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What next for Ajax?

March 23, 2011
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After their loss last weekend against ADO Den Haag, Ajax’ season is pretty much over. They can still win the Cup, but not a lot of people care if they do or don’t.

Now Ajax has to look forward to next season and here is what I think Ajax should be focusing on:

1. Players
These important players are very likely to go: Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel, Jan Vertonghen and Mounir El-Hamdaoui. That’s the captain, vice-captain and topscorer. So replacing them will be a priority. Ajax will let go of several fringe players whose contracts are expiring like Evander Sno, Rob Wielaert, Bruno Silva, Hyun-Jun Suk, Oleguer, Mitchell Donald, Timothee Atouba and will get Ismail Aissati, Jan-Arie van der Heijden, Marvin Zeegelaar and Sergio Padt back from loan.

a) Goalkeeper. Losing Stekelenburg is a big blow as he has been Ajax’ best player. But in Kenneth Vermeer Ajax has the perfect replacement. A bit younger and equally talented, Vermeer should easily make the #1 shirt is own. For half a season under van Basten Vermeer was the first choice, so he has the experience as well. Sergio Padt is coming back from a year on loan at Go Ahead Eagles and will make the perfect understudy. Jeroen “Pizza” Verhoeven will probably stay on as third goalie.

b) Defense. Assuming that Vertonghen and van der Wiel will go, Ajax desperately needs replacement. Toby Alderweireld still needs somebody strong next to him. Andre Ooijer is getting on the years so is not ideal and although youth players are available, none of them can fit in Vertonghen’s shoes easily. I hope Ajax will spend for this place. The name Douglas from FC Twente was mentioned ages ago, but I’m not sure if he is willing to go (or if FC Twente wants to let him go). For the right back position, again Ajax needs to find somebody, although there are some youth players that hopefully can step up (Johan Kappelhof). Even though Daley Blind is doing well at left back, Ajax need to have cover for him too as Vurnon Anita should concentrate on midfield. There are some youth players in the ranks (Nicolai Boleisen) that hopefully can make the step up. But a defensive purchase or two is a must. In an ideal world John Heitinga will come back, but for the moment that is out of the question.

c) Midfield. Ajax has the midfield covered. Christian Eriksen will be the center of it, with Nicolas Lodeiro and Ismail Aissati as his cover. Siem de Jong or Demy de Zeeuw can play alongside him with Vurnon Anita, Eyong Enoh, Rasmus Lindgren, or Roly Bonevacia behind them. Rodney Sneijder (brother of) should make the step up as well from the youth.

d) Attack. With El-Hamdaoui going, Ajax’ second priority should be a striker. They almost got Bas Dost in January and they should go for him again, unless Klaas-Jan Huntelaar becomes available. Siem de Jong can play up there and Geoffrey Castillion is the up-and-coming talent but Ajax still need a solid striker. Dario Cvitanich is simply not good enough and will probably be sold if the price is right. On the right wing, there are plenty to choose from: Miralem Sulejmani, Aras Ozbiliz, Jody Lukoki, Florian Josefzoon. On the left though, there’s only Lorenzo Ebecilio. Ismail Aissati can eventually play up there and maybe Marvin Zeegelaar. Last winter Ajax tried to buy Dries Mertens and getting him (or Wesley Verhoek) might be a good idea.

2. Tactics
Frank de Boer has stated many time that he is a big supporter of 4-3-3, the way Ajax should play. During his tenure so far, he always played 4-3-3 and will continue to do so. Not only is it the best way to play football (according to Johan Cruijff), it is also the tactics used in all the youth teams. Frank de Boer even went as far as saying that even if he has 6 injured wingers, he’ll still play 4-3-3.

3. Structure
Cruijff in his advisory role had advised Ajax to let the triumvirate of Frank de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk take care of football issues. Frank de Boer as head coach, Dennis Bergkamp as head of youth development and Wim Jonk as head of scouting. This should be implemented as soon as possible so that the rewards can be reaped next season already. Frank de Boer looks increasingly like the trainer that Ajax has been waiting for since Louis van Gaal left, let’s hope it is true. With Johan Cruijff back, Ajax is definitely heading in the right direction. Barcelona is what it is now mainly due to Johan Cruijff.

4. Money
For all that to happen, Ajax needs money to be able to invest. Fortunately, Champions League participation and the sale of Luis Suarez and Urby Emanuelson has added some needed cash in the bank. There will also be savings from having the top earners leave (Stekelenburg, Sno, Wielaert, Oleguer, Atouba). Hopefully Ajax will be sensible with the money and use it wisely to invest for the future and not just for one year. There is also the possibility that Ajax can qualify for the Champions League again if they finish second which will bring even more money.

Of course, as I am writing this Ajax is third, only six points behind PSV and five points behind FC Twente with six games to go and on paper Ajax has the easiest program. It is still possible that Ajax somehow gets away with the championship. But in all honestly, I don’t think it will happen.

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