Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Soccer Memories: Part Eight

Ajax 1995: How homegrown talent overcame big spenders

(Note: I would like to once again thank http://www.zani.co.uk/ for uploading this article http://www.zani.co.uk/ajax-1995-how-homegrown-talent-overcame-big-spenders)

When Leo Beenhakker left his post as Ajax Manager to take over Real Madrid midway through the 1991/92 season, no one could have foreseen that better days lay ahead.
His job was offered to his assistant, then unknown Louis van Gaal.
Van Gaal had a modest playing career and a limited coaching experience.
He had failed to make the Ajax first team as a player and had spent the majority of his career at Sparta Rotterdam.
Before his appointment as First team coach, he had been an Assistant Manager at AZ Alkmaar and Ajax.

Until then Ajax had largely been playing second fiddle to big spending rivals PSV Eindhoven, who had won 5 out of the last 6 league titles and most importantly the Champions Cup in 1988.
Over the next few months and years, van Gaal would rejuvenate and integrate many young players who would be the backbone of the 1995 Champions League winning side.
During his first season (1991/92); Ajax led by Dennis Bergkamp unexpectedly triumphed in the UEFA Cup.
Edgar Davids would make his first appearances during this first season.
Veteran midfielder Jan Wouters, who was a strong personality in the Ajax dressing room, was transferred to Bayern Munich. Many considered this to be a sign that van Gaal was stamping his authority by offloading characters that would question his authority.
The following season (1992/93), would be Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk’s last before their joint transfer to Internazionale in Italy.
Unknown Finnish striker Jari Litmanen was acquired, though for that season he was little used, as he was there to learn from Bergkamp.
Excellent winger Marc Overmars was purchased from Willem II and midway through the season, former player and defender Frank De Boer’s twin brother, Ronald, rejoined his formative club from Twente Enschede.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, December 1994
(Ronald de Boer in Champions Legue action in Fall 1994 vs. Casino Salzburg)

Sixteen-year-old Clarence Seedorf made his debut for Ajax during this season.
In a move reminiscent of Wouters’ transfer the previous season, former wonder boy Bryan Roy was also offloaded to Italian club Foggia, as another victim of van Gaal’s purges of difficult personalities.
Long serving goalkeeper Stanley Menzo was also displaced as starting goalkeeper that season (at club and international level) after one too many unreliable displays.
The last straw being his poor displays in the UEFA Cup vs. French club Auxerre in the quarterfinals.
His successor Edwin van der Saar would be a fixture of top European Football for the following two decades.
That season was a relatively poorer season despite Ajax’s triumph in the Dutch Cup.
The following season (1993/94), Ajax was finally ready to make a challenge for the League title.
Gone were Bergkamp and Jonk, but Litmanen was installed on the front line.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, April 1995
(Jari Litmanen in Champions Legue action in Fall 1994 vs. Casino Salzburg)

Davids, Seedorf and Ronald de Boer were now integral parts of the team.
New Holland striker Peter van Vossen was acquired from Beveren to add firepower at the front.
Young Nigerians Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu also joined the first team that season.
More importantly former legend Frank Rijkaard returned to Ajax from AC Milan after six years away.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, April 1995
(Frank Rijkaard during 1994/95 season)

Rijkaard and skipper Danny Blind were the old hands in an otherwise youthful side that would excel at home and Europe for the next few years.
Danny Blind, who Platini once described to be just as important to Ajax as Baresi was to AC Milan, was one of the last survivors of the Cruyff era and had been with Ajax since 1986.
At the conclusion of that season Ajax were crowned as Dutch Champions and gained entry to the Champions League.
The following season (1994/95) would turn out to be Ajax’s most successful and memorable season since the 70s heydays.
This season would mark the introduction of 18 year old Patrick Kluivert, who would become a full Dutch international, just months after his professional debut.
Outside back, Michael Reiziger also established himself that season at the expense of longtime custodian Sonny Silooy.
Ajax would repeat as Dutch Champions by going through the season undefeated (27 wins and 7 draws).
They would also be undefeated and triumph in the Champions League.
They managed to defeat the great AC Milan no less than three times, twice in the group stages and once in the Final by a goal from Kluivert.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, June 1995
(Ajax players celebrating the 1995 Champions League triumph)

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, June 1995
(Patrick Kluivert scoring his winning goal vs. AC Milan during the 1995 Champions League Final)

Along the way they would also defeat German powerhouse Bayern Munich in the semifinals.
Ajax became the youngest Champions of Europe with mostly homegrown players.
Frank Rijkaard retired at the end of that season and apart from the sale of Seedorf to Sampdoria, the squad remained intact.
Brazilian World Cup winning defender Marcio Santos joined from Fiorentina.
The following season (1995/96), Ajax once again triumphed in the League (third year in a row) and were undefeated until midseason.
They did reach the Champions League Final once again but lost on penalty kicks to Italy’s Juventus.
This signaled the beginning of the end of this great Ajax side.
During that season, the landmark Bosman Ruling was decided, which would have serious repercussions on European Football especially for a team like Ajax.
With most foreign player restrictions no longer an obstacle, one by one Ajax stars left for bigger contracts.
That first summer (1996), Edgar Davids and Michael Reiziger left for free to AC Milan, as their contracts had expired.
Nigerians Kanu and Finidi left for Internazionale and Real Betis respectively.
The following year, Patrick Kluivert and defender Winston Bogarde also joined AC Milan.
While Overmars joined Arsene Wenger’s revolution at Arsenal.
More importantly Manager Louis van Gaal also left to manage Barcelona in Spain.
While at Barcelona, van Gaal signed many of his former players. First he brought those already abroad such as Reiziger, Kluivert and Bogarde. Then he brought from Ajax, the De Boer brothers and Jari Litmanen.
In the space of a few seasons that wonderful team was completely dismantled.
Despite winning a few League titles since, Ajax has never been the same force especially in Europe.
In the post-Bosman era, European success will surely elude teams like Ajax as the bigger teams from England, Spain and Italy have the means to assemble super squads to compete in the Champions League.
Ajax’s success in 1995 was a significant achievement even for its time due to the youth of the squad and the fact that most of their rivals were big spenders.
Many would have predicted a long reign, however, economic reality is another matter.

Photo From: Onze-Mondial, April 1995
(Ajax squad 1994/95, standing, Left to Right: : Edwin van der Sar, Michael Reiziger, Frank Rijkaard, Patrick Kluivert, Finidi George, Clarence Seedorf, Bottom, Left to Right: Jari Litmanen, Frank de Boer, Marc Overmars, Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids )

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