Frank de Boer has been building at AFC Ajax for almost two years now. He will no doubt be hoping this week's impressive 3-1 UEFA Champions League win against Manchester City FC is the latest step towards establishing a dominant side akin to those of the 1970s and 1990s.
Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant summed it up best: "Football's institute for development will be glowing for days after this skilful victory against the millionaires of Manchester City. The win is obviously a real triumph for [Johan] Cruyff and his followers, the gatekeepers of pure football. After earlier defeats against Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid, the third match in this top-heavy Champions League group became a wonderful success story. Giants of men were beaten by boys with guts."
However, Ajax want more and are determined to return to the top. Decades ago, masterminded by the talismanic Cruyff, the Amsterdam team reigned on the continent and won three successive European Champion Clubs' Cups. In the 1990s, when De Boer was pivotal as a player, they won the UEFA Champions League in 1995 and lost the final the following season.
The 42-year-old De Boer, who is known to have a strong relationship with Cruyff and current Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal, is totally committed to putting Ajax back on the map. He wants them to dominate by playing attractive football, with the Ajax youth system – named 'De Toekomst' (the future) – key to it all.
Equally admirable is the heartbeat of the club – Cruyff, Wim Jonk, Dennis Bergkamp and De Boer. They decide on all manner of technical affairs, issues of youth development and training methods. A visit to the academy will often mean running into other luminaries such as Alfons Groenendijk, Kenneth Perez, John Bosman, Orlando Trustfull, Marc Overmars, Ronald de Boer and Jaap Stam. The priority, however, remains the first team. Ajax continue to experience inevitable turbulence yet gradually look to be realising their potential.
"I knew we were capable of doing this," said Frank de Boer after the Group D triumph over City. "Our defence was dominant and City did not have an answer. The most important thing for me is that I saw an Ajax side with guts. With that quality, there is a good chance you will get the right result in the end. I am proud of what we have shown." A feeling persists there is plenty more to come.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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