Ajax board quits in dispute over Cruyff reforms

As a precocious teenager plucked from the streets of a low-rent

Amsterdam neighborhood, Johan Cruyff almost single-handedly turned

Ajax into a European football giant.

Now, as a revered elder statesman of the game, he wants to do it

again.

But just as he did in his playing days as a mercurial attacking

midfielder, he can’t help clashing with authorities. After being

asked to draw up a plan of action to return the four-time European

champions to their former glory, Cruyff insisted his reform agenda

be carried out in full or not at all.

Key to Cruyff’s vision is installing a nucleus of respected

former-Ajax stars – Wim Jonk, Dennis Bergkamp and current coach

Frank de Boer – to oversee the first team and the club’s legendary

youth academy, based at a training facility called ”The

Future.”

Cruyff wants all three to get actively involved in training

youth players, focussing more on their individual skills than on

team play at the early stages of their development.

Cruyff was known for his brilliant skills and dribbling but also

his vision and ability to release teammates with perfect

passing.

The club was silent Thursday, the day after its board of

directors quit and accused Cruyff at an emotional news conference

of strong-arm tactics in insisting that several key staff,

including assistant coach Danny Blind, be fired as part of his

master plan.

Leaving the club late Wednesday, Cruyff said he had ”stuck his

neck out” in drawing up the plan.

”It’s clear what has to happen,” he said. ”We are

ready.”

Earlier in the evening, outgoing chairman Uri Coronel told

reporters that Cruyff had threatened to ”take down” him and other

board members if his plans were not accepted.

”This process, especially the continuing unrest around the

club, is extraordinarily damaging for Ajax,” Coronel said after

announcing his resignation.

He said nobody could tell the club’s leadership who to fire,

”not even Cruyff.”

Cruyff denied Coronel’s claims, as did Jonk and Bergkamp, two of

the former-Ajax stars Cruyff hand-picked to lead the club out of

the wilderness.

Ajax is currently third in the Dutch league, six points behind

leader PSV Eindhoven, and has been knocked out of Europe. The only

chance for silverware this season is the Dutch Cup, and the club

needs to finish second in the league to enter next year’s Champions

League.

Cruyff remains immensely popular and influential at Ajax and has

frequently commented on the club in his weekly column for

top-selling Dutch daily De Telegraaf.

Another Dutch newspaper, De Volkskrant, said Coronel had painted

”a Mafia-esque picture” of Cruyff’s dealings with the club in ”a

fight that will have no winners.”

Over the years, the Ajax academy has been a production line of

talent, turning out the likes of Cruyff, Bergkamp, Wesley Sneijder

and Patrick Kluivert, and allowing the small Amsterdam club to

excel in Europe.

It is still nurturing stars of the future – such as promising

Ajax right back Gregory van der Wiel – but it has been seen as in

decline since Ajax won the Champions League in 1995 with a team

built around academy stars like Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Clarence

Seedorf and Frank Rijkaard.

Where Ajax’s academy was once seen as the blueprint for rearing

talent, the mantle has now been taken over by Barcelona – the other

football love of Cruyff’s life and widely regarded as the best team

in the world at the moment.

He joined the Catalan club in 1973 after leading Ajax to three

successive European Cups, the predecessor the Champions League, and

helped Barcelona win its first Spanish league title since 1960 that

season. He also managed Barcelona to a European title in 1992, the

European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989 and four Spanish league

titles.

Even in his playing days, Cruyff’s assertive personality led to

run-ins with authorities. He famously wore a Netherlands shirt made

by Adidas with two stripes down the arms instead of the company’s

usual three because he had a deal with rival company Puma.

Despite being the country’s greatest footballer and one of its

most successful managers, he has never coached the national side

because of differences of opinion with the Dutch football

association.

The standoff at Ajax will likely lead to a meeting of its

members to either endorse or reject Cruyff’s vision. The

supervisory board already has begun looking for replacements for

the board of directors.

Cruyff says he is not a candidate, preferring to remain an

unofficial adviser and mentor to Jonk, Bergkamp and De Boer.

”I’m not the type to become chairman,” he said.