Tag: Keizer

Ajax’ nightmare season

In typical Dutch form, people will immediately say: “Who is to blame?”. The answer is not very straightforward. Lets first look at the problem.

Ajax was having a decent run in the past seasons. Frank de Boer did ever so well winning titles and turning the poor Ajax into a cash rich club, with some amazing outgoing transfers putting some fat on the bone. Peter Bosz came in and turned De Boer’s boring Ajax into a free-flowing attacking machine, but Bosz ended his 1 season spell with Ajax when Van der Sar refused to work with Bosz on a reshuffling of the backroom staff.

Marc Overmars was acting as technical director, but mainly with a focus on contracts and signing and selling players. The Ajax Technical Triangle was supposed to take care of the football (De Boer, Bergkamp, Ouaali).

The two friends, Dirty Marc and “I haven’t seen anything untoward” Van der Sar

Overmars was kept out of the decision to block Bosz’ plans and allowed Bergkamp his spot in the sun.

Bosz left and not much later, Dennis Bergkamp – Bosz antagonist – also had to leave.

But Bergkamp was fully in control when he was at Ajax and ushered in Marcel Keizer as the replacement for Bosz. Not a bad decision, mind you. Keizer was successful as a coach on the second tier level at Cambuur and as a real Ajax man (his uncle was Piet Keizer), he also coached Ajax 2 and impressed with that team (which had the likes of Van de Beek, De Ligt, Frenkie and Appie Nouri).

Keizer is also a close friend of Bergkamp, so the two set out to lead Ajax. The Nouri situation – the brilliant ballplayer had heart failure in a friendly in the pre-season and due to the late response, he survived the ordeal but that is about it….the poor lad is confined to his bed for the rest of his life – made matters tough for the young coach and the whole team or even club suffered through trauma that season.

Overmars decided to take the reins back from Bergkamp and organised a coup, in which both Keizer and Bergkamp had to make way. Keizer was on title course and would later impress in the Portuguese competition and in the sandpit. Bergkamp never pursued his career elsewhere and became a bit of a football recluse.

Now Overmars was in charge and he quickly lured his friend Erik ten Hag away from FC Utrecht. Ten Hag had had success with Overmars’ first love Go Ahead Eagles and Mark had always planned to get Ten Hag to Amsterdam.

The duo was quite successful, as we know. Overmars dealing with transfers and contracts, Ten Hag dealing with the first team and the results and Van der Sar safely away from the front, dealing with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the sponsors, the board of directors and any other non-football topic.

At that time, Danny Blind was the football man in the Board and he would be an intrinsic part of Overmars little cabal.

And boy, what was Overmars good at his job. And how horrible did he behave when it wasn’t about football.

Overmars telling inappropriate jokes to Sar?

Despite being married to a former Miss Universe (or Miss Holland, not sure), he couldn’t resist using his powerful position at Ajax to bother and hassle the young ladies working at the social media/marketing department of Ajax. And it went further than texting them invites for dinner. The diminutive former winger enjoyed taking pictures of his …less diminutive mini-me and sent them to the ladies in question, who apparently were to scared to report him to the general manager. One key reason: the general manager (yes Edwin van der Sar) knew this was happening and was part of the sexist cabal at Ajax, enjoying inappropriate humor.

Van der Sar protected his powerful friend but when the news broke in the media, it was clear that the former Arsenal and Barca man had to leave.

So, many things had gone wrong already by that time. But Van der Sar took it a bit further. Instead of trying to replace Overmars with a heavyweight – but with manners – he decided to give newcomer Huntelaar and scout Hamstra the joint role of technical director (not in name though).

Oops. Exposed. But a bit too much exposed.

And obviously, both were too lightweight, inexperienced and unconnected to step into Overmars boots. And what people do forget: he is a very good negotiator. He made money playing football and but multiplied his money by dealing in property and classic cars. Huntelaar and Hamstra are definitely people with expertise and added value but they’re no Overmars.

And it showed, this season. Lisandro Martinez left for Man United. Bassey was brought in. Gravenberch left for Bayern, Austrian midfielder Grillisch is his replacement. And so on.

I believe Sar never replaced Overmars, because he hoped (planned?) to get the speedy ex-winger back after a couple of months of “distance from the club”. But it didn’t happen. And when Alfred Schreuder, assisted by his agent, started to “help” Ajax to more new signings, things turned for the worst.

Ocampos was on the wishlist and Ajax would have signed him for 30+ million euros, if the Board of Directors hadn’t intervened. They forced Ajax to take him on a loan basis. And less than 6 months later, the winger was sent back to Spain as he was never able to convince anyone in Amsterdam.

Ocampos failure

But it went further downhill, as Schreuder lost the dressing room due to several bad decisions. His treatment of Daley Blind (who left after the World Cup), his decision to protect Tadic and never sub him, his decision to not use newcomer Wijndal but try Blind, Bassey and Rensch on that spot, the list goes on.

Daley Blind’s exit had another consequence for the club: highly rated Danny Blind – sounding board for coaches and technical management – could not continue his director’s role what with Daley being pushed out unceremoniously. And again, it appeared that Van der Sar and the Board did not have a shadow list waiting in the drawer.

They didn’t have one for Overmars. Not for Danny Blind and when stalwarts like Michael Reiziger and Academy director Said Ouaali announced their exits too, it was quite clear things are a bit fishy in Amsterdam.

John Heitinga was pushed forward when Schreuder was sacked. Much like his old team mate Van Nistelrooy at PSV, Heitinga planned to build up his career with care and consideration. The former Everton defender managed Ajax 2 and was about to start as Schreuder’s assistant but was propelled into the hot seat immediately.

So now, Ajax is re-building. They were able to get former midfielder Jan van Halst in as new football director in the board of directors. They installed Heitinga for this season, with Dwight Lodeweges as he new assistant and they finally signed a technical director – Sven Mislintat –  to replace Overmars, who seems to be enjoying his time at FC Antwerp, with Mark van Bommel. I personally believe Mislintat could well be the right choice, as he has quite a strong resume and clearly adores Ajax.

So, in conclusion, I think its fair to say that after the mismatch of Bosz-Bergkamp-Overmars-Van der Sar, the combination of Ten Hag-Overmars (without Sar) worked amazingly well. There is no need for me to list the achievements of Ten Hag at Ajax.

But when Overmars had to take his leave, Van der Sar needed more than 12 months (!) to replace him. Imagine that, your key guy in the organisation. And it’s not like Van der Sar was ambushed by the dick-pics, he knew about it. So his lack of taking action resulted in a head coach (Schreuder) who was drowning from day 1. And in hindsight, Schreuder also didn’t do himself many favours with his headstrong attitude within the club.

Heitinga with new technical director Sven Mislintat

The combi Ten Hag – Overmars was replaced by Schreuder-Huntelaar-Hamstra and that combination had no chance!

Ajax’ terrible season – in my view – is another nudge of the keepers gloves of Van der Sar. His list of failings is becoming very long.

And if things turn really sour for Ajax this coming weekend – away versus in form Twente – they might end up playing conference league football next season.

The only bonus: last year, when Van der Sar was asked about having to play in the conference league potentially in the future, his answer was: I will not be with the club when that happens. And the fans will now clutch that claim to their chest. The only silver lining in case Ajax finishes 4th this season.

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Hot Deals! Dutch coaches available with discount!

Today, you can’t even “park” an article for a week or it has become almost obsolete. While prepping this post, Ajax unceremoniously dumped Mr Ajax Dennis Bergkamp, up and coming coach Marcel Keizer and old-hand Henny Spijkerman. The story of a hidden power struggle within Ajax.

When Cruyff’s velvet revolution was going full speed, the maestro preached that ex-players should run the club. According to his vision, Edwin van der Sar – graduate of the Cruyff Academy – was put in management. Marc Overmars came in to oversee technical affairs, and Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk – once a unit on the pitch – were brought in to focus on player development and the through-put of talents towards the first team. Coach Frank de Boer, a passerby per definition, was also part of the so-called Technical Heart.

Since then, and since Cruyff’s passing to God’s perfect pitch, things have changed. The technical heart was reduced to an advisory role. Most decision making was hampered by this consensus model and since Jonk and Bergkamp in particular could never find consensus, Marc Overmars was promoted to Technical Director, and the Heart became a group of advisers. Coach De Boer left the Heart, as he was a mere passerby. When Jonk took his leave, the role of the new Youth Academy director was diminished.

Aron Winter, Marcel Keizer, Henny Spijkerman, Carlo L’Ami

When Peter Bosz wanted to structurally change things at Ajax – he wanted to have Bergkamp, Spijkerman and L’Ami replaced – Van de Sar decided against this. Exit Bosz. Bergkamp took the reigns and suggested a young, influenceable coach. His old mate Marcel Keizer was the choice. He was successful with Ajax 2. He would be the man to bring Van de Beek, De Jong, Nouri, Kluivert and De Ligt into Ajax 1. Overmars wasn’t sure. He wanted to interview a large group of candidates and was particularly keen to get Michael Laudrup. Bergkamp won.

However, with the dramatic European campaign, the shuffles made by Keizer, the lack of clarity and the inconsistent results, the board and Van de Sar/Overmars were getting more and more convinced they made a mistake. This young group needed someone with clarity. With vision and who could bring results.

Overmars and Bergkamp clashed more and more and the enigmatic former Gunner was not an easy counterpart in discussions. The board supported Sar/Overmars to relief Bergkamp from his – vague – duties. Marcel Keizer was to be replaced as well and Spijkerman – buddy buddy with Dennis – was told to pack up as well.

Dennis and Marc in better days

Now, Overmars had won.

A strange series of affairs, for the outside world. But internally, the tension had been there for a while. The loss in the National Cup vs Twente was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

All focus is now aimed at FC Utrecht coach Erik ten Hag. It was Marc Overmars who signed Ten Hag as Go Ahead Eagles coach. Ten Hag got Eagles to the top level and made a move to Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. When he returned to the Eredivisie, he impressed highly with struggling FC Utrecht. Alfred Schreuder, once the crown prince of the Dutch coaching club and currently assistent at Hoffenheim, is supposed to be his assistant at Ajax. The Sons of Gods will have to fork out close to $1mio to pay off Utrecht. Schreuder can be brought in at no additional cost.

Reiziger and Bogarde

An excellent article from AD Premium by Maarten Wijffels and Sjoerd Mossou.

Ronald Koeman was considered distant and arrogant at Everton. Bosz was considered naive and reckless in Dortmund. Frank de Boer was called rigid at Palace. In Hamburg, Van Marwijk was named lazy and oldfashioned. Even Louis van Gaal got the label boring in Manchester.

All exaggerated characterizations of course. But, it does paint a picture of the Dutch coach in 2017. Basically, they’re arrogant, rigid, lazy men who think in the same tactical dogmas as they did twenty years ago.

We do not have any Dutch football coach working in the big European leagues. Even Albert Stuivenberg, in Belgium, had to pack his bags recently.

The Dutch coach, once a renowned export product (Hiddink, Advocaat, Beenhakker, Stevens, Koeman, Van Gaal, Adriaanse) is out of fashion. Only Henk ten Cate produces results, while Van Marwijk recently helped Saudi Arabia to the World Cup.

Erik ten Hag

Chris van Puyvelde, the technical director of Belgium’s football federation: “Whenever I came in China or the US in the past, they wanted to talk about our beer or our chocolate. Now, they say: if you have all this talent, you probably produce really good coaches too. Why would a foreign club want a Dutch coach today?”

Twenty years ago, it was different. The Dutch coaches were miles ahead, tactically. Progressive, good communicators and adventurous. Peter Hyballa, product of a Dutch mother and German father, and ex-coach of NEC Nijmegen: “Oh boy, when I was a kid in Germany, I’d watch Dutch football all the time. You were trailblazers, so much further than we were. The way your television discussed football, about roles, tactics, zonal marking, a whole new world opened up for me.”

Hyballa goes on: “But the thing is, what you did, other nations started to do that too. But better. Germany, Spain, France they copied your football vision and integrated it with their strengths. Its more intense, faster, with more flexibility. Your football has never evolved. In Germany, most football experts recognise this.”

So how can be break out of this. How can the Dutch coach get his status back? Where are the successors to Van Gaal and Hiddink?

Peter Hyballa

The problem is, all the exits we’ve seen in the past seasons are all individual cases. Peter Bosz’ fate is not connected to Stuivenberg’s. And Koeman is not the same man or coach as Frank de Boer.

The KNVB has changed the coach development program this year. They want more diversity. Not just ex players but young turks and experienced amateur coaches. To break the mould and add new moulds to it. There is now room for a Dutch Diego Simeone. Or a version of Maurizio Sarri, the Napolo coach. Who used to be a bank director before he turned to coaching.

KVNB coaching trainer Frans de Kat: “We used to offer one standard course in the past. Now we turned it around. The student is schooling himself and we support him.”

Almost anything in Holland leads to controversy and discussion. Ex-international John Heitinga – he played a World Cup final! – was rejected for the training course, this erupted into a media storm. The KNVB philosophy seems contrary to Cruyff’s vision that ex pro players need to get a role in football management. Peter Hyballa: “You guys seem to stuck in this old boys network of former players, it’s institutionalised in the Dutch way of thinking about football.”

Van Puyvelde seems to agree: “Your media, the club management and even the public, they all seem to cling on to the same old names.”

Hyballa: In Holland, people are scared to go beyond their standard little club. If an outsider comes in, it’s “what has he achieved?” or “who does he think he is?”. Judge people on their work, their content. Don’t keep cooking in your own little kitchen with the windows closed.”

Van Puyvelde, who lived and worked in The Netherlands, points to another situation. “Discussing things is and has been your forte. But having a discussion is only relevant when you can couple it to a decision. If Cruyff said something to Michels, Michels would put it to use. Cruyff did the same with his players, and so did Van Gaal. They had the strength and the ability to execute.”

“Now, it seems you are debating constantly, with egos involved and “not invented here” mentality. There are no decision being made.”

Cruyff and Guardiola

Peter Hyballa uses Germany as a reference. A place where coaches without a strong professional background are picked. “We opened it up. But you need balls, people with the guts to make those decisions. You have to go for quality and let go of the past. You have to be ruthless.”

Young coaches, the so-called laptop coaches, are modernising German football. The German federation was responsible for this culture shift. “This is why Thomas Tuchel got his chance at Mainz. Or I got the Alemannia Aachen job. And then Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim and Wolf at Schalke. A good coach is someone who works hard, constantly develops and invest in themselves. Every day. It’s not about how big your name is or who good you were as a player.”

Take Hein Vanhaezebrouck in Belgium. A self-made man. Made AA Gent champions in 2015 and even got through the group stage in the CL. Now, he is responsible for the direct, modern game of Anderlecht. His style is direct. This guy would fit a club like Feyenoord. But can you imagine the commentary: “What does this fat Belgium guy do here? Is he going to coach us?”

Hein Vanhaezebrouck

Hyballa: “Players today are more ego-centric than ever. It’s about them. They’re not interested in the goal you scored against AC Milan in 1999. They want a coach who makes them better. To bring them to the top. They judge a coach on his coaching methods, his communication skills, his tools and the specific training sessions. Your career, 20 years ago? Who cares…”

He continues: “You can’t survive with the experience you had as a player, doing a practice in the morning, play golf in the afternoon and go home at 4 pm. These laptop coaches, they had to work. Year in year out. Develop themselves. You need energy. Do away with the complacency and the self-obsessed.”

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What’s the status with the Eredivisie’s Big 3?

All three Dutch top clubs have a challenge to deal with. Feyenoord won the title, which resulted in a seismic eruption of elation, joy, relief and pride. It won the National Cup the season before and apprentice Gio became the Meistermacher or Champions maker, and with a cockiness befitting a champion he now has to go for his sophomore album. The season after. Ajax had a wonderful second season half with an unexpected Europa League finals and breathtaking football (at times). But the loss of Peter Bosz and the exit of Davy Klaassen and potential other players leaving (Dolberg? Sanchez?) makes next season a tough one. And remember, Ajax hasn’t won silverware two seasons in a row now, so… And PSV? Well, their season was a wet fart, really. No excitement, no results, no outstanding players or performances and no European continuation of the season before. Embarrassing almost.

PSV will have to renovate and will want to renovate. Marcel Brands, technical director, seems to cop the most blame for not allowing Cocu to field a team with all positions covered by specialists. Brands allowed Narsingh to leave without having any real alternative. Resulting in Luuk de Jong having to deal with two wingmen who weren’t wingmen. Ramselaar on the left wing? An insult to the dynamic midfielder. Locadio on the left wing? He’s a centre striker. Pereiro on the right wing? No speed, no explosivity. And always coming inside to find the shortest way to goal.

cocu de jong

Luuk de Jong, the former talisman, skipper and leader of the team lost form in an incredible manner. I think he must have missed at least 15 opportunities which would have been surefire goals the season before. And that also a season in which Jetro Willems was outstanding and delivered many fantastic assists from the left. Without him this season, Luuk de Jong was harmless. Van Ginkel was brought in and so was Siem de Jong, but the midfield lacked pace, guile and class. Guardado, the leader and captain in midfield was less forcefully present than in previous seasons and Davey Propper dropped form from the moment Zenit St Petersburg knocked on the door.

Guardado will leave for Betis Sevilla. Jetro Willems is most likely on his way out to Turkey. Moreno, the central defender, is gone already. Davey Propper might leave for Zenit this summer. Cocu will want a sweet revenge on last season and he’ll need some fresh players in the squad. A loan deal for Vincent Janssen has been discussed with Spurs and if that happens, Luuk de Jong might even fear for his spot. Marco van Ginkel wants to stay at PSV and might take the role of Guardado, while Jorit Hendrix deserves his opportunity to play. Just like Ramselaar deserves a spot in midfield where he belongs. Two new wingers will be high on the list for Brands and Cocu, as will two full backs And full backs are in fashion this summer. Both Feyenoord and Ajax need a couple as well. With Jeroen Zoet being courted by Napoli, and Pasveer – the second goalie – already gone, PSV might also go shopping for goalies.


In Eindhoven, there are some envious looks going towards Amsterdam and Rotterdam. 27Mio for Klaassen, approx 30 mio for Kongolo/Karsdorp. Some loose change for Tete and Elia. While PSV was able to just get 6 mio for Moreno who’s off to Roma. PSV’s focus will also turn to the youth. And why not: they do have some pretty good striker talents coming through (thanks to the work of Luc Nilis and Ruud van Nistelrooy, among others) and Cocu has invited three youngsters to join the A-squad this summer.

Ajax endured the shock exit of Peter Bosz. Everyone understands that when a CL level club comes for a coach, in a country where the paycheck is substantially higher, he is not criticised if he takes the job. But Bosz also claims to have left because the relationships in the technical staff were toxic. Dennis Bergkamp: “That hurt me in my soul, you know? I just don’t buy it. He worked here all season, he never said anything about this to anyone, and a day before Dortmund calls he suddenly has differences with me and L’Ami? As if I am difficult to work with? Come on! And I don’t get it? Why not say “I’m going for my ambitions, the money, the challenge!”. We are proud at Ajax when a player we developed or a coach who had success here moves on to better pastures. We get that. But why did he need to use those reasons to justify his leaving? The emotions have settled with me now, but at the time I was furious.”

So there was no conflict between you and the backroom staff and him and Kruzen?

“Not as it was described. We had our differences and we had firm discussions about football, but that is part of the job! You need to have these. And it’s not like I would walk out and bang the door shut. He’s the main man, the head coach so he decides. I respect that. It was about pure football stuff, the training build up, the intensity… Technical stuff. Nothing political or personal. And always respectful. Like I also worked with De Boer. But we have Ajax DNA. We are direct, confrontational and speak our minds. Maybe that was part of the problem. Versleijen was Bosz’ guiding light re: intensity training and all that. We decided at Ajax to abandon his philosophy. Marcel Keizer will work according to the Ajax way and this is one of the advantages if you have not only players moving up through the system, but also coaches.”

You had to leave the bench and sit in the stands, was that a problem for you?

“Not at all. My role changed. Under Frank I was assistant coach. Now I am training players individually and I coordinate the bridge between youth academy and the professional squad. Henny and Hendrie were the real assistant coaches, so Peter needed them. Henny Spijkerman is a genius in reading a game. He is the first one to spot where things don’t flow and he’s the one with the quickest solution. He was needed. Carlo L’Ami is the man for dead ball situations. Organisation. Like many ex-keepers they see the shape and have a good insight into who marks who, and all that. But Henny was not so happy with the way he could work under Bosz, but that was addressed. Henny would go to Young Ajax this coming season.”


But Bosz did want to make changes in the staff and you didn’t allow this?

“Not me. Nothing to do with me, Dennis Bergkamp. It’s Ajax! When Peter had his evaluation with Edwin van der Sar, I wasn’t even present. But Ajax, by voice of Edwin and Overmars, will not allow a coach, a passerby, to determine the structure of Ajax. We work like we do, with reason. The new coach can bring in his own assistant, and that’s it. That was not a conflict. It was a suggestion from Bosz and Ajax said NO. Next subject, you know?”

And now, Marcel Keizer…

“A great choice and you will like this: we already knew that Marcel would succeed Bosz. We just didn’t think he had to do it this soon. We signed Bosz for three seasons, so Marcel had some more time. But taking everything into account, we knew he was the one. The Ajax DNA I mentioned before is key. And we know how he trains, how he works, communicates. It was a no brainer really. The only thing is: how will he handle the pressure of the platform… But then again, he will have to start at some stage. Now, in 3 years… Cocu, Gio, Pep, Ronald Koeman, they all had to have their go at some stage.”

Sadly, it seems Appie Nouri will not be playing too much top football the coming weeks as he sadly was hospitalized as a result of heart rhythm issues during the practice camp in Austria. The young and highly talented midfielder was treated on the pitch for 20 minutes or so before he was choppered to the hospital. He’s not in life threatening danger, Ajax stated. If that is the best they can share, you know it’s a serious matter. Riedewald, in the meantime, has discussed his exit with Marcel Keizer. The young talent is being courted by several clubs. “I was really happy to stay at Ajax and go for my chances, but there is some serious interest out there and am open for it. Big clubs from big competitions. I explained this to Ajax and they won’t make it hard for me. Mind you, this has nothing to do with coach Keizer. I think he is the ideal choice for the club and I support him 100%.”

keizer emotie

An emotional Marcel Keizer waiting for news on Nouri

The Eredivisie champions and CL qualifiers have lost more players than expected, but they also lost someone else. General Manager Eric Gudde has resigned and will leave the club in November. The man who took the job almost 10 years ago, when Feyenoord was close to bankruptcy. Who had to take some harsh decision and take risky offers from investors to keep the club alive. Who had to put top talents like Wijnaldum and Fer in the shop window to survive. Both players going to direct rivals. He made his decision the day after the title was won. Feyenoord is more alive than ever! The biggest club in the country, when determined by followers (Ajax is the biggest in trophies). And financially healthy. But only just.

Gio van Bronckhorst and Martin van Geel knew that Elia wanted to move on. One more big step up. They knew Berghuis was going to have to go back to Watford. Dirk Kuyt was a question mark but he retired from football. If he wouldn’t have, his role would have been diminished anyway. Elia resulted in a smallish transfer fee (2 mio euros). But Rick Karsdorp has suitors as well, mention even of the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “When I win the title with Feyenoord, I will move on” he said in an interview before last season. And now he won it and AS Roma came knocking with a checkbook. And Feyenoord welcomed the 14 mio+ for the full back. Van Geel was quick to find a successor, even with Nieuwkoop in the squad, and got Kevin Diks on a loan deal in. Fairly unexpected, Feyenoord got to cash in another 15 mio euro cheque, this time for Terence Kongolo. The 23 year old will play his football at AS Monaco next season. Quite a big move for the talented defender. So, approximately 30 mio coming in and with Diks, the return of the lost son JP Boetius and the young Amrabat Feyenoord will prepare for next season. AZ full back Haps will get on the short list for sure, and Steven Berghuis might well return to the Kuip as well. Among all of that, the name of Robin van Persie also floats around in Rotterdam.


Gio van Bronckhorst is confident.

“I went on a holiday right after winning the title to clear my head. I did take some of the Title Celebration books with me and the DVD. Really enjoyed processing the season and had a good time resting. When I went back to Rotterdam, I literally closed the books on the title. That is in the past. And it doesn’t count anymore. Now, we want to win the title again and do well in the Champions League. That is the journey of the pro. Improving and raising the bar again and again.”

Fey Diks Boetius

New signings Diks and Boetius with Kenneth Vermeer


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