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The illustrious connections of Barcelona and Ajax

Published: Sunday 15 September 2013, 12.36CET
FC Barcelona may be facing AFC Ajax for the first time in Wednesday's UEFA Champion League Group H opener, but the two European powers share plenty of common ground.
by Berend Scholten
from Amsterdam
The illustrious connections of Barcelona and Ajax
Johan Cruyff enjoyed long-standing associations with Ajax and Barcelona ©AFP
 
 
 
Published: Sunday 15 September 2013, 12.36CET

The illustrious connections of Barcelona and Ajax

FC Barcelona may be facing AFC Ajax for the first time in Wednesday's UEFA Champion League Group H opener, but the two European powers share plenty of common ground.

It is hard to believe that when FC Barcelona host AFC Ajax in Wednesday's UEFA Champion League Group H curtain-raiser, it will be the first meeting between two clubs with a rich history in European competition.

They have plenty of shared connections though, especially in the legendary figure of Johan Cruyff, who swapped Ajax for Barcelona in 1973 after claiming three straight European Champion Clubs' Cups during nine trophy-laden years in Amsterdam. He soon became the darling of the Camp Nou, hitting 48 goals in 143 games and helping the Blaugrana clinch their first Spanish title in 14 years in 1974.

A three-time winner of the Ballon d'Or, Cruyff turned his hand to coaching and took over at Ajax in 1985 where he lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup. Another old flame beckoned three years later as he returned to Barcelona, steering them to their maiden European Cup in 1992, with ex-Ajax defender Ronald Koeman netting the winner against UC Sampdoria in the Wembley showpiece.

Barça collected four consecutive Liga championships under Cruyff between 1991 and 1994 – during which time midfielder Richard Witschge and Cruyff's son Jordi brought an extra Dutch flavour to Catalonia.

Louis van Gaal, a UEFA Champions League winner as Ajax boss in 1995, took the reins from Sir Bobby Robson in 1997. A strong influx of his compatriots – including Winston Bogarde, Michael Reiziger, Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars and the De Boer twins – subsequently helped Barcelona to two Spanish titles and UEFA Super Cup success in 1997.

Former Netherlands centre-back Frank Rijkaard, who finished his playing days with Ajax, became the next Dutchman to fill the Camp Nou hot seat in 2003. Edgar Davids arrived on loan from Juventus the following campaign before Barcelona captured European club football's most prized trophy in 2006. More recently, defender Maxwell and forward Zlatan Ibrahimović have made the switch from Ajax, yet only a handful of players have headed in the opposite direction.

Michael Laudrup linked up with Ajax for the 1997/98 season, three years after leaving Barcelona. Midfielder Roger García also played out his career at the Amsterdam ArenA, as did versatile defender Oleguer Presas. Last term, loanee Isaac Cuenca reinforced Frank de Boer's team and he was joined in July by latest recruit Bojan Krkić, who burst onto the Barcelona scene as a teenager in 2007.

Meanwhile, the only man to have played for and coached both sides, Johan Cruyff, is savouring a historic occasion. "It is great for football that these teams are playing. Barcelona are a great side and play nice football. Ajax are eager to do the same, but Barcelona have more experience. The clubs share a nice history," he said.

Last updated: 16/09/13 17.41CET

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