Amsterdam is flooded with history. Stroll through the Dutch capital, and you will come across famous landmarks that really do represent the country’s culture. The iconic Dam Square, the flowing canals, the illustrious Magere Brug and the buzzing Red Light District all play their part in the epicentre of Holland’s major city.
But no history is found to be more prestigious in the capital than at their football club. Ajax are the most successful Dutch team in history. 33 Eredivsie titles, 18 KNVP cups, 8 Johann Cruijff shields, 4 European cups, 1 Uefa Cup, 2 UEFA Super Cups, 2 Intercontinental cups and 1 European cup winner’s cup fill the illustrious trophy cabinet.
Throughout time since their establishment in 1900, Ajax Amsterdam have had teams that have ruled domestic, continental and world football. With three nicknames, “de Godenzonen” (Sons of the Gods), “de Joden” (the Jews) and “I Lancieri “(The Lancers), they were named joint 5th best club of the 20th century alongside Santos.
The current Dutch champions have never been relegated from the Eredivsie, and are one of only four clubs to have won all three major European competitions.
Since 1996 they have been playing at the Amsterdam Arena found in the southeast of the city. With a capacity of over 50,000 it is the largest stadium in all of Holland- seems about right for the most renowned team in the country.
The youth setup in Amsterdam has always been breath taking. The club have produced many of Holland’s finest ever players. Johann Cruijff, Marco Van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Edwin Van Der Sar, Patrick Kluivert, all regarded as legends in Holland, started their careers at the Ajax academy.
Current players Rafael Van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong also have come from the academy.
It’s not just this that has brought them such success, scouts in Europe look for the new uprising starlets from neighbouring countries too. Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen and Christian Eriksen all moved to Amsterdam as teenagers.
For Ajax, their supremacy started in the late 1960s going into the 70s. They were named European Team of the year 4 times between 1969-1973. They won the European cups three years on the bounce between 1971-73.
This was at the time Johann Cruijff was without doubt the best player on the planet. His ‘new’ turn, which is used by pretty much every footballer today, baffled defences. He was the man every Ajax fan went to see during his time there.
In the 1980s they won 8 domestic league and cups, with the likes of Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and current Southampton manager Ronald Koeman in the side.
But the best team ever produced by Ajax was that of 1995. That same year they were named the world’s best team and you could understand why. Their starting XI made up the national side. Van der Sar, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Frank de Boer, Marc Overmars, and Patrick Kluivert. The list could go on.
They won the European cup in 94/95 as well as the Intercontinental cup and the Super cup. Throughout the 90s they won 6 domestic league and cups.
Recent times haven’t been as illustrious though. 1995 was the last time they won a European trophy. The club still has produced players like Klass-Jan Huntelaar, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez, who have gone on to bigger and better things, but they couldn’t help Ajax become the force they once were.
Frank de Boer, the current manager of the club, has seen them win four domestic titles since taking charge in 2010. But that next step on the European stage proves illusive.
Every season they make it to the Champions League group stage, and each year they seem to fail to progress. This season they finished third in their group behind Barcelona and PSG, and will enter the Europa League as a result.
What’s changed then? Well the game certainly has since the 60s and even 90s. Billionaires are becoming more common in the game, and compared to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Chelsea and PSG, Ajax just cannot afford the big players.
The best Dutch players don’t stick around either. In the 90s, most of the Ajax team were the main core of the national side. Nowadays, most of the squad play their trade abroad. Goalkeeper Jasper Cillissen, and defenders Daley Blind and Joel Veltman were the only Ajax players to feature in Holland’s 23-man squad for last summer’s World Cup in Brazil. Blind has since moved to Manchester United.
The club are a team that are well regarded in Holland, but for the world to acknowledge them, they need to at least get as far as the last 8 of the Champions League.
They remind me of Celtic. Again, the Glasgow club are constantly in Europe’s elite competition, but they also fail to stamp their mark.
Ajax are a club that is proud of it’s history- who wouldn’t be? But the question is, do they want to be remembered for back then, or remembered for the now?