We, as students of the Beautiful Game know the abundance of talent that hides in this vast world that we live in. Every year we hear of exotic named –inhos from the streets of Rio who are all set to make it big in Europe. We hear of youngsters from Africa making waves in clubs in France. So, we all know the importance of being able to find young talent and more importantly educating them and training them to be able to meet the rigorous demands of international and, predominantly, club football. Almost all youngsters have a big dream, playing in the Premier League or for Barcelona or Real Madrid or the Milanese clubs. All of these clubs are giants of the game and can afford to hold only players who have the potential to become the giants of the game. So one can readily see the importance of nurturing the youth, the next generation, the future of world football.
We know of the brilliant knack that people like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have in recognizing young talent, of harnessing them and helping them grow. But more often than not, these days, this young talent has been made recognizable by certain other clubs. Manchester United have the legendary “Class Of ‘92” who still light up the domestic scene today, but since then there has been a slight dearth of quality being produced by the red half of Manchester. We have to face facts that people like Wes Brown aren’t really keeping pace with the Class of ’92. The newer crop of players like Danny Welbeck, Tom Cleverley and others are still to be tested on the world stage and over a season of hard football, with the heaviest demands of success, to be really judged.
But one club that all Premier League enthusiasts will know to have a culture of producing great talent is West ham United. Players like Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Jermaine Defoe have all been introduced to life at the top level of football by West ham. These players are still doing quite well for their clubs, apart from Joe Cole. But it hasn’t stopped there. West Ham called in England by the nickname “The Academy” has produced good players since who, one day, may (and it is a big may) go on to represent England. Players like Anton Ferdinand, Mark Noble, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines have all played in the Premier League and have helped West Ham United’s performances. Though not all of them are of the best calibre, people like Collison, Tomkins and Noble have showed signs of developing into really good players if things go their way with respect to injuries and chances to play.
There is one other club in Europe, however, whose academy is as good as, if not better than, the West Ham Academy. This club lies in a small tulip field in the northern part of Europe, called Holland. Somewhere in this tulip field is a crazy city called Amsterdam. In this city is the club named after the mythical Greek hero Ajax. And Ajax’s youth academy called “Jong Ajax” has been producing talent of the finest quality for a number of years now. Right from Johan Cruyff up to the most recent Gregory Van Der Wiel, the Ajax academy has been lighting the world up with superb players.
The list of players produced by the Ajax academy reads like a list of possibly the contenders of greatest players in the world, at their peak, in their respective positions. Starting from Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens who dominated the world with their total football style, reaching consecutive world cup finals in 1974 and 1978. After that there was Frank Rijkaard who was so important in Netherlands’ only international victory of repute – the Euro victory in 1988.Rijkaard played for Ajax at senior level and even won the Champions League in 1995 with Ajax.
A number of the team that won the 1995 Champions League with Ajax were from the Ajax Academy and have gone on to play and win with other clubs. The 1995 Champions League saw Ajax Academy graduates such as a very young Edwin van Der Sar who we need say nothing more about, Clarence Seedorf who is the only player to win the Champions League with 3 clubs, Edgar Davids who reached the Final of the Champions League in 2003 with Juventus, Patrick Kluivert who actually scored the only goal in the 1995 triumph. There were also the brothers Frank and Ronald De Boer, Mark Overmars who went on to win the Premier League with Arsenal and the captain on the night, Danny Blind.
Football fans will easily recognize the names mentioned above with huge club success at their respective clubs as well as core members of the team that made it to the Semi Finals of the 1998 world cup. But the other notable name from the Ajax Academy who was integral in the 1998 world cup team is the absolute genius Dennis Bergkamp. Even a staunch Manchester United fan like myself will hold his hands up and admit that Dennis Bergkamp treated the Premier League and the world with pieces of magic, best examples being the goals that he scored against Newcastle United, which I can’t describe as no words can do justice to that goal, and the second being the winning goal he scored against Argentina in the 1998 world cup quarter final. If you haven’t seen these goals, you would be well advised to log onto YouTube immediately and revel in their stunning genius and grace.
In more recent times, the Ajax academy has produced players that have performed exceptionally with their clubs and with their country. Many of them were a part of the Netherlands team that reached the final of the 2010 world cup and the quarter final of the 2008 Euro Championship. On paper the quarter final doesn’t seem like such a big achievement, but one cannot forget that they got past both Italy and France (the previous world cup finalists) in the group stage. And here, by “got past” I mean thrashed Italy 3-0 and then crushed France 4-1.
Some of the players from the Ajax Academy that played a part in these performances were the likes of Wesley Sneijder, who also won the treble with Internazionale Milan last season, Rafael Van Der Vaart who has put in some excellent performances for Tottenham Hotspurs this season, Maarten Stekelenburg who was one of the best goal keepers of the 2010 world cup, Nigel De Jong, Johnny Heitinga and Andre Ooijer who are a part of the defense, mercurial talents Ryan Babel and Eljero Elia and more recently Gregory Van Der Wiel, Siem De Jong and a player who is touted as one of the most promising left sided midfielder or defender, in similar mould to Gareth Bale, Urby Emanuelson.
It is very rare that one finds such an immense wealth of talent coming from a small club in a small country. But Ajax is one such club which has kept the standards high and thereby the talent that comes out of it is also of the highest quality. Ajax has been producing great footballers with every passing generation and so while the Academy is alive and functioning, we can all look forward to a healthy future for European football.
|Most of the Champions League winning Ajax team of 1995 were products of the famous Academy
Although they are all from very different times, let your imagination wander and try to figure out how good this team would be. This is a team of players who have come through the Ajax youth academy. Quite formidable isn’t it?
Gk. Edwin Van Der Sar
Def: Michael Reiziger, Frank De Boer, Ronald De Boer, Gregory Van der Wiel
Mids: Wesley Sneijder, Clarence Seedorf, Frank Rijkaard, Marc Overmars
Str: Dennis Bergkamp, Johann Cruyff
SUBS: Maarten Stekelenburg, Nigel De Jong, Edgar Davids, Johan Neeskens, Rafael Van Der Vaart,
Patrick Kluivert, Johnny Heitinga
Writing Credits – Aniruddha Rajagopalan. M.Sc Microbiology student and die-hard United fan.
P.S – This article was sent to us some time ago, and we’re really sorry about the delay.