The Birth and Growth: From Amateurs to the Modern Day AFC Ajax
Ajax Amsterdam is one of the big three Clubs in Holland – most famous for their successful youth development program and the Dutch Totaal Voetbal from the 70’s. The club nicknamed de Godenzonen has touched our heart with their beautiful fluid attacking football, producing and nurturing players like Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Dennis Bergkamp, Ronald Koeman, Patrick Kluivert, Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol and the de Boer brothers, to name some few.
Here is the full story about Ajax Amsterdam – a club with a history that some of the modern day greats of football would be proud to call their own. It will be a tour through 114 years of history – its birth and growth; from amateurs to professionals. With their fully incorporated football philosophy, they were suddenly leaders of the world, something others admired and looked up to.
Brief Introduction to AFC Ajax
Ajax Amsterdam has a history that goes past silverware, boasting one of the most famous youth academy’s in world producing legends such as Johan Cruijff (Pictured Right), Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert. Looking back at some of the historic days and nights Ajax have produced, 1971 European Cup final at Wembley Stadium, London is the one that springs to mind, Ajax lifting their 1st ever European Cup. 2-0 on the night against Greek side Panathinaikos and they were in the history books. with 2 more European Cups added in the following 2 seasons these players were becoming Legends.
The last group of ‘stars’ we could talk about are Rafael van der Vaart, Ryan Babel and Wesley Sneijder. All 3 have gone on to play for great teams such as Real Madrid or Liverpool but I always wonder what would have happened if they stayed 1 or 2 seasons more. Can Ajax in future years hold on to rising stars. I do understand many want to leave and test themselves elsewhere as well as the financial gain Ajax get from these and the 3rd point of them departing opening the door for someone to come through. There are many things to look at how Ajax should go forward.
The Eredivisie is not as famous as the ‘Big 4’ England, Spain, Germany and Italy all in no particular order. Are Ajax are losing their appeal?, young people grow up now hearing stories about the legends of Ajax and not seeing them, asking to go to watch Ajax play with the excitement of seeing talent of a level along side Cruijff or Bergkamp and it is hard to explain to them that they will not see that now, have them days have passed? The 2 biggest names to grace the Amsterdam Arena in recent years have not even been Dutch, Luis Suárez and Zlatan Ibrahimović.
How can young fans be changed, stopped from wearing shirts from other nations, walking around Amsterdam in their Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea tops and wear and be proud to wear the Ajax strip again. Ajax are still developing many players and are still fielding many home grown players but to what level, how far can the new generation go? Looking back on the past to learn for the future will be key for my progression in the world of Football Manager to help make Ajax the shirt favorite of kids around the globe.
The Birth and Growth of AFC Ajax
Sunday, 18th March 1900 is a day that many football fans around the world know. The day, month and year that Floris Stempel, Carel Reeser and Han Dade decided to form AFC Ajax, billed as the Second coming after a failed attempt in 1894 to form Football Club Ajax this time they would succeed. As the players lined for the team photo (Pictured Right) who would have expected the club to become the club we know today. Success did not come over night, the club spent the first 10 years playing in Division 2 before finally winning promotion to the Dutch top division in 1911.
This would lead to 6 seasons of ups and downs in the club fortunes before in the 1916-1917 season AFC Ajax would secure their first top domestic trophy, claiming the KNVB Beker, the national cup of Netherlands’. This maiden success would lead to two following seasons of domestic bliss, winning the Dutch title in 1917-1918 season and going on to defend their title and along with that setting a record as becoming the only side to have gone a whole season unbeaten. An accomplishment only equaled by Ajax themselves 76 years later.
The 1920’s on a national level were not a success with no national titles, in the Western Regional championship in the Netherlands Ajax were becoming contenders for titles and minor trophy’s every season. Winning the Western title 3 times (1921, 1927 and 1928) as well as some minor trophy’s.
The Ending of the 20’s was a blessing for Ajax, the club entered the 30’s with 2 National League titles in their cabinet and wanted more. they went on to be the most successful Dutch club of the decade winning 5 National titles. 1931, 1932, 1934, 1937 and 1939 were the years of Ajax in the league and making their success number up to 7 in National Titles. Moving the club forward and fans wanting more trophy’s the 40’s were some what of a disappointment with only 1 National Title to their name, this coming in the 1946-1947 season. One bright point from the decade came in the form of a second KNVB trophy.
Professional Football comes to the Dutch
The 1950’s, the world is changing and so did Dutch Football. 1956 would be historic, 1 year after the birth of the Eredivisie and Professional football in Netherlands Ajax become the first club to win the newly formed Professional division. This title would send Ajax further afield, the chance to compete in the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, in their inaugural season they reached the quarter finals before coming up against Hungarian champions Vasas SC, a step to far at the time going down 6-2 on aggregate.
The moment to push Ajax to the next level would come in 1965 when Rinus Michels (Pictured Right) would come back to manage the club he played for between 1946 and 1958.
With Rinus at the club and 1 year later Johan Cruijff making his debut, no one could have predicted what would happen with AFC Ajax, with Rinus employing a style that would become known as Total Football, Ajax went on to enter their best ever period, winning 7 League titles, 4 KNVB cups and 3 European Cups.
After 3 titles in 1966, 1967 and 1968 the club would make history in the 1968-1969 season by taking part in their first ever European cup final, taking place at the Santiago Bernabéu, Madrid in front of just over 31,000 fans. Ajax played AC Milan and on the night the Italian Giants proved to strong and powered past Ajax 4-1 on the night. Ajax fans went home proud, the 1st Dutch club to make a European final, they went home dreaming of more appearances in the future.
The years to follow were special and were ones that the Ajax fans dreamed and wished for. With Ajax making it to the 1971 European cup final and again Ajax fans turning up and hoping for their 1st title they walked out at Wembley, London to play Panathinaikos from Greece, Ajax went on to win the game 2-0 to become champions of Europe for the 1st time, a Dutch team becoming European champions for the 1st time and they could return back home knowing they were the best team in Europe also with with Cruijff being named European Footballer of the Year it was a great year for Ajax. This great season was surpassed with 2 more European Crowns in the following 2 seasons, putting their name in History as 1 of few teams to have won more than 1 European Cup in a row, 3 in a row been even more rare.
In 1973 the world was in shock as Barcelona broke the world record by spending (£)922,000 to take Cruijff to Catalonia. Cruijff returned to Ajax though in the early 80’s to team up with up and coming stars Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard, These 3 would link up and show their skills as a threesome by helping Ajax win back to back titles before Cruiff was sold to Feyenoord. Marco van Basten would go on to finish top scorer in the league for 4 seasons in a row but the late 80’s were sad times for Ajax fans aswell. The club was winning trophy’s but the sale of Rijkaard and Van Basten to Sporting CP and A.C. Milan respectively was greated with worry from the fans. Who could step up to the level.
Luis Van Gaal arrived, the former assistant coach stepped up to take charge of the 1st team and his arrival came at a good time for Ajax with their young star maturing each year, Bergkamp was 21 when Van Gaal took charge. Denis Bergkamp helped Ajax win the UEFA cup in 1992 scoring 6 goals on the run. Denis Bergkamp left the club a year later aged 23 to join Italian giants Inter Milan. Another big name leaving Ajax before his prime was tough to take for the fans but their was light at the end of the tunnel, a young Finnish star called Jari Litmanen could step into the number 10 role aswell as academy players Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Michael Reiziger, and Winston Bogarde all making a name for themselves, the future for Ajax and Dutch football was looking good. The Ajax academy was known for producing some great talent with Cruijff, Rijkaard and Marco van Basten all coming through but to see so many players coming through and into the 1st team was amazing to see and filled the fans with pride.
1995 was a year Ajax fans had waited for, a return to the now named UEFA Champions League final. Coming up against AC Milan, who they had met in the group stage, they knew it would be tough. The game ended 1-0 to Ajax with young 18 year old striker Patrick Kluivert scoring a late winner. Ajax had done it for the 4th time, Champions of Europe.
Following this momentous evening the next few years for Ajax did not go as the club and fans would have planned. Several players left the club on free transfers following the introduction of the Bosman ruling. Clarence Seedorf (19) in 1995, Edgar Davids(23), Michael Reiziger (22), Finidi George (25) and Nwankwo Kanu (19 )in 1996, Patrick Kluivert (20), Marc Overmars (24) and Winston Bogarde (26) in 1997, Ronald de Boer (27) and Frank de Boer (27) in 1998; and Edwin van der Sar (28) and Jari Litmanen (28) in 1999.
Ajax finished the 20th Century with a 6th place finish in the league in the 1998-1999 season. Things needed to change at it was clear, this club had built a name over the years for producing talent and and after recent talent in the 90’s the fans were waiting and hoping for someone to lift and spark the fans into life. At the turn of the 21st century there was a young talent who stood out in the 1st team, Rafael van der Vaart, a young Dutch midfielder who reminded fans of players from the past, his skill on the ball was up there with the best. Could he be the future of Ajax or would he leave the club before his prime like many before him. Over the next few seasons, players from the world famous Ajax Youth Academy started appearing in the 1st team and fans were starting to dream.
Ajax Amsterdams 21st Century Stars;
John Heitinga after 11 years in the Ajax Academy came through in 2001 and spent 7 years playing for Ajax before going to play in the BBVA and the Premier league where he still plays today.
Wesley Sneijder again spending 11 years in the Academy broke into the club in the same season, spending 5 years at the club before moving on to play in the BBVA and Serie A before moving to his current club in Turkey.
Nigel de Jong Spent 9 years in the Academy before making his 1st team debut in 2002, after 4 years in the 1st team he moved on to play in the Bundesliga, Premier League and his current home in Serie A.
Ryan Babel Was at the Ajax Academy for 6 years before making his 1st team debut in 2004, playing in the 1st team for only 3 years he moved to the Premier League before going to Germany to play, coming back to Ajax for a season in 2012 before departing for Turkey 1 year later.
Thomas Vermaelen came to the Ajax Academy from Belgium but settled in at his new home, after 3 years in the Academy he made his debut in 2003 spending 6 years at the club before moving to his current home in the Premier league.
Urby Emanuelson was another player who had many years in the Ajax academy, 10 years in there before getting his break in the 1st team. Making his debut in 2004 he stayed there for 7 years before moving to Serie A, after a loan spell in the Premier League he is back in Serie A.
Jan Vertonghen Was another recruit from Belgium youth football, coming over to spend 3 years in the academy before making his debut in 2006, staying at the club for 6 years before moving to The Premier League.
Gregory van der Wiel had 2 spells at Ajax academy spanning over an 11 year youth career before making his debut in 2007, after 5 years in the team he moved to the French league 1.
Siem de Jong joined the Ajax Academy late in his development, spending only 2 seasons there before his 1st team debut in 2007, one of the few ‘stars’ of the 21st century who is still at the club today.
Christian Eriksen came to the Ajax academy in 2008 spending 2 years there before making his debut in 2010 and spending 3 years at Ajax before moving to the English Premier league.
The list I have provided above are all players I feel in my opinion have made a name in world football since the start of the 21st century.
With Ajax making a revival in the last 3 seasons in the Eredivisie winning the title in all 3, things are looking bright for AFC Ajax, it had been 7 years since their last, winning 5 titles since the turn of the century aswell as 4 KNVB Cups over this time period also. The Ajax fans are now looking towards the future, what is in store for AFC Ajax in the years to come. Who will come through their academy to get the honor of wearing the famous White and Red kit.
Can AFC Ajax ever win a Champions league title again is another question many football fans wounder about, the last team to win the title from outside the ‘top 4’ Leagues was Porto from Portugal in 2004 and before that was AFC Ajax themselves in 1995, with clubs in the famous ‘top 4’ leagues signings players from nations such as Netherlands alot earlier than in the past, how difficult will be it and become to keep the level of players coming through their academy, will they leave before even making a 1st team appearance?
When looking back over this history of this great club you can see many situations where players have come through the youth system and spent a decent amount of years in the 1st team before leaving to ‘Bigger leagues’ not bigger clubs, often moving to a smaller club in history and worldwide reputation but playing in the league is what attracts players.
Are Ajax happy with the way things are moving, in my personal opinion they must look at players leaving and wanting to leave to play and test themselves in bigger leagues and wonder how things can improve, can they hold on to players long enough for them to reach their prime and can Ajax with another Champions league crown. I like how Ajax move players on and free space up for their new up and coming players to get a chance but at what cost, is this costing them the chance to move further forward in European Football, could holding on to these players enhance the reputation of the League as well as putting Ajax back in ‘the reputation window’ along side the greats of world football again.
Written by TheEnglishInspection
Attribution and Sources
Photo used in article image “1971 Champions League Final Ajax – Panathinaikos” is made available under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Netherlands. Image courtesy of Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief via Wikimedia Commons
Photo #2 “Az eddigi legrégebbi csapatkép: az Ajax az 1900–1901-es szezonban” is made available under Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Netherlands. Image courtesy of Nationaal Archief, Den Haag, Rijksfotoarchief via Wikimedia Commons