Attention, Now They Need to Succeed
By EMILIO GUTIERREZ | April 19, 2019
Cover by Carlo Salemi / Courtesy of The Amsterdammer
You can call it a Cinderella story, a David and Goliath anecdote, or a fairy-tale run, but no matter how you spin it, this season has been magical and shocking for everyone. The present state of Amsterdam’s AFC Ajax comes as a surprise – the club has not won the national league since 2014 or the KNVB Cup since 2010, and has not been this far in the Champions League since 1997. Nonetheless, the draught of titles seems irrelevant now – as of today, Ajax is able to beat any team in Europe and is on pace to win the second treble in the team’s history.
The Dutch legend Johan Cruyff once said, “Why couldn’t you beat a richer club? I’ve never seen a bag of money score a goal.” In the era of the most expensive transactions in football history and a financially-driven mentality to football, Ajax brings Cruyff’s words to life. Fatefully, in this knockout round of the UEFA Champions League, Ajax won against Real Madrid, the richest club in the world, and Juventus, a team that bought Cristiano Ronaldo for €112 million. Surprisingly, that’s not all – Ajax managed not only to win but to dominate the games, leaving victorious as visitors against both teams.
The obstacle presented by Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League quarter-finals seemed frightening. Honestly, there is not another sportsperson in the world that performs as well in a specific tournament as Cristiano Ronaldo performs in the Champions League. As expected, the Portuguese superstar delivered and scored all of the goals for his team in the knockout stage. However, Ajax played with a heart as big as Ronaldo’s talent. The final score does not give justice to the game Ajax displayed – a refreshing style of play reminiscent of Cruyff’s ‘total football’, and an exciting series of uninterrupted passes resembling Barcelona’s ‘tiki-taka’. Ultimately, Ajax has shown that their present ability has potential to make history like their ‘70s and ‘90s squads.
Compared to the European giants, Ajax is a financially limited club. Hence, it was surprising that the team was able to hold their young talent this season, maintaining stars such as Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt alongside veterans like Dušan Tadić and Hakim Ziyech. Remarkably, the current team averages 24 years of age – though Ajax’s financial situation necessitates selling some of those young stars in the near future. De Jong’s signing with Barcelona is already official, but I honestly expect the team to make more deals once the transfer season opens. It is ironic that such a young team has an unclear future. It seems like it is now or never for Ajax. Ajax can dream with European glory, and they should – they are running out of time.
The Dutch team is now first place in the national league, has reached the KNVB Cup final, and will play in the Champions League semi-final against Tottenham. The current landscape seems ideal for them. Ajax broke the long-standing dream of a final between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, the prospect of an Ajax-Barcelona final has instead opened the door for a Cruyff homage. This team is a few games away from making history, but they have already rejuvenated the game. Now it is a matter of titles.
Emilio Gutierrez is a Communication Science student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.
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