Young will-o'-the-wisps against the "old lady". Two days before the meeting on Wednesday, April 10, the quarterfinals of the Champions League between Ajax Amsterdam and Juventus Turin is impatient. Because the poster summons sepia memories and signs especially the return to grace of the Batavian club, one of the most legendary of the legend of football.
Ajax, for lovers of ball, is a madeleine Proust. The original taste of amazement, when in the twilight of the 1960s, the reds and whites invented the "total football": an infernal pressing without a ball, a projection towards the attack with all the players sounding the charge, capable of a incredible versatility by swapping constantly. Theorised by strategist Rinus Michels, later elected coach of the century, the game of Ajax is a terrible requirement for its performers, forced to discipline and training iron. But once the frame is laid, it allows artists like Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens to give their full measure. In summary: it's beautiful.
Johan Cruyff, the death of elegance
Forward all and young people in power
And besides, it's effective. After a failed continental final in 1969, Ajax won in 1971 against the Panathinaikos Greeks (2-0). Rinus Michels left to spread his science in Barcelona, the Romanian Stefan Kovacs is in charge of deepening the system by betting even more on the possession of ball. Ajax reign over Europe two more years, beating Inter Milan (2-0) in 1972 and Juventus (1-0) in 1973. Magic Triplet, and trademark. Ajax is a philosophy: forward. A style instilled in its tender shoots from an early age.
Because Ajax, it is also a factory with champions, the formation like standard. Demonstration with the second golden age of the club, in the 1990s. The conductor then called Louis Van Gaal. He updates the software written by Rinus Michels and pushes the youth cursor to the bottom. Ajax returns to the top of Europe, with a team of minots (Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert …) of just over 22 years of average age. They race the Champions League in 1995 (1-0 against AC Milan), stumble a little the year after, and semi-final in 1997 (read opposite). No triplets this time, but this team is also dreaming.
A team in perpetual reconstruction
The current generation is blowing on these embers. Ajax remained true to itself. If the club came into the lineup in the late 1990s, reaching the quarterfinals of the league champions in 2003 (eliminated by AC Milan), it is to have suffered the full force of consequences of the Bosman judgment on the free movement of players. Ajax has braced himself on his proud football and on his formation.
But in a Europe dominated by giants with pharaonic budgets, the club with its portfolio of 85 million euros (between that of Lille and Saint-Etienne) had to subscribe to the resale of its nuggets. "Today, we are happy if we can keep our players until 23 years old, already stressed Johan Cruyff in 2011 by returning as a sports consultant to the club to boost a new breath. Everything is constantly rebuilding since it is when they can become leaders that they leave. " The model generates its own limits.
The eighth final against Real Madrid overthrown at home by the fiery "ajacides" (1-4) however, repositioned on the European map, while Ajax ambushed nothing else at the beginning of the season that a national title (he is now in a fight with PSV Eindhoven). Last summer, for the first time in ages, the transfer window did not translate into siphoning. Ajax have retained their pearls, including defender Matthijs de Ligt, 19, and midfielder Frenkie de Jong, 21. And the club has spent 45 million euros to strengthen, with, among other things, the arrival of Serbian Dusan Tadic, decisive in Madrid.
The balance found this year revives the flame. And all fans of the beautiful game to get excited about these kids again jostling the certainty of the cadors. Can they go to the end of the adventure? A breath of fresh air would blow over Europe. For how long ? That's the whole question. Frenkie de Jong will join next year Barcelona and the Catalan club is active to win also the transfer of Matthijs Ligt. This is the story of Ajax: an eternal beginning.
Ajax-Juventus, old acquaintances
In 1973, Ajax completed its glorious trilogy by knocking Juventus out of action on a header from Johnny Rep (1-0), the twirling striker who was later to do the good days of Bastia and St. Etienne.
The paths of the two clubs often intersect in European Cup, always to the advantage of the Italians. In 1978, they won in the quarterfinals on penalties. In 1996, Ajax saw the title escape in the final, beaten on the line (1-1, 4-2 on penalties) by a Juventus where officiates Didier Deschamps. The following year, Zinedine Zidane, brilliant in the semifinals (4-1), buries the Dutch hopes.
The last duel dates back to the 2004-2005 season, in the group stage. Juve had won twice on the same score, 1-0.
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