In late 2007, former Ajax board member Uri Coronel was appointed to head a committee to investigate how the Dutch giants had been run over the last 10 years. In February 2008, the Coronel Commission delivered its report, and it was not pretty reading. One sentence summed up its findings: Things had to change.
“Ajax is a football club, not a business”, said Coronel as he spoke at the press conference held to announce his conclusions. Many mistakes had been made as coach after coach exited the Amsterdam ArenA, all failing to show what the Dutch giants needed. Expensive imports too were highlighted by Coronel: Wesley Sonck, Angelos Charisteas and Alberto Luque, amongst others, were all flops. The report also pointed to the listing of the club on the stock market in 1998 as a move which had produced little benefit, but perhaps the most important conclusion of all related to that which Ajax had always done so well, youth development. The club’s youth academy had failed to live up to its former heights and fewer and fewer players were making the grade.
A lack of quality throughout the club’s youth system has been a major reason for Ajax’s failures of the past decade. The Dutch giants have not won the Eredivisie since 2004 and the last world class player to emerge from its academy was Wesley Sneijder, who made his debut in on 2nd February, 2003.
After such a critical report, chairman John Jaakke, general manager Maarten Fontein and technical director Martin van Geel all resigned at the end of the 2007/08 season. Coronel himself was appointed the new chairman.
The pressing question for Coronel’s reign was, as expected, to address the youth issue as his report had highlighted. Indeed, Coronel had said “the largest part of players in the first team must have come through the ranks of the youth system. Ajax should only buy players who are either young and talented, or of such quality that they can lift the team to the next level.” And things have started to change at Ajax in the past two years. First under Marco van Basten, and then with current head coach Martin Jol, players such as Gregory van der Wiel, Siem de Jong and Christian Eriksen are shining examples of the Dutch club’s renowned policy. With these three the future of the Eredivisie giants looks bright once again.
Originally a right-footed centre back, Gregory van der Wiel broke into Ajax’s first team playing as a right back under former coach van Basten. In the summer of 2008, Ajax had bought the Uruguayan defender Bruno Silva, shelling out a cool €3.75M to sign him from Groningen. At that time Bruno Silva was widely considered one of the best full backs in the Eredivisie, while van der Wiel was, while talented, untested and had just been left out of the Dutch Olympic team bound for China. According to ex-Holland Under-21 coach Foppe de Haan, van der Wiel lacked the needed first team experience. Things soon changed though.
Seven months later van der Wiel made his senior debut for Holland, coming on as a substitute for former Ajax team-mate John Heitinga in a friendly against Tunisia. At the end of the 2008/09 season the defender picked up the Ajax Talent of the Year award, having played 40 competitive matches for the club. Meanwhile Bruno Silva asked to leave the Amsterdam ArenA.
Van der Wiel’s lightening pace and speedy runs down the flank have made him a key player for both club and country. At the 2010 World Cup the Ajax man could very well earn a starting spot in the Oranje’s first eleven, and at club level team manager David Endt believes van der Wiel is actually the most talented player, along with Christian Eriksen, at the Dutch giants. Off the pitch the full back likes to model and cut rap records, but once on the pitch his mind turns completely to football.
Marco van Basten did a great job with van der Wiel, but he couldn’t repeat the trick with Siem de Jong. The former De Graafschap midfielder made his first team debut on 26th September, 2007, under Henk Ten Cate, and at the end of the season was the only player aged under 20 to have more than 20 appearances to his name. De Jong excited right from the off, scoring in his first Eredivisie game like many former Ajax greats: Johan Cruyff (1964), Marco van Basten (1982), Ronald de Boer and Bryan Roy (1987), Marciano Vink (1988) and Patrick Kluivert (1994). The youngster melds the dynamism and guile of a classic midfielder with the skill to find space over the pitch and the attacking instinct of a second striker.
Under van Basten, de Jong spent most of his time on the bench and when he did play found himself used too far up the pitch for comfort, once even being deployed as the focal point of the attack. His situation improved dramatically with the arrival of Martin Jol and de Jong was used as an impact substitute, but an ability to link up play between the midfield and attack saw him steadily break into Ajax’s starting eleven. The 21-year-old has chipped in with vital goals and impressed in the recent Europa League clash against Juventus. Swiss-born, De Jong has a younger brother, Luuk, who plays for Eredivisie rivals FC Twente. Both graduated from the Doetinchem’s Rietveld Lyceum school, just as Guus Hiddink, Paul Bosvelt and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar before them.
(to be continued with Christian Eriksen profile)
Fonte: Inside Futbol