In an age of hyper-inflated transfer figures, sensationalism and an emphasis on individuals, Ajax are the grounding force that the football world needs.
Four years on from Leicester City’s miraculous title-winning campaign, there has been no high-profile success story quite like this.
Ajax Are a Breath of Fresh Air
A Season to Remember
Top of the Eredivisie and now through to the semi-finals of the Champions League, Ajax have emphatically announced themselves on the world stage.
With an average age of 24, it seemed remarkable that a side of so little experience emerged unbeaten from a group that included Bayern Munich and Benfica. Fast-forward to April, Ajax have humiliated and subsequently eliminated both Real Madrid and Juventus; suddenly it does not seem so surprising.
Led by 19-year-old wonder-kid Matthjis De Ligt, with 106 goals in 30 Eridivise games they are devastatingly free-scoring. This has been translated on the European stage, as in six games they have collectively put 12 goals past Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus in the Champions League.
This clinical form and defensive prowess has made the possibility of achieving an unthinkable treble ever-more tangible. With a KNVB cup final against Willem II, a two-horse race at the top of the Eredivisie and a Champions League semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur to look forward to, it would be foolish to write off their chances.
The statistical evidence, ultimately, does not lie. The bottom line is that Ajax are currently a world-class footballing unit that no side wants to face.
More Than an Underdog
Consistency like this is revealing of pure and undisputed talent: there is no fortune, flukes or any external factors at play.
The basic explanation is that Ajax have simply outplayed a series of European giants and embarrassed them on their home turf. Their classy performances have, in many ways, breathed new life into our complicated and occasionally toxic age of modern football.
Ajax’s squad is everything one could hope for in a football team: exciting, fresh, dynamic, versatile, packed with swagger and destined for greatness. To pile on the superlatives, they are level-headed, confident, stylish and composed, which makes watching them an absolute treat.
Their togetherness was a joy to watch at the final whistle, and across the 90 minutes, they all worked tirelessly for each other.
Collectively, their starting squad is worth approximately a mere £50 million. In stark contrast, Cristiano Ronaldo is supposedly worth over double that alone. More astoundingly, their wage bill last season was less than Aston Villa’s.
Like Claudio Ranieri showed the world with Leicester, raw teamwork and bringing football back to basics is far more refreshing to watch. Embodied by Ajax, football well and truly won the day on Tuesday night and refused to be overshadowed by the narcissistic pride of one individual, or the product of gross over-spending.
From the club that has gifted the world Frank de Boer, Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, we are slowly seeing the emergence of new legends. Though Frenkie de Jong has committed his future to Barcelona, de Godenzonen will be desperate to hold onto youth products such as Matthijs de Ligt and Donny van de Beek.
Most neutrals will be rooting for Ajax, not because they are the underdogs, but because they have a real chance of winning the competition.
A Flash in The Pan?
No matter what happens, Ajax’s 2018/19 campaign has been historic, mesmerising and a fantastic advert for the beautiful game.
Having said that, there is a sense of inevitability that this golden-encrusted squad will be torn apart. In years to come, their prodigies will be sprinkled around Europe and sustaining their European success will consequently suffer.
This remarkable season might be a flash in the pan, but De Jong’s departure need not necessarily spell the beginning of the end. Even if this is the case, history tells us Ajax will rise again.
In the words of Luke Edwards, though, ‘Ajax are like a butterfly, beautiful, bewitching, but already dying.’
Though this glistening period might only be transitory, and their decline is potentially inevitable, it is important to relish it while it lasts and concentrate on the exciting here and now.
As Tennyson so famously put it: “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all”. Ajax have made so many fall in love with football all over again and there is no need to forecast a collapse in the midst of their astonishing rise.
The time is not to speculate. Ajax could well go the distance in the Champions League and a fairy tale like this is unfolding before our very eyes. We thought that nothing could come close to Ranieri’s miracle works, but Ajax may well come close.