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Sunday, August 26, 2012

New Faces 2012-13

Ajax has already fought three Eredivisie matches. After a thrilling 2-2 draw against AZ, they have made two comfortable wins against NEC and NAC (6-1 and 5-0 respectively).

Although nobody knows what's gonna happen until the very end of August, the transfer market is almost closing. The squad is almost fixed now, though there are some missing pieces of a reserve striker and a right winger. It was almost predetermined that Vetonghen would leave this summer, so I just hope he shows impressive performance at the Spurs. However, as you may already know, Anita and Janssen also decided to leave Ajax. This was a sad thing, but Ajax has also focused on doing a good shopping in the market, as well as selling talented players abroad for their desired prices. So let's see the new faces so far.

Lasse Schøne (age 26, Denmark)

His transfer to Ajax was already determined during the last season. He came to Amsterdam on a free transfer. I think it's fair to say that Ajax was very lucky. It is clear to everyone's eyes that he is a great midfielder who can play multiple roles. He can assist goals, but he can also score a goal from a long distance. After Vurnon Anita left for Newcastle United and Theo Janssen openly expressed his desire to go back to his former club Vitesse, Schøne has played as a holding midfielder. So far, so good.

Tobias Sana (age 23, Sweden)

This young winger, who holds dual citizenship of Sweden and Burkina Faso, was transferred from the famed Swedish club IFK Göteborg for an estimated fee of 350,000 euro, and quickly became a big surprise for all Eredivisie watchers. Indeed, his performances in the last three matches were totally amazing, scoring three goals and assisting one. Sana can give a good rhythm to Ajax attacks. He is fast, skillful, never stops running and also has a good vision. Of course he has to develop in terms of his understanding of the tactics of Ajax, especially with regard to the combination with side backs. But still, he can be a true phenomenon this season.

Niklas Moisander (age 26, Finland)

Former captain of AZ finally decided to sign a three year contract at the reigning Eredivisie champions. He once belonged to the reserve team of Ajax, but failed to be promoted to the top team. After the departure of Jan Vertonghen, he is perhaps the best center back in the Eredivisie. He is a genuine Ajax-type center back who can both defend and build attacks, and his leadership and experience were desperately needed for the very young squad. Furthermore, his three year contract is ideal for Ajax as well, because, within three years, a log-term heir of Vertonghen will certainly develop. Stefano Denswil is the most likely candidate for that post.

Christian Poulsen (age 32, Denmark)

Ajax recently announced that Poulsen signed a deal until 2014. Like his Danish compatriot Schøne, he came to Ajax on a Bosman. He will be the most experienced player in the squad, having played in almost all major European football leagues. Many see him as a squad player who advise young players with his experience, like last year's Ooijer. I've seen many people saying that he is not expected to gain much playing time, but now that there is no defensive midfielder proper in the squad, he will fight a healthy competition for the position against Schøne and perhaps Serero. This is also a very good signing for Ajax.

More players might come to Amsterdam, but so far, I think Ajax has made right decisions in the market. Let's make our fingers crossed for their 32nd Eredivisie title.


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ajax's Preseason / Who's Doing What?

Ajax is back.

They have fought six preseason matches so far, and have won every single game. Yesterday they  fought the only preseason match played in their home stadium Amsterdam ArenA against Celtic. The result was 4-0 while Ajax showed brilliant performance without the services of some influential players like Van der Wiel, Boerrigter, Sulejmani and Janssen.

Ajax has not been very active in the summer transfer market. They eventually sold former captain Jan Vertonghen to Tottenham, and some players also left the club (including Bulykin, Aissati, and my favorite player Lodeiro...). They have acquired three players so far; Lasse Shorne from NEC, Illan Boccara from PSG and Tobias Sana from IFK Goteborg. Heerenveen's Narsingh was their target, but he decided to go to PSV instead. AZ midfielder Adam Maher has told that he would take into consideration a move from AZ if Ajax showed a genuine interest. But this is not going to happen since there are too many attacking midfielders now, though it is obvious he is one of the most talented young players in Holland.

Ajax is going to play two matches against Premier League clubs. Here's a selection of players for their training camp in England.

Kenneth Vermeer
Jasper Cillessen 

Mickey van der Hart

Gregory van der WielToby Alderweireld
Daley Blind
Ricardo van Rhijn
Dico Koppers
Ruben Ligeon
Joël VeltmanStefano DenswilMitchell Dijks
Nicolai Boilesen

Vurnon Anita
Christian Eriksen
Siem de Jong 
Theo Janssen
Davy KlaassenLasse Schöne
Thulani Serero

Strikers / Wingers:
Kolbeinn Sigthórsson 
Miralem Sulejmani
Derk Boerrigter
Lorenzo Ebecilio
Aras Özbiliz
Viktor Fischer
Jody Lukoki

Almost nobody is guaranteed a spot in the starting line-up, with some exceptions of captain Siem de Jong, goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer and playmaker Cristian Eriksen. Siem de Jong will play either as attacking midfielder or striker. Anita and Janssen will compete for holding midfielder spot,  though I guess coach de Boer will choose Anita over Janssen considering Anita's performance last season. Eriksen's partner can be De Jong, Schone or Jansssen, while this season will be very important season for Serero and Klaassen, who will spend their second season at Ajax's top team, if they want to become a top-rated player (strictly speaking, this is going to be Klaassen's first season at the top team after graduating from the youth, though he has already made appearances for both the Eredivisie and the Champions League). Eyong Enoh and Mats Rits are also the ones at the first team though they are not participating in the training camp in England.

Toby Alderweireld will probably start. His partner will be either Blind or Denswil, if Van der Wiel leaves the club (then Van Rijn will be the right back). If Boilessen will be the first choice for the left back position if he is 100% fit, but Koppers and Dijks can also be options. In particular, Dijks has been showing good performance during these preseason matches. 

If there's no injury concern, and if everybody stays at the club, you can easily choose one striker and two wingers; Sigthorsson in the spits (striker), with Sulejmani on the right and Boerrigter on the left. But this is uncertain because all of these three players had awful injury problems last season. Ebecilio and Ozbiliz can be reliable substitutions. Currently, it seems that Viktor Fiscer is also a candidate for the left wing. He can play as offensive midfielder, but he played as winger and won the man of the match at the friendly against Celtic There is no doubt that he will become a major player in Europe if everything goes well. Furthermore, Ajax has recently announced that they have reached an agreement with IFK Goteborg on the transfer of Tobias Sana. I've heard he is a good winger, though I've never watched him play. Probably Ajax will take another one or two players in the transfer market, while Sulejmani could leave the club this summer (I know this is just hype, but I've heard Arsenal is interested in signing him...)

Danish allstars at Ajax!

Janssen has even said that Ajax is not a title favorite due to the lack of experienced players. But Ajax is not the only one feeling anxiety about the next season. Luuk de Jong and Ola John have left Twente for their respective next steps. AZ's Rasmus Elm is about to leave the club for CSKA Moscow (where Japanese superstar Keisuke Honda is playing). PSV is doing good business in the market, having won the race for Narsingh and getting back Van Bommel, but whether they can really be a great team after that disastrous 2011-12 season remains to be seen.

So my guess is that the Eredivisie is going to be a roller-coaster season again. I hope Ajax wins their 32nd league title, but I also hope I can see the appearances of many young, talented players in the league as a whole.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ajax is landskampioen!

Ajax beat VVV 2-0 and this was the time when they succeeded to retain their Eredivisie title. This is their 31st title in Holland.

Siem de Jong scored twice. He again proved that he can score goals at decisive moments. He did exactly the same (scored twice) against Twente last season, which brought the championship for the first time in many years to Amsterdam. The victory was rather comfortable for Ajax, as they maintained over 70% ball possession.

Ajax have experienced a lot of problems this season. Injuries, conflict among the executive board, and elimination from the Champions League... they have overcome all these challenges and eventually grown stronger.

De Boer already told that Vertonghen had played his last game in the Eredivisie. He will perhaps leave for one of the Premier League clubs (though De Boer recommended Barcelona!). And the game was probably Ooijer's last match in his career. Some players will leave, but still Ajax have wonderful players who have developed rapidly throughout the season. I hope Eriksen, Anita and De Jong will all continue to lead Ajax.

Ajax have been loyal to their own philosophy. The success of the Ajax top team coincided with the renovation of their youth academy. Ajax A1 showed their quality to all the football fans in Europe, as new talents like Davy Klaassen, Lesley de Sa, Stefano Denswil, Joel Veltman, and Viktor Fischer played excellent football in the NextGen series. These young kids have never appeared in the Eredivisie matches (with some exceptions of  Klaassen and Ligeon), but the future is blight for Ajax.

Here's De Boer's comment after the victory, saying that the second title feels better than the first one.

"For the fans, last season was special because they waited so long for the third star on the shirt. But for me and my staff this one feels more beautiful seeing what happened this season. All the injuries we had and then the turbulence through all the problems in our board, but we stayed loyal to our vision."

Feyenoord's coach Koeman praised De Boer.

"I know Frank well, and he did a great job and won a deserved title. Nobody gave a dime for the chances of Ajax when we beat them at the end of January, but Frank stayed calm despite all the board turbulences. He never used it as an excuse and kept everything far away from his players and that deserves a big compliment."
(See the whole news article here)

Ajax will fight the last match of the seasons (vs Vittesse) probably with young or inexperienced players. This is also going to be a very interesting game.

Anyway, many congratulations to the players and those who live in Amsterdam!
And I would like thank the club for having shown us wonderful football.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Hand on the Title? (and a little bit about the future...)

So this is my second blog post of this month (Sorry, I'm kind of busy these days...)

After their last match against Groningen, Ajax have won 11 consecutive games in the Eredivisie. Ajax have gained 67 points so far, and now they are sitting on the top of the table with 6 points ahead from AZ. Only 3 games are remaining, which means Ajax need only 4 points to secure their league title.

The entire team is in good form these days. Boerrigter, Sigthorsson and Van der Wiel have all recovered from injury, and Boerrgter scored 3 goals in the recent 2 games! Sigthorsson has also scored 2 goals since his comeback. What's making Ajax strong these days is the increasing variety of players who can make a difference on the pitch. De Jong has scored 14 goals this season (and I think it's fair to say that he is already a very dangerous striker), but even when he plays as a midfielder, coach De Boer can send Sigthorsson or Bulykin to the pitch!

So these days I often wonder who will be playing on the pitch next season (of course I know it's too early). Vertonghen will surely leave the club, and Van der Wiel will also move abroad. Aissati once expressed his wish to leave the club, and considering the current situation, I don't think Lodeiro will be playing at Ajax next season.

De Boer told that he wanted AZ's Moisander or NEC's Nuytinck as potential replacement for Vertonghen. And Ajax recently announced that they reached an agreement with NEC on the transfer of Danish midfielder Lasse Schone. Schone is an offensive midfielder with good vision and technique. He is also good at mid-range shots, so my image of him is something like "(Eriksen + Janssen) / 2". I think he can be used immediately upon joining the team. 

De Boer said an interesting thing about this transfer. This is what he said. 

"Lasse fits our philosophy perfectly. He's a creative player who can both score and assist. We like that type of player at Ajax. He’ll have to compete with the other midfielders for a spot. But this season has shown that we really do need everyone. We need a good, broad selection. Earlier this season, we needed to call up some A-juniors. With a good player like Lasse on board, we’ll have even more options next season." 
So the aim of Ajax is clear; To get more options for midfield. And Shorne himself knows that he is not guaranteed a spot in the squad. But one interpretation of this comment is that the coach does not really want to call young players into the first team squad. This is perhaps because De Boer believes in the academy. Jong Ajax fought the NextGen series and showed great performance (they went to the final and lost against Inter on penalties). Having young players concentrate on their time at Jong Ajax is one way to preserve the Ajax brand.

Another target is Heerenveen's Narsingh. He is perhaps the best winger at the moment in the Eredivisie. He is a graduate of the Ajax academy, so he knows how to play at Ajax. He has made 22 assists this season. Just incredible. He already told that he wanted to move to Ajax, so I hope the two clubs reach an agreement on a transfer fee. 

Moreover, according to Voetbal International, Ajax are keeping an eye on AZ's side back Simon Poulsen. Ajax already have at least three players who can play at left back (Blind, Koppers and Boilessen), but from an objective point of view, I think Poulsen is the best side back among them. Poulsen admits that he is happy to hear the news that Ajax are following him, but he also tells that he wants to play in another league.

One more player that's worth talking about; Rodney Sneijder. Wesley Sneijder's younger brother is a product of the Ajax academy and now is on loan at Utrecht. He has the same kind of play style as his brother. He has good technique, good vision and accurate kicks. I want to see him play at Ajax again, but De Boer is unclear about him. (they say that he doesn't value Suneijder...)

So that's all I know about transfer news around Amsterdam. I'm looking forward to seeing these players joining Ajax, and I also hope that those who leave Ajax will have a good football life elsewhere.