They might be the sixth most successful club in European Cup history, but Dutch side Ajax are a shadow of their former self.
Next year will mark 20 years since the Amsterdam club’s last Champions League triumph and, as they prepare for a Europa League tie against Salzburg later this month, those glory days of yesteryear now seem a lifetime ago.
Domestically, though, Ajax are just 13 matches away from entering the record books as one of the greatest squads the Dutch giants have ever produced.
If they can retain their Eredivisie crown, then it will incredibly be the first time that the club have ever won four consecutive titles and as a result this current crop will have to go down as one of the club’s greatest.
History beckons. Here’s why they can do it.
Inspirational de Boer
Having helped the club to five Eredivisie titles during an illustrious playing career, which included a hat-trick of championships between 1994 and 1996, de Boer is now just a dozen-and-one games from leading the club to their first ever haul of four consecutive crowns.
A legend of the game, de Boer additionally won a La Liga title in his days at Barcelona whilst also earning more caps than any other outfield player for the Netherlands national side. His managerial career has started in similar vein and it would be quite fitting if he could write yet another chapter in the history of a club he represented more than 400 times as a player.
The Ajax philosophy of play is engraved in de Boer’s soul, whilst his expertise and experience are surely a great help to his young, yet talented squad. At 43, his insight is still very much relevant and he can part that wisdom on to his players as he continues to build a team capable of extending their dominance of Dutch football.
It seems inevitable that de Boer will eventually seek new challenges in some of Europe’s other big leagues but, for now at least, Ajax fans can revel in the glory of having one of the game’s most successful young coaches.
Ajax’s Winning Mentality
In football, confidence and momentum are two vital aspects for any winning team; Ajax possess both in abundance.
Ajax recently amassed a run of eight straight wins, a sequence that ended with Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Utrecht, and if they can keep up that sort of form as we enter the business end of the season, then the trophy should be heading back to the Amsterdam Arena.
In addition to their current rich vein of form, this group of players are the only ones in the division who know what it takes to win the Eredivisie. According to TVBet.co.uk, that experience "could hold the key to deciding this year’s title-race".
At this stage, Ajax are the frontrunners; it would be a huge surprise if they don’t see the job through.
A Team Effort
Over the years, Ajax have boasted some of the world’s top talent. Former stars have included Bergkamp, Cruyff, van Basten, Kluivert, van der Sar, Stam and Suarez—none of the current crop hold a torch to those greats.
However, what Ajax do have is a great team ethic and the lack of a genuine world star arguably works in their favour. It’s now February and still no player has reached double figures. Instead, 44 league goals have been shared amongst the entire squad and that can only bode well between now and the season’s finale.
Of course Ajax have star attractions and a lengthy injury to any of their key men would be a big blow. However, you do not feel that the absence of any single player would scupper their chances of making it four titles on the bounce and that has to be an encouraging sign for Frank de Boer.
Not only do the team attack as a unit but they also defend together too and that has led to them conceding just 18 goals so far, which is the best record in the division.
On Tuesday night, Vitesse failed to pile the pressure on for the third time in a fortnight as they lost 2-0 at home to AZ. That missed opportunity to go top means that should Ajax win on Thursday then de Boer’s side will establish a five-point lead over Arnhem—with only 12 games to play, it’s hard to envisage any situation where that advantage would be overturned.
If that is to be the outcome, then the only real threat to the champions comes from FC Twente. The 2010 winners are the last team other than Ajax to lift the Eredivisie crown and currently sit four points behind the leaders, with a game in hand.
Even if Twente can overcome difficult trips to Heerenveen (Wednesday) and PSV (Saturday), the advantage will still be with the reigning champions as the potential title clash between the two front runners takes place at the Amsterdam Arena.
On paper, this doesn’t feel like one of the great Ajax teams. But if they can retain their crown for an unprecedented fourth time then they will have rightfully secured their place in history.
It should be a fascinating end to the Eredivisie season.