The Magic of Santiago Bernabeu

Tonight, Ajax will play in one of the most impressive venues in the world, the Santiago Bernabeu. What is the magic of this particular home of Real Madrid.

“The stands, the pitch, the name even….”.

Leo Beenhakker is walking through the stadium and feels at home, clearly. Hands in pocket, talking in fluent Spanish with people he knows for a long time. He shares photo opps with unknowns and lights a little cigar.

Don Leo switches between Spanish, Dutch, English… And says “a beautiful house is not always a home… But Bernabeu is all of that. Look at those stands. Even empty it’s a beauty to behold. Once 100,000 people start breathing in your neck, you’ll go berserk,” says the former Ajax and Feyenoord coach who led Real as coach twice, from 1986-89 and from 1991-92.

Don Leo is back in Madrid, invited by Ajax. “The magic of Bernabeu is obviously the massive history. This stadium was the home of so many great players, big games, finales, ECs, WCs… And you smell it, you feel it, you can taste it. And once that stadium explodes the players get a kick and opponents feel intimidated. It’s like Broadway for actors or Madison Square Garden for musicians. It’s the top.”

Beenhakker returns home

Leo isn’t alone. With him, a number of great ex-wingers from Ajax are present. Mr Ajax Sjaak Swart, Bryan Roy, Johnny Rep… The latter: “Wow, this is something eh? I’m happy we are seated on the lower stands. If you need to climb to the third tier now, we’d be broken before the game even starts,” the former Golden Boy winks. “Did you know I scored a hat trick here, once? It was a friendly…”.

The Bernabeu was built in 1947 and club legend Alfredo Di Stefano has his own seat in the stands. Rep played here often, with Ajax and later with Valencia. “The seats are so close onto the pitch, it feels as if the people come up to you.”

Bryan Roy, John Rep, Sjaak Swart

Young Ricardo van Rhijn is visibly enjoying himself. Last year, when Ajax battled Real Madrid, the right full back played with the C-team but today he is a firm starter in Ajax and close to being one in Oranje. And he can “add” the Bernabeu to his list of big venues, with the stadiums of Man United, Man City and Borussia Dortmund. “The Bernabeu was on my list, for sure. I think you can proudly say you played there…”

Gerrie Muhren became famous thanks the Ajax away game against Madrid in 1972. He kept the ball high on his foot for a bit. “The Real players didn’t dare to attack me. The people gave me an ovation for it,” the Ajax midfielder says. His picture is still to be seen in the Real Madrid Museum in the stadium. “It’s like a temple and is part of that infamous list of sensational venues… Wembley, Azteken, Maracana… The name itself… Santiago Bernabeu… Sounds so good. I hope they never break this down.”

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  1. not sure if real madrid laid back or ajax finally woke up..
    the 2nd half is totally another story
    Ajax should have score at least one of the full chance
    making it 3-2 doesnt sound too bad

    well(again) at least we beat Man city

    1. The difference between the first and second halves is that in the second half we actually had a DM who could play football. that is, until FdB put Enoh on in the last ten minutes

    1. i think they afraid of real madrid too much
      after they chased 1 goal, the game was different
      although ajax did not score more, real madrid was forced to use more foul and collected 2 yellow cards(both foul on boerrigter)

  2. sad to see ajax like this….

    anyways, i’d like to see ajax take on barca and see they fair against the best team in the world. FdB got balls so i think they’ll definitely be out there attacking… next yrs UCL?

  3. As a lifelong Ajax fan since the 70’s, I have to question if there is any way back from this…..
    I do not blame the club.
    I do not blame the management.
    I blame the players who deserted us over the years, who sought the monetary returns over the glory and the privilege.
    If enough players had played ‘for the badge’ we would have had a team to rival any other right now. And their lusted money would have followed. But no.
    This is the Dutch disease. One player leaves, then another, then another, then pretty soon it becomes fashionable club policy to sell. Then this itself becomes normal.
    Our youngsters will only last for so long. And they will only keep coming through the academy for so long.
    The rest of Europe is catching up.
    Ajax, once strong and mighty, are now merely whipping boys for the established elite.
    This is the way of things.
    Imagine if the Sneijders, the Van Der Vaarts of this world had half the loyalty of the Gerrards, the Giggses. Imagine the team, the reputation, the trophies we would have now.
    And imagine if all players wanted to play for Ajax, as was once the case. Imagine how good our National team would be with all our best players playing together every week.
    I see no way back from this, and I am sad.

    1. @ King, Tiju is right its all about the money. Gerrard plays for a big english club that pays much more than any dutch club could offer. If Gerrard played for PSV or Ajax i’m sure he’d leave too for more money. why settle for 1m salary when you can earn 6m playing abroad… its not a dutch disease, every player regardless of nationality would do the same.

  4. Sure, talentwise, RM is a step above Ajax. But Ajax are professionals, and they are supposed to show up: go in hard on a tackle, close down the ball (Kaka’s goal: it was as if the Ajax players felt like they had to remain a respectful distance), run at the defense when they had the opportunity). They did none of this until the 2nd half. Sometimes in athletics a team runs up against an opponent that is just better, but there is never an excuse for not competing, and Ajax didn’t last night.

  5. Please forgive me for a tangent away from Ajax-RM, but I just read the following article which while having nothing to do with football/voetbal/soccer triggered a reflection in me re. why I watch Oranje:

    I did not 100% enjoy oranje’s wonderful run at WK2010, which I found a bit puzzling. This article has brought things into focus for me a bit. Let me share my reflections, then I’d love to hear from others why you watch Oranje.

    I want to see Oranje win, but not at all costs. As a kid at Be Quick in Haren, GN, I learned to love little things that make football beautiful for me — a one-two in tight space; a perfectly timed, hard but clean tackle; an interception of an anticipated pass, followed by a swift counter-attack; switching the point of attack at just the right time; a long diagonal ball to reward a timely run; a crunching back-tackle after a box-to-box chase following a turnover.

    I also learned to love the camaraderie of football — with teammates, with opponents after a hard-fought game, with fellow fans, even with supporters of teams I “love to hate” (provided they’re in good spirits and lovers of banter versus battery).

    Above all, I learned to revel in moments of inspiration technically and tactically sound players with telepathic connections to longstanding teammates can generate when operating within a system that allows for creative expression. Those moments elevate football to a form of art that at least for a time causes the cares of everyday life to recede.

    Now, any group of players with a sound foundation and solid understanding of each other and what they’re trying to do together can generate these moments on occasion. That’s why I’m a life-long football player — even I can get my jollies on the field on occasion. But there’s nothing better than watching world-class teams play with exuberance and inspiration — for this godless heathen, it’s the closest thing to touching the divine.

    That’s the #1 reason why I bleed orange. Save perhaps Brazil, Nederland is the only country with a cult of beautiful football. Just winning is not good enough — you have to respect the game, cherish the game, play the game RIGHT. And you need to make sure that the integrity of the game is preserved for future generations, by grooming and indoctrinating young players at every level.

    I love being a member of the cult of orange, a virtual commune of the beautifully insane glued across the globe to TVs, radios, computers, smartphones, tablets, all sweating the smallest things and second guessing every coaching every decision. We revel not only in the grand, has-our-time-finally-come moments of WKs and EKs, but in youtube clips of ’74 and pirate-streamed friendlies with glimpses of a glorious tomorrow. We live in a shared continuum of past, present, and future that regulates the pace of our hearts and the flow of our blood.

    WK2010 felt a half-step below who we aspire to be. We do not play 4-2-3-1. We are a 4-3-3 (or any number of other tactical variants that don’t devote 6 players to battening down the hatches) people, come what may. The first 20 minutes of EK2012, I felt the joy swelling up. Then our boys gave up a goal, succombed to fear, and we all know what came next.

    Here’s to you all, and here’s to the boys of Oranje. When our WK day in the sun finally comes, it will be glorious.

      1. not unlucky. They created lots of chances, but their strikers couldn’t finish. Ola John created quite a number of good chances. But like I said, not unlucky, if you can’t get a good shot off, you don’t deserve to score

  6. what do you think about Moisander yesterday? the first two RM goals were his fault because of his bad position.

    And Poulsen… Ajax need Anita back. or another player like him. Poulsen doesn’t work in this 433 Ajax.

  7. I think Blind is too calm sometimes. The first goal was a gift almost. Everyone watched Ronaldo run and not followed him. The closest was Blind. The team seems to lack some fighting spirit, as if they don’t believe they have any chance at all. F. de Boer seems the most passionate one.

  8. Very dispointing results in EL, as we know that last few seasons dutch clubs was very unlucky to meet tought opponents too soon, but this year there is no excuse.
    Tweente sits bottom of the group, PSV can’t compete against Dnipro, an unknown club from somewhere…

  9. Will Ajax want to win Europa League or will Ajax focus on Eredivisie title? Notable teams: Liverpool, Lyon, Inter, Atletico Madrid, Chelsea, Benfica. What do you think?

    Europa League final 32 teams:
    Group winners (seeded)
    Liverpool FC, FC Viktoria Plzeň, Fenerbahçe SK, FC Girondins de Bordeaux, FC Steaua Bucureşti, FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk, KRC Genk, FC Rubin Kazan, Olympique Lyonnais, S.S. Lazio, FC Metalist Kharkiv, Hannover 96.
    Runners-up (unseeded)
    FC Anji Makhachkala, Club Atlético de Madrid, VfL Borussia Mönchengladbach, Newcastle United FC, VfB Stuttgart, SSC Napoli, FC Basel 1893, FC Internazionale Milano, AC Sparta Praha, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Bayer 04 Leverkusen, Levante UD.
    Transferred from the UEFA Champions League
    Chelsea FC, CFR 1907 Cluj, Olympiacos FC, SL Benfica, FC Dynamo Kyiv, FC Zenit St Petersburg, AFC Ajax, FC BATE Borisov.

  10. Chelsea, Inter,Zenit, Liverpool, Totenham, Lyon are still stronger sides than Ajax, take a miracle for Ajax to win it.
    Chelsea degraded to EL only a year after winning CL?
    I think there should be a rule to strip of CL title if they can not at least pass group stage.

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