In preparation for tonight’s Europa League fixture against Dutch Champions, Ajax, I talked to Dutch Football Writer, Mohamed M, to discuss Ajax’s season so far, the future of their talented Danish wonder kid and their prospects success in this intriguing European encounter!
CTS: Starting off, how have Ajax done in the League this season?
Well, to be honest, it hasn’t gone as well as expected. At the start of the season, they were favourites to retain their Championship but the club have had injuries at crucial stages of the seasons and that has really damaged their chances of winning back-to-back titles.
Frank De Boer, coach and legend of the club, hasn’t really been able to field his strongest XI since September. Last summer they signed Kolbeinn Sigþórsson from AZ Alkmaar, for 5 million Euros, but he picked up an injury in October and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Therefore, without their main striker, Frank de Boer (FDB) has had to play midfielders as false number nine’s.
CTS: Surely that can’t be the only reason for their disastrous season so far?
Well, the loss of Steklenburg has been massive, especially after FDB refused to go and buy a replacement, instead choosing to promote from within with the introduction of Vermeer, who has been at the base of one of Ajax’s worst defences since the mid-80′s which is quite ironic seeing as they’re managed by one of Dutch footballs best ever defenders.
CTS: Is that something United should exploit?
Certainly, United are many multiples ahead of most teams in Holland so they should cause Ajax massive problems- something VDS was saying last week.
To add to that, FDB has been over ambitious with his attempts to play total football.
CTS: Interesting, do Ajax not have the quality to play Total Football then?
Well, this is problem. At the moment, with the exception of two players, they simply do not.
Those two player are Cristian Eriksen and Theo Janssen, who was bought last summer from FC Twente. These guys have been generally been great but firstly they don’t have enough quality around them and secondly, Eriksen himself isn’t playing as well as he did last season.
Why is that?
Well, whereas last year, he was playing as a orthodox number 10, he’s now being forced to play as a more typical number 8 which doesn’t suit him.
CTS: Eriksen has been touted as a potential United target this summer, after a string of impressive performances in front of our scouts, do you think he’ll move to a bigger European club soon?
Yes, Eriksen is a huge asset and talent. FDB has spoken very highly of him and, despite having an inconsistent season, does look like he’ll fulfill his hype, at just 19 years-old currently.
Personally, he reminds me of a young Andres Iniesta, from roughly 2003/2004, even though he’s more commonly compared to Laudrap, even though they’re not similar players. Comparing him to the Spaniard, they have similar presence, passing and control.
CTS: Very high praise indeed, could you realistically see him joining a club like United?
I could but I think it’d be too soon at the end of this season. However, his contract is running down so the club do need to decide if they want to cash in now or sign him up to a new contract and sign him later.
Either way, if/ when he does leave, I personally think he’ll end up at Barcelona.
CTS: So you don’t think he’d be a fan of the climate in England?
Exactly but to add to that, he’s openly talked about how he admires FB Barcelona in the past.
CTS: Speaking of midfielders, how is Paul Scholes thought of in Holland? Is he held in such high- esteem as we anecdotally hear in Spain?
Of course he is! Paul Scholes is one of the few English players who is recognised as truly world-class. Obviously he’s admired for his ability but he’s also well known for his quiet character, it’s respected. To add to that, we both know just how highly his fellow professionals rate him! Just listen to Viera, Xavi, Zidane… (Find a full list of Quotes on Paul Scholes here).
CTS: Do Ajax have realistic expectations of progression to the next stage?
Realistically they don’t expect to progress because they realise that they’ve got a young, inexperienced side and, unlike in years gone by, they are not one of the best clubs in Europe anymore.
Nonetheless, this is still a massive game for them- probably their second biggest of the year behind their group stage tie against Real Madrid.
Therefore, realistically, they just want to keep their pride and give a good account of themselves. One of the best quotes of the season has to be from FDB when he said, in preparation for their match at the Bernabeau, that no matter what they’d at least achieve an honourable defeat- a defeat that is where they would keep their pride and play the right type of football- and if they won, it would simply be a massive bonus!
Well, at least in that sense, it should be at least be an entertaining tie with both teams playing attractive, flowing football! Come on you Reds!
You can see Mo’s work published in FourFourTwo and you can follow him on Twitter @Jouracle.
You can listen to the full transcript here as a stream, as we preview Ajax v Man United, although the audio quality is muffled in places (so I’d suggest turning the volume up somewhat).