Saturday, August 26, 2017

Oranje squash

Oranje squash.
LAST SEASON'S EUROPA LEAGUE FINALISTS ARE OUT OF EUROPE ALREADY

Spare a thought for Ajax, who thrilled at times on their way to last season's Europa League final before a Mourinho masterclass floored them.

Unsurprisingly, the stellar eleven which dazzled as recently as May has now been whittled away.

Inspirational midfield skipper Davy Klaassen was snapped up by Everton in the summer and the Amsterdam club's offer of doubling the wages of talented centre-back Davinson Sanchez was easily outgunned by Tottenham, who bought the young Colombian last week.

Two more of their starting eleven in Stockholm have left. Defender Jairo Riedewald has swapped Ajax for Crystal Palace and on-loan Bertrand Traore was sold by parent club Chelsea to Lyon.

On the bench for the final in Sweden, defender Kenny Tete is now at Monaco and reserve goalkeeper Diederik Boer has gone to Zwolle.

Yesterday, the depleted team, having been eliminated from the Champions League earlier this summer by Nice, albeit only on away goals, was knocked out of the qualifying round of this season's Europa League by Rosenborg 4-2 on aggregate, leaving the modest challenge of the Dutch league alone.

The domestic season has barely started but one of last season’s major performers in UEFA is already out of Europe.

Holland's other clubs have fared little better. PSV were knocked out of the Europa League by Osijek of Croatia 2-0 on aggregate in the third qualifying round and Utrecht went the same way as Ajax in the play-off round, losing 2-1 overall to Zenit St Petersburg.

Feyenoord are the last Dutch club standing by mid August and they have not played in Europe yet.

Having won the Eredivisie last season they progressed directly to the Champions League group stages, where they will play Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk in Group F.

Ajax’s precocious prodigies have long been cherry-picked by richer teams abroad, particularly after their young guns reached two European Cup finals in the mid 1990s, so this is nothing new.

It was just that last season's run to the Europa League final had teased a renaissance of one of the continent's most storied clubs.

And it is not just the players who happily leave Holland in search of a greater payday. Last season's Ajax manager Peter Bosz is now coaching Borussia Dortmund, which is certainly a bigger club, but other top Dutch managers of the moment are exchanging top Dutch teams for modest English clubs which pay higher wages.

Ronald Koeman has coached Holland's big three of Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV but was happy to leave Feyenoord for Southampton, on paper a lower club, though it gave him a stepping-stone to Everton where he is now; Martin Jol swapped Ajax for Fulham in 2011 and Frank De Boer is now managing Crystal Palace having left Ajax for Inter in 2016.

Ajax remain unable to keep their top players or managers. The Dutch league's modest market simply cannot produce enough capital to pay wages on a par with Europe’s big four leagues.

The best they, PSV or Feyenoord can hope for, unless the proposed 'Atlantic League' featuring the best of the Netherlands, Portugal and Scotland ever got going, is to earn more from progressing in Europe.

And this week, less than three months after their first European final in over two decades, the club of Johann Cruyff, Dennis Bergkamp, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rinus Michels, Johan Neeskens, Piet Keizer, Frank Rijkaard and the De Boer brothers, was out of Europe.

For how long, nobody knows.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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