Whilst Ajax may not be the most successful European club of the modern era by any means, the Amsterdam-based outfit nonetheless plays host to one of the most efficient and innovative youth academy set-up’s that the world has ever seen.
Through producing several well-known talents from yesteryear – including Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and the de Boer brothers – as well as multiple modern stars from the current game – such as Christian Eriksen, Daley Blind and Jan Vertonghen – Ajax have simply provided the sport as we know it with many of the most successful and popular players to ever grace the European footballing scene.
From Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Kluivert, to Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf – the list has certainly remained an impressive one, even when competition with other teams was at its rifest. The club’s triumph in the 1994/95 Champions League final certainly displayed how effective Dutch youth development could prove one of the biggest stages of all.
However, whilst Ajax’s overall popularity in Europe remains relatively high for a club belonging to Holland’s Eredivise, there are nevertheless several other world class academies out there ready and willing to challenge their Dutch counter-parts in the field of youth development.
In light of such a notion, does the set-up at Ajax honestly deserve the admirable reputation it has received throughout the years, or are other youth academies out there simply running superior systems in the cold light of day?
Well, although the Netherlands has remained traditionally strong at producing young, exciting players successfully and frequently in the modern era, no discussion surrounding the topic of youth development could ever really feel complete without mentioning Barcelona.
The Premier League has Arsenal, the Bundesliga has Schalke, and of course, the Eredivise has Ajax – but no outfit can really compete with the strength of Barcelona and their almost obsessive-like nature when it comes to producing new stars of the future.
The La Liga giants truly saw their hard work pay off under the management of Frank Rijkaard (an ironic ex-Ajax player) and Pep Guardiola in recent seasons. It was a time in which Barcelona categorically became the best club side in the world. No team could simply over-come the tiki-taka excellence pioneered by the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, and whilst the club’s overall play-acting skills off the ball somewhat marred their recent triumphs, no one could accuse Barca of failing to entertain football fans in general within the grand scheme of things.
Ajax therefore ultimately aren’t quite operating in the same ball-park as their Spanish counter-parts – but that doesn’t mean the Eredivsie club shouldn’t still be considered up there with the best of them in regards to youth development.
What the 'Amsterdammers' perhaps have over Barcelona though, is style – and plenty of it. Football is seen as more than a sport at Ajax. It has – for want of a less clichéd phrase – become a way of life. Young Dutch players coming through the ranks at their nation’s capital are taught to view the sport as a way of aiding their overall development and maturity from children into adults. So, even for those who ultimately fail to make the grade at Ajax, the experience on offer certainly proves beneficial.
However, the real style of Ajax is implemented in the footballing philosophy they pass down to their hopeful graduates. Whilst the focus predominantly remains locked on the concept of team-work and strong collective possession play, the Amsterdam Arena nonetheless encourages it's several confident young stars to express themselves with freedom on a regular basis. The balance between keeping the ball and trying something spectacular therefore works in perfect harmony at Ajax, and the results have been nothing but successful.
Admittedly, the overall lack of commercial investment and limitted popularity of Eredivise will likely restrict Ajax for a good while to come, forever casting the Dutch club’s efforts in the youth department firmly within the shadow of the mighty Barcelona – but as we have already mentioned – that simply doesn’t detract from what Ajax have achieved throughout the years.
Nonetheless, with the likes of Ricardo Kishna, Anwar El Ghazi and Arkadiusz Milik making up the numbers in the club’s latest bunch of new emerging stars, the future certainly looks bright for Ajax’s loyal fan-base – regardless of the fact that each of the aforementioned players could likely leave the Eredivise for the more alluring European leagues once their statuses start reaching truly notorious levels.
As Ajax fans rarely get to see their club hold onto their best stars in the modern era however, the Amsterdam Arena faithful will likely march on as usual, continuing to watch their club produce top class footballers at a consistently impressive rate.
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