A love letter to Ajax, Europe's most exciting team
This is a love letter, a tribute to a team that has made me fall in love with football again and a club who have reminded us all that something pure remains unsullied in the beautiful game.
You may not fully appreciate how special Ajax are, not yet. You will probably be unaware of the journey this famous Dutch club has been on, the thinking behind the process that has brought them to the brink of a Champions League final for the first time in 23 years.
Ajax are amazing and I do not use those words lightly. They play with freedom of expression, they play like a team born in Amsterdam, that most artistic and rebellious of cities where you are allowed to indulge; where hedonism is a way of life and your creativity is nurtured and encouraged. If ever a football team symbolised its home city, it is Ajax.
It is an incredible team, not just a joy to behold, but remarkable because this is simply not supposed to happen in the modern game.
What makes them special, so unique, is that this Ajax team will not build a dynasty, they will not dominate. Ajax are like a butterfly, beautiful, bewitching, but already dying. Almost from the moment they spread their wings in Europe this season, long before they knocked out Real Madrid and Juventus in the knockout stage, they knew they were reaching the end of their time together.
They are a team to be cherished because these are already their final days. In the summer, this Ajax team will be broken up, their best players scattered around Europe’s biggest clubs, spread all over the continent depending on who offers the most money to entice them away.
And consider this too – Ajax have produced more players, developed in their academy for three or more years, currently playing in Europe's top divisions than any other club in the world. This is not new, what is different, is that for once they have been allowed to grow and develop together. For the time being at least.
Speak to anyone connected with Ajax they will tell you it is inevitable the team will be torn apart. There is sadness, but it is fleeting because this team has made people proud.
It is a team designed to play to win, to never take a backward step, a team which intends to dominate, not merely to survive, even though that is what the club has been forced to do.
Watch Ajax play and you will see and you will, I’m sure, fall in love. The youngest side to reach the knockout stage of this year’s Champions League has also been by far the best to watch.
The style of football has been likened to playing in the middle of whirlwind, such is the speed and power of those in Ajax shirts, they come at you with such unrelenting ferocity.
They pass and move with a speed not seen for years. Players with good technical ability, able to play in a variety of positions. They are the embodiment of the Total Football values that Dutch football has always prided itself on. They deserve their place alongside all the great Ajax sides of yesteryear, but they have done it in an era when it was supposed to be impossible for them to compete
Ajax have built this side from a mixture of homegrown talent and bargain buys. The most expensive players, Dusan Tadic, signed from Southampton for around £10m last summer and winger David Neres, signed for around the same amount from Sao Paulo two years ago, are a Premier League reject and a player who spent his first season in the development squad.
It is a team forged from the arrogance and swagger of youth, whether it is midfielder Frenkie de Jong – who has already signed for Barcelona for £75m and will leave in the summer – or centre back and captain, the 19-year-old Matthijs de Ligt, a target for every major club in Europe who scored the winning goal against Juventus, everywhere you look there is an Ajax youngster blossoming.
Ajax built this team from the bottom up. They did not poach the best players, they did not buy the established stars everyone wanted. They built a team with their own vision and hard work, mainly in their own academy. They constructed an awesome side because they believed in their ability to produce and nurture their own players
Ajax may be a famous old name, but they are paupers these days, a relic from a more egalitarian age when all the big clubs, from all the European leagues, could dream of conquering the continent.
Those days were supposed to be gone. We are now in the era of the Super Clubs, when oil-rich nation own football clubs and multi-billionaires jostle with each other for international prestige. We are, if you look across Europe, at a point where the same big teams win their domestic leagues year after year, in Germany, France, Scotland, Italy and beyond. Even in England, the richest club, Manchester City could win the quadruple.
Ajax had supposedly been left behind, but this is a club where supporters do not chant excitedly about one of their own wearing the red and white shirt, they expect it.
Ajax’s wage bill last season was less than Aston Villa, Cardiff, Middlesbrough and Wolves when they were in the Championship last season. It was also beneath Celtic’s – a club with an equally grand history and reputation. It has gone up a little this season, but it will still be lower than every Premier League team.
This time last year, Ajax feared the time had come for their best players to leave, but the club asked the likes of de Jong, de Ligt, Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek to give them another season. Only striker Justin Kluivert, son of Patrick, did not listen, leaving for Roma where he has struggled for first team football.
The rest stayed put, promising the club that had launched their careers, one more year. One more season to win the Dutch league, to win silverware together and surely all of us most now hope it is the biggest prize of all that is paraded through the streets of Amsterdam in May.
Ajax, champions of Europe, would be an even better fairytale than Leicester City winning the Premier League.
Bron: The Telegraph