Ajax. A name synonymous with success, youth development and attractive football. One of the Eredivisie’s top clubs, and a consistent performer in Europe. The club captured everyone’s imagination in 2018/19, fighting their way to a Champions League semi-final, only to have their hearts broken by Tottenham (a true loss for the neutral). That squad, led by Matthijs De Ligt, was raided in the summer, with De Ligt heading for Italy, Frenkie De Jong making the switch to Barcelona, and numerous other players (most notably Kasper Dolberg) moving on. With total transfer income of almost £190m, Ajax were in a position to rebuild, and as well as promoting a number of young talents, they spent almost £60m of their transfer war chest on Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez, Razvan Marin, Lisandro Martinez and Kik Pierie.
It is a story which will be familiar to Ajax supporters, who already know Hakim Zieych is moving to Chelsea this summer – the club develops some of the greatest young talent in the world, and that talent is snapped up by the bigger European clubs. All through history, some of the greatest players have come from the Ajax system: Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der Sar, Dennis Berkgamp, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Marco van Basten, even Johan Cruyff himself.
But even with almost constant departures, Ajax always seem to be in a position to continue their development as a club – even this season, with De Ligt and De Jong leaving, they promoted Ryan Gravenberch and spent under £30m on a trio of centre-backs. More often than not, the replacement for outgoing players is either already at the club, or is identified and bought for much less than the outgoing player is making for the club.
Ajax’s model of player development and club growth is one which I have often admired, and the aim of this save is to emulate the system, and i’m sure that accomplishing this with Ajax would be relatively straightforward – they have the facilities, they have the players, and they more or less have the finances to be able to hold onto their best players, and develop into a real European power. In fact, when I was looking at starting this save, I used a game of pure chance and spun the wheel, and the wheel chose Ajax as the club…but for me, I want to be able to emulate them, not just simply be them.
So, I respun the wheel. We had the choice of any playable dutch side, and we came out as Sparta Rotterdam – less illustrious than neighbours Feyenoord, Sparta can still claim to have developed some more recent stars in Danny Blind, Gini Wijnaldum, Kevin Strootman and Memphis Depay. I’ll be looking to continue with the club’s strong attitude towards developing youth, and hope to eventually turn them into the best youth system in the country.
As you can see, it is a vision shared by the board – the club culture very much sets us up for the way i’ve been wanting to play: we have to nurture talent from within the club and from the lower reaches of the domestic game in order to bring success to the club.
Sparta are newly promoted, having come 2nd in the Keuken Kampioen (Dutch 2nd division) last season, so we do have a lot of work to do before I can really get into developing facilities. The priority has to be staying in the division, and aiming to grow from there.
We have just over £10m in the bank at the start of the save, so the financial position is relatively sound, and the club have no debts listed, which means all of the work I do to control the finances (a relatively alien concept for me), directly benefits the club.
In terms of aims and objectives – the Board’s 5 year plan seems relatively solid. We’re looking to establish ourselves as a consistent Eredivisie team; to do so, we’re going to have to invest smart, and keep tight control of the finances – even league winners in Holland only get £7m in prize money, so a lot of the financial work will be done through developing and selling players, at least initially. Of course, if we luck our way into a European spot, there’s more money to be had, and there’s a couple of Million on the line in a Dutch Cup run.