Frank de Boer bringing the old school back to Ajax.By: Mohamed | December 12th, 2010
What a week: What a breath of fresh air the win over Milan was, sure it may not have been against the strongest Milan XI or a XI that was really pumped up for the game as qualification to the next stage of the Champions League had been secured in the previous game-week, but that didn’t matter, what mattered was how the Ajax XI reacted to their new coach.
Before that game De Boer spoke of bringing the joy and prestige of playing for the club back to Ajax. But he also brought something back: the ‘Ajax way of playing’.
First of all: he gave clear instructions on how he wanted the shape of the team to be:
We played following the Ajax philosophy. With wingers (Sulejmani & Suárez) and a real number ten (Eriksen) and everyone did well at the job they were assigned beforehand. The wingers kept the field broad, and came in at the right times. And that’s only possible if the backs come up on time. For example, I saw Van der Wiel come up at least twenty times tonight. I hadn’t seen him do that in a long time. But he did it tonight. That’s the Greg we want to see. I think he was symbolic of the whole team tonight.
What was a shock before the game was the omission of leading scorer El Hamdaoui, starting the game on the bench with De Boer instead opting for Siem de Jong to be his ‘number 9′, the reason for this could very well be that De Boer wanted a forward who could hold the ball up and link with the wide players and the attacking midfielder and de Jong did this exquisitely. In fact he and Eriksen were doing no more of what was expected of Petersen – Bergkamp and Kluivert -Litmanen in days gone by.
Also most importantly was encouraging his players to not be afraid of making mistakes: “We showed guts tonight,” De Boer said satisfied. “Dare to play. It’s OK to make mistakes, but show some guts, on all positions.”
Ajax might not play like this every week, no one’s expecting that, but what is clear as De Boer put it after the game: “I know what they can do and they now need to keep showing it. I just hope the lads believe in what they can do. They can all play fantastic football.”
Another aspect of this new administration is De Boer’s core belief in the academy and following the Ajax tradition of promoting and playing the talents that have come through. Against Vitesse: his first league match in charge, no fewer than 11 of the 18 man squad have like him graduated from the Ajax academy including Lorenzo Ebecilio who alongside Rodney Sneijder (brother of Wesley also not part of the 18) trained with the first team with De Boer observing. Could this be a sign of things to come – more talents given a similar chance, De Boer himself saying, if they’re good enough, they are ready to train with the senior team.
And given his wonderful start, he followed the Milan win with victory over Vitesse, Ajax’s second league win in five; with the only goal coming from what could be the symbol of the new regime: Christian Eriksen. Ebecilio rounded of a solid debut and was subbed off for the last debutant Aras Özbiliz. Ebecilio continued the role assigned to Suárez in the San Siro – playing wide, De Jong continued as the ‘no9’ in the absence of El Hamdaoui as the rest of the team was unchanged. In fact 8 of the starting XI came through the youth ranks with an average age of 23.
First half Ajax was dominant, pressing when not in possession and making the pitch big when in possession: easier to retain possession this way. Second half Vitesse grew back in the game but Ajax could have (should have) put the game to bed with De Jong and Sulejmani both coming close.
At the full time whistle, if a picture can paint a thousand words, Ajax players were in smiles – the toll of the previous weeks maybe lifting as De Boer stood like a general on the touchline. With PSV drawing and Twente losing away to Heerenveen – the gap to the top has been reduced to 3pts. So far one of his three objectives when taking charge has been fulfilled: staying in Europe after the winter break, the other two: making sure the gap in the league doesn’t widen and the last staying in the KNVB Beker (game against AZ on 23rd December).
De Boer’s previous role with the academy, coaching Ajax A1 shouldn’t be underestimated, his knowledge and eagle eye of knowing who will make the grade could be very important next summer if some of the already names in the squad leave for pastures new. Already Eriksen and Alderweireld whose goal sealed Ajax’s win over AC Milan have both come out in praise of De Boer’s approach and spoke of the confidence he instilled in them plus the easiness of playing for him: both of course knowing him from their academy days.
Hopefully this win is the turning point and we can keep up the good work for the next few weeks. He gave me a lot of confidence to play both on and off the ball. Tonight I visualised some pictures in my head from those academy days and remembered how well things had gone for me – that seemed to work.
Everybody felt like it was a new start. The coach gave clear instructions about what to do and that was nice. Especially when you’ve gone through the youth academy it’s a safe and pleasent feeling.
From his words and actions his intentions are clear that he is continuing the ‘Ajax philosophy’ and accepts that he is the guardian of it. The glory days may not return yet but no doubt De Boer is travelling on the path his predecessors Louis van Gaal and Johan Cruyff took.
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