Written by Hendrik vd Decken for BausciaCafe
Original article at https://www.bausciacafe.com/editoriale/il-modello-ajax-non-esiste/
The Lancers achieved Europa League Quarterfinals where they are behind AS Roma, after losing the first leg 1-2. A good European campaign for a very young squad who renewed a lot their roster, and who very nearly achieved a Champions League eighth final last December, vanished in the last match-day against Atalanta during a dramatic “all-or-nothing” clash at Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam.
I’ve realized that Ajax have reached out a Euro-cup Quarterfinal for the third time in the last five seasons. From this simple verification, my mind thought about the possible reactions to what is, in my opinion, an exceptional achievement, if taking into consideration the context and the circumstances: i.e. a hegemonic football club in its country, where the domestic tournament is not part of the 5 top European Leagues, and nevertheless can achieve significant results in Europe. These reactions, like already seen in the past, would have had a narrative thread: the Ajax model, namely the way how the Amsterdam Football Club operates and the philosophy behind the management. “Yeah, they do very well because they have their Ajax model, which is something that can be good just there though”.
So, what is this blessed Ajax model? Starting from here, I’ve decided to analyze taking into account the last 5 football seasons, including the current one, and trying to connect what happened to Ajax on and off the pitch, their financial results, the philosophy behind their youth academy, and a generic comparison with the most prominent Italian clubs, specifically the “Big Three”, and Inter among them, of course.
Let me be clear on this: what shown here is going to generate
more questions than answers, but my conclusion –
deliberately challenging – is already in the header, even if it’s
an obvious exaggeration.
I’ll try to explain, for one, why speaking of Ajax model is misleading: firstly, we’ll have a look at the financials to put in the right context the magnitude of each club. From a pure pitch domestic standpoint, the club who won 34 national land titles, and a 35th is four points away as we write this line; 19 KNVB Beker (the national cup) that can become 20 in one week from now if they win the final against Vitesse; 9 Johan Cruyff Schaals (the Dutch Supercup): can’t be compared with any Italian club, it simply doesn’t make any sense. Why? Because the only Italian club that may have similar figures in their silverware cast is Juventus. But Dutch Eredivisie, all along with its history, was never comparable with Serie A, except maybe for the gold decade 1968-1978, marked by the totaalvoetbal explosion and the high number of Dutch teams at the top of European ranks.
On the contrary, if we compare from a Continental competition stand-point, then we might do that because Ajax and the best Italian clubs take part in the very same European trophies, and pitch results are somehow analogous. So, understanding which financial parameters allowed the Lancers to achieve the last 5 European season results can give a clearer idea about the current balance of power between the best Dutch club and the best Italian ones, plus a connection between resources available and European results.
Ajax achieves Europa League 2020/21 Quarterfinals defeating Young Boys
Let’s put here a very stupid excel table that helps me to show two among the most important items concerning the financial books of Ajax, Inter, Juventus and AC Milan: net revenue (in Italian: “RICAVI”), i.e. how much these clubs have got every year from different profit sources (tickets, TV rights, player trading, etc.), and EBITDA result figures, which is the profit at the end of the financial year (usually 30th of June, for the majority of football clubs, to follow the football season calendar and allocate costs and revenues properly) before paying taxes, excluding depreciation and amortization. All figures are expressed in millions of euros.
We can’t include the current season outcome because they will be available after 30th June only, as explained. However, these last 4 fiscal years show what we need for the purpose of this topic: Ajax, including their player trading source, get less money, I’d say better: much less, than Inter (about 2/3rd less, becoming around the half in the last two seasons), Juventus (don’t even mention it: as you can see, totally incomparable), and AC Milan, even if the last fiscal year shows a noticeable gap decrease between Rossoneri and Ajax revenue figures.
The difference is huge between EBITDA’s outcomes: Ajax always shows a positive figure every fiscal year, Inter gets the same the first two ones only, then Suning effort to arrange a competitive squad in combination with the unexpected pandemic situation, suddenly made the financial results very bad. Juventus had a great result in 2017 and from then onwards have got always a loss; AC Milan didn’t manage a positive result even once, but their situation is somehow unique, as a huge loss is however compensated a little bit by not having debts with banks or any other financial professional operator.
It’s clear then that costs, and especially players’ salaries, are the true break of these financial years results.
2. Pitch results
Another stupid excel table: if we can’t compare the domestic results, as said, then let’s go observing the European outcomes. I want to show here the results of all Italian teams who took part in the Champions League or to Europa League during the last five years:
These results include also the current season where one among Ajax and AS Roma will reach the Europa League Semifinal (AS Roma, most likely) and will put this achievement in their record. I’ve marked in yellow, completely arbitrarily, the results which are worth to be mentioned, i.e. according to my exclusive and personal judgment, all Champions League Quarterfinals and above, and all Europa League Semifinals and above reached out by these teams. As I said at the beginning of this article, everything started from the consideration that a club having two-fifth of Inter resources, one-fourth of Juventus’, and half of Milan’s, have reached a Europa League final, a Champions League semifinal and is managing to get the chance of playing their third European semifinal in 5 years, before teams much wealthier than Ajax.
This comparison is merciless: only Juventus did better, and about this one could and should say: “No wonder!”: with two Champions League quarterfinals and a Champions League Final, the Bianconeri achieved better results than Ajax in that period, and this is in the natural order of things due to the difference in means and resources put into play. AS Roma, if succeeding in defeating precisely Ajax as it seems to be, could match the Godenzonen results with two European semifinals in 5 years. However, excluding the current season, Ajax had a handicap that Italian teams didn’t have: the Dutch have been obliged to try accessing the Champions’ League Group phase through the preliminary rounds and play-off, which in the end has often penalized the Amsterdammers. Hence all in all, and except the obvious case of Juventus, for the other ones, the situation is pitch black. And if we consider the resources available to them, except Atalanta and Fiorentina, the judgment is a rejection for good.
3. Obligation to win
At this stage, before speaking of transfer campaigns, we need to discuss the objection that is more common when speaking of the financial figures in connection with the pitch results: something along the line of “Ajax have no obligation to win: they sell their best young players and keep salaries low anyway, so everybody is happy”. It’s all true, except for the alleged lack of any obligation to win. There’s a very twisted perception of the pressure existing in Eredivisie for what concerns the “Big Three” of Dutch football (Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord). Sure: in Italy, the pressure coming from the fans is way higher, but in Amsterdam or Rotterdam the atmosphere is very close to what you may breathe in every other great city of European football.
Ajax had won the fourth title in a row in 2014 led by Frank de Boer. From that moment onwards, Ajax supporters needed to wait for the season 2018/19 to see again Ajax as national champion, and 5 years without winning the championship in Amsterdam means a pit of controversies with no pauses (to not mention the football suicide of 2016, when Ajax lost the title drawing in the last match-day against De Graafschap who was already sure of relegation), big titles on newspapers each and every time that Ajax does a half misstep, a manager sacked in the middle of the season (Keizer, fired just after Christmas in 2018, things that almost never happen by Amsterdammers).
An anecdote may clarify better than thousand words the definition of “football pressure” in Amsterdam: last year the Dutch Federation didn’t assign the title after stopping the Eredivisie in March 2020 because of the decision of the Dutch government to implement rules to contain the pandemic. With still a dozen matches left to play. Ajax was at the top with the same points of surprising AZ led by Arne Slot, a very talented team with great youngsters playing there.
Just to remind the context we’re talking about, Erik ten Hag, only 10 months before that moment, was so close to a resounding Champions League final, disappeared just because the goal scored by Lucas Moura at 95th minute of the second leg, and he nearly made it leading Ajax consisting of a bunch of very talented kids, many of them still not or just a little known to the great mass of football fans. Well, believe it or not, from January to April a big number of Ajax fans launched a sort of web campaign on social media, where they insisted to get rid of the manager, trying to force him to resign or Ajax to sack him, just because he was, before their eyes, guilty of not leading the table with a not well-defined number of points ahead, as he was only leading the table but with the same points of last year’s rivals.
Sure, you may tell me “look, we Inter fans did basically the same with Conte last December, and the context was pretty much the same!”
My answer is: exactly. Pressure is huge in Amsterdam. The difference is just cultural, meaning how this pressure is perceived and revealed.
After Inter-Shakthar, many fans didn’t want him anymore, and I hadn’t cried too if the Board would have managed to sack him. Luckily, the Board guys didn’t do that.
4. Transfer campaigns
Let’s see this Ajax model, then, now focusing on that part which is, in Italian supporters’ image and maybe also abroad, one of the main pillars of their management system. Youngsters with great talent, at a certain moment in time, are sold because almost always the offers received for them are such to be impossible to refuse, and salaries offered by buyers to these players are unaffordable for Overmars & Co. (Overmars is the Sport Director at Ajax and he’s who has the responsibility of transfer campaign selling and hiring, edit)
I should now write a long row of names and figures to show who they were and for how much the jewels of the football Dutch crown have been sold since 2017 up to date: I won’t do it, but I’m mentioning en-passant only the names of whom have been transferred for amounts above 15M€: Davinson Sanchez, Klaassen, Kluivert, de Ligt, de Jong, Dolberg, Ziyech, van de Beek. Among these ones, only Sanchez and Ziyech didn’t spend time at Ajax Academy, as much as Frenkie de Jong, who is landed there relatively late to be considered as a product of De Toekomst, the famous facility where Ajax Academy players train and play.
A nice duo
What’s escaping here is that thanks to a change, of course, derived from bad pitch results in Europe during de Boer’s 5 years tenure, when no good performance in Champions’ League and Europa League happened (I’d say not even close to being defined “good” at all), and nevertheless, the 4 national titles won in a row, Ajax have begun to spend money for players having a solid international experience and a level above a certain threshold we should define “good just for Eredivisie”, stopping to rely almost exclusively on their Academy. Money spent cautiously, that’s for sure, and by hiring very focused targets: but Blind, Tadic, Alvarez, Marin, Promes, Antony, Klaassen e Haller, have been all purchased for more than 10M€ each.
I’m not dividing the overall total of the last 5 seasons of Ajax’s hiring campaign by any single year because, in the end, it’s irrelevant, and also because the amount spent in a single transfer campaign depends on many variables such as the sports results, the players traded and, finally, also the pandemic. But the overall total is the following: in these five football seasons included between 2016/17 and current 2020/21, Ajax traded players for an overall income of about 510M€ and spent in the same period about 247M€ for hiring players.
The source is Transfermarkt, so let’s take for granted the good approximation of the figures shown above. As you can see, average speaking, Ajax spent about fifty million euros every year to strengthen the squad, with a commensurate average income of a hundred million euros per season for the players they sold. Now, I hope that you have the same curiosity I had when thinking about this stuff: what about Inter?
FC Inter, in the very same five years, traded players for a total income of circa 338M€ and hired for an equivalent amount of 685M€. Many of these players traded out are youngsters from Inter’s Academy.
Regret or escaped disgrace?
Surely, there’s any de Ligt or de Jong sold by Beneamata, but are you beginning to see as well that something doesn’t add up? Not mentioning what I have sneakily thrown in the middle of my harangue some lines above: it’s true that a player goes from Ajax to Inter (or to Milan, to Juve, and in comparison to what Dutch teams pay to their players as a salary, also to Roma, to Napoli, to Lazio…) to earn much, much more than what the Lancers are able to afford for retaining him, but then you may expect that this “much, much more” is going to be translated on the pitch getting better results in Europe compared with the Joden, tritely. Spending 130M€ on yearly average during the last 5 seasons produced an indisputable improvement of Inter domestic performances, but lousy European achievements, excluding the final, played in August 2020 against Sevilla.
I said to myself “let’s have a look at Milan then, maybe it’s gone a little bit better there”: on the contrary, the music is almost the same. In the 5 years we have taken into consideration, the overall figure spent for hiring was 560M€, the income for traded players was 259M€. It’s interesting to see Juventus’ figures; they have sold getting a higher income than Ajax, a remarkable 744M€ amount, and purchasing players for a value of 976M€: almost 200 million per season, four times than Ajax!
Now, we know very well that these rough numbers must be filtered with a gigantic strainer named “capital gain”, a very Italian little game in football business (but we don’t have the monopoly of it, to be honest…) by which I give to you Hendrik, who is a jack-off, but we both – by an unquestionable decision – agree on assigning to him a value of 10M€; then you give Alex to me who, nevertheless his boring articles, we both say that he’s 10M€ worthy. The asset value of those two useless guys in our accounts was zero or very close to it, so… et voilà, a good and fresh 10M€ capital gain is served, ready to fix any balance sheet trouble we may have had.
No one is innocent on this, so let’s spare any possible distinction among clubs who allegedly don’t do it and clubs who allegedly do because the hard truth is that, most likely, there’s no distinction on this capital gain game aspect between any of the clubs we may think of. But without going too much in deep, let’s say that this model gives you the proverbial half a loaf, fix your balance sheet and save you from the infamous UEFA Financial Fair-Play strict obligations. But, at the same time, it puts inexorably a distance between you and the proverbial bread, which becomes every day more expensive and difficult to get, and, most important of all, financially unbearable too.
Therefore, having youngsters to sell out is an advantage, and having greatly talented youngsters to sell out is an amazing advantage. Point is that after selling out you must be good in hiring too, regardless of the money you have at your disposal and whether it comes from youngsters or other players.
If one spends eightyish million in just one single year to bring home Barella, Hakimi, Kolarov, Males, and Pinamonti (financial year 2020/21), you can’t say one has spent bad his money, all in all. But if he has spent the same amount two years before for Lautaro, Gravillon, Gagliardini e Nainggolan, then it’s not a model problem: it’s a problem related to how you choose to spend the resources available. I’m referring obviously to Inter, but if you would reproduce the experiment using any other Italian club in the same 5 years, you’d get similar conclusions.
Let’s be clear: Ajax makes mistakes in hiring as any other club, both in purchasing young players or players who they thought to be ready at a higher level. In 2018, the Lancers spent 2M€ to hire Nicolas Kühn from RB Leipzig, a 17-yrs old forward at that time: after two seasons and a half at Jong Ajax he’s been let go as free agent. Razvan Marin, today at Cagliari and hired to replace Frenkie de Jong, has been a huge (for Ajax habits) expense turned really bad, speaking of the pitch. Burkinabe Boureima Hassane Bandé, hired from Mechelen for 8M€ in the summer of 2018, third most expensive hiring of that season just behind Blind and Tadic, never made his debut in Ajax first squad shirt, but he played just a bunch of games with Jong Ajax in Eerste Divisie, ending up on loan in Switzerland and in Croatia, where he’s still stranded. The point in this matter is that if the overall management is healthy, Bandés are absorbed without too many troubles or creating financial disasters. On the contrary, a Joao Mario is enough to put you in a pit for two or three seasons if you’re already in bad shape.
In the last years, Atalanta is drawn near Ajax because of the similarity in how they handle the business. The Orobici have since ever a great young academy, one of the best two in Italy, and their model of managing their transfer campaigns can actually be close under many aspects to the Dutch. In the same 5 years we have spoken about so far, Atalanta traded players getting 316 million euros as income, and spent 281M€. Nevertheless far from Ajax figures, they represent a more similar player trading model compared to the one observed at Ajax between 2017 and 2021, and also the European results are somehow closer to the Lancers. Coincidences? Honestly, I don’t think so.
5. The Pitch
So, let’s summarize here: player trading is ok, the balance sheet is ok, the youngsters launched when still very young and then sold is ok. But you must go on the pitch to play, in the end: spending a lot of money or spending a few, this means anyway to put together a squad and make it blend. So, having technical continuity, not only keeping your manager more years but also with players in the field, means to have a squad group who is growing and can provide performances above the simple sum of the singles’ ability. Inter of last two seasons is a perfect example, and it’s before our eyes.
Here is the thing: even under this aspect, which is one of the many that is widely perceived as typical of the Ajax model, i.e. a team who keeps together and develop over the years under a coherent managerial style and an experienced play-style pattern, there’s not much of Ajax model. Because Ajax turned upside-down the squad almost every year, just due to the high-value player sold and the consequent hiring. The Lancers starting XI in the Europa League 2016/17 Final vs. Mou’s Manchester United was the following: 4-2-3-1, Peter Bosz as trainer: Onana; Veltman, Sanchez, de Ligt, Riedewald; Klaassen, Schöne; Ziyech, Bernard Traoré, Younes; Dolberg. Subs in the 2nd half were David Neres, van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong.
Europa League 2016/17 Final, Ajax starting eleven
The squad who played against AS Roma in Amsterdam on April the 9th is a ten Hag’s 4-3-3: Scherpen (Onana is banned for doping violation until February 2022); Rensch, Timber, Martinez, Tagliafico; Gravenberch, Klaassen, Alvarez; David Neres, Antony, Tadic. (Haller is out of UEFA list, Mazraoui is still long-time injured and Blind’s season is over after the serious damage at his ankle’s ligament occurred with his National Team). Subs in: Kleiber, Brobbey, Idrissi. Even considering that without the doping ban André Onana would surely have been on the pitch, the keeper, David Neres, and Klaassen are the only ones still playing with Ajax from that evening. But Klaassen has meanwhile had the time to go to Everton, then to go to Bremen spending two years, and then back home last summer, where he’s grown up.
Inter, to keep going again with this parallel comparison, tied the return Derby against AC Milan in April 2017 under Pioli’s lead with Handanovic; D’Ambrosio, Medel, Miranda, Nagatomo; Gagliardini, Kondogbia; Candreva, Joao Mario, Perisic; Icardi. Subs in were Eder, Murillo, Biabiany. (Break: I felt sick reading this starting XI, so I stopped here for a while to recover. Thinking again to one of the most stupid equalizers ever taken from that Rossoneri bunch is not healthy at all). Comments are redundant, but everyone can see how technical continuity is way far from Milan as well as Amsterdam, even if the play-style change started with Conte in San Siro has obviously been a real revolution, much bigger than the one observed at Johan Cruyff Arena.
In between the two Ajax line-ups I’ve listed above, that incredible European 2019 ride revealed to all who didn’t know very well, one of the most beautiful teams of the last years, in my opinion.
Three managers in five seasons and a relevant change occurring from then to now, because Peter Bosz and Erik ten Hag are trainers who didn’t come from Ajax neither under personal careers respect as a player nor as a trainer. It means that a high coordination between the board, the owners, and the manager’s staff are definitely necessary to succeed in doing what they have done in Amsterdam in the last lustrum.
Erik ten Hag: An excellent manager
6. The Youngsters
We are now at the very top of the Ajax model perception according to the average Italian football fan image. Let’s clarify immediately one aspect of the matter: it’s obvious that there is a technical football methodology, that’s all I need. But this technical Ajax school wasn’t unchanging along the time. Ajax’s recent history is full of underground wars which popped up in public too, and they dealt with giving a clear address to the club. The echo of the clash ended in front of a Dutch court between Cruyff and Ajax Board who appointed van Gaal as club GM in 2011, trespassed the Dutch borders by far, and the point in the matter was – beyond inner power games and a clash between two very big egos such as the Number 14 and the “Steel Tulip” – how the Academy technical department had to address from a football stand-point all Ajax youngsters to change the course of the club, for the disappearance from the European football map that Ajax suffered all along the years after Bosman ruling due to the impossibility to compete on economic terms with the other European top and sub-top clubs, was a trend to be mandatorily broken, in Board’s view.
Wim Jonk and Dennis Bergkamp did an extraordinary job lasted years, reforming the Ajax Academy technical guidelines; and the Jonkers (players raised according to that project are called after the former Nerazzurro player, Volendam coach today) have brought back Ajax to top performance on the pitch and on their financial books. But once again, what’s escaping here is the context.
Because trainers and technical managers of Atalanta and Inter Academies are in no way inferior to those who work at De Toekomst under the aspect of competencies and skills…
De Toekomst, the facility complex where all the youngsters of Ajax Academy train and play
What then makes Ajax a level player production more similar to that of a Fordist factory than to that of a football academy? Here we have to come inside the heart of Dutch society and have to discuss the sports policy enforced by governments who ruled over the last 40 years. The Netherlands urban planning policies have – as a matter of fact, even if it was probably not intentional – created neighborhoods divided by wealth since the end of the 70s. Primary schools have, in turn, become very uneven. In short, all things that we too, in Italy, have seen grow and happen in the last twenty-thirty years, but which began much, much earlier in the Netherlands.
After the totaalvoetbal boom, football has been used to compensate for this poor social homogeneity, and it is thus that in the Dutch municipalities’ budgets investments in sports facilities and economic support for sports clubs (not only football, but obviously football takes the lion’s share) have become an undisputed task of the municipal management, and no Council would cut it completely unless a catastrophic event should happen. I have no idea about the 2021 Italian situation is about the facilities, but the standard I see here in the Netherlands is the following: villages and towns where the football club first squad is in a low tier (the one I live in has 18,000 inhabitants and the squad is in the 8th tier of Dutch football), and have a facility consisting of four-five-six football fields (all artificial turf except the one where the squad plays their matches, which is real grass made, and another one where they train), sometimes more, very seldom less. And I stress the message: this is a standard, not an exception.
This allows the club to accommodate every year football drafts consisting of 20, 30, 40 kids starting from 4 years old age (and in the big outskirt Amsterdam and Rotterdam neighborhoods and in their satellite towns, these figures must be almost doubled). The children number may be bigger or smaller, depending on the demographic context of the place where the club is, but when the kids turn 6 years old then they can divide them into squads of ten players, so that they can have, for example, four, five, six under 8 teams, and then under 9, under 10, etc. The club may reserve the right to assign the best 10 in the same team, and maybe the second-best ten in the second team, but all the kids, in the end, play football matches with their team and against other teams of the same geographical area, and all of this without paying a big fee, allowing all the households, including the less wealthy, to let their children play football.
De Treffers facility in Groesbeek, the Tweede Divisie (Dutch football third tier) where Jasper Cillessen, Dutch National Team goalkeeper, is grown: 5 fields for all the teams from first squad to the under 8, the youngest teams
Now let’s imagine 54 clubs, all of them around Amsterdam, some of them having their first squad playing in Tweede Divisie, who have a football direct contact with Ajax and who can flag every year talented 6, 7, 8 years old kids, and if skilled enough when the kid turns 10 could go to De Toekomst to get a chance. Let’s imagine the huge bucket from which the Lancers can pick, meanwhile since the beginning of this journey they provide the connected clubs the desired football individual and situational techniques methodology, as per KNVB (the Dutch Football Association, edit) guidelines and refined by Ajax Academy. Here it is, finally, the very famous Ajax model. But it’s an Ajax model as much as is a PSV model, or Feyenoord model, or NEC Nijmegen model, or any other professional football club, who exploit this sport for young policy to “naturally” select the most talented children, trying to keep these boys and girls in a normal context, without letting them feeling already too much special or different from their schoolmates who are less talented.
The big difference then consists of a socially different background because is the political-social approach to sport which is very different from the Italian one, not just football: that one comes much, much later. This background is exploited then by an entity, Ajax indeed, who invest money every year to be at the forefront in this sector, and who dedicate a good part of their budget to care down to the smallest details the harvest of this huge bucket. I can’t do here a thorough analysis of the Italian youth sports status, but it is clear (to me, at least) from what my Italian friends who have children in primary school age tell me, that the starting position is not the same (euphemism). For the talented kids as well is difficult not only to get the possibility to become a football player, mind you because that is extremely difficult by default: but it’s extremely difficult for the most talented just getting the chance to be taken into consideration for a training test when they are 12 or 13 years old, because this is a matter which goes through dark channels, and very often at children’s family complete expenses.
This is not happening in the 54 clubs around Amsterdam. On the contrary, as it should be now clear to whom has read until this point, it’s in the best interest of Ajax to see these clubs letting play the highest number possible of kids, because you’ll never know if and when a child can develop and explode, and a Quincy Menig discarded too early and not kept hold tight in one of the 54 clubs can always be the one who punishes you wearing a Twente shirt, in one of the extremely rare defeats of Ajax in Eredivisie this season.
These are the Beuningse Boys six football fields, an 8th Dutch Football Tier club very close to where I live, who had among their past managers Remco Bicentini, former Curaçao National Team coach who reached the Gold Cup quarterfinals in 2019
Some year ago, when I had to choose the day-care for my son in Nijmegen, we visited some of them asking for info. The woman who hosted the visit of the first we saw shown us the place. Here I saw toddlers who were playing under pouring rain. Obviously, my very Italian first reaction was a surprised face, together with a faster than light thought along the line of: “if I choose this day-care, are they letting my son stay under the raining water?” I asked a shy question then: “Are you going to let them out when bad weather too?”, and the lady slashed me with a very famous answer, very common here and in Germany (and apparently among Baden-Powell scouts too): “Bad weather does not exist: just inappropriate equipment!”
Ajax model doesn’t exist: just inappropriate management. A great and excellent management model does exist as much as good, sufficient, worse, or even bad and unfortunately awful too.
Excellent management exploits competencies, maximizes the available resources, takes advantage of the favorable social conditions getting the best from its strong points too. Do they do that at Ajax? Absolutely. European sports results, the only thing somehow comparable to the ones achieved by Italian teams, demonstrate that they are exceptional in their management vision and philosophy. But, and this is my conclusion and the case-in-point I’m trying to demonstrate, this is not something possible just in Amsterdam: even with some different nuances due to the cultural context that cannot obviously be the same, this can be done elsewhere too. Ajax management principles from a sport standpoint will always be within certain boundaries, because this is their choice and because the football heritage of Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels will never be disavowed. But times are changing and the conjugations of exploiting this heritage change too, and a lot.
When it’s said that this methodology is good for Atalanta and for Ajax but not for Inter or AC Milan (or AS Roma, or Napoli, or Lazio), it’s nonsense to me. It’s clear that the positive environmental social conditions found by Ajax in the Netherlands, under the scope of finding talented youngsters, are a unique typically Dutch, but Inter have considerable means to find a much bigger bucket where to pick up. The point is deciding to run a managerial path which can lead along the time to get more Bastonis and Barellas coming from the Academy rather than hiring them to spend 60 million euros. No one is asking Inter for becoming Ajax: I’m asking for excellent management at a level which is necessarily higher than Ajax, as the economic resources of Inter, AC Milan, but AS Roma too, will always be greater than the Lancers.
The advantage of having a net income three times bigger than Ajax is to not be forced to sell the harvest of this job, as Ajax usually do with their de Ligt and de Jong of this scenario, who never will be paid in Amsterdam as much as the top clubs can afford. Managerial skills, a clear long-term project vision that can go beyond the sport contingency of the moment, and a correct tuning of this project to assess the cultural differences of the context where it is applied: once this is done, nothing can stop Inter (or any other club) to have their own model. And until there won’t be better results than Ajax doing differently than what they do with much less economic strength, I won’t be convinced that this is not the best path – I’d say almost obliged – to operate at the top of a football world that is deeply changed and, at this point, cannot be economically sustained as done so far.
No one forbids to have a long-term plan which modifies gradually the sport business model, meanwhile, the club plays for winning trophies: because it’s not required here to stop trying to hire Lukaku or pick Conte for the bench, both extremely expensive. I’m trying to say here that having a van de Beek per year, a Frenkie de Jong every 4 or 5 seasons, or an 18-year-old Gravenberch who can already play in the starting line-up in teams much bigger and stronger than Ajax, can be done in Milan, in Turin, and in Rome too, without any need to renounce to aim to the top every year if the right skills are there. Maybe it’s a prosaic conclusion, but Italian football should consider how to put this into practice before dying, assuming it’s not too late.
And hope for the best!