One of AFC Ajax's longest serving players at 24, Jan Vertonghen is still getting accustomed to his new role as captain but on the subject of the Dutch titleholders' UEFA Champions League chances there is no uncertainty.
"We have a lot of faith in the squad, we are only getting stronger," the Belgium defender said on the eve of his side's tough Group D opener with Olympique Lyonnais. "This set of players contains a lot of guys with international experience, who know just what to do in situations like this."
They are learning fast. In the Ajax first team since 2006, Vertonghen had to wait until last term before gaining his first taste of European football's elite club competition proper last term. Against the vast experience of Real Madrid CF and AC Milan, Ajax fell short; a 2-0 matchday six away victory over the Rossoneri in Frank de Boer's first game in charge left them a point behind the Italian side in third.
It was a case of "getting used to it" according Vertonghen, who inherited the armband from AS Roma-bound Maarten Stekelenburg this summer. The Godenzonen return a year older, a year wiser – even if an average age of 24 makes theirs the youngest squad in the competition. As their newly appointed skipper demonstrates, they do not lack maturity.
"At the beginning, as a young player making your way in the first team, you are only concerned about yourself," he said. "As you get older, more experienced, you try to take more responsibility and influence the rest of the team. That is what I try to do. I might not always succeed, but I try to guide those alongside and in front of me to make it easier for the team and myself."
Centre-back Vertonghen may have to place particular focus on those immediately around him against Lyon on Wednesday, with Ajax keen to halt a run of 11 games without a clean sheet. "Obviously that has not escaped us," he said, "but I don't think it's a lack of quality.
"Sometimes we are a bit too nonchalant and ought to communicate slightly better. But those are things you can work on and I expect improvement in the upcoming matches." How much Ajax have developed as a whole since last season will be revealed on Wednesday.
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