There is a storm brewing at one of Europe’s top institutions. An old figure is returning at a time of mixed fortunes at home and abroad for AFC Ajax. They have announced that former manager and technical director Louis van Gaal will return to the club in July 2012 to take over from Rik van den Boog as director of football at the four-time European champions.
Van Gaal previously coached the Dutch giants between 1991 and 1997, leading them to Champions League glory in 1995, and held a sporting director role from 2003 to 2004.
Although van Gaal is a favourite for the Ajax support and the club, there has been strong condemnation of the announcement to bring him back from one individual. That individual being the Ajax and Holland legend Johann Cruyff, who is a board member at the Amsterdam club. The pair have publicly never seen eye-to-eye and it was reported recently by various sources that van Gaal vowed to never return to Ajax if Cruyff was still employed at the club.
With Cruyff being one of a five-man board at the club, he is involved in the top decision-making but claims he knew nothing about the decision to bring van Gaal back, and also believes the decision was made when he was in Barcelona and therefore could not attend the board meeting.
“I do not know what I have to say. To start, I knew nothing, nothing, really,” Cruyff told Voetbal International. “Until Tuesday afternoon I was still in Amsterdam, and only then did I go back to Barcelona. It is very coincidental that the next day a meeting of the board is called. I could obviously not be there.”
Cruyff angrily went on to describe being ‘taken for a ride’ by fellow Ajax board members.
“The major shareholder must now decide what will happen. And that shareholder is Ajax itself. I would also like to know what all the trainers think. It is certainly clear that a lot of people have been taken for a ride, including myself.”
The reason for the July 2012 date is that van Gaal is still employed by FC Bayern Munich, where he was a manager from 2009 to this year, and still has too many issues with the German club to be sorted.
With Ajax lagging behind Dutch Eredivisie leaders AZ Alkmaar by 11 points after only 12 matches, the conflict is the last thing Holland’s most successful club needs at this time. A 6-4 reverse away to FC Utrecht in their last domestic encounter left Ajax in fifth position behind Vitesse Arnhem, PSV Eindhoven, FC Twente and AZ. A total of 16 points have been dropped by Frank de Boer’s men this term. The current Dutch champions have a lot of work to do if they want to retain their championship crown.
Results on the continent have been much better however. Ajax have not conceded at home in their Champions League group with a goalless draw against Olympique Lyonnais of France and a thumping 4-0 victory over Croatians Dinamo Zagreb. To go with those home results, the Dutch side won 2-0 away in Zagreb. A 3-0 reverse away to giants Real Madrid can be forgiven, considering they also thrashed Lyon 4-0 at the Santiago Bernabeu and are a supreme force in the game. Ajax sit in second place in Group D and are three points ahead of nearest challengers Lyon with two games remaining before the tournament enters its knockout stage.
A hope for the Ajax supporters to somehow claw themselves back into league title contention is 19-year-old midfielder Christian Eriksen. The Danish international has been attracting interest from Barcelona, Manchester United and Manchester City, with Barca reportedly saying the player would be the perfect replacement for Xavi Hernandez. He has notched four goals in 14 appearances for Ajax and plays a key role from the centre of the park. The Danish Footballer of the Year can assist goals, play key passes and dictate games and Ajax need Eriksen to be in top form if they want domestic success for a second year in a row.
It won’t take a genius to work out however that Ajax need stability on and off the park to be a success again. With the club lying in 5th place and public anger from Cruyff at van Gaal’s return they are certainly not getting that at the moment.
By Alan Clark. You can follow Alan on Twitter @aldo1872.