Monday, July 13, 2009

After winning the Champions Cup the season was over replaced by the transfer fever of the summer months. Dick van Dijk made the news – Ajax sold him to OGC Nice (France). The transfer was somewhat strange: just a year ago van Dijk was the hero at Wembley and he was seen as the next big star – may be not equal to Cruiff, but certainly he was better known than the rest of his teammates. OGC Nice, although still leading French club, was not exactly top class in Europe. The transfer was puzzling and much commented because of that – on one hand, it was solid transfer in good and new to Dutch players market. On the other – going from Ajax to Nice was stepping down. It was difficult to see the wisdom of selling potential huge star.

As it was, this transfer indicated Ajax’s transfer policy and often is considered the beginning of the big unsentimental transfers the club did. Eventually, the whole Great Ajax squad was sold to foreign clubs and Dutch players became hot market item and stayed so. So far, Ajax sold no less than three great teams – 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – along with string of other players. All to profit, and it started in 1972 with van Dijk’s deal. The player himself kind of disappeared on the sunny Mediterranean beach, ending his career in Nice without fanfares, but Ajax profited. His plummeting from potential megastar to mediocrity actually started in Amsterdam – he spend 1971-72 largely on the bench and it was obvious that there was no longer place for among starting eleven. But he had old reputation and that helped the club.
In fact, van Dijk was not the first transfer Ajax did – as every professional club, transfers were regularity, but the market was largely domestic and eventually Belgium, where Dutch players were routinely bought. France was new market, opening the doors for big European deals. Van Dijk was not the first to go France either – in the summer of 1971 Ajax sold two players – Nico Rijnders to FC Briges (Belgium) and Ruud Suurendonk to AS Monaco, but this transfers were not big news – Belgium was the traditional place for Dutch going foreign, and Suurendonk was generally reserve player. With van Dijk started the Ajax phenomenon: the club producing stars and selling them year after year. In 1995 France Football dedicated an article on this with the list of the major transfers, which follows here:
1971 – Ruud Suurendonk (AS Monaco), Nico Rijnders (FC Bruges, Belgium)
1972 – Dick van Dijk (OGC Nice, France)
1973 – Johan Cruiff (FC Barcelona, Spain)
1974 – Johan Neeskens (FC Barcelona, Spain)
1975 – Arie Haan (Anderlecht, Belgium), Johnny Rep (Valencia, Spain), Horst Blankenburg (Hamburger SV, West Germany), Arnold Steffenhagen (Hamburger SV, West Germany)
1976 – Gerrie Muhren (Real Betis, Spain), Wim Suurbier (Schalke 04, West Germany)
1977 – Barry Hulshoff (Grazer AK, Austria), Johnny Dusbaba (Anderlecht, Belgium)
1978 – Ruud Geels (Anderlecht, Belgium)
1979 – none
1980 – Ruud Krol (Napoli, Italy, via Vancouver Whitecaps, Canada) , Simon Tahamata (Standard, Liege, Belgium), Ruud Keiser (Coventry City, England)
1981 – Ton Blanker (Real Zaragoza, Spain), Frank Arnesen (Valencia, Spain)
1982 – Tseu La Ling (Panathinaikos, Greece)
1983 – Wim Kieft (Pisa, Italy), Soeren Lerby (Bayern, West Germany)
1984 – Jesper Olsen (Manchester United, England), Jan Moelby (Liverpool, England)
1985 – none
1986 – Ronald Koeman (PSV Eindhoven), Gerald Vanenburg (PSV Eindhoven)
1987 – Marco van Basten (Milan, Italy), Sonny Silooy (Matra Racing, France), Virgall Joemmankran (Cercle Bruges, Belgium)
1988 – Frank Rijkard (Milan, France)
1989 – John Bosman (Mechelen, Belgium), Frank Verlaat (Laussannesport, Switzerland)
1990 – Danny Muller (Standard, Belgium), Pal Fisher (Ferencvaros, Hungary), Dennis van Wijk (Giannina, Greece), Robert Witschge (Saint Ettiene, France)
1991 – Richard Witschge (FC Barcelona, Spain), Peter Larsson (AIK, Sweden), Mark Verkuyl (La Gantoise, Belgium)
1992 – Aaron Winter (Lazio, Italy), Jan Wouters (Bayern, Germany), Ron Willems (Grasshopper, Switzerland), Brian Roy (Foggia, Italy), Johnny van’t Schip (Genoa, Italy)
1993 – Marciano Vink (Genoa, Italy), Dennis Bergkamp (Inter, Italy), Wim Jonk (Inter, Italy), Alfons Groenendijk (Manchester City, England)
1994 – Stefan Pettersson (IFK Gotteborg, Sweden), Dan Petersen (AS Monaco), Michel Kreek (Padoua, Italy).
The list ends there, for it was published in 1995 – more transfers steadily followed, the last one is quite fresh – Huntelaar to Real (Madrid). Given the tradition, not the last one either: Ajax built reputation for developing stars and is perhaps unique star-maker among the world famous clubs – everybody else prefers to buy stars; the Dutch make stars and sell them.
This policy failed only once: the exception is Arnold Muhren. He was a reserve player, unable to secure place in the first team, which is not surprising given the competition. Ajax transferred him to Twente (Enschede) in 1974, a minor domestic transfer. At the end of the 1970s Twente sold him to Ipswich Town (England), and Muhren was part of the success of the club in those years. From Ipswich he went to Manchester United, also a success. At the end of his career he returned to Ajax and became the only player of the mythic Great Ajax to win major national team title – 36 years old, he was instrumental part of the Holland’s team winning the European Championship in 1988. Ironically, perhaps: Ajax made no serious money out of him, and at the same time his much more famous teammates from the 1970s never won a title with the national team.