AFC Ajax Profile
|Major Honours||Eredivisie (34), European Cup/Champions League (4), KNVB Cup (19), UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (1), UEFA Cup (1), UEFA Super Cup (2), Johan Cruyff Shield (9)|
One of the biggest and most successful clubs in the Netherlands, Ajax have recently seen a resurgence in fortunes on the European stage with their famed academy being the envy of the soccer world.
AFC Ajax, otherwise known as Ajax Amsterdam, is a football club from Amsterdam - the most successful team in the history of Dutch football. Ajax have won four UEFA Champions League titles and have produced several legendary players.
Marco van Basten, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Clarence Seedorf and Luis Suarez are among the footballing icons to have donned Ajax colours, but none can quite compare in terms of legacy to Johan Cruyff.
Cruyff won eight Eredivisie titles with the club as a player and laid the foundations for an era of success when he was a manager. However, it is also important to note that he was influenced heavily by Rinus Michels, who coached him at Ajax.
As a club, Ajax have always prided themselves on the quality of their youth setup, with 'De Meer' bringing through multiple generations of players who would go on to become world-class talents.
Ajax's beginnings in the amateur era
Ajax was founded on 18 March 1900. Eleven years later, they were promoted to the top tier of the Dutch football ladder.
The KNVB Beker in 1917 was Ajax's first major honor and they subsequently won National Championship titles in 1917/18 and 1918/19. The latter saw them become the only team to go unbeaten in the course of the tournament.
In terms of managers, Jack Reynolds was a stalwart at the club and would manage Ajax for an incredible 35 years in total in three separate spells. The Englishman arrived at the club in 1915, helped the club work its way up to the top of Dutch football and stay there ever since.
Ajax credit Reynolds with laying the foundations for what would become their world-famous youth academy, with his coaching methods being seen as revolutionary for their time and forming the basis for one of the most successful clubs in the country.
Despite Reynolds' success at the helm in Amsterdam, Ajax did not secure another National Championship title until 1931. After this triumph, the floodgates opened and they followed up with more victories in 1932, 1934, 1937 and 1939.
There was a heavy British influence at the club up until the 1960s, with nine of Ajax's first 16 managers in their history coming from the UK.
The De Meer Stadion became Ajax's home in 1934 - where they would stay until the building of the larger Amsterdam ArenA in the 1990s - and it became the base for the work of Ajax's youth academy to come to fruition, with the club continuing to 'grow their own' and use local players in their quest to add to their tally of trophies.
The successful 1930s
Wim Anderiesen and Piet van Reenen were key players for Ajax during the 1930s. Englishman Reynolds was the head coach at the time, having rejoined the club he had previously left for city rivals Blauw Wit.
Given that Reynolds was in charge for Ajax's first two National Championship titles, his total tally for the club was eight - won in 1917/18, 1918/19, 1930/31, 1931/32, 1933/34, 1936/37, 1938/39, and 1946/47.
Reynolds has been credited with being one of the pioneers of the "Total Football" philosophy which would bring Ajax so much success and influence clubs abroad such as Barcelona.
The 1930s were seen as a 'golden age' for the club, with a quality squad winning five National Championship trophies alongside eight regional titles and establishing themselves as one of the dominant forces in the Dutch game.
While teams in the Netherlands did not go professional until 1955, Ajax showed themselves to be the standout team in the amateur era of the game.
The "Total Football" era
Ajax had won all of their eight league titles under Reynolds before the dawn of the Eredivisie era in 1956. Ajax won the inaugural season in 1956/57, following it up with another title in 1959/60.
Rinus Michels, who played for Ajax from 1946 to 1958, took over as manager in 1965. He had scored 14 goals in Reynolds' final league-winning season and so he was the perfect candidate to further revolutionise the "Total Football" philosophy.
Michels led Ajax to Eredivisie titles in 1965/66, 1966/67, 1967/68 and 1969/70 with Johan Cruyff the star of the team. Michels led Ajax to the 1971 European Cup title with a 2-0 win over Panathinaikos in the final.
Later that year, he moved to Barcelona and ultimately lured Cruyff there in 1973. Michels did go on to enjoy another spell in charge of Ajax from 1975-1976.
The basic concept of "Total Football" was how players would use space to make themselves available to receive the ball at all times. It was also a commitment to all 11 players working as one unit to be able to attack and defend altogether as and when they needed to do so.
As a coach, Cruyff continued to be a proponent of the system, highlighting the need to work together by famously saying of his approach: "In my teams, the goalkeeper is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender."
Another factor of "Total Football" was how Ajax would pressure teams when they were out of possession, by putting in hard work to win the ball back as soon as they lose it. This approach can arguably count itself as an inspiration behind the 'gegenpressing' style of play employed by Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool in the modern era.
A trio of European Cups
After Michels' initial departure, Ajax's success continued as they defended their European Cup in 1972 and again in 1973. Stefan Kovacs was the man at the helm at the time.
Johan Cruyff scored both goals as Ajax beat Inter Milan 2-0 in 1972 and then they followed that up with a 1-0 win over Juventus the following year. Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol and Piet Keizer were key players for Ajax at this time.
Ajax's triple success in Europe proved that it was possible for a Dutch club to stand amongst the continent's elite. It came off the back of Feyenoord having become the first Dutch club to win the European Cup in 1969/70. In 1987/88, PSV Eindhoven became the third, beating Benfica in the final.
In winning Europe's premier club competition in the 1972/73 campaign, Ajax became only the second team ever (after Real Madrid) to win the European Cup three times in a row. Bayern Munich achieved exactly the same feat in 1974, '75 and '76 but no other clubs have reached this milestone.
The biggest and best teams in Europe were defeated by Ajax in this time, with the Amsterdam outfit establishing themselves at the top table of European soccer.
With the legendary Cruyff at the forefront of the team's success in this era, the 1971/72 season saw Ajax pull off one of the greatest individual seasons by any club in world football.
Alongside retaining the European Cup, Ajax also brought home another National Championship title, a KNVB Cup and an Intercontinental Cup - beating Argentine side Independiente over two legs to beat South America's best team in the same season.
The following year, after Ajax won a third European Cup, the team followed this up by bringing the first ever official UEFA Super Cup back to Amsterdam.
Continued success in the 1980s
Ajax continued to enjoy success after their European triple triumph, the 1980s saw a changing of the guard as Johan Cruyff retired from playing to take over as manager from 1985 to 1988, with the club struggling for form in Europe - albeit while still winning the Eredivisie on a regular basis in the early part of the decade prior to Cruyff's appointment.
Young stars Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten were key players in the Cruyff era and Rijkaard later returned to help the team to European glory in 1995 under Louis van Gaal.
The foundations for that team were partially laid by Cruyff, even though all he had to show for it in terms of trophies was KNVB Cup wins in 1985/86, 1986/87 and the '86/87 UEFA Super Cup.
While honours were not quite as plentiful as they were in the 1970s, the emergence of an abundance of young talent would be a big boon for Ajax as they built for the future of the club.
The likes of Rijkaard, Ronald Koeman, both Frank and Ronald de Boer, Dennis Bergkamp and Edgar Davids - all of whom coming through the club's own academy - would all gradually make their way into the team as the years progressed, so the future was bright for supporters of the players who wore red and white.
Louis van Gaal's managerial term
Louis van Gaal took over as Ajax head coach in 1991. By this stage, he had a quality team at his disposal which had won the Eredivisie as recently as 1989/90 and had players such as Dennis Bergkamp driving them on.
Van Gaal, however, helped Ajax find another gear as he steered them back to the summit of European football. Ajax beat AC Milan 1-0 in the UEFA Champions League final with Patrick Kluivert scoring the only goal of the match.
Van Gaal's team had a strong core of Dutch players and key names included Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Winston Bogarde, Michael Reiziger, Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar.
The 1994/95 season in particular under Van Gaal will live in Ajax folklore forever, with five trophies won during a stunning one-off campaign.
Alongside their Champions League crown, Van Gaal's squad would also win the Intercontinental Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Johan Cruyff Shield and another Eredivisie title.
As a result, Ajax's inspirational boss took home several personal awards to go with his hoard of silverware, including World Soccer Manager of the Year and European Coach of the Year.
The combination of a golden era of players and a manager who would inspire success led Ajax to the top of the game once again, domestically and in Europe.
Van Gaal departed in 1997 and took the job at Barcelona, later going on to coach AZ Alkmaar to the Eredivisie title in 2008/09.
Ajax in the 21st Century
As clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain poured money into transfer fees, it became difficult for Ajax to keep up with Europe's elite in the 2000s. However, they remained competitive and continued producing quality players.
Former Ajax player Frank de Boer led the club to four successive Eredivisie titles between 2010 and 2014 during his spell as head coach. Peter Bosz took a youthful side to the UEFA Europa League final in 2017, but they lost 2-0 to Manchester United.
Arguably the club's greatest achievement of the 2010s came when, alongside winning their fifth Eredivisie title of the decade, the KNVB Cup and the Johan Cruyff Shield (Dutch Super Cup), they made the UEFA Champions League semifinals in 2018/19 under Erik ten Hag.
Unfortunately, though, their superb run was ultimately ended after being knocked out by a sensational Tottenham Hotspur comeback in the second leg of their tie.
Ajax were on course to win the Eredivisie in 2019/20, but no team was awarded the title and the season was cancelled in early 2020 due to COVID-19. Most of the stars of recent years have now left the Johan Cruyff Arena, albeit for extremely high transfer fees, enabling Ajax to reinvest in the club.
Ajax's biggest rivals
Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven are Ajax's biggest rivals, as they are similarly successful clubs with sizeable fanbases in the Netherlands.
The match between Feyenoord and Ajax is known as De Klassieker (The Classic). There have been several instances of violence and hooliganism linked to clashes between the two sets of fans.
The club's fanbase
Ajax are supported well beyond their home city due to being the Netherlands' most successful club. Ajax's reach has even gone global, partially through affiliated projects such as the now-defunct South African club Ajax Cape Town. This has led to Ajax purporting to have one of the largest overall fanbases of clubs in Europe.
In Amsterdam, however, Ajax are well-known for having some of the most hardcore supporters in the world. Groups of 'ultras' such as F-Side generate a significant proportion of the noise and atmosphere at Ajax home games, but this can come at the cost of incidents of hooliganism or rioting in the stadium - with the club having to pay several fines over the years due to incidents arising from their fan groups.
The club's fanbase is widely associated with having Jewish roots, with 'de Joden' (the Jews) appearing as one of the club's nicknames.
Ajax sanctioned the $190million sales of Matthijs de Ligt to Juventus and Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona following their 2019 UEFA Champions League semifinal exit.
Alongside those mega-moves, they were followed up by the sales of American Sergino Dest to Barcelona, Donny van de Beek to Manchester United and Hakim Ziyech to Chelsea brought in another haul of more than â‚¬100million in the summer of 2020.
As a result of this, the club reportedly made a â‚¬20.7million profit in the 2019/20 financial year, with the potential for another profit to be made in the 2020/21 financial year - albeit with COVID-19 causing financial issues for clubs across the world.