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What on Earth is Going on at Ajax?

5 minute read Published September 28, 2023

For the last decade the Eredivisie has fallen behind the so-called “Big Five” leagues. Having always had one of the strongest leagues in Europe throughout the 1900s, the money in leagues in bigger countries finally became too much to compete with.

Except for Ajax. The club has stayed competitive throughout these years by having stellar youth development, a never ending stream of great managers and very good success with welcoming players back after a spell outside of the country.

Since the start of the 21st century Ajax have missed out on Champions League only a few times. The club even came close to winning in 2019 but eventually went out in the semi finals, famously knocking out Real Madrid in the RO16 by beating them 4-1 in the first leg.

Since then though, the team has only made it out of the group once and this year - they missed out on the tournament altogether. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the team has started the season horribly. In their first six games of the season, they’ve only managed to win once.

This weekend this all came to a head during De Klassieker. De Klassieker is the game between the two biggest clubs in the Netherlands, Ajax and Feyenoord. Obviously, this is a very important game to the fans and when Ajax went down 0-3 at home, fans had had enough. They started by throwing stuff onto the field, bottles and cups and continued by setting off flares, causing the game to be suspended.

However, that wasn’t enough for the angriest of Ajax fans. They started storming the stadium, breaking down doors and glass walls to get into and trash the club's facilities. Police eventually had to come in to break up what was at that point full blown riots.

So how did the biggest and most successful club in the Netherlands, let along one of the most successful clubs in Europe, end up in this situation?

Picked Apart

Since Ajax can’t compete with the clubs in the biggest leagues in Europe, they’re a selling club. Every year the team gets picked apart, and every year it has to be pieced together with smart, cheap buys or players from the academy.

The quality of the players that have left is enormous and it’s near impossible to consistently replace that quality every year. But somehow Ajax almost always finds a way. Just look at this sample of just the highest profile players that have left the club in the years since Erik Ten Hag took the team to the Champions League semi finals.

Player Club Transfer sum Season
Antony Man Utd €95.00m 22/23
Frenkie de Jong Barcelona €86.00m 19/20
Matthijs de Ligt Juventus €85.50m 19/20
Lisandro Martínez Man Utd €57.37m 22/23
Mohammed Kudus West Ham €43.00m 23/24
Jurrien Timber Arsenal €40.00m 23/24
Hakim Ziyech Chelsea €40.00m 20/21
Donny van de Beek Man Utd €39.00m 20/21
Edson Álvarez West Ham €38.00m 23/24
Sébastien Haller Bor. Dortmund €31.00m 22/23
Sergiño Dest Barcelona €21.00m 20/21
Kasper Dolberg OGC Nice €20.50m 19/20

That is up until last year. It seems like the club was unable to replace the quality that left. Sure, Ajax usually rely a lot on younger players, but they’re also good at bringing older, experienced players into the team. And last year some of the more experienced players also left the club. Among those Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic, two players that have been mainstays of the first team for many years.

Both of these players left the club after having a falling out with the manager

Could this really be the entire story? Ajax lose their best players every year. So what else could it be?

Losing Senior Non-Playing Personnel

Ajax have lost a lot of senior backroom personnel in the past few years. Most importantly, they lost Erik Ten Hag to Manchester United. The coach that took the young Ajax squad to the Champions League semi final in 2019. Ten Hag is one of the most respected managers in football today.

Then, Marc Overmars who had been the sporting director of the club for many years was, rightfully, asked to leave the club after accusations of sexual misconduct. Not long thereafter technical director Gerry Hamstra left for Liverpool.

Edwin van der Sar didn’t leave the club per se but he has been unable to work since he suffered a brain bleed while on vacation in Croatia earlier this year. The former Ajax, Manchester United and Netherlands national team goalkeeper is currently serving as the CEO of Ajax.

New Coaching Staff

It was known for some time that Ten Hag would be leaving Ajax last summer and a replacement had already been found. Ten Hag is a manager that demands a lot of control over the club and with him leaving and taking a lot of his staff with him there was a big void to be filled for the successor.

Unfortunately, since then Ajax have had three managers: Alfred Schreuder, John Heitinga and Maurice Steijn. All of whom have been unable to fill that void and, more importantly, to get Ajax back to their winning ways.

Ending Thoughts

Ajax are in trouble. It has been a selling club, a club with a lot of turnover in players, for more than a decade but it seems that their ability to fill vacant spots with quality has waned in the last two years. It’s possible the quickly increasing prices for players has created a new landscape for clubs such as Ajax.

In addition, there has been turmoil within the club. Senior staff has left. Some have left pretty suddenly, like Marc Overmars and it’s possible the club hasn’t had time to properly replace them. Others have left more expectedly, like Ten Hag but have been so vital to the club that it’s been hard to replace, regardless.

Even more experienced players have left the club, and often in a pretty dramatic fashion, such as Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic. This has left the club with fewer players for the young squad to learn from and lean on.

I’m sure Ajax will be back, they’re too big a club with too much history to keep on . It does look like the road back can be rough though. I think the first order of business is to find a manager that can once again take control of the club. Daley Blind has spoken about potentially returning to the club, which could bring some stability to the dressing room and hopefully, van der Sar makes a full recovery and is able to appoint new, competent backroom staff.

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