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Are we witnessing the re-emergence of Ajax as a force in European football?
The four-time European champions – who gave the world Johan Cruyff, Patrick Kluivert, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp – have gone from the 2017 ignominy of failing to qualify for a Uefa competition to earning a place in the Champions League semi-finals.
Is this a fluke? Or should it come as no surprise?
Former academy player Jordi Cruyff, Johan’s son, told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Euro Leagues Podcast that De Godenzonen (Sons of the Gods) now have all the right ingredients.
‘They’ve found a balance of youth and experience’
Barcelona-bound Frenkie de Jong, 21, defender Matthijs de Ligt, 19, winger David Neres, 22, and Hakim Ziyech, 26 – plus the more experienced Dusan Tadic, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Daley Blind – have helped Ajax not only overachieve in Europe but also lead the Eredivisie.
“Ajax at the moment have an amazing generation. The chemistry is there.
“They have a few players at 19, 20, 21 years of age – which comes every 10 years or so. The club are now benefiting, on and off the pitch, from having these good young stars.
“One of those has been sold to Barcelona [De Jong], but they have this golden hand.
“They have also changed something this season. They have not won the Dutch league since the 2013-14 season – in contrast to what they achieved this week and having reached the 2017 Europa League final – and have made some adjustments.
“The team has young talent, but in every part of the pitch they have players with experience after spending some money to bring in Tadic and Blind.
“I think the experienced ones have guided the young and brought some balance.
“Ajax are now playing excellent football and lead the Dutch league from PSV Eindhoven on goal difference.”
‘A selling club, but in a better financial position’
“The reason Ajax haven’t been in the Champions League semi-finals in recent years is because they cannot compete with the likes of the moneyed Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga teams.
“They are a selling club and the Netherlands is a selling country. It’s not an end-station for players, it’s a middle-station. It’ll help you progress and it’s somewhere that gives you a platform.
“Ajax understand their position, but are now in a good financial situation which means if there are six high offers for players, they don’t have to accept all six.
“If the central defender goes, Ajax have a back-up as a result of the forward thinking of bringing players in a few years ago.
“This year everything came together – the change of policy of bringing in older players helped them a lot and gave them the stability they need.
“But you can’t argue with fact that Ajax is a school of education. It has been like this for many, many years and will continue to be for many, many years.”
Can they win the Champions League this season?
“When you’re in the last four and eliminate Real Madrid and Juventus en route – winning at their grounds – then that’s not a coincidence any more. You have a right to dream.
“Liverpool are having an excellent year and Barcelona, as long as Lionel Messi is fit, will be favourite in every game they play.
“Now it’s about the small details that can decide things. Ajax, for sure – the win in Italy will make them think they can beat anybody on their day.”