Ajax crave European reprieve


Normally, the proposition of facing Manchester United over two legs in Europe would strike fear into most sides, but Ajax, the winner of 30 Dutch league titles, have no reason to be overawed

However, on this occasion, it's not the club's four European Cups or historically affluent youth system that gives them reason to be fearless in the headlights of English league football's most decorated club, rather the feeling that little more can go wrong at the Amsterdam Arena.

Last Thursday, all five of the club's board, including Johan Cruyff, offered their resignation after the club legend won a court battle to prevent ex-manager Louis Van Gaal joining the board.

The decision to appoint the former Bayern Munich coach was made by the other four members of the board, without the knowledge of Cruyff, who learnt of his victory in the courts last Tuesday.

Cruyff rejoined the board last year, but quickly fell out with fellow members after attempting to implement a number of changes, which included demanding an overhaul of the club's youth training programme, and for leading names to be handed primary roles in the backroom staff.

The board or directors, including chairman Uri Coronel, subsequently resigned, labelling Cruyff the 'demi-god' of Ajax.

The three-time European Cup quickly played God with Ajax's fortunes, implemented his aforementioned suggestions, bringing in Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk to the run the academy, while Frank de Boer received backing as manager.

These boardroom rumblings have worked as a suitable backdrop to a miserable season on the pitch.

The club look certain to relinquish the Eredivisie title, after finishing top of the pile for the first time in seven years last term, and are likely to miss out on the Champions League cash cow.

While their title challenge fell apart, form in this season's Champions League was encouraging, with only a heavy goal swing likely to see 'The Lancers' miss out on the last 16. As luck would have it, Ajax fell on their sword, dropping into the Europa League.

“It is quite surprising that Manchester United and Ajax haven’t met more often Europe since they are two big teams," De Boer commented, as his side's luck continued as they drew the Premier League champions.

As ever, while the Ajax production line never fails to let up, an endless stream of players continue to leave, Maarten Stekelenburg being the latest, and Christian Eriksen likely to be the next, potentially to Old Trafford.

The nature of European football in the modern day means Ajax's hand is forced, but matters are hardly improved when without continuity on the pitch, off the pitch matters follow a similar pattern.

“Ajax have become an academy for those clubs," De Boer said. "What we see these days is that players leave Ajax in their early twenties for a bigger salary elsewhere.”

“That is why our youth is so incredibly important for us. And maybe, if we have a bit of luck and have six or seven great youngsters coming through plus perhaps two experienced players, we could do something in Europe."

Despite being a beneficiary of Cruyff's power-trip, De Boer knows any progress on the pitch can only precede with boardroom stability. For now, it might be about damage limitation.

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