and abroad (Dutch talents, obviously).

NOTE: I started this post way before the first CL match vs Sturm Graz and ended up finishing it after the match…

Ajax won, 2-0. Good game. Ziyech in top form. Huntelaar should have scored. And Ten Hag was actually happy to be able to say: “We played good today, and we can actually play much better even!”.

Was good to see Daley Blind make his come-back with the crowd loudly chanting the “Daley is Coming Home” anthem…

Anyway, the new season….

Starting at Ajax, which made a bold statement this transfer window and is probably not finished with it even. Some will say the Velvet Revolution of JC has ended and is buried now. I don’t think so. I think Cruyff’s statement were misunderstood.

Yes, he said “use ex-players in management, like at Bayern” but that doesn’t mean any combination of ex-players will work… Clearly Jonk did an amazing job at Ajax, but clashed with Bergkamp, just like Peter Bosz and eventually Marc Overmars did. Get the right guys in, and it will work. He also said “use Academy talents” but JC never said “use them exclusively”. A misunderstanding. His beloved Barca, the role model now for Ajax, doesn’t just use Academy talents. Rakitic, Jordy Alba, Suarez, Neymar, Cillesen, Dembele, all players signed for a serious fee. Not developed at Barca, but making the Barca squad stronger and better balanced.

It seems Overmars and Van der Sar have finally convinced the Board of Ajax that – after 4 years without a trophy (only a respectable EL final spot), it is time to spend some money from the savings account on some real improvements on the pitch. Sure, Ajax spend 30mio euros or more on a new Academy complex, money well spent. But with the likes of Kluivert and very likely Ziyech leaving, better players were needed to bring Ajax ahead of Feyenoord and PSV again.

And with the signing of two EPL players in Tadic and Daley Blind, Ajax gave a strong signal. They also got once-upon-a-time talent Labyad to Amsterdam (developed at PSV and back in the Dutch top after a detour via Portugal, Vitesse and FC Utrecht) and youthful prospect Per Schuurs.

And if indeed Frenkie de Jong and De Ligt would go, Ajax will keep on shopping for sure. I think both De Jong and De Ligt will have to cost at least 30 mio euros each and I’m also sure Overmars will have a list of replacements ready.

Ajax means business again! They said goodbye to Bergkamp protege Marcel Keizer (and Bergkamp himself) and placed their faith in the hands of Guardiola adept Erik ten Hag.

The former FC Utrecht coach about last season.

How do you judge your first 4 months at Ajax?

Well, I think the overall sentiment is not that great. But I rather not judge myself publically, that is the job of Ajax’ management. We are not happy, as we didn’t win the title. Full stop. Ajax wants to win the title, always. So if you don’t reach that goal, it’s not good enough. It’s that simple. We were also kicked out of Europe and the national cup pretty early on, so it was not a great season. But, it wasn’t all bad. We do need to be nuanced about our judgement.

What nuances?

Well, the tragedy with Nouri has been underrated. This is not something you shake off in 3 months. And when I signed on, Kasper Dolberg got seriously injured. Huntelaar missed a number of games too, and then we lost Frenkie de Jong, Sinkgraven, Viergever and Cerny as well. To mention some positives: we created the most oppportunities, but we failed to finish them off. We allowed the least opportunities to the opponent and we conceded the least goals. These are important building blocks moving forward. We created 30 big chances more than PSV, for instance. Our effectiveness was a problem. A killer in the box like Huntelaar missed more chances in this last season than all seasons before, figuratively speaking.

But excuses don’t count

They’re not excuses. Without the injured players, we should have won these matches too, but if you do analyse where you stand, you’ll have to mention these things.

The PSV away game was crucial.

Indeed. We were 7 points behind. We could have turned it around there, I’m convinced. We played for the win, playing 1 v 1 at the back. We had 3 major chances in the early stage of the game, but didn’t score. PSV got a chance, they scored. We were chasing the game after that and couldn’t get the goal. But, apart from Utrecht away and PSV away, we won every match. Sadly, so did PSV.”

Was that the Champions’ gen?

Yes, you saw it with Feyenoord last season as well. PSV could play with their fixed team most matches. Their list of injuries was minimal. And we lacked that bit of luck. We hit post and bar most times last season. Don’t get me wrong, PSV won the title rightfully and deservedly, but it was much closer than it seems. We did not have a terrible season. We got to 79 points. That is normally enough to win the title. The last four times Ajax won the title, they collected less points.”

Some people say you have too many tactical chores and tasks for the players.

It all starts with you, the coach, getting to know the make up of the players. Their characters and personalities are leading. And it takes time before you have that insight. And you, the coach, need to adept to that. What is it the group needs, how do you reach the individual players. I think I did well in the past, offering players the tools they need to shine. Just think about Marko Arnautovic, Eljero Elia, Quincy Promes, Zakaria Labyad, Nacer Barazite, Yassin Ayoub, Deniz Türüç…all creative players who excelled under my guidance. Hakik Ziyech the second season half, was tremendous. Neres played his part.

What aspects do you want to see improvements?

All Ajax players ooze talent. But where it comes down to physical strength, mental strength and tactical intelligence, we need to improve and develop. That is where we lose games, in particular against stronger teams. At times we lack a sense of urgency to win games. Or to recognise danger. Take that first PSV goal, against us. It took one throw in and we’re opened up. And it happened 3 days before that match on training as well! And it happened in the finals of the Europa League vs Man United! It’s not a new thing. And it needs to be dealt with. And against Man United, it was our throw in!! It’s also experience I suppose, which is why we need to buy experience. Talent alone is not enough.

Where do you think Dutch football and thus also Ajax, needs to make big steps?

The so-called turnaround moments. In international football, that is the key moment, more and more. Not just defensively, also in terms of “what do we do when we win the ball back?”. At Ajax it is usually “winning the ball back, and keeping possession”. But I want to see them take the advantage of the game being open. Play the killer pass, make the killer run, right when the opponent is out of balance. When I left FC Utrecht, they were leader of the team scoring a goal within 4 passes after re-possessing the ball. Ajax was somewhere in the mid range. That needs to chance, as those are the moments where you can take full advantage. There is not football nation where the ball goes as often from central defender to central defender. Possession is the goal, it seems. And we need to practice and train to change that around.

Ajax has started qualification campaigns for the Champions League early almost every season but never qualifies because the squad is still in development. That will need to change.

“Well, we started well. We signed Labyad early, we have Tadic and Blind. I think we paid a lot for Blind and he might have been less expensive later in the transfer window, but we want to be as strong as possible come the CL qualification game. We can’t have players being signed by other clubs in mid July and Ajax still trying to find replacements. I want to be able to work with the squad as soon as possible. This World Cup isn’t helping of course, but we’re not the only ones who have that problem”

Are you happy to be able to start the new season from the start, instead of taking over mid-way?

Yes of course. Last season was a difficult one for the club. The focus this season will be on winning, on trophies and results. And to entertain the fans. When you missed winning trophies for four seasons, it’s too long a time. No debate.

Dujan Tadic is quite a signing for Ajax. The 30 year old Serbian artist was signed as a replacement for Hakim Ziyech. But, for all we know, they both might be playing in the same team, that wouldn’t be too bad… Neres, Huntelaar, Tadic up front, Ziyech, De Jong and Van de Beek in midfield… Wow.  The former Groningen and Twente player was always a target for Ajax. And vice versa.

Tadic grew up with family members telling him about the great 1974 Oranje, and stories about Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol and Rep. And young Dujan always wanted to don the Ajax jersey.

When Southampton came kocking some 4 seasons back, Frank de Boer wanted to sign the forward but the then-Ajax board put their foot down. No big money signings!

Now, with Ajax’ kitty filled to the max, Overmars and Van der Sar are allowed to spend. Hence the come-back of Daley Blind and the finally the signing of Tadic.

Tadic: “This is a dream come true for me. Some people have romantic ideas around Barcelona, or Liverpool… For me, it was always Ajax. This is one of the biggest clubs on the planet. I’m proud to finally be here.”

And Daley Blind… he’s now the most expensive signing for Ajax ever. The homeboy who started at a young age at Ajax and almost was written off when he struggled to be recognised for the first team is coming home from Man United. There was interest from other EPL teams, from Spain, Italy, but Daley was never about the money, the fame and fortune.

Daley: “I had options, but none of them were really concrete. It was still early of course, but I had my wishes… Playing every week, playing in a style that suits me, with a coach that thinks about football like I do, in a city/country that appeals to me… and when Ajax came I realised that Ajax would tick all the boxes. I actually look forward to being close to friends and family. So when Ajax wanted to do business I decided to go for it. It feels 100% right.”

But you could have gone to another big club in Europe?

Daley: “Maybe yes, but there is always uncertainty about your position, and there is the language, the cultural changes… I am ready to start a family and I also want to be fully in the picture for the national team, so… this is the logical thing to do. And don’t worry, I am only 28 years old, in the prime of my career so I come back to Ajax to win trophies, to play Champions League football… Not to start thinking about retirement, hahaha.”

Marc Overmars, Ajax has changed tactics? Decided to go for quality, no matter the price tag?

“Well, we always go for quality, but yes, in the past we were more patient, wanted to use the talents more, but if you look at the results in the last seasons, it didn’t pay off well enough. Not winning the title is always an option, when you have clubs like PSV and Feyenoord in your league, but never qualifying for the Champions League via the pre-qualifying games… that hurts. And it takes experience and smarts for those games. Talent is not enough. The mix needs to be right. This time, we had some good options on our radar, and we were able to sign them.”

Tadic was brought in for Ziyech, but he is still in Amsterdam.

“Well yes, but don’t make a mistake: if Hakim doesn’t leave this summer, we’ll be very happy. I can see Tadic and Ziyech in one team, why not? Hakim wants to move only if the total picture is good for him. If the ideal club doesn’t present itself, he’ll probably stay. And why not?”

Is Ajax done buying now?

“Depends. The transfer window is still open for a while, there is interest for Frenkie de Jong of course, for De Ligt, and Ziyech might find his ideal new club, so who knows. We just wanna make sure we are ready for the Champions League now and strong enough to sustain us through the season to win the title. It’s been too long now, we need to win silverware.”

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  1. After watching the game last night, Hunterlaar still seems to be missing chances (I know it was his first game of the season, so still a bit rusty). If he continues to miss critical chances, with Dolberg still injured, how big a chance is there for Sierhuis, and is he good enough to take it?

    1. You have to give huntelaar the credit.if he is not scoring, he can always be instrumental in setting up.but with this being said, I think considerations should be given that he is almost on the twilight of his career and they need to get his backup ready at same stage.its often the case when you are the contender for a title and and at the same time you want to rotate the squad giving playing time to more doesnt go together given if the result doesnt come your simply will be out of the race.once the coaches get their best 11 running, they usually wanna stick to it un less if there is injuries. Sierhuis could get minutes in KNVB Beker Cup atleast or may be late cameos if they are wining but I think Huntelaar is still ahead of him even though he is not scoring.also remember that all neres, ziyech and now tadic are all typical scorers so you will expect any striker playing with them to have their work cut out.

      1. Thanks, but my question was more about Sierhuis, his ability, and whether he has what it takes to step up? Not about Hunterlaars, form or ability.

        1. No doubt, yes but that has always being the case for many other players who have come through jong ajax.and as I said it will come down to whether the coaches want to see him as Huntelaars successor or they simply want to concentrate on the title which again will come down to who is more clincal in front of the goal and who can get the results.

          You look at Dylan Vente for example at feyenoord. He had Van Persie and Jorgensen in his shadows but he nailed down oppourtnities when it came his way and now has made his space in the team. Sierhuis needs to do the same.he jus needs to be more clinical.

  2. The one team the top three have too to look out for this season has to be heerenveen. They have a very good squad this season and coach Jan Olde Riekerink has made sure they reinforce key areas which lacked depth last season. This marco rojas guy is the player to watch for them this season. He went unnoticed last season but this season you can pencil him to be on the radar.

  3. Can AZ Alkmaar get any more pathetic!!! 2-0 loss in Kazakhstan hopefully they turn it around in the second game. Good result for Vitesse in Romania.

    1. You have to admit.they havent have had a good replacement for both weghorst and Jahanbakhsh.will be critical in leading to the campagin this season. Both were key man for them last season.

      1. They can’t blame anyone but themselves for that. They knew both players would leave long ago and yet they failed to replace them with decent players. Dutch football needs every point they can get nowadays and AZ is the first one to drop the ball so far and i hope they are the only ones that do since we can not afford any more slip ups. I do have hopes they’ll somehow turn this around on the second leg as hard as it may seem.

  4. I did not watch the game of AZ versus Kayrat as I was at work but based on commentary of fans and match report, AZ played an awful, amateurish, brainless, and senseless football. Vlaar made extremely stupid mistake. Offense was absolutely disengaged. They were twice caught on counter attacks. If AZ play the same way in Alkmaar next week, it is going to be the first Dutch team who will leave EL preliminary round. It is very very embarrassing. I agree with Tomy14 that management was too late with the replacement of Wout and Alireza. Wout was sold long time ago but they kept negotiating with ADO until Alireza was sold. Van den Brom put too much faith on Myron and because of him he placed Idrissi to the unusual for him right wing letting the former to operate on the left wing. As a result, Myron hardly was in the game. Idrissi was not efficient. Friday played some Nigerian folk dance but not football. Mats Seuntjens was never a good replacement for Teun Koopminers. It was total and collective failure at all fronts.

    AZ have been so much praised in media for their youth program and successful sales. However, this game showed that young players may be are good in Eredivisie, but in Europe and Asia they are below par. AZ management’s goal, at least short term, is to develop and sell players and build budget, whereas European advantages are secondary priority. That is the reason why they keep van den Brom as a coach because he experiments with young players and let them play and develop. VDB is not a coach-winner. He has very pleasant personality and knows how to develop youth. Current management has less ambitions and completely different priorities. This was not the case when Toon Gerbrands was General Manager. From one side I understand current management as after DSB fiasco, financial health has been major priority. From the other side as a faithful, dedicated fan I miss that time and previous management. I guess nobody cares about fan’s feelings but it really hurts…
    Hope dies last but AZ and vdB really needs o improve to get through Kayrat. What a shame…

  5. Beside young talents in Eredivisie, hopefully this year our lads abroad who will be playing senior level also going well

    Fosu,Raidewal,Chong,KADIOĞLU,DRONGELEN, Dilrosun,Zirkzee,Hoogma,Bazoer,da Cruz, Diks, Fernandes, ter Avest,Kluivert

  6. can anyone explain why Frenkie de Jong was playing as a central back instead of us midfield position?

    I was expecting for the powerful combination again with Van De Beek

    1. Apart from deligt who is there for as Cb in ajax…i mean a good one….Frenkie is used by coach to full fill coach mission,its selfish decsion taken by coach…he must gets fired for such a slefish activity….i want frenkie upfront just behind forwards….
      Ajax has signed daley….So i hope they will relieve frnekie from Cb duty….
      Lost of players were spoiled by this kind of coaches..

  7. and do you guys honestly wish De Jong go to Barca?

    Its’ really an offer you can’t turn down even to myself i would love to see him going.

    But then again, staying in Ajax would make them stronger to both club and himself

      1. He hasnt had a full season yet in eredivisie. I think the idea of buying and loaning him back to eredivise was good but unfortunately Ajax as usual are all out to make a luractive deal rather than what in the best intrest of the player.

        1. Ajax dont want to sell deals Hong. They would rather keep him and stall his potential instead of him playing against better competition

          1. To be honest frenkie is not even worth 50 million pounds. Ajax are playing smart knowing he is in demand and it would be in the best intrest from both sides whether he stays or goes. If Bacrelona do decide to fork out the price tag, Ajax have already players who could replace him. Blind, Eiting etc. On the other hand if they do are able to fend them off with the high price tag still they will get to win as they get to hold him on for another season. I still remember they did the same thing with klaassen and Bazoer when Napoli came knocking on their door. Look where both are playing now. I just home frenkie wont end up in the same way. They even tried to do the same thing with kluivert but he forced his way out knowing what was going on.

          2. Barca is supposedly bidding 50M on Frenkie de Jong shows they have done their homework and are serious about his talents. They have been following him for a while. He may not be worth that much with what he has done so far but they do believe the potential and that he will develop into what they want him to be.

            Personally, I hope he plays in an advanced position on the field. However, Barca midfield is loaded with world class talent at those spots so he may have to settle for a central or deeper positions on the field. In a way, they do see him as a future Busquests type player. Someone who can tackle/defend and at the same time make those crucial diagonal and vertical passes from midfield.

            The best case scenario for all involved would be for Barca to buy him and loan him back to Ajax unless they plan to give him meaningful playing time. That way Barca don’t lose out a potential top young talent. Ajax won’t lose out cashing in on that 50M offer and De Jong gets his dream transfer and still gets playing time without worrying about missing out the chance of a lifetime.

  8. Djavan Anderson dutch player who plays as right back for serie b side Bari is now tranferring to Serie A side Lazio, a member of the team which won the UEF under 17 title. Hope he finds form there and gets noticed by koeman

      1. Mitchel Bakker (Ajax), Tyrell Malacia (Feyenoord), Owen Wijndal (AZ). Three fantastic U19 talents. All of them have been promoted to first-team in their respective clubs. Guarantee, one of them will have a breakout season. Two would be great. All three would be crazy (unlikely).

        My money is on Wijndal. He’s competing against Thomas Ouwejan, a Dutch U21, but not a very good one. Wijndal has all tools to become a modern full back… speed, tackling, and offensive-minded. Like all young defenders, he needs to get better in positioning and awareness, which he will learn over time. I think his low ceiling is Erik Pieters/Bruno Martins Indi, a journeyman with occasional NT apperances. High-ceiling is Boudewijn Zenden/Gregory van der Wiel (RB).

        1. Quiet true Dutchscout. I have watched some of Wijndal highlights for jong AZ and he certainly has the tools to become a good attacking fullback and yeah as mentioned he will need to beat of competition from
          Ouwejan who is also a regular for jong orange as welk. Maybe he needs more shots at eredivisie level. AZ Forever could highlight more on him.

          Also I wouldnt rule out Mitchell Dijks jus yet who has joined Bologna in serie A. He is not bad either and playing time at Ajax just didnt work out for him.serie A is good developing ground for dutch players especially when coming from eredivisie.

    First outings for clasie.his touches are so precise.feyenoord looking all polished up. Berghuis has really grown after switching to feyenoord but the only problem I see in him is, he keeps cutting inside and cant penetrate the flanks.

    Also when you look at St Juste, you start to wonder what is his main position. His has virtually played in all positions in the Backline and including DM over the years and yet is another jack of all trade, master of none. He,offensively looks good, defensively has the grit and by all means should be deployed at DM, but it looks like it aint gonna happen at feyenoord which further means no shot in NT as well.

  10. Dutch Football was better when they had play offs involving the top teams. Dutch clubs seemed more prepared for Europe. The Eredivise needs a complete makeover

  11. PSV will the league. Ajax however will second and be dumped out Europe before Christmas. Due the weak Dutch League.

    Which is destroying Dutch football. I reckon small nations need to combine.

    Netherlands, Scotland, Belgium and Portugal need three joint leagues

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