Ajax's youth policy in action at 2012 Lion City Cup in Singapore
Sasikumar recalls how coach left star players on the bench in Lion City Cup semis
Ajax Amsterdam's youth policy has paid dividends this season, where they slayed giants Real Madrid and Juventus to reach the Champions League semi-finals.
|TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR||AJAX AMSTERDAM|
But just how far would they go in their development efforts? An example played out in Singapore in 2012, when Ajax's Under-15 team won the Lion City Cup, a youth tournament involving local and foreign sides.
Two players in Ajax's current first team - midfielder Donny van de Beek and fullback Noussair Mazraoui - turned out for that triumphant team during the tournament at the Jalan Besar Stadium then.
And yet, winning was not high on their agenda.
R. Sasikumar, managing director of Red Card Global which organised the Lion City Cup, recalled how van de Beek and another star player Ezra Walian did not start in the semi-finals against Manchester City U-16.
They were introduced only later, when they were trailing 2-0. Walian then scored a brace within five minutes to help Ajax win 4-2.
Sasikumar recalled Ajax coach Michel Kreek's reason for starting with van de Beek and Walian on the bench.
Said Sasikumar: "Post-match, some of the journalists asked why did you not start the two star players? And he said if he didn't give the squad enough playing time, when he goes home, he will lose his job.
"For them, it's not about the results but the development... When you look at their philosophy, I'm not surprised that they produce players.
"Their agenda is completely different from, I'd say, most football clubs in the world."
Ajax, who went on to defeat Singapore U-16 4-1 in the final in front of nearly 4,000 fans to avenge their 2-1 group-stage loss, also left an impression on the locals.
Some of the Singapore players regard the victory over Ajax as one of the fondest moments of their career.
Among them is Zulfadhmi Suzliman, who scored the winner two minutes before the final whistle in the group match.
The Tampines Rovers midfielder, 23, can still vividly recall the game, down to the way he scored and how he celebrated.
He also remembered that van de Beek was very composed with the ball, even at 15 years old.
He said: "The playmaker was their captain Abdelhak Nouri, but van de Beek supported him as the destroyer."
Midfielder Mahathir Azeman, who scored twice against Ajax U-15, recalled van de Beek as one of the stand-out players of the tournament.
"He was the MVP for the final... and he was always comfortable with holding the ball," said the 23-year-old, who is now with Hougang United.
UNDER THE RADAR
Although Mazraoui did not exactly outshine everyone at Jalan Besar Stadium, he has grown to be yet another starlet from the academy.
The 21-year-old was under the radar until his crucial goals against Bayern Munich (1-1) and Benfica (1-0) in the group stage.
Van de Beek, 22, scored the equaliser against Cristiano Ronaldo's Juventus as Ajax won the quarter-final, second leg 2-1 two weeks ago.
Next up for the fearless side are Tottenham Hotspur, whom they meet in the first leg of the semi-finals tomorrow morning (Singapore time).
The Ajax youth teams prioritise development over results, but a greater success awaits if their senior team's giant-killing feat continues.
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