Ask any Football Fan: What is the first thing to come to mind when I mention “AJAX Amsterdam” Depending on the age of the Fan in question, the most likely answers will: Johan Cruijff, Rinus Michels, Total Football, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Louis van Gaal, maybe even the names of Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder will be mentioned. Fans see the characteristic colours: white shorts, white shirt with a vertical deep red banner…
Historical European Cup wins (3 times Champions Cup ECI, once Cup for Cup Winners ECII, once Eufa Cup III) a Champions League win in 1995 followed with a lost final against the Juventus of Viallia & Ravanelli the following season. AJAX had the world at its feet in the mid 90’s. Manager Louis van Gaal had a unique mixture of homegrown talent (Seedorf, Davids, Kluivert, Reiziger, Van der Sar, De Boer brothers, Rijkaard, Blind) and out of town players (Overmars, Litmanen, Kanu, Finidi, Bogarde ect) at his disposal and managed to bolster them into a lean, attractive football machine (to quote boxer George Forman). Much more talent was in the “pipeline” at the time (Oulida, Melchiot, Wooter, Musampa, Reuser ect). AJAX had it all. The club had a new Mega Functional Stadium built “The Arena” to replace the ancient but monumental home-base “De Meer”, simultaniously the club floated on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange (AEX). Sky was the limit! Exposure no problem, cash no problem, players from all over the world wanted to be part of AJAX. So what happened? Well 13 yrs later we can conclude that after Louis van Gaal’s departure only 2 domestic championships have been celebrated, a grand total of 14 managers have been put in charge of the club (even Newcastle United FC hasnt reached that total!).
Two seasons ago an audit of the club conducted by the board concluded that the club had been grossly mismanaged, recommendations were made to improve the football know-how in the club (non of the board ever played football) and that especially potential transfer targets were not to block the development of the Youth Academy Players. The Youth Academy however was deemed inefficient and needed to be rebuild. Future Football Managers were not allowed to bring in their complete staff any more, they had to work according to the standards of the Club.
All sounds fair and logical. The plan was fully backed by Johan Cruijff who offered his help (remember he is the architect of current day Barcelona F.C.) for free. Any idiot would jump at the offer. The situation was ideal since Manager Henk ten Cate had left during the season to Chelsea. The scenario was perfect!
The Board decided to move fast: appointed as new manager: Marco van Basten, who brought all his assistants (friends) with him (hold on??!! was that not against the plan?!) and got the complete authority over Football Affairs (This would include Transfers, Youth Academy, Trainers ect again plan??). Van Basten consulted Cruijff regarding the Youth Acadamy but ignored Cruijff’s advice: fire everybody and re-appoint new trainers (yeah JC doesnt take soldiers) so that meant Cruijff withdrew his support and advise.
Marco van Basten immediately spend a fortune on players (about £25-£30 MLN) most notably on Micky Sulejmani from SC Heereveen for £15 MLN and Assiati for £3MLN from PSV none of which developed into starting line up players. After one season Van Basten, a rare feature in football, concluded that he simply could not motivate or “reach” his players and resigned.
AJAX contracted Martin Jol (Ex-Spurs, then HSV Hamburg) who brought with him again his complete coaching staff (only Petrovice -recently sacked by West Ham- could not be brought in) including his brother Cock (that is his real name!) Jol who serves as his Personal Assistant. All of the Van Basten Era assistants were moved out (Witschge and Van ‘t Schip) only for Danny Blind (ex-technical director and manager AJAX) survived. The Board of AJAX again was going against the previously mentioned plan and seemed hard to learn from previous mistakes; Jol contracted Atuba (Cameroun International & Ex-Spurs/Ex-HSV), Mirko Pantelic (32 yrs old former Herta BSC Berlin striker) and some Brazilians nobody heard of since. AJAX finished second despite scoring 106 goals (!) and only conceiding 20(!) on one point from Champions FC Twente.
The presure on Jol and the Board had increased over the summer. Jol was informed when signing his contract of the financial limitations in transfer budget but saw much to his disgust Pantelic and Rommendhal (Danish International) leaving with no real enforcements coming in. Jol then used the approach from Fulham F.C. for his services to force the Board to make available some cash for transfers. So they did (again, where is the management view). Jol in turn signed the overweight Middlesbrough striker Mido (they must still be partying in Northern England over his departure), Tiano from Sunderland (did Jol not sign him when at Spurs??) and completely washed up Andre Ooijer from PSV (who refused to renew his contract). Meantime none of the talented Youth Academy players has come through….
To summarize: AJAX by becoming a .PLC in the mid 90’s has been mismanaged at board room level. Absolute tons of money have been waisted on overpaid mediocre players. 2 Championships in 13 seasons demonstrate it. In Europe the last time AJAX did anything of importance was a quartre final in de CL in 2003 which it lost in the dying seconds from AC Milan. This year the team finally qualified but has not made an impact, unlike FC Twente who have represented and carried themselves with honour.
Martin Jol has left the club on Monday (taking with him his trusted assistents) and the board of AJAX has appointed former skipper Frank de Boer as caretaking manager.
Let us hope the club will use this point to install a long term strategy to claim back (at least) domestic silverware, international silverware is a different matter. Focus on Youth Development instead of washed out Foreign players.
So what is next??