As Ajax crashed out of Europe on Thursday night, manager Frank de Boer gave a scathing review of the current state of Dutch football in what could be the biggest hint yet that the 43-year-old is ready to quit the Amsterdam giants in search of a challenge elsewhere.
The humiliating 6-1 aggregate defeat to Salzburg serves as an accurate barometer of how badly the Austrians battered Ajax over the course of two legs and highlights a genuine lack of talent in the Eredivisie right now.
However, de Boer cast a dejected figure in his post-match interviews, and his comments could easily be construed as a signal of his pending departure.
"Salzburg has been a very strong opponent," de Boer said in a press conference. "We do not experience a match against (teams like) Salzburg in the Eredivisie.
The damning report on the standard of Dutch football underlines the popular belief that the gap between Holland's and Europe’s top leagues is becoming bigger by the year. Further, if this is to be de Boer’s final season in charge at the Amsterdam Arena, then the Eredivisie will be losing one of its few remaining attractions.
De Boer, alongside his twin brother, Ronald, enjoyed an illustrious playing career, winning a host of trophies in Holland and across Europe, the highlight being Ajax’s Champions League success of 1994-95.
That was the last time a Dutch club lifted Europe’s top prize, and that doesn’t look like it's going to change anytime soon. Following Ajax’s disastrous Europa League elimination, Alkmaar are the only Eredivisie representative to remain in continental competition.
AZ will face a difficult tie against Russia’s Anzhi Makhachkala for a place in the quarter-final.
As for the Ajax boss, speculation about a summer exit is hardly a new revelation. At the beginning of February, he confessed dreams of one day managing in the Premier League, citing Tottenham and Liverpool as potential destinations.
Additionally, Matt Jones of Goal.com reported earlier this week that Inter Milan president Erick Thohir had declared his admiration of de Boer’s management—although there was absolutely no suggestion that Nerazzurri have any plans of appointing the Dutchman within the foreseeable future.
However, those revelations do give food for thought, whilst de Boer’s recent comments only provide further ammunition for rumours suggesting a summer move.
De Boer is eager for a long, successful coaching career and holds aspirations of adding Europe’s biggest prizes to his managerial CV. Unfortunately, as Thursday’s defeat highlights, if he remains at the Amsterdam Arena, then the chances of that happening are nonexistent.
Under the guidance of Holland’s most-capped outfield player, Ajax have stormed their way to three consecutive Eredivisie titles. If the league leaders can retain their crown once more, then it will be the first time in the club’s history that they’ve claimed four on the spin.
If that happens, then you have to wonder where else de Boer can find motivation to stay.
De Boer has conquered Holland both as a player and manager; the temptation of challenges afield may soon be too much to resist.