When you hear the name AFC Ajax, all the images it conjures up are from the past. The greats of the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, but not much beyond that. When you hear the name Manchester City, the first thought that probably comes to you is of a nouveau-riche overspending side, buying its way to success.
That’s why it was so pleasant on Wednesday night when Ajax turned City over 3-1 in the Champions League at the Amsterdam Arena. Earlier in the competition the old-money of Real Madrid had visited a 4-1 defeat on the heads of the Dutch side, so there wasn’t much optimism when they played City.
Since the 1960’s Ajax have developed an ethos around how they should develop players and how the game should be played. They have remained true to this ethos ever since, running from Johan Cruijff through Marco Van Basten up to current first teamer and Dutch international Siem De Jong. Their commitment to ‘total football’ means that from a young age, their players are taught to be comfortable with the ball at their feet and in every position on the field.
The sheer quantity of world-class players that have come through Ajax’s academy is mind-boggling: Cruijff , Van Der Saar, Bergkamp, Van Basten, Sneijder, Davids, the de Boer brothers and Kluivert . Ajax graduates playing in the Premier League include Man City’s Nigel De Jong, Newcastle’s Vuron Anita and current stars for Tottenham and Arsenal, Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen. Such is their dedication to youth development that 3 players from the youth system must be put into the first team squad every 2 years.
Sadly, money talks and total football can take a hike. Ajax are a well run and self-sufficient club. They have a good stadium and excellent facilities. What they do not have is the ability (and perhaps the will?) to pay big wages and transfer fees. In the summer alone, they sold approx $35m worth of talent, and spent a mere $7m on replacements. Without a sugar daddy, they will never compete with the big Spanish, Italian or English sides. Their only hope is to develop world class players, and either hold onto them long enough to achieve something great, or sell them for a big wedge of cash.
As for Man City, in their first team squad, they have a single solitary player who came through their youth system (Micah Richards). The remainder of their squad was assembled for a mighty $500m (about $21m per player, fact fans). Only 30% of Man City’s squad are English and none are Mancunian. Compare this to Ajax’s 65% Dutch squad, including 5 ‘Mokummers’.
Of course, we all know that Ajax’s victory against Man City was a blip. We also all know that eventually Man City will get there. Money says so. For now though, we can enjoy the minor victories and marvel at the fact that Ajax and their total football are becoming a quaint footnote in football.
Mark Cruise is a football writer for rantsports. You can follow him on Twitter: @chiefhairyman #rantsports