As Europe searches for drama, the Eredivisie’s title race rises
With seven games remaining in the Eredivisie the destination of the championship is no clearer than it was at the beginning of the campaign. At this time of writing four sides are in contention separated by three points making this the most eagerly anticipated climax to any of Europe’s major leagues. Like the season finale of a gripping television drama series, its one not to be missed.
How this has come about is attributed to a new economic reality, one that has slowly weakened Dutch clubs, as a result the gap between the traditional old guard (consisting of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV) and majority of the division isn’t as wide as it once was. You get the feeling this season won’t be a one-off.
Taking in the Ajax experience in Amsterdam with The Eurofan
It’s the home of bicycles, nightlife, Van Gogh and Ajax Amsterdam, of course. Since the launch of Copa90 last summer, one of their most entertaining shows follows the adventures of The Eurofan. It’s a show presented by Tom Deacon, who’s also a comedian and DJ for Radio 1, where he’s sent to different football cities each Champions League week to become a fan of the home team.
So far he’s travelled to Spain, Romania, Turkey, France, Russia and Celtic. And now, even though its not Champions League week, the Eurofan has flown to Amsterdam to become a fan of Ajax.
But this time he was accompanied by a friend of AFR, KSI. Just as we documented the Ajax experience, together they explored the city, learned about the culture behind Ajax, interacted with fans and attended ‘De Klassieker’ - the heated Ajax vs Feyenoord derby.
Morten Olsen, national team coach of Denmark, can be forgiven if he decides to start shuttling between Copenhagen to Amsterdam on a regular basis. He would though have a very good reason. Ajax, where he won the double in his only full season before leaving unceremoniously, is again preying on his mind.
Outside his homeland no club other than Ajax boasts a larger Danish contingent, compatriots with pivotal roles, who aren’t just there to make up the numbers.
Their 3-1 victory over PSV last Saturday was a testament, spearheaded by one of the most naturally gifted footballers to leave the land of Hamlet in recent years, Viktor Fischer.
Through Ryu’s Lens: City disappointment, Chelsea delight
This week’s Champions League action may have temporarily taken a back seat for some due to the battle between FC Romney and Obama United, but the drama wasn’t in short support in politics or football. Ajax (and their thousands of travelling fans) left Mancini enraged and Balotelli disappointed, as Manchester City’s Champions League dream awakened to a rude reality. Chelsea continued to play with an unprecedented level of entertainment at Stamford Bridge, barely edging out Shakhtar Donetsk. Ryu Voelkel made the trip from Berlin to Manchester to London to take it all in.
After trawling out for a closer inspection, what he saw left a concerned expression on his face, after taking it all in he slowly walked back inside fearing the worst. Constantly preying on his mind, they had to somehow leave with all three points, they didn’t. The subsequent result only prompted him to make it a bigger issue. It was an odd outburst, only coming out as a feeble excuse, even if there was a point.
The individual in question: Frank de Boer, his concern: state of the Kyocera Stadion pitch, result: ‘gras-rel’ (or grass riot).
“I don’t know where the man who cuts the grass is, he’s certainly not here,” the Ajax manager bemoaned. The length according to him was detrimental to his side, “Everyone knows short grass is advantageous to our style of play.” Before kick-off he graphically exaggerated how it came up and “tickled” his armpits. Maurice Steijn, manager of Den Haag, agreed “The grass was too long”.
However there was no sympathy from Kees Kortekaas, the groundsman, “It’s almost the same length at the Amsterdam ArenA,” he pointed out, “De Boer lost two points and probably should have something to complain about. I find it much ado about nothing.”
You’ve probably not heard of him, but Liverpool’s new winger Assaidi is a player who the Kop will grow to enjoy
Most managers in the Eredivisie, adhering to the unwritten code, would stop short of describing a player as ‘world class’ or remotely anywhere near the reason being as it would be interpreted as overhyping a talent nowhere near the finished article.
Ron Jans however broke protocol. The former Heerenveen boss, now at Standard de Liège, after a mercurial display by Oussama Assaidi last season couldn’t hold back. “When it comes to beating the opposition he’s up there with the best in the world,” Jans enthused. This interestingly enough wasn’t picked up yet it’s fair to say not many would agree.
But in saying that it’s easy getting caught up a player dubbed ‘the Ferrari’ his style is as elegant as watching a Daytona ride into the sunset. Assaidi treats every game as a personal highlight reel, beating defenders at whim either by sheer pace or wit, as a result turning into one of the biggest benefactors of the YouTube generation in the Netherlands. Love him or hate him you can’t deny he’s a showman. Yes, the soundtrack can be annoying, but that becomes irrelevant once you’re mesmerised by his fleet of foot like a magician’s sleight of hand. Now you see it.
Jim Collins, in “Good to Great”, wrote the secret of long-term corporate success lies in cultivating a distinctive set of values. For all the talk of diversity and globalisation, this usually means promoting from within and putting down deep local roots. Boris Groysberg, Harvard Business School, affirms companies are too obsessed with hiring stars rather than developing teams.
Both theorists have an ally in Frank de Boer. The difference is that he’s not concerned with Wall Street but the future of AFC Ajax. In essence the former left-back’s vision, to make the Dutch giants top of the food chain again, is the one perpetuated by Johan Cruyff, who championed De Boer to succeed Martin Jol. The legendary number 14 distinctive management model has been proven a success at FC Barcelona. De Boer is hopeful Ajax can enjoy similar riches. “Whether his vision can lead to a utopia in these times remains to be seen.”
After months of upheaval, the Amsterdam club are now restructuring around Cruyff’s philosophy with him in a new role overseeing the transition. Despite his departure from the board he still pulls the strings. With a historic back-to-back Eredivisie won, all eyes focus on the next phase: making an impact in Europe.
Europe is once again the final frontier. A club rich in tradition, decorated with success on the continent, knows the reality is different from years gone by. To once again conquer they will require luck and in the words of De Boer, “sheer belief”. As well as accelerating the individual development of his players. Their ‘daring’ brand of possession-based football, reminiscent of the period between 1986 and 1997 should hold them in good stead. But they will need to be braver, compact as well as clinical. It might not get them far but it’s a start. A presence in the latter stages of European competition is the first objective of a long-term goal.
Kids day at the Amsterdam Arena
After a KNVB cup match between Ajax and AZ Alkmaar was suspended because a fan ran on to the pitch and attacked AZ’s keeper, Ajax were able to replay the match, but with one caveat: only kids (and a few supervisors) would be allowed into the Amsterdam Arena. About 20,000 children showed up for the match as part of a campaign to show the good of the game and the happiness that overpowers hooliganism. AZ won 3-2 in what was a fantastic match. AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek hailed the decision by Ajax saying, “all those … children create a lot of noise - and I should know, I’m the father of three daughters.”