Bottom of the table: How have Dutch giants Ajax sunk so low?
THE HAGUE – “Blow after blow after blow”, sighed the Ajax supporters’ association on its website, after Sunday’s “painful” 5-2 defeat to rivals PSV Eindhoven condemned the four-time European Champions to a historic bottom place in the Dutch top flight.
AFP looks at how the Dutch giants, the club of Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp, have stooped so low and whether anything can be salvaged from their worst ever season so far.
How bad is it?
Historically bad. Ajax have just five points from eight Eredivisie games, losing their last five straight matches. A 4-0 home “Klassieker” defeat to Feyenoord, interrupted after crowd violence from Ajax fans, was a particular low point.
Ajax are also struggling in Europe, without a win in the group stage of the Europa League. A toothless 2-0 loss against European debutants Brighton mid-week did little to dispel the gloom – Ajax had one shot on target and one third of possession.
The Dutch media are not mincing their words. The Algemeen Dagblad said: “This is news in Niger and Botswana. Ajax’s league position. Eighteenth. And last. Not after a couple of games in August. But at the end of October.”
“As a snapshot in time, it’s so unique we’ll still be talking about it in 30 years. If Andere Tijden Sport (a historical sports show) still exists in 2053, they’ll devote an episode to it.”
What’s happening on the pitch?
Many pundits lay the blame on several seasons of bad transfer dealings. Ajax has traditionally sold off home-grown talent for big profits but the recent turnover has been especially high and the replacements have misfired.
This summer, Ajax sold Dutch international defender Jurrien Timber to Premier League giants Arsenal for €42 million (S$61 million), plus Mexican midfielder Edson Alvarez and Ghana’s Mohammed Kudus to West Ham for €38 million and €43 million respectively.
The year before, the Amsterdam club sold Argentine star Lisandro Martinez and Brazilian winger Antony to Manchester United. None of the starting XI from Ajax’s recent highlight – a 2019 Champions League semi-final – are still at the club.
“Yet more players left. European clubs ravaged the carcass. The new arrivals were poorly scouted and randomly assembled,” said Dutch football pundit Michael Statham.
What about off the pitch?
The revolving door on the pitch has been reflected in the management and backroom staff as well, resulting in a damaging lack of stability.
Maurice Steijn was sacked earlier this month, paying the price for the team’s shocking run of form. Former Ajax player John van’t Schip was named interim boss on Monday to steady the ship.
Powerful technical director Sven Mislintat, who was behind much of Ajax’s recent transfer activity, was also sacked in September. He is under investigation over a potential conflict of interest.
And fans’ frustration has been boiling over, with Ajax hooligans trashing their own stadium and causing the postponement of the Dutch “Klassieker” with Feyenoord by hurling objects onto the pitch.
What are the financial implications?
Already suffering from loss of income due to a lack of Champions League football, the club is set to take another financial hit in the future as the prospect of any European football next season seems remote.
Local station RTL Nieuws reported this month that the club could face a deficit running into the “tens of millions” and was in talks to open a credit line for the first time in its history.
Can Ajax recover?
Hedwiges Maduro, who was in charge for Sunday’s defeat, said he “wasn’t looking at the league table”, leading the Ajax supporters’ association match report to quip “but the rest of the Netherlands is”.
The Ajax faithful are pinning their hopes on former boss Louis van Gaal, who has rejoined the club in an advisory role. And optimists point to the fact that Ajax have two games in hand over second-bottom club Utrecht and have already played most of the big guns, notably Feyenoord and PSV.
Most pundits think Ajax will finish the season in the top half of the table. Relegation is unthinkable. But even talking in these terms is extraordinary for one of the world’s best-known clubs with a record 36 Dutch titles.
“What a fall from grace. Embarrassing. And anyone who’s not an Ajax fan in the Netherlands loves it,” said Statham. - AFP