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Frank de Boer and Ajax: a match made in Heaven

May 17, 2011

After 7 years waiting, Ajax finally won the championship again. They pulled in the 30th championship by beating FC Twente 3-1. A lot of credit is due to Frank de Boer, a true Ajax man who only took the job as head coach in December 2010 after the resignation of Martin Jol.

When Martin Jol left, Ajax was third behind PSV and FC Twente, with FC Groningen hot on their heels. In Europe, Ajax was literally blown away by Real Madrid. The money pot was empty, the bench was filled with has-beens and the future looked bleak.

Frank de Boer made the step up from coaching Ajax U19 and the first thing he did was to revert the tactic back to 4-3-3, the Ajax way. On the pitch, the young Christian Eriksen became the pivotal number 10, whereas under Jol he mainly sat on the bench. Mounir El Hamdaoui was left on the bench, a decision that started the difficult relationship between the two. Ajax promptly won their first game, beating AC Milan 2-0.

Life didn’t get easier for de Boer as Luis Suarez and Urby Emanuelson left in January and no replacement was bought. But instead of sulking (like Jol did a lot), de Boer just picked up young players from the youth team. Lorenzo Ebecilio and Aras Ozbiliz became mainstays of the first team, later to be complemented by Nicolai Boilesen. Geoffrey Castillion and Jody Lukoki made their debuts and Rodney Sneijder has been on the bench.

Turmoil was also brewing off the pitch. Johan Cruijff heavily criticized Jol after the defeat to Real Madrid. He started to gain a following and it culminated when in March the board of directors and the management resigned. No replacement have been named yet, although it is very likely that Cruijff will sit in the board of directors. Frank de Boer managed to concentrate on the football and even though at one point the championship seemed impossible, going into the last day Ajax was only 1 point behind FC Twente.

In a recent series of interviews for the TV program Heilig Gras (which can be seen here in Dutch), Frank de Boer was asked about life as Ajax coach. His answers were really frank and it gave a lot of insights on how he works. There is one bit where he explained what went wrong when ADO Den Haag scored a goal (pretty much everything), he showed some players how to take a free kick, he joined in the rondo (pig in the middle – can’t see Mourinho do that), and it followed him during a game. He knows when to be a friend to the players and when to be the boss. And more importantly in these days, he understands the different cultures and adapts to it (although it didn’t start too well with El Hamdaoui).

The difference of Ajax under Jol and Ajax under de Boer is like night and day, even though it is only months apart. It’s not just the style of play, it’s the way Ajax plays. Under Jol, Ajax looks unsure and just kicked the ball forward to Suarez in the hope that he will do something magical. The players . Under de Boer, the players are playing with gusto again and in a way that is recognised as the Ajax style. Frank de Boer also rarely hides behind excuses, he says things as they are. That Ajax managed to win its 30th championship is a lot due to Frank de Boer. He brought calm to the team and he let them play football. He is the coach that Ajax has been wanting since van Gaal left.

The future looks bright now for Ajax. A proven head coach who knows Ajax inside out, a legend on the board of directors, three stars on the shirt, Champions League, youth players coming through, and a dented Championship trophy (which will not be fixed). As Cruijff said: “this is just the beginning”.

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