Barcelona vs Ajax - The Cruyff Derby

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Barcelona and Ajax are perhaps the two biggest clubs in the world to be connected so profoundly. The influence of Ajax's 'Total Football' on the current generation of Barcelona players through La Masia and beyond is the identity that the Catalan club have become so famous for. And despite contrasting fortunes in recent years, Ajax have managed to stay at the pinnacle of the Dutch game, while Barcelona have enjoyed some of the best years in their history.

Ajax's footballing philosophy was born from the influence of the Hungary team of the 1950s, and symbolises the ultimate style of play - where any player can take any position on the pitch. The strikerless formations of Barcelona and Spain show a heavy influence from Ajax's 'Total Football', with defenders stepping out into the midfield and beyond, and forwards popping up all over the pitch.

Perhaps the most famous exponent of the Dutch 'Total Football' style is the Ajax forward Johan Cruyff. The three-time Ballo d'Or winner was influential to Ajax and Barcelona's footballing philosophy both as a player and manager.

After retiring from professional football, Cruyff coached Ajax to the top of the European game, and later became Barcelona's most successful manager - surpassed only recently by Pep Guardiola.

But it wasn't just his management that Cruyff's legacy represents: His philosophy and focus on technical players and off-the-ball movement developed into the tiki-taka style that helped turn Barcelona and Spain into the successful sides they are now. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine the modern Barcelona without the quick, tidy passing and telepathic movement that has characterised their recent superb years.

Ajax and Barcelona have shared many things, from footballing philosophy to managers to players; and the list of those to turn out for both clubs is of players that could get into any team in the world: Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Zlatan Ibrahimovich, Marc Overmars, Michael Laudrup, both De Boer brothers and Johan Cruyff himself to name but a few.

Despite the originators and main exponents of the style, Ajax haven't managed to replicate their form under Cruyff in recent seasons. And although still producing and culturing some of Europe's hottest young talent, Ajax have become known for selling their stars - most recently the Danish international Christian Eriksen to Tottenham and defender Toby Alderweireld to Atletico Madrid.

In contrast to the profiteering Dutch side, the Middle East-backed Barcelona have been acquiring some the world's best talents alongside their own world-class products. The €57m transfer of Brazilian superstar Neymar illustrates just how far apart financially the two clubs are.

But still Ajax have managed to compete at the top level of European football, after selling their superstars season on season. This year's young hopeful is another Dane - Viktor Fischer, who has been compared to ex-Arsenal player Marc Overmars.

Wednesday's meeting between the two exponents of historically beautiful football will undoubtedly be an exhibition of how the game is meant to be played - from the old masters to the successors of Johan Cruyff's Total Football crown.

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