The article from Japanese football magazine World Soccer King has a rather long title. If you translate it directly into English, it's something like "What is the future of youth development systems which can be seen from the innovation that prestigious Ajax are working on". You can see from the title of the article that Ajax are now trying to do some "innovation" in their youth academy, and they are becoming a role model for all clubs in the world trying to enhance the quality of their youth development systems.
Needless to say, Ajax are renowned for their youth academy, called "De Toekomst" (The Future). The youth academy has produced so many wonderful players so far. Wesley Sneijder (Inter), Rafael Van der Vaart (Tottenham), Nigel de Jong (Manchester City)... All these top-rated players today are from De Toekomst.
The article starts with the comparison between the English national team and the Dutch national team in the 2012 World Cup. England were beaten by Germany at the round of 16. The 14 English players played in the match were from 10 different domestic youth academies. However, there were 7 players who were trained in the Ajax youth academy in the Dutch national squad, and the team eventually advanced to the final round. The author of the article, who was an England fan, was surprised by this difference. The success of the Dutch national team coincided with the "resurrection" of Ajax, which won the Eredivisie title in the 2010-12 season. The team was composed by promising young players who were all from the youth academy, such as Maarten Stekerenburg, Gregory Van der Weel, Christian Eriksen, Siem de Jong, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and others.
The article focuses on Ajax's strong adherence to the "family". In the past, the top team was doing training separately from other teams, but nowadays everyone at Ajax, regardless of the category they belong to, train themselves on the same field of De Toekomst. It quotes the words by David Endt, team coordinator at Ajax. Endt says, "We are always adventurous. We attack, create chances, and play at speed. We do not develop players for other clubs. We train young players in order to achieve our ideal style."
Every team can scout promising young players with good technique. But what is unique about Ajax? According to the article, Ajax put great emphasis on self-responsibility. They don't control everything about their youth players. The players have certain degree of freedom. They may go home right away after the training, but at the same time, they may go to MacDonald's after that. If they want to develop, they will have to think about what they ought to do. Sneijder tells that he has seen many players leaving the club because they didn't do what they should have done when they had to concentrate on football.
Coach Frank de Boer and Danish attacking midfielder Eriksen both emphasize the importance of De Toekomst. The youth academy is the heart of the entire Ajax.
According to the article, Ajax scout only those who can make themselves understood in Dutch or English. They value development of young players as a human person. That is why players like Eriksen and Boilessen, both from Denmark and both the products of De Toekomst, have been capturing attention from all around Europe these days.
The article then touches upon the unique youth development strategy of Ajax. The youth academy does not focus on the development of football skills when the players are under 12. Instead, they focus on what they call "coordination skills", that is, a wide variety of athletic skills including running, jumping, throwing, catching and many others. For players under 13, Ajax allocate 40% of the entire training on programs that are not about football per se. These programs include, for example, judo and yoga. By doing this, De Toekomst aims to produce all-round athletes.
Furthermore, the article introduces the cutting-edge technology at the youth academy. De Toekomst has an innovative training center called "miCoach performance center". The following is the advertisement video made by adidas.
By using this technology, they can gather useful data about their players, with the help of professors and students of the University of Amsterdam and other expert scientists. De Toekomst tries to use these data in order to enhance players' capabilities, instead of punishing players showing low performance. The staff reveals that the budget allocated to establish this system came from only a tiny part of the money they gained when they sold players like Sneijder and Suarez.
"85% of a player's capability is determined by talent", the staff says. "20% can be added by practice. The rest is what we can accumulate. If you can enhance 1% of a player's capability, it will be 11% in the entire team."
Coach De Boer also emphasizes the importance of this new technology. He believes that they can develop further by combining their traditional tactics and mentality of Ajax and these new technologies at the youth academy. Everyone tries to imitate successful models, such as the one at Ajax, but nobody can copy their mentality, atmosphere and Amsterdam itself.
The last part of the article is impressive, so I will try to translate it all.
In 1991, a robust boy from Ondiep, working-class quarter in the suburb of Utrecht, made his first 40-minute trip home. He was holding a ball with a string for practice. He was told to show his achievements of practice to his coach within a week.
"The academy of Ajax is the world's number one, without doubt." 19 years later, and after countless assignments, the boy told us.
Sneijder, who has gained the most titles among the academy graduates of his age, understands the Ajax youth more than anybody else.