Saturday, March 21, 2009

Well, this is the squad coming out on Wembley on June 2, 1971 in traditional colours:

The Ajax European Cup winning team of 1971.Back: Hulshoff, Stuy, Suurbier, Van Dijk, Mühren.Front: Keizer, Swart, Rijnders, Vasovic, Cruyff, Neeskens. Not the ‘classic’ Ajax yet, however full of Dutch national players. Two things, characteristic of the club, were not evident in 1971, for nobody paid attention to the ‘newcomers’: the careful building of the club based on shrewd and parsimonious transfers. Ajax preferred to build their own players, to buy young and cheap footballers, and to sell at profit. It was careful planning as well as talented players and innovative coach bringing the success. This policy included rather unusual treatment of foreigners for the time. Thus, the Dutch stars of 1969 were either retired or sold by 1971. The Swedish centre forward Inge Danielson was also gone, although two years back he was somewhat of a team star. With the exception of the goalie Heinz Stuy, young players were bought from smaller clubs – like Gerrie Muhren – and developed in the club. Others came from the youth system – a long standing practice with Cruiff as a prime example. Three foreigners came along as well: the Dane Tom Sondengaard (27 years old in 71, 19 caps for Denmark) from Ravid (Wien), the German Horst Blankenburg (24 years old, 0 caps for West Germany) came from the freshly relegated TSV 1860 Munchen in 1970, and the Israeli Roni Kalderon (4 caps for Israel) – from Hapoel (Tel-Aviv) in 1969, only 17 years old. Cheap, unknown imports. Only Blankenburg became a starter, and it seems that he was bought to replace Velibor Vasovic, who retired after winning the European Champions Cup. But the German was already playing regularly, although more often as a substitute. It looks like he was a midfielder at first and settled as a sweeper only after the departure of Vasovic. Sondengaard was clearly a substitute and Kalderon hardly ever played. This was highly unusual practice – by 1971 clubs preferred to have only 2 foreigners in their roasters: there was no point to pay salaries to eternal reserves, for the rules in most countries allowed only 2 foreigners on the pitch. Ajax had 4 foreign players, and two of them were not meant to play much. Actually, Ajax invoked old Italian and Spanish practices from the early 1960s: those were the only countries keeping expensive extra foreigner on the bench, plus another two on the pitch. But Spanish and Italian clubs, rich as they were, were able to afford the luxury – Ajax was motivated more by utility. Their foreigners were cheap unknowns, and if they fitted in the system – fine; if they did not – no big deal. In the summer of 1971 Vasovic retired, and Sondengaard and Kalderon were gone to other pastures. Blankenburg replaced the Serbian veteran and Austrian player was bought from Sturm (Graz) – Heinz Schilcher, 24 years old. Schilcher (1 cap for Austria) was glued to the bench immediately, a rather deep reserve, who played very rarely for Ajax. But – once again – a cheap acquisition. When looking back, one thing is clear: Ajax did not like to spend money on stars. The top club in Europe in the early 1970s preferred to buy nobodies and eventually to make them stars, if they fit. Blankenburg was the early example, but in later years a string of foreigners made their names in Ajax – from Soren Lerby to Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu. The real reputation of Ajax is in making stars and it started in 1971, when, along with Cruiff, Neeskens, Krol, Haan, etc. became internationally famous.