Ajax Could Be United’s Worst Nightmare
In the early 1970s, a refreshingly new set of young Dutch players, led by the now late, but still legendary Johan Cruijff, mesmerised and dominated European football, as Ajax Amsterdam played a free-flowing football based on mobility and non-stop interchanging of the ball as “total” football was born.
After the departure of the Cruijff generation, Ajax continued to rule Dutch football and became the world’s best school for youth players’ development. Many wanted to imitate the Ajax philosophy but fell short, many tried to dismantle it by prizing away the youth players, but the then transfer rules barred them.
That was until the Bosman Ruling came into effect in 1995. It was a ruling that made, among other thing, players free from all attachments from their parent clubs once their contracts ran out without a fee being paid to their clubs. It was a nightmare scenario for Ajax as their edge over the others was youth development, utilisation and eventual sale.
Coincidentally, 1995 was the last time Ajax Amsterdam won a European title as they beat then European giants AC Milan by 1-0, a goal scored by one of their youth products, Patrick Kluivert.
From the year 2000 until now, Ajax have had mixed fortunes and several crisis-ridden years, especially on the European scene, though managing to still be competitive and sometimes dominant in the Netherlands.
Manchester United are record title holders of the prestigious and lucrative Premier League in England. Unlike Ajax, they thrive on their financial strength in buying and assembling quality star players.
Man United have spent almost a billion euros on player acquisitions in the past three years under managers Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, with an FA Cup and League trophy to show for it.
Ever since Sir Alex Fergusson retired as coach in 2013, Man United have struggled and looked at times quite ordinary. They are gradually beginning to shift towards being mid-table contenders in the Premier League as opposed to their usual top-three podium slot.
Manchester United in Paul Pogba, now boast of the world’s most expensive player. Bought for 105 million euros in the summer of 2016, he epitomises the hunger and need of this great club and institution to get back to the top of European club football.
This season’s 2017 Europa Liga final pits Manchester United against Ajax Amsterdam. Some might say this is not so important as a league title or the Champions League etc. Not if you consider the situation of both teams and the ramifications of winning or losing.
The winner gets to play next season in the Champions League in the pool stage without going through qualification. This guarantees over 23 million euros to the winner.
The winner pockets another over 23 million euros for winning the Europa League trophy.
Ajax Amsterdam finished second in the Netherlands’ Eredivisie league behind winners Feyenoord. That feat guarantees them a Champions League qualification round next season irrespective of whether they win the Europa League or not. In the Netherlands and around the world, this appearance in the finals of the Europa League 2017 is being hailed as a resounding success even before victory by Ajax – a real upturn for Ajax’s valuation as a club.
Mourinho’s Manchester United will finish sixth in the English Premier League with no guarantee or possibility to the lucrative Champions league next season.
Aside from the financial benefits this conquest of the Europa League will bring, it is Manchester United’s sole route to participating in the Champions League next season.
With several star players injured, and rumours of a fallout between star goalkeeper David De Gea and Mourinho, this final is now desperately looking like a must-win for Man United.
A defeat at the hands of youthful and nothing-to-lose Ajax Amsterdam, could not only mean a loss of all the above stated benefits and more, but could dangerously be a catalyst of worse repercussions that could trigger a long chain of negative events.
I sincerely hope that is not the case for this great and traditional Man United club as their faithful fans deserve better, but this one final game of the year, the Europa League final, is set not only to be the most important game for Man United in a long time, but a desperately needed one to win, or face the costly consequences.