Michael Miles brings us an update on events from Amsterdam where a new dynasty is starting to develop, although not the one everyone wants.
Johan Cruyff made his debut for Ajax as a 17-year old in November 1964. He scored the only goal in a 3-1 defeat. Now, almost half a century later he is still making waves at the club where his mother used to do the laundry. In the few days I was in Amsterdam to see Ajax play NAC Breda the main story in the local paper was not concerning the team, but Cruyff’s on-going dispute with the club’s Supervisory Board. The gist of the dispute appears to be that they want to Bring back Louis van Gaal , but there is continuing bad blood between the two men , and Cruyff is set against him.
Of course Ajax already has a manager, and a successful one to boot. Frank De Boer was himself a mainstay for Ajax and Barcelona for many years, as well as winning 112 caps for Holland. Last season he took Ajax to their first Eredivisie title since 2004, a period of Arsenal-like proportions for a club of this magnitude, after succeeding Martin Jol.
I’d been to the ArenA once before, for a Euro 2000 semi-final against Italy, so I knew what to expect. Aesthetically it’s alright, but doesn’t take your breath away. Located south-east of the city, the ArenA stands alone, rather like Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. There’s a road and car park beneath the pitch, so climbing to the second tier involves a bit of a hike. I enter the concourse and there the ArenA experience begins. Everything is sold in “ArenAs”, so before buying anything you must buy a minimum 10 euro Arena card. Mine came as part of the package that Ajax sell to foreign fans. I also got given a very nice scarf. I guess the idea is that you get served quicker, but that you also waste money by either not spending your Arenas , or buying stuff you don’t want, to finish your card.
Ajax 2 NAC Breda 2 – The Amsterdam ArenA – 19th November 2011
Prior to this game Ajax lay in fourth place in a league led by AZ. NAC Breda were in mid table, but only four points behind tonight’s opponents. It was a match Ajax were expected to win comfortably, but it took them until the 36th minute to take the lead when Sulejmani swept in a cross. Luis Saurez’s place in the Amsterdamer’s affections has been taken by another Uruguayen, Lodeiro, and he buzzed around to great effect after coming on as a 28th minute substitute. Also in the side was the Dane Eriksen, reportedly a target for several Premiership clubs.
Despite only holding a one –goal lead Ajax became over-confident against limited opponents seemingly intent on keeping the score down. Players like Eriksen appeared more intent on showing off their skills than pushing for more goals.
It took until the 84th minute for another substitute, Boerrigter , to make it 2-0, and that should have been that. Many of the 49,531 crowd presumably thought so, as they made their way to the exits. Then a minute later NAC’s Kolk tried a speculative shot from the edge of the area that squirmed under goalkeeper Vermeer’s body. For the first time in the game NAC believed they could salvage something , and a minute from time Schilder hit a belter from distance to earn an unlikely point.
Apart from the two Ajax goals the biggest cheer of the evening came when the crowd spotted Cruyff sitting in the directors’ box. His post-match comments went unreported, though one didn’t need to be able to understand Dutch to see that Frank De Boer was not a happy bunny.