For Ajax there is a worrying sense of déjà-vu creeping over their season, déjà-vu from around 1997/98 to be particular. In the three years following the triumphant European Cup of 1995 Ajax lost all but three of their meticulously built starting eleven from that final, mostly on Bosman transfers. After missing out on the double last season by a single point, and a return to the Champions League following a five year absence, the Amsterdam club looked as if they may be a returning force.
However, the sale of Luis Suarez and Urby Emanuelson, coupled with the various moneyed vultures circling over Vernon Anita, Jan Vertonghen, Gregory van der Wiel and Maarten Stekelenburg suggests this may well be another Ajax side cherry picked before the blossom. Granted, Ajax have received fair recompense for Suarez – some twenty seven million Euros – and at least received some compensation for Emanuelson, but this is a club not known for their quick-fix transfer replacements. Ajax have sold four players in the past four years for more than seventeen million Euros, but have never broken that limit themselves. Rebuilding will have to begin well in advance of the previous iteration’s completion.
The nurture-to-sell business model is as much a part of the Ajax make-up as the youth squad, the formation and the cultural identity. Ever since the likes of Cruyff, Haan, Muhren, Rep and Neeskens left arguably the greatest club side the world has ever seen for more financially lucrative pastures it has been accepted that Ajax will always be a selling club. What has changed is the speed at which players are leaving; it is quite possible, nay likely, that by the start of next season Frank de Boer will have lost seven or eight of his ideal eleven from the start of this term.
For the moment, such worries are subplots to Ajax’s continuing interest in the Eredivisie title race. While they remain six points from leaders, PSV, de Boer’s side won their sixth away game in a row by beating NAC Breda 3-0. Siem de Jong – quite possibly next season’s Big Departure – Miralem Sulejmani and an own goal from Rob Penders ensured Ajax retained their bite (pun intended) in the post-Suarez era.
If, as the handbook of the World Cup commentator dictates, goals are the best way of measuring excitement then there have been few more thrilling sets of fixtures than those played out in this week’s Eredivisie.
Thirty six goals were scored in just eight fixtures, only Ajax kept a clean sheet and only three of the sides that opened the scoring went on to win their games. The most extravagant score-line involved Roda JC and struggling Vitesse. De Koempels have been largely impressive this season, particularly during a ten match unbeaten league run between August and November that had suggested the very real possibility of a top four finish. Vitesse by contrast have hobbled through the season, were two points above the relegation playoff at the start of play and had not won in six attempts. Could the twist in this tale be more telegraphed?
When the ever prolific Dane Mads Junker scored his ninth of the season after just three minutes it seemed that Roda’s European football push would pick up where it left off at Excelsior. Soon-to-be Benfica midfielder Nemanja Matic had other ideas, as his free kick restored parity for Arnhem. What followed was remarkable for a team that previously had the third least potent strike-rate in the division, as first Marco Van Ginkel and then a Jordi Lopez penalty put Vitesse 3-1 up at half time. The break did little to dampen their enthusiasm, and the hosts were 5-1 up within the hour thanks to a debut goal from Haruna Babangida and a second for the eighteen year old Van Ginkel. Jimmy Hempte mustered a second for Roda with twenty minutes left, but they could have little complaint.
Vitesse move above Feyenoord and five points clear of Excelsior, both of whom remain in serious difficulties. The latter were humbled 5-1 at home by a Den Haag side rejuvenated under John van den Brom, who has suffered only five defeats in his last twenty matches. Tim Vincken had given Excelsior a surprise lead, but Dmitry Bulykin’s equaliser and Daan Bovenberg’s red card altered the complexion. Frantisek Kubik, Jens Toornstra, Wesley Verhoek and Bulykin’s thirteenth of the season completed the emphatic rout.
The Slapende Reus (sleeping giants) of Feyenoord were a little less narcoleptic than recent weeks but were outfought, dispirited and notably less fortunate than a Twente side determined to regain their title. The returning Gill Swerts had deservedly given Feyenoord a lead, before first Wout Brama and then an injury time winner from Bryan Ruiz kept Twente a point behind PSV. The league leaders were far from convincing themselves. In keeping with the theme of the week, PSV had to come from a goal behind against the nine men of hapless, helpless, hopeless Willem II. Only a ninety third minute winner from the forgotten man, Genero Zeefuik, preserved PSV’s slender margin at the summit.
Indeed, PSV and Twente need to remain on their toes, as Groningen are refusing to accept they are out of the title race. The division’s surprise contenders confidently dispensed with Heerenveen 4-1, and after rejecting Napoli’s advances for Tim Matavz they look well placed to continue their assault. Equally relieved to see the end of the transfer window are NEC, who had seventeen goal striker Bjorn Vleminckx to thank yet again for continuing their plan of drawing their way to safety in a 1-1 against Heracles.