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In the excitement of the new season, supporters are often guilty of creating over-the-top expectations and landing up disappointed when the clubs fail to meet their objectives. Often all we need is a bit of perspective from experts to maintain rational thought; our Q&A mini-series going into the 2014/15 season serves this purpose.
Mohamed Moallim answers our questions in the second Q&A of our mini-series which focuses on Ajax Amsterdam. Mohamed is a reputed Dutch football writer with his articles found on the likes of Four Four Two and WhoScored.com
De Boer has now led Ajax to four consecutive titles, and for a while now, people have held the opinion that he should step up. Will complacency be an issue for him this season?
I don’t think so. It wasn’t there after their second and third successive title defence partly because of the ever-changing complexion of the team, as you’re aware every summer there’s upheaval. The new arrivals, being Ajax majority promoted from their academy, tend to be driven and it naturally forces De Boer to be focused. He’s never, from day one, underestimated the competition. At one stage in his tenure every side around them – Feyenoord, PSV, FC Twente and Vitesse – has been a threat. But as far as he’s concerned their only enemy is themselves. And that’s a good attitude to have.
We’ve seen managers innovating their formations to include a three man defensive system; the success this had at the World Cup may trickle down into domestic club football as well. Can you see Frank de Boer making the change?
The only time you’re going to see Ajax play three at the back is if De Boer reintroduces their ‘historic’ 3-4-3 diamond (or 3-3-1-3) formation: pioneered by Johan Cruyff before Louis van Gaal took it to new heights. He’s gone on record before calling it his “favourite system”. However keep in mind they essentially play with a defensive line of three with Daley Blind – their ‘controller’/number six – operating in between the centre-backs (in possession their 4-3-3 morphs into a 2-3-2-3).
The likes of Viktor Fischer and Davy Klaassen are the latest in a long line of creative and stylish midfielders from Ajax. What’s the secret behind the stunning consistency with which Ajax churns out such midfielders?
They would tell you football is art, but development is a scientific process. Club culture has always encouraged individuality within a team framework. Playing gracefully is part second nature, part environmental: youth players arrive with a semblance of natural talent once exposed to Ajax’s method – a modernised version of what Rinus Michels penned all those years ago (individualised training: character building) – they evolve into something much better characterised by enhanced technique and strong mental acumen. Klaassen, in particular, symbolises the restoration of intelligence in Ajax’s game under De Boer.
For all their success in midfield, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson represents the only real option upfront, with Milik & Zivkovic possessing potential but not dependence. Do you see this becoming an issue?
Not really. De Boer has in the past experimented with a false nine and the option is there. Arkadiusz Milik been impressive in pre-season, they’re not worried about him, type of ‘number nine’ they’ve been crying out for in my opinion.
As far as the Eredivisie goes, things are getting competitive. The likes of Feyenoord and PSV have a lot of talented Dutch internationals among their ranks. Does this spell the end of this era of dominance for Ajax?
Ajax also possesses a number of Dutch internationals in their ranks (and few who could be capped in years to come). It’s hard to predict an end of an era when they’re looking just as strong as last season.
The last few seasons have seen Ajax impress in the Champions League, despite being drawn in tough groups. Do you think Ajax have it in them to progress past the group stage in Europe’s elite competition?
Anything’s possible but struggling to see them making the final sixteen: gulf between Eredivisie and Champions League/Europa League continues to grow wider adjusting to a quicker tempo is where they’ve fallen short. People criticise De Boer for not adopting a reactive approach, which supposedly gives them a better chance of recording wins, I don’t buy it plus he lacks the players, even so he’d rather fail with his own vision. In saying that he’s made tactical errors, one area where he can still improve, but essentially it comes down to position of the club in today’s economic reality and what’s available: experience matters (not in terms of age but what they’ve gone through). Ajax, like so many clubs across the continent, are now on the periphery.
We track the progress of youngsters with our Talent Radar feature. While Ajax certainly possess many, one that caught our attention especially in the second half of last season is Ricardo Kishna. Do you see him having an impact?
He’s got time, in the first team whilst Viktor Fischer is recovering. Given his capabilities – a winger that frightens defenders with sheer pace, guile and trickery, movement reminiscent of Ángel Di María – he’ll add dynamism to Ajax’s forward line. He made an impact at the backend of last season; with a full pre-season behind him, understanding the system (more and more) plus De Boer’s requirements, can only see him continuing from where he left off, won’t exactly be a world beater, but a threat, in sporadic moments produce something special from out of nowhere. He’s that kind of talent.
Ajax sealed up their 4th title in a row last season, but the competition is getting tough. Keeping this in mind, will fans be happy if Ajax win ‘just’ the Eredivisie again?
Well, a European title (at this moment in time) is out of the question, a league and cup double is the maximum. If the club only wins the Eredivisie supporters won’t be too disheveled: it means a fifth consecutive championship and that’s never been done before since Dutch football turned professional.
A lot of the world’s attention has turned to The Netherlands after their good performance at the World Cup. With some of the fantastic talent exposed to the world, are Ajax facing trouble from buying clubs, or will they be happy with the attention, and look to make a killing in what is now a seller’s market?
They don’t purposely want to sell their players. However if an exorbitant sum arrives, of course, they’ll listen. But even then depends on the players wishes. A number (including Ricardo van Rhijn, JoëlVeltman, Daley Blind and Davy Klaassen) have recently penned new deals which De Boer interpreted as them believing in the project. In fact Veltman, Blind and Klaassen all spoke to De Boer at the end of last season asking him to remain amidst speculation over his future.
Questions answered by Mohamed Moallim. Follow him on Twitter @iammoallim