The name Ajax Amsterdam is synonymous with European football and within their 111 year history they have won no less than 29 domestic league championships and four European cups, a fete that is only surpassed by the likes of AC Milan and Real Madrid.
Though in recent years their success has been curtailed, the 2010/11 league triumph was their first in six years and they last won Europe’s greatest prize, the Champions League in 1995.
With a succession of managers passing through the club since the break-up of Louis Van Gaal’s extraordinarily talented side it seems 2011 was the time for change.
Ajax have made an impressive start to their latest league campaign and currently sit second in the league after the first six matches of the season and having been drawn alongside Real Madrid in the Champions League it certainly evokes memories of their glorious past.
Now the club has called upon former greats such as Johan Cruyff, Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids, and Dennis Bergkamp to rebuild this once great footballing institution. Cruyff originally retuned in February 2011 in an advisory role but he has since been appointed to the club’s board, his first full-time position since he left Amsterdam over 25 years ago.
De Boer replaced Martin Jol as coach, who resigned in December 2010 and has since gone on to deliver the league title in his first season in charge. In their first match under de Boer’s guidance Ajax recorded a famous 2-0 victory in the San Siro against AC Milan.
Initially appointed on a caretaker basis the former Dutch international was given the job full-time in January 2011. As a player he made 328 appearances for Ajax and he is the second most capped player in the history of the Dutch national team with 112 caps, Edwin Van der Sar is the only player to have played more games than him.
He like Cruyff is a born winner; in a ten year career with the club de Boer won practically all there is to win, he captained the 1995 European cup winning side, in 1992 he was part of the team that won the UEFA cup as well as winning five Eredivisie titles.
Cruyff in comparison is one of the most iconic names in world football and he is credited with being one of the individuals that changed the face of the game forever with the introduction of ‘total football’. He was part of what was described as the golden generation of Ajax Amsterdam, the team that won three European cups in a row between 1971 and 1973.
He was a player far ahead of his time blessed with superb technical skill as well as an eye for goal, his scoring record for the club is nothing short of phenomenal, in his first spell in the Dutch capital between 1964-1973 he played he played 240 games and scored 190 goals.
The ’72 triumph is seen as a particular turning point for Dutch football, an Ajax team containing the likes of Cruyff, Arie Haan, and Johan Neeskens defeated Italian giants Inter Milan 2-0 in Rotterdam to win their second successive European Cup.
It was a victory that journalist’s declared to be the death of the once domineering defensive Italian style and the birth of total football, a brand that is still linked to the Dutch to this day.
Though it must be said that football has changed a great deal since these great successes and the current Ajax side certainly isn’t blessed with the same level of talent of those of the 1970’s or the ’95 team. Van Gaal built a side based on youth and was fortunate to have perhaps arguably the greatest crop of young players that a club has seen at one time.
With experienced players such as de Boer and Danny Blind surrounded by the youth of Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and more it was inevitable that success would follow. Though in the years that followed this success most of these players and the manager would leave Ajax and that is what ultimately lead to the clubs decline.
Now there is a belief that under the guidance of former greats such as Cruyff and de Boer Ajax is once again ready to make its mark on both Dutch and European football. It may take time but having individuals in charge who understand what it is to be part of such a great football tradition can only be a positive move.
The club now once again find themselves with a talented team with youth at its core, players such as the talented Dane Christian Eriksen, the much converted defender Gregory van der Wiel, Daley Blind the son of former great Danny and summer acquisition and Dutch player of the year Theo Janssen. Add to that a manager who has already been compared to Van Gaal and the future certainly looks bright.
Whatever the future may hold for this illustrious football club one thing is certain, success breads further success and with the addition of the former golden generation to the Ajax hierarchy perhaps a return to European footballs elite is not too far away.