Sunday, March 22, 2009

But fame only started in 1971 and it was not taken for granted yet. Ajax easily won over Panathinaikos 2-0, with Van Dijk scoring early in the game. The second goal is confusing – sometimes Haan, the substitute, is credited with the goal; sometimes the Greek player Kapsis is listed scoring own goal. Haan kicked the ball, which deflected from Kapsis and entered the net. Technically, own goal, for Kapsis ‘played’ last, but deflections are murky affairs. Ajax, it was said later, outplayed the meek Greeks in the first half and simply waited for the final whistle in the second. Not a great match.
Perhaps the final blinded the specialists: Ajax showed total football. Its players were versatile and flexible, comfortable in any position, switching position at will or whim, tactically superb and disciplined, and capable to adjust their football to the particular needs of a given game and given opposition. Suurbier played left back, when he was normally right back. Neeskens, an attacking midfielder, did not mind taking the right back position. Cruiff played as a right midfielder. These guys were able to play any position, seemingly at will. Effortless and skilful players, but also highly tactical – they controlled the tempo, and were able to change the speed of the game. They were also tough when toughness was required. They were not by any means physical and rough, yet, if they had to play against brutes, they also did not shy from violence and extra close marking. The match against Panathinaikos hardly showed all Ajax’s qualities and the specialists missed to take notice. Retrospectively, they grumbled – the match was not ‘representative’ of Ajax… it was dull… But I think Ajax provided enough and the Greeks deserve some credit: after all, at least somebody took notice - Barcelona hired Rinus Michels for their coach after the final. Ajax reacted… well, typically: they hired little known and therefore cheap Romanian – Stefan Kovacs, noted for his work in Steaua (Bucharest) at that time, but hardly big name.