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Ajax struggles to rediscover its identity

Ajax currently finds itself near the bottom of the Eredivisie, a far cry from the dominant force they once were. They are unrecognizable on the field, often facing humiliating defeats at the hands of their fiercest rivals. This dramatic decline was hardly on anyone’s radar for the 2023/24 season, as Ajax’s identity has been slowly chipped away.

Renowned for its aggressive style of football, a distinguished tradition in nurturing prodigious talents, and as the hallowed ground of numerous Dutch football luminaries who proudly adorned their iconic uniform, AFC Ajax has undeniably established itself as a formidable institution within the realm of football.

Nevertheless, an internally incubated controversy has evolved to assume a defining role in delineating the club’s tumultuous trajectory in recent years.

To understand this crisis, we must trace it back to February 2022 when Marc Overmars, the club’s Director of Football, was ousted from Ajax due to sexual misconduct with female employees, marking the end of his decade-long tenure as the Director of Football. What was supposed to be a temporary absence of a Director of Football extended to a season and a half, leaving a void in the club’s leadership.

A supervisory board was put in place to assist Edwin van der Sar, who took on the dual role of CEO and Director of Football. The summer of 2022 witnessed disappointing recruitment efforts, as most of the acquired players left the club quickly. The frustrations were soon mounting: Overmars was gone, the CEO was gone and the technical team lacked structure.

In April 2023, Ajax fans briefly held optimism as Sven Mislintat was named the new Director of Football, celebrated for his remarkable scouting skills honed at previous clubs.

However, tasked with restructuring the team within tight time and resource constraints, Mislintat’s tenure proved overwhelming.

The most significant blunder was hiring Maurice Steijn as head coach, whose tactical style clashed with Ajax’s attacking, possession-based football tradition. Results under Steijn were disappointing, and his explanations for tactical choices didn’t satisfy fans’ desire for effective change.

The crisis reached its zenith during a match against arch-rivals Feyenoord on September 25, 2023. Ajax was trailing 3-0, and frustrated fans threw flares onto the pitch, forcing the game’s abandonment. It was a shameful moment for the club, further highlighting their troubles.

As Ajax searches for a way to regain its identity, its first step is to appoint a new Director of Football, with rumors suggesting the return of Louis van Gaal. Van Gaal’s deep understanding of Ajax’s philosophy and his extensive network could be invaluable in rebuilding the team.

However, nothing is guaranteed in the world of football.

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