I first began supporting Ajax in the late 1990s after watching Edwin van der Sar playing for the team. I do not remember when exactly, but possibly after finding out Ajax won the 1995 European Cup.
That team was a magical one. Marc Overmars. The de Boer brothers. Nwankwo Kanu. Jari Litmanen. Clarence Seedorf. Danny Blind.
As a teenager, I kept drawing Ajax’s Dutchman logo on my belongings. Pencil case, exercise books, tabletop. I remembered every line that needed to be drawn. And when I played Championship Manager, I only played Ajax and nothing else.
It has been ups and downs with Ajax. But since the late 1990s in general, until Frank de Boer arrived to manage the team, it is not an exaggeration to say it had been a downhill journey. I have stayed true to the team for all those years, but being dismissed as a has-been second-rated team was an insult I am sure many Ajax fans had to endure.
That is not to say there were no great players during the interim. Rafael van der Vaart. Wesley Sneijder. Luis Suarez. Christian Chivu. John Heitinga. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The names go on and go. Yet, they could not quite make it super big at Ajax, and Ajax could not hold on to them. There was not enough money to go around. So they went away, doing great things at bigger clubs outside, getting paid multiple times more than what they got in Amsterdam.
But this current team, well…
I watched some ESPN clips commenting about the Ajax-Juventus fixture. All of them were dismissing Ajax with a halfhearted hand wave. “Ajax is good,” they said. “But they lack the experience,” they claimed.
And there was Cristiano Ronaldo.
This team that forced Bayern Munich to work for their one point and embarrassed Real Madrid in Santiago Bernabeu so badly, could not beat Juventus so supreme in the Serie A and so certain to win the Italian League, they believed.
And Ajax, oh well, Ajax is only at the top of the second-rated division, ahead of PSV Eindhoven by only goal difference.
Who is Ajax?
But Ajax has been in a serious rebuilding mode since the early 2010s when several of the 1990s veterans joined the management. There were infighting, but Frank de Boer rebuilt the team. He left in 2016 but he left a great foundation for Ajax to run on that they reached the final of the 2017 Europa Cup, losing to Manchester United after a great run. But well, that is second-rated competition. Who cares?
And now, in 2019 Ajax is in the semifinal after beating Juventus. Do not let anybody say it was luck. It was actually Ajax working brilliantly with confidence and experience.
And those ESPN commentators?
Eating Ronaldo’s smelly socks, no doubt.