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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.