Tag: Dennis Bergkamp

Donny van de Beek and crying

It’s probably a matter of time now, before Donny van de Beek (22) moves to a European top club. Real Madrid and Donny are in agreement already, but Real isn’t moving as yet. Man United is also on the radar for the midfielder.

Here are some statements for Donny to respond to, about his brother, about darts and being Dennis Bergkamp’s son-in-law.

After a bad game, I flee for Sjaak Swart! (Sjaak is Mr Ajax, the famous right winger from the 1970s is still always at the club, currently as player’ manager).

Donny, laughing: “Yes sometimes! He can get really emotional after matches.”

And is he always super critical to you?

“I think so. But we do think the same about things. He can be critical of the ref too. I have a super bond with Sjaak, he plays a big role in my career.”

How did that happen?

“Sjaak always watched our youth matches and he always knew exactly who was who. We got into contact this way, and as I live a bit away from Amsterdam he offered me a room in his home, in case I wanted to stay in Amsterdam. And I would do this and we would talk hours about football and his wife Andrea would make fresh orange juice and what not. I still see Sjaak a lot. I go out to dinner with him or I drop in to see him and his wife. That will never change.”

Sjaak Swart is 81 year old. Recently, Barry Hulshoff died, the football father of De Ligt. Other generation peers died, like Piet Keizer, Gerrie Muhren and Johan Cruyff too. Do you fear the future?

“Sjaak is definitely a bit afraid. Yes and me too. I spoke to Matthijs de Ligt after Barry’s passing and it was tough for him. His bond with Barry was similar to mine with Sjaak. Everyone gets older and everyone dies, but it is part of my thinking, you know. Back of the mind kinda thing? But he is top fit and still plays football. I really want him to be part of my life for as long as possible.”

It was a close call, or I would have gone to The Hague (seat of government) to protest with the farmers against the CO2-policy. 

“No I wouldn’t have, but a lot of people from my village went.”

Your mother said that when asked about what little Donny wanted to become, you would say “chicken farmer or pro football player”. So you may have been plucking a chook right now?

“Hahaha, well my dad owns a chicken farm. I was always there to help after football training. I was cleaning or packing stuff, I wasn’t lazy. Loved helping. And yes, if I wasn’t a footballer now, I would probably be working in the family business. When I was small I always said I’d end up playing for Ajax, and I was always ridiculed for it, hahaha.”

Your dad was a decent player and played top level in the amateurs.

“He was a top striker at amateur level, yes, but a totally different player than me. He was a lazy cat. He had a nose for the goal. And he always taunts me with it. Whenever I miss a chance, he’ll tell me that he would have scored that. But he’s super proud of me. He’s always there with my grandparents, home and away games. Always. Only my kid brother Rody misses games, when he has had a heavy Saturday night, hahaha.”

Do you still wrap chicken breasts, at times?

“Oh yes, my dad asks me regularly. Sometimes I need to pick up stuff from restaurants on the way home from Amsterdam. Or I need to deliver a crate of chicken somewhere. Why not? It’s fun to see people respond like …” Huh? Oh… Van de Beek, ah you are that Van de Beek!?”…

I sometimes loathe playing football

“Football isn’t always fun. We sometimes play a dreadful game… for instance, I don’t think I ever want to play Getafe again, hahaha. A very annoying opponent. But hey, they progressed and we didn’t.”

How was this season compared to last season?

“We were doing ok. We were on the right track, but after the winter break we lost a number of key players. It didn’t go our way, so much.”

First it was David Neres, then Quincy Promes, Hakim Ziyech and Joël Veltman got injured and Daley with his situation. Where did all this come from?

“I thought about this a lot… I had a hamstring issue at the start of the season, but we don’t train differently. We do basically the same thing as last season. Maybe the summer break was too short?”

What are your thoughts before the kick off?

“That is always different. European nights are the best. When I walk onto the pitch in a full stadium I think about my youth. The games I watched in the stadium with my grandparents. We were all massive Ajax fans. And now I’m on the pitch and I look up to see my family on the stands. I will never get used to that.”

How big are the sacrifices you need to make, to get to the top?

“These are huge. But I don’t want it differently. This is my dream come true. But, I envy my brother Rody at times. I always go and watch him play. He plays with his mates, relaxed, and after the game they drink a couple of beers and have fun

Are you a party animal?

“In the summer I love going to places like Ibiza and party a bit. I also love singing along with songs in the pub but during the season I keep myself focused. No parties.”

Your bond with Rody, your brother, is special, right? He was very ill at one stage, with a tumor in his back. Did this affect you much?

“Rody is one of the most important people in my life. He knows me through and through and vice versa. Whenever something is going on, I call him first. And yes, his tumor, I have learned to appreciate life more, I think. I was 12 when he got sick and I was just starting at Ajax. I wanted to perform but I also had a lot of focus on my brother.”

There is a video about you two and when Rody talks about your bond, a tear rolls down his cheek. That is a famous video now… 

“Yes, that got me emotional too. And everyone who saw the video had that. Men cry too you know. Rody loves seeing me build my career and I love sharing my success with him. I was able to give him a cool watch for his 20st birthday with his name in it. He loves it. Rody is always there for me. Whenever I had a bad match, he takes me under his wing and we go and play pool or something…”

Rody said in the video that you are a hand-full. And when you didn’t train, it’s even worse

“Yes, I think I’m annoying. I have too much energy. I will start pestering people and make jokes etc.”

Fame, interviews, photo-shoots, talk about transfers, talk about the Ballon d’Or… you are not impressed?

“I think it’s the manner of the village I am from. Do normal. And that is me too. Yes, there is a lot happening in my life, but I will always have my feet planted firmly. And if I wouldn’t, my parents or brother will remind me, hahaha. I would enjoy going to these Ballon d’Or galas, just to experience it, but I would love to go home afterwards too, to leave all the humbug behind.”

For the football future of Holland, it is important that you and Estelle Bergkamp create the new Messi

“Oh yes hahaha, I get that comment a lot lately. If the good Lord wants us to become parents, there will be some pressure on the kid, if he is a boy. Or even a girl, actually! We can’t deny our genes, hahaha.”

How did you meet and does she get football?

“We met at Ajax and then we also met a couple of times outside of Ajax and it just grew a tad… I went out to lunch with her a couple of times and our bond became stronger. It did take a while before we were a thing. She gets football a lot! But that is normal with a dad like Dennis. She loves watching it and she can really analyse the game well. But she is more intrigued with how placid I can be outside of football and how worked up I can get on the pitch, hahahaha.”

Will she come with you to Madrid? Or Manchester?

“Should I go somewhere, she’ll come with yes. We are not officially living together but I basically live with her in Amsterdam.”

But Nijkerkerveen is still your village?

“Oh definitely! It’s home. I know everyone there, my mates live there and I go watch Veensche Boys regularly. Rody plays on Saturday mornings, and Mo Nouri, Appie’s brother, plays in it too. Mo quit football, because of Appie and the care he needs. He was feeling guilty too, playing football, and I told him that Abdelhak would totally want Mo to play football and enjoy himself. So now he’s playing with Rody in my village. He’s a great player, from the top of the amateur level. And the warmth of the village immediately pulled him in. Rody and I have contact with Mo Nouri every day.”

What is with the speculations of you going to Real Madrid?

“I haven’t signed anything. It’s all open. I know what I have here, I am valued and I love Ajax. I won’t go to just any other club. It needs to be the right picture. What are their plans. Am I signed for the future or do I get playing time? I’d love to play in a country with better weather, but I haven’t started Spanish lessons as yet.”

Do you talk about transfers with team mates?

“Sure, yes we do talk about it and I talk to the lads at Oranje about how things go with other clubs and in other countries, and all this. That is always interesting to hear.”

After I’m 30, I will return to Ajax, with Frenkie and Matthijs de Ligt.

“That would be fun. Ajax is my club and it will always be, wherever I end up. Ajax made me. But you never know how things go. There are many examples of players who said they would but never did. Or players who did come back but ended up playing in the second team… But, it would be nice, the thought you know. Returning here.”

It seems like Ajax is allowing players to leave, hoping they return one day?

“I don’t know. I don’t interfere with contract or transfer stuff. I think it’s normal and logical that Ajax wants to get a good amount for me. But I also think it is good to part ways amicably. There are many great examples.”

Do you speak to Frenkie and Matthijs a lot?

“Not a lot. Every now and then. During the season, we’re all super busy but we do app. And we see each other at Oranje and we take the time to chew the fat. These are all good lads, we share that bond. We’ve had such a great year, that will always bind us I think.”

The guys abroad are all playing in a glass house. Everything is magnified.

“True, but both are strong personalities and great players. I think they’ll manage. And you what, things like that, you get used to it. And I don’t think either one of them will lose sleep over what people write about them.”

So how do you call him? Dad? Mr? Or Dennis?

“I used to call him trainer, now I call him Dennis.”

So he didn’t say”Donny, I am Mr Bergkamp for you!”

“That would have been a good joke! But I know Dennis so long already and we always had a good bond. It was strange after he left Ajax, and I hadn’t seen him for a while…”

As Ajax youth coach, I remember him saying: “Watch that Van de Beek kid!”

“I was in my second year at Ajax and they didn’t put me in D1 but in D2. Luckily, he was my coach in the D2. I made a big leap under him. He was the most important coach for me actually, and he was important for me as assistant coach too.”

So did he ever say: “I have a nice daughter!” ?

“Never! Maybe he even thought: you, I rather not see outside of football, hahaha. And it was a coincidence that we met outside of Ajax. He enjoys us being together and I enjoy spending time with them.”

How did you enjoy Dennis as a player?

“I was a bit young when he played, but I have seen many videos, I mean… everyone knows what a magician he was.”

With me, Oranje has the best midfield in Europe.

“Well, I can only do my utmost to get in the team but we have so many good midfielders at the moment… And not just us, I mean…Belgium, France, Germany, Spain….so many good players….”

Do you get agitated when you see Marten de Roon’s name on the team sheet?

“Not at all! He did a great job and so do the other lads. The coach decides and I have to accept it. I know I am giving all I have. I can’t do more. And yes, I want to play, but every midfielder has his own qualities. Koeman will need to decide what he needs. I talk to him about that a lot, and he is open about his decisions and thoughts and all this. Koeman is a tremendous coach. He brought us to a big tournament and we’re really a team again. I am proud to be part of it and I want to help the team achieve something wonderful.”

Bookmark and Share

Dennis Bergkamp: a very emotional year…

Interview with former Ajax forward #3… This was and is not a series… Just happened to be three stories in a row of people with a story to tell.

And that this post is about Ajax and not Oranje is relevant, as this story would be much bigger – in disappointment terms – if Oranje had qualified for the Euros, as expected.

But Ajax is the second behemoth of Dutch football to have a disastrous year. On the pitch, all seems to be going ok (PSV is the current champs but Ajax is still in the race this season and Frank de Boer can be happy with 4 titles on the trot). But off the pitch, Ajax is a mess.

Results are ok, performance quality is not and Frank de Boer does seem to have had it with his job at Ajax. And while critics enjoy debating Ajax’ football style and people guessing where Frank will go next (and who will succeed him at Ajax), the shenanigans behind the scenes (board level and youth academy) got everyone quite flabbergasted.

A number of years ago, Cruyff initiated the “velvet revolution” in the club. Back to the roots in playing style, utlising young talent as the foundation and making a return – of sorts – to the European elite. Well…. It didn’t work.

Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk,a phenomenal pairing on the pitch, not unlike Neeskens – Cruyff, Davids- Zidane, Mahrez – Vardy or Iniesta-Xavi… Jonk the playmaker deep and Bergkamp the goal scorer high up the pitch. At Ajax, Oranje and Inter Milan, they collected victories, trophies and kudos.

They both were the flag bearers of JC’s revolution. But this year, Wim Jonk was fired from his role at Ajax, as director youth academy and Dennis Bergkamp was one of the people behind that decision. Bergkamp: “The youth academy turned into an island within the club.”


Where did it go wrong?

Dennis Bergkamp: “Let’s start at the beginning. Before Martin Jol was fired, I got a call from Aron Winter to come to a meeting to discuss the football of Ajax. The word “revolution” wasn’t used, it was all about the identity and the youth development of the club. Later Johan asked me if If I was keen to take a role in the technical staff. Wim was already working as individual coach at Ajax and based on our past I invited him into those meetings. We had a small group of people and started to make plans. Johan used to ambush meetings, as he called it. Sometimes certain people would block what we aimed to do and Johan would just come into those meetings to confront people and have the debate. It soon became the Cruyff Plan, but Johan didn’t invent this. He wasn’t keen to become the name giver. He is not as dominant as people say he is. He just wanted to get clarity about the club philosophy. And he used to say “I don’t need you to agree with all I say. I just need you to hear me out.” I still back Johan’s vision, don’t get me wrong, but Johan does want people to bring their own ideas in. And I like to work like that. Johan always stimulated people to follow their own plans, as long as it fit the bigger picture.”

But the club articles of association determines that the management team decides… And Cruyff installed the so-called Technical Heart. Wasn’t this like setting yourself up for failure?

DB: “From a formal perspective, yes. True. But we had agreements with the management that we would focus on technical aspects and our directives would be followed. The management would then ratify these decisions taken by us. Wim and I negotiated with the management team for a year before we signed our deals. And this was not about money but purely about responsibilities and authority. When  we won that courtcase and Marc Overmars joined, things turned for the better. The board of directors, the management team, everyone embraced the new direction. To me, that is more important than the articles of association. When everyone has the same aim, it should not be hard to sort things out.”


And that appeared to be not the case?

DB: “The first technical heart consisted of Wim, Frank de Boer and myself. When Marc joined, we had a new meeting – with Johan present – and determined that the head coach shouldn’t be part of it anymore. Coaches are passerbys. The head coach needs to focus on results of the first team, that is his focus and objective. So Frank left, and Marc came. This worked well. Although Marc had some issues to resolve between the technical heart and the management team. But that was his role. We also determined that we would vote if we couldn’t see eye to eye on certain topics. And who ever lost the vote would simply have to accept that.”

If you look at the paper work it is quite a complicated spagetti of responsibilities and authority… Wasn’t that an accident waiting to happen?

DB: “Not necessarily. If you communicate openly and talk things through, it can and should work. But Wim got more and more disgruntled about Mark and my opinion about the youth academy. We would all have oversight in one another’s fields. But Wim started to shield what he did in the Academy. We started to get more and more… discussions and disagreements about this.”

jC D Bergkamp -4


JC and Dennis shoulder to shoulder….

Jonk says that you and Marc hardly came and watched the youth teams play and weren’t up to speed what the youth coaches were doing or even who they were… So how can you judge them?

DB: “We never judged the performance of the youth coaches. That was purely Wim’s responsibility. We also didn’t concern ourselves with players moving up from one youth team to the next. We couldn’t have a real opinion about that. But we did have an opinion about the selection of new coaches. At a certain point, a whole series of people were hired whom did not have a real impact or role in the football side of things. We saw a culture chance happening at the youth academy. Performance coaches came in, physiologists and it went too far. Football was and is and will always be the foundation. Too much happened without communication. The mentor system, the appointment of coaches, the department methodology, organisation charts were changed, reporting protocols were changed… Wim basically just informed us. Some of these ideas were probably very good but we felt we needed to have at least some form of say in it. The youth academy became an island. The connection between the first team and the academy weakened.”

And your role, partly, was to form the bridge between youth academy and first team?

DB: “Exactly. And that role became harder and harder. We had this situation for more than two years! And my focus was the flow through from the older youth teams to the first team. I focused on watching the A juniors. I don’t need to watch games of the 10 year olds. Irrelevant to me. I can’t be at three places at the same time. So I watched all A team games, with a focus on “which players are knocking on the door?”. I repeatedly asked for some youthful talents to be able to train with the first team. But I did feel and still do, that some A juniors were not good enough, in terms of tactical and physical development. And I had ideas how to improve this. But it doesn’t help if the director youth academy won’t come to meetings.  And in the meantime, they ignored our ideas and requests and started to work differently. The first team was supposed to be leading, that is a key element in Johan’s vision. The benchmark is, are the lads ready to deliver at top level, in terms of skill, handling speed, tactics, physically, etc… ”

overmars sar

Club icons in management: Overmars as technical director, Van der Sar groomed as general manager

But it is also important to look at the signings Ajax has done. Did Jonk have a say in this?

DB: “Of course. Wim was part of the technical heart. The starting point in determining the squad is always “who do you have coming up?”. This helps to determine the gaps we could expect and the positions we needed to fill. And we don’t sign players to broaden the squad or strengthen the bench. We needed players to make Ajax better and that is not always easy with a limited budget. And I think it is great if we buy a player but he is surpassed by a young talent. Fantastic. But you can’t just expect to sell players like Eriksen, Siem de Jong, Vertonghen and Alderweireld and expect four youth players to take their role.”

Jonk didn’t claim this. He complained about the way those decisions were made…

DB: “But I return to what I said earlier. If the director youth development decides to ignore the technical heart meetings, communication is getting hard. Take Daley Sinkgraven. We believe in him. He is still young and a talent still, but he has played a lot of games for Heerenveen already and he came with a price tag. We checked with Jonk and he admitted that Donny van der Beek and Nouri were not yet ready for that spot. We took that advice and decided to fork out the millions  for Daley. And now Donny van der Beek is starting to play his games too! Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. It’s a luxury.”

JC Dennis training

Buit Ajax has had a number of failed signings… Why sign Heitinga for 1 mio euros p.a. if you have Veltman and Van der Hoorn?

DB: “For starters, you need 4 center backs. You can play two, but you need to have two players at a good level to take over when needed. Johnny trained really well and added value to the group even if he didn’t play. See him as Andre Ooijer in the past. If he needs to play, he is there. But we do want to give the youngsters the chance to prove themselves.”

Frank de Boer publicly said he would happily share the responsibility for the signings with Marc Overmars. How is that for you?

DB: “The same of course. And I don’t agree with players on the bench being labelled “failures”. It’s silly. Robin van Persie took some time at Arsenal to get into the team. Is Memphis a failure? Of course not… Players like Viergever and Van der Hoorn help to bring the level up but we only can play eleven players. You need a balanced squad. And our aim is to have as many home grown players as possible. The aim used to be for the Youth Academy to supply three new players every season and one player from the partner clubs. This is much to ambitious and puts a lot of stress on the academy. It almost forces the academy to have players move up that actually aren’t ready yet. But you always end up in a situation where you need to sign a player. When Sigthorsson left, our youth strikers weren’t ready. Simple. So we went out to get a player on loan. Sanogo of Arsenal…. Well…that is not a success, I know, but it is the way how we will need to maneuver.”

swart ling


Two former rightwingers: club legend Mr Ajax Sjaak Swart and rebel Tscheu La Ling

Tscheu La Ling developed a report for Ajax, on the request of Cruyff, and his report says that most signings are done after a quick conversation between Frank de Boer and Marc Overmars?

DB: “That is not correct. I was always present and Wim could have been present too. Even before he formally said he didn’t want to come anymore, he was often absent. Too busy. While those meetings are key for the club. Do you really think Frank makes a list of players and Marc goes out to get them? That whole report Ling made is a preposterous and futile excercise.”

Oh? Why?

DB: “Ling is biased. It was clear what he wanted and whose side he was on. Before he wrote it, it was clear what his conclusions were. I had a 20 minute conversation with him. When I said “Let’s discuss the real issues here” he hastily grabbed his notebook and his bag and said he was in a hurry but he would call me back for another meeting. I have yet to hear from him. We would do follow up interviews, etc…we never heard from hims since. he wanted to have a broad look into the organisation. And suddenly, he presented his report. Ling had a 1 minute conversation with Frank de Boer! Can you believe that? The guy won four titles in a row and was just ignored like he was the coffee lady. Ling had a 30 minute meeting with Marc and had not even one conversation with Edwin van der Sar! Not with Jaap Stam. We never saw him at the training ground. And there were two versions of this report. A short version for the board and they leaked a longer version to the newspaper De Telegraaf. People played games, is my conclusion. I don’t even believe Ling wrote the report. It was a farce and this is the end result.”

Kort geding Cruijff en jeugdtrainers tegen Ajax


Wim Jonk supporting Cruyff in his court case versus Ajax

Cruyff thinks the Ling Report is valuable….

DB: “That makes it so weird. I spoke with the management team some six months ago to give them my opinion on our issues. The general manager went to see Johan in Barcelona . I wrote a letter to Johan with 12 points we needed to focus on. And we spoke about that letter later. He gave me compliments for the analysis. I saw him in the summer about this as well. But Johan didn’t want to pick sides. It became awkward and when Wim was asked to go, Johan always protected the former players. while the board was playing the blame game. It is disappointing that we, as former team mates, weren’t able to resolve it. Kinsbergen, the general manager, who is friends with Johan couldn’t sort it out and the three board members who tried to mediate failed as well.”

Wim is an old team mate. You used to have this psychic connection almost. How was it get into conflict with him?

DB: “Highly regrettable. Wim, Johan and myself were the founders if you like… We battled and fought for reform in Ajax. I think the management back then underestimated it all. We had court cases and rifts and when it was finally behind us, the management team basically said “ok, that’s it, lets move on” but it doesn’t work like that. The distance between Wim and myself happened over a longer period. It was intense and emotional at times. Which was hard. But this wall was being put up between us… Don’t get me wrong, as a youth coach, in his vision and as a human being, I think Wim Jonk is a top bloke. But as a manager I think he listened too much to others. In the Academy we started to get people who had less focus on the actual football and more on the side aspects. I never said I didn’t believe in Wim, but I don’t believe in his entourage. Wim, Marc, Frank, Johan and myself were focusing on the technical decisions and I really didn’t need Wim to suggest all the time to bring in the performance coach and ask his opinion. We are a football club. With a lot of experience in the organisation. I think that Frank, Marc and I are quite capable to see if an A talent is ready for the big team. I really don’t need Ruben Jongkind’s report for this (Jongkind was Ajax’ performance coach). Wim got influenced by these people, while his view on the game is unsurpassed.”

JOnk Dennis Inter


Better days for the ex Ajax and Inter team mates, winning the UEFA Cup

Everyone at Ajax says that they follow the Cruyff plan. But according to Cruyff this can only be said about Wim Jonk….

DB: “I think in essence we all do. It really hurts me in my soul if people doubt my loyalty to Johan’s vision. We all want to play attractive football, with home grown players and working on these players individually to make them better. But there ought to be some protocols, some methods as to how you do this. The first team needs to be leading and the youth academy is the source of future first team players.”

Johan officially stopped as Ajax advisor and recently is even a great criticaster of Ajax’ performances…

DB: “I think it is wonderful that he still follows Ajax closely. I want him to be critical. It’s great to talk football with him and although we share the same vision, we don’t always agree on certain things. We have different opinions about the midfield situation. I prefer to play with a number 10. I like the fact that there is a shadow striker available when the wingers pass their opponent. Also, with a number 10 in Litmanen style, you can put pressure on their build up high up the park. But, in some case a deep lying center midfielder is better. Depends also on the opponent. I do believe midfielders need to be able to play all those roles. Like Strootman, Pogba, Fabregas… Multi functional and we haven’t developed that well enough in the Academy. It applies to the forwards as well, for me. I’m talking working on their two feet, technical skills, explosivity, lungs and legs and the capability of finishing.”

DB jonk now


The psychic connection gone….

So, do you create talent or does talent simply come to Ajax?

DB: “Both! Real talent is God given. But to develop them with the broad spectrum of skills and capabilities is a different thing. I believe the foundation always is ball skills. Most other things we can train them in. And sure, there is room for a performance coach in that process, but only to support, not to be the leading guy in it all. There are a couple of 15 year olds now who can bench press their own weight. Great!! But I rather have them work on their weak foot or on heading or on set pieces… The rest will come.  And our youth teams need more resistance. They need to learn how to battle. It was good for Tete, Riedenwald, Veltman and Bazoer that they had to make their games with Young Ajax in the Jupiler league. There is a lot of battle going on there. They learned a lot there. More than they could from statistics or videos or performance analysis. We wanted to bring young A juniors to the A team to let them work with more resistance. Higher pace. But Jongkind blocked that as he felt they weren’t physically ready, and he let them go into the fitness room. They need to find their resistance on the pitch, not in a gym. When Johan coached us he was tough as nails. He was toughest for the big talents. Van Basten, Rijkaard. I was there…. And Ajax has been spoiling the biggest talents. They were told to skip training if it was all getting too much for them. Ajax’ youth academy has gone far beyond what their charter was.”


Now Said Quaali is taking over from Jonk. Why him?

DB: “He is interim. But we have him with us now for four years and he has impressed. He coordinates the older talent teams and did his practicum with us at the first team. Frank and I were impressed with him. He’s neutral, objective and loyal. You can rely on him. And it’s not like Wim Jonk did everything wrong. He did great things and we want to keep those. But I will get more involved now. I have started my assessment meetings and I will be more involved with the youth academy. The lines between the pro and junior departments are open again. The objective is clear: making sure our youngsters get ready for the first team, with Cruyff’s vision as the leading vision.”

How are you going to do this?

DB: “For starters, we need to bring harmony back. I also want to re-balance the ratio between ball practice and performance training. I want to skip a number of those for individual technical training. I heard some players actually get individual training outside of the club! That is the world upside down. I am also convinced the youngsters can handle more practice. When I was young, I hated a day without practice. It blocked your rhythm. We need to play more 11 v 11 practice games. Even if it is just 30 minutes. It creates strength. It all happens in the game. I also believe we spoil them too much. We have almost one physio per youth team. No wonder players suddenly feel all the little pains more. They tend to pick days to just get massages. It’s rubbish. Just run it off! Get on with it.”

Do you want the new Youth Academy director to be a man with an Ajax background?

DB: “Yes, that is ideal. We are working on a profile now. We’ll have some more meetings and make up our mind. I am not saying we don’t want to innovate with nutrition and medical approaches, but the football need to be central.”


Is it disappointing that this Ajax has difficulties against small European clubs, like Molde?

DB: “It is, but it is the result of an ever weakening of the Eredivisie. You see the level drop, due to different reasons, and as a result our levels drop too. There is less resistance. And when you play European, against Scandinavian teams or Turkish teams or Czech teams, they might have less real quality but they’re physically and mentally mature. We play with too many young players who still only focus on their own game. When you are around 35 years old you start to see more of the pitch, more of the team. Our lads have difficulties in toughter games, when the duels are tougher and the pace is higher. In Holland we win most of our games at 90%, we score two goals in the first 30 minutes and the pace drops. We simply play the game out. In tighter games, vs Feyenoord, PSV or European opponents, we find this tough. We need to be on the ball and focused for 100% and our players struggle with this. It’s no coincidence that we play well vs Man City and Man United and AC Milan but struggle against Molde…”

And when players get to that age and can do all what is needed, they’re signed by richer clubs….

DB: “That is our fate. Yes… And players will be tempted to go sooner, because big clubs make it hard for them to ignore those offers and because our level is dropping. If you can train daily with Aguero, Silva and Toure, that is quite attractive.. And play against Rooney, Ramsey and Kane… So we will need to work harder to keep them with us and to allow them a growth path. My career was a good example. I played in the Ajax youth and made it into the first team when I was 18 years old and I stayed for five years. When I was 23 I left and then you are starting to see the game. My first years at Inter were hard and when I got to Arsenal I was 25 years old. Great age to play for a big big club. I see myself as the culture guardian of Ajax. I will make more time for individual coaching and guidance and will form that bridge between youth and first team. I like to get a more free role in the organisation, with strategy being dealt with in the technical heart of the club and with individual focus with the talents. A lot that Jonk has done was excellent. But we need to re-focus ourselves to serve the bigger Ajax vision. That is our main mission.”


Bookmark and Share

Europe focuses on youth: Ajax leads the way

Dear reader, the blog techno geeks have updated the blog software for some reason but as a result I cannot get images to work :-(. I’ve spent three days hassling and trying and calling and what not. But I didn’t want to stop the progress of the posts.

So here is a post without images. Apologies. I will go after the bad guys.

The European top clubs are fed up. They do not want to pay top dollar anymore. They don’t want to pay top dollar to the “agents” and they need to prepare for the Financial Fair Play code coming up. Most clubs spend more on player-agents than their own youth academy. And now, the top clubs suggest a prohibition of under-aged transfers (trade).

One of Michel Platini’s supporters at the UEFA hq to implement the sane measures to make (keep) football healthy is Maarten Fontein. Dutch, former Unilever Asia CEO, former Ajax general manager and currently board member at AZ and UEFA strategy committee member.

Fonteijn presented his Youth Academy Strategic Plan last year to top officials of the major clubs in Europe and got a standing ovation. But not from his former club Ajax. The representative of Ajax left the room prior to Fonteijn ending his presentation.

“They are angry. We had to have some parameters, some place to start and we decided to start the youth CL with the youth teams of the clubs who qualified for the senior CL so to speak. Ajax was not happy, as they do not qualify every season. I understand their position, but Ajax was part of this whole project plan and during earlier meetings they never said anything….”

Ajax’ position is indeed understandable. Hardly any club in Europe spends so much on youth as Ajax does: 6 mio euros every year. More than – say – Bayern Munich or Inter Milan. Today, the youth competition in Europe was organised by NextGen and Ajax did so well in those competitions. Ajax went on a rampage in Europe beating the likes of Barcelona and Liverpool but bravado. This season, led by Danish talent Victor Fischer, Ajax has started where it left off.

The UEFA has executed a studies to compare the youth strategy of the different clubs and Barcelona is seen as the ultimate example. The only club to spend more on youth than Ajax, with 10 Mio euros per year. The authors of the report give kudos to Johan Cruyff as the architect of the Barca Academy. And the same foundations are now put in place in Amsterdam.

It’s remarkable how clubs like Bayern and Arsenal only spend half of Ajax’ spendings on their youth system. IT’s probably less lucrative to do? Although Ajax made 20 mio euros this summer out of the sale of Vertonghen and Anita. Not a bad result. Eclipsed by Inter, though. The Milan club made 74 Mio euros last year, with 24 Mio of that amount for one Balotelli.

Most clubs rather spend money transfer fees and agent commission, apparently. Instead of developing a culture and an academy, some clubs don’t mind their euros leaking away to Monaco or Zurich.

Among the authors of the report are famous names, like Liam Brady ( youth system manager at Arsenal) and Bodo Menze ( Schalke 04). The authors seemed to be infused with Cruyffian wisdoms: scouting needs to be part of the technical heart of the club….

Ajax is mentioned a lot. Any club delivering talents like Cruyff, Van Basten, Keizer, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Kluivert, Davids, Van der Vaart, Sneijder and now Eriksen would get attention.

Wim Jonk is interviewed for the report and says: “I never pay attention to who won or what the results was. I look at the way a player runs. When he makes the decision to press or in what circumstance he tracks back. The will to go and play. Their creativity… These factors are key for their development. I know at Inter, youth academy is set up to prepare boys to become men very quickly. Pushing iron, running, etc.”

Another factor the report brings up is the borderline slave-trade aspect. Young kids lured to come to European cities for money. Poor families in Brazil, Uruguay, Nigeria or South Africa are highly keen to facilitate. But there are many stories of how these things can go wrong. Leonardo, signed by Feyenoord at a young age, complete got derailed. And Ajax does this too… There are as many foreign kids in Amsterdam as there are in London (Arsenal) or Munich.

Signing young players is a bit like doping in cycling. Everyone does it, no one wants to talk about it. Chelsea was banned from making more transfers when they signed Gael Kakuta some time back. The player got a 800,000 euro fine. Kakuta has seen different clubs in England and France and is now on loan at Vitesse. If you’d like to go and watch a youth game of a good level (say, at Feyenoord, Ajax or Sparta) you will see many expensive cars on the parking lot. Agents, scouts, managers….

And the big clubs spend money like there is no tomorrow. Man City and Chelsea have more than enough players to field 4 senior teams. These four teams would all win the title in Holland, finger in nose.

Clubs like Barca and Real Madrid have extremely debts to pay for their exploits. Debts bigger than the total turnover of the Eredivisie. This has nothing to do with honest sports anymore.

When Anzhi came past in Holland to take care of AZ and Vitesse, these two ambitious midtable Dutch clubs were taken to the cleaners. No chance in the Europa League for those clubs, this year. And Feyenoord failed to qualify for the CL as they simply weren’t able to secure the full squad (Pelle in particular) before the end of August.

This is where Dutch football is, internationally.

But obviously, FFP (Financial Fair Play) will change a lot. Today, clubs like Real Madrid and Man City have what Michael van Praag calls “collectors’ greed”. They have close to 60 players in their squads and simply buy up talents. This is not longer going to be tolerated. Limited number of players per club.

Talents are also obliged to sign their first contract with the club where they are developed and once a player is transferred the new club will need to pay a higher “development fee”. This is all done to motivate clubs to develop their own players.

A cricital note towards Ajax: the Sons of Gods lament all this talent scouting by the big clubs, but reality is, that they do the same thing but on a lower level. Where Ajax fears the power of Man City and Madrid, clubs like Kopenhagen and Malmo get the shivers when an Ajax scout appears.

On average, 3 of the 100 youngsters in the European clubs are foreigners. At Ajax, this percentage is higher than average: 5%. Ajax’ youth is as international as the youth of Barca, Arsenal or Inter. The only two clubs with more foreign talent in the youth are Barca and Sporting Lisbon.

Ajax may have one of the most successful youth academies, they also have the most expensive one. Ajax injects 6 mio euros every year into the youth plan. Barca invests 10 mio euros, as mentioned but as a % of their yearly turnover, it’s actually not that much. Ajax’ % going to youth, is close to 5%, Barca only commits 2,5% to the academy. Arsenal spent twice the amount of their youth academy on players’ agents commission!

Sporting Lisbon is by far the most aggressive club in scouting. They employ 150 scouts across Europe and lead the way. Ajax is number 2 with a mere 55 scouts… Inter Milan is third on the list, with Standard Luik, Barcelona and Bayern Munich right behind, with 37 and 36 scouts respectively.

Bookmark and Share