The news of Hakim Ziyech leaving Ajax for Chelsea wasn’t surprising. He’s not the first, and probably not the last, of the Dutch Club’s centerpieces leaving for bigger, richer clubs.
One-of-a-Kind Team Torn Apart
From the Ajax XI that started in the 2019 second leg semi final against Tottenham, few remain. Matthijs De Ligt was sold to Juventus for € 75 million. Frenkie De Jong to Barcelona for € 75 million as well. Kasper Dolberg and Lasse Schone are also gone, for far less impressive sums. And now Ziyech, joining Chelsea (will leave at the end of this season) for what many consider a steal of an estimated € 40 million.
This most likely isn’t the end of star players who were seconds away from taking Ajax to the Champions League final leaving the club. It’s hard to see Ajax hanging on to Donny van de Beek for much longer. The 22-year old midfielder is pursued by Real Madrid among other clubs, and at some point it’ll will difficult to hold him back. 23-year old Cameroonian goalkeeper Andre Onana will probably leave the Eredivisie as well this summer, or maybe the next. The same can be said for David Neres.
Marc Overmars’ Difficult Rebuilding Job
Marc Overmars, the main decision maker at Ajax, has already begun spending the big money (from sales and from that magical UCL run last season) on rebuilding the squad. Ajax spent over € 55 million last summer on new players. Not all of them young, as exemplified by Quincy Promes, or the previous signing of Dusan Tadic. The latter is one of the few from last year’s team that isn’t likely to be sold, mostly because of his age.
Ajax have had to replace star players for young ones at a rapid pace for over 20 years – pretty much since the Bosman ruling began to terraform the landscape of European football. And we can go back even further, to stars like Dennis Bergkamp and Marco van Basten very quickly making their way to the best and richest clubs, forcing Ajax to go through rebuilds of varying scales.
Replacing More Than Just Players
A head coach is often even more difficult to find. Erik ten Hag hasn’t been at the club for long (joined in 2017). Still, it’ll be surprising if he stays past this summer. Bayern Munich, other English or German clubs, or perhaps even the turbulent Barcelona. Many have eyes for the 50-year old Dutch manager. Overmars has stated in the past he knows it’s a matter of time before ten Hag joins someone else. Whether or not Ajax can find a way to find or develop players and bring club back anywhere near the heights of last season is questionable. European football’s entire structure is (sadly) built to prevent certain clubs from going very far. Even those with a rich history of success, like Ajax, just because they’re not part of the richer leagues.