My Team & I: Ajax

By Mohamed Moallim

Twitter: @jouracule

Website: La Croqueta

Why Ajax?

One name: Louis van Gaal. I roughly began watching the beautiful game in the mid 90s (giving my age away) and Van Gaal’s Ajax were at their peak, but then I never realised their brilliance instead watching them in awe, thinking football must be played ‘the Van Gaal way’. They were special, more so now.

Trying to reminisce there become moments that are cloudy, but you remember sitting in front of the television and seeing Patrick Kluivert score in the 1995 European Cup and a rush of elation running through. As the years went by Ajax started become synonymous with Dutch football and vice versa.

Players graduating from their ranks representing the national team, made sure come Euro 96 and France 98, Oranje had my support as well. I felt for Clarence Seedorf in Euro 96 and Ronald de Boer in Marseille two years later. Both in the semi-finals – how cruel. 1996 wasn’t the best of years to tell you the truth; defeat on penalties to Juventus in another European Cup final has made me to this day loathe that method of deciding games.

As the years past and more anguish from the spot, Frank de Boer in Euro 2000, the past became a salvation. Reading, watching and even breathing (if that was physically possible) some of the great names that have made the club great. It became apparent that Ajax was more than a club (albeit not the same way FC Barcelona is). It has always been aesthetics over industry and that could never be compromised no matter the era.

Van Gaal’s side made me realise that but I never understood it then, but there was more. In victory it was grandeur and breathtaking in defeat it was likewise, there was a way to win and a way to lose. Even the name of the club says it much, Ajax the cousin of Achilles committed suicide hence he was never defeated or killed in battle. And that’s the core principle you come to appreciate.

His predecessors have maintained that level to the best of their abilities given that we have now moved into a rapidly globalising world, where what we once knew no longer remains. The double winning side of 1997/98 only strengthened the admiration.

Favourite player

There must be a dozen or more candidates but if I was to pinpoint just one then I’ll opt for Wesley Sneijder. I had the privilege of seeing him develop into a world class player with my very own eyes. Since making his debut I was already aware of the surroundings he was going into, I couldn’t say the same for Jari Litmanen, Seedorf, Edgar Davids, the de Boer brothers, Kluivert etc but I could with Sneijder.

For me he epitomised the Ajax player: yes can be brash but always confident in his ability, it may come out as arrogant (the unsavory incident with Ronald Koeman springs to mind) but that’s what you need, a player with no fear and he could more than anyone back up his words with actions.

Technique wise he was the model graduate of the fabled academy: two-footed one of the few truly ambidextrous players active in the game today, I mean he could take free-kicks with either foot equally and the same applied with corners. Sneijder also had an eye for goal as well as creating them.

He was always a joy to watch and still is to this day. His greatest season 2006/07 unfortunately was his last but the memories remain and who knows he may even return one day.

Favourite moment

It’s between two: the 1995 European Cup final or the 2003/04 Eredivisie triumph. The latter I appreciated more though with the former you knew you were watching something special that will not be repeated for another generation. The class of 2004 might just have been the last great side in terms of all-round quality, though it’s easy saying that as they backed it up with the biggest prize in Dutch football. But that was an incredible season and looking back wondering the fate of each player, where some players gone on to bigger and better things, there’s always a ‘what if’ above certain others. Nevertheless it was a special side one I’m sure will be equalled in due time.

Favourite kit

Anything with the sponsors ABN-AMRO down the front, that really made Ajax’s kit stand out it was unique and you felt the club was special in that sense. For me the 1996/97 home shirt/kit will remain a favourite and if I could pick another the 2002/03 away shirt (the blue number). In fact any kit is amazing, no matter if the front is plain or not, the shirt is recognised wherever you go on this earth.

Worst thing about being an Ajax fan?

It’s definitely not on the pitch though it’s in recent years tricked down. It’s the uncertainty, players you know that won’t be around for a long-term future, the globalising world and how it’s impacted on Ajax as a club. The fact that you know deep down what transpired in 1995 will never happen again, maybe in your lifetime unless something drastic happens and Ajax could be a force again (unlikely). As long as the philosophy and core beliefs remain then the club is on a good footing and will always be appealing, one thing that can never be taken away is the history and the good Ajax has done for football. One day Ajax will return to the summit but as of now they need to find their place in a new order and take the first small steps on the path of hopefully becoming the immortals they were when I started to believe in the beautiful game.

Favourite game

Real Madrid 0-2 Ajax: Now this I remember watching vividly. Those were the days, I’ve actually seen this game more than 20 times now (full ninety minutes) and I still can’t believe the football Ajax played on that November night in 1995. Every great club side throughout the course of history has a game where fans/football purist will look back and say ‘that was the game that defined that certain team’; well for Ajax under Louis van Gaal that victory over Real Madrid may just have been the game.

I’ve never seen a team demonstrate such dominance in a wonderful exhibition of football, Real Madrid then were a formidable side especially at home; they were the reigning Spanish champions and not long ago dispatched ex-Champions Barcelona 5-0 on the same ground. Ajax had turned up as the team to beat in Europe, I give you that, but this was still against Real Madrid!

Some of the individual performances on the night were jaw-dropping especially from Marc Overmars (another favourite of mine) and Finidi George, but the real stars were the lethal combination of Kluivert and Litmanen, both could have easily grabbed a hat-trick such was their hunger on the night.

The intricate play was mesmerising, the fluidity alluring and the tempo controlled like a hand over a dimmer switch; Van Gaal was the puppet master. There’s even an urban legend that Real Madrid youth team coaches have used the game to show their students on how football should be played, the biggest compliment if true.

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