Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If Ajax was selling stars, there buying policy was unusual too – unlike any other big club, Ajax never spent much money on recruits, preferring either homemade juniors, like Cruiff himself, coming from the club’s youth system; or buying promising youngsters from small Dutch clubs, like Gerrie Muhren; or buying cheap imports. Velibor Vasovic was well known, but buying from Yugoslav clubs was not expensive. More, he was considered already over the hill in his home country - the very reason for allowing him to play abroad according to Yugoslav rules. The German Horst Blankenburg, in contrast, was plain nobody before coming to Ajax – he had shaky career - one season with Nurnberg, one season in Austria, moving again to West Germany to play for TSV 1860 Munich, from where Ajax acquired him. Nothing really to brag about… He became a star with Ajax, and was invited to get Dutch citizenship and play for the national team. He declined – and who knows how wise his decision was, for he was never invited to the German national team. The reason is simple – he played the same post as Beckenbauer. But many felt it was a pity he coincided with Keiser Franz. Hamburger SV bought a star from Ajax in 1975. Along with another German – Arno Stffenhagen, who came to Ajax cheaply too, disgraced by his involvement in the German bribing scandal of 1971, and punished with suspension in West Germany. The long list of Danish and Swedish players is also explained with the tied purse Ajax’s policy – they were amateurs, costing practically nothing. Lerby, Moelby, Arnesen, Jesper Olsen made their names as Ajax players and were sold as stars by the club. The last category was primarily Dutch players, who for one or another reason were not expensive – run of the mill players, players with injuries, players in decline, but never established stars. Ruud Geels is a prime example – he was bought from FC Brugge (Belgium) in 1974, after considerably uneven career so far. Geels played 20 games for Holland, scoring 11 goals, but never really becoming first choice, as he never was consistently first on club level until coming to Ajax. There he scored 123 goals in 131 matches played between 1974 and 1978 when he was sold to Anderlecht with solid reputation and corresponding price tag. Cheap buys made Ajax unusual in yet another way – they were perhaps the only European club in the early 1970s which did not care to play their imports – normally, clubs bought foreigners explicitly to play them: they were expensive investment. Ajax spent little on foreign players and if they were no good, they wormed the bench. Nobody saw any harm if some did not quite make it – Ajax had enough solid players anyway. For that reason, Ajax often – and also in contrast to usual club practices – had more foreign players than the rules permitted to field. Blankenburg was reserve at first because Ajax had two more foreigners. The Austrian Heinz Schilcher, bought from Sturm (Graz) in 1971, never made the first team – and nobody worried: after all, he was not that great, his main strength been the original price. Schilcher played once for the Austrian national team – an achievement which did not impress his Dutch employers. The Israeli Kalderon, also a national player of sorts, hardly made even the bench in Ajax – and again, no worries, the guy was cheap. The Hungarian defector Zoltan Varga was also bought cheaply and did not impress at all during his stay in Ajax – nobody worried about the aged player with tainted reputation: not a major expense. It was a policy of either cheap player would become a star when playing for Ajax and therefore profitable item, or he will fail, but being cheap investment, no financial damage to the club happened. The policy misfired only once, as far as I can judge - Jan Mulder. Occasional national player (5 caps and 1 goal for Holland), Mulder played in Belgium, for Anderlecht, with considerable success – he was Belgian topscorer in 1966-67 season. But he suffered heavy injury and was on the transfer list in 1972 – Ajax jumped on the opportunity to buy cheap player. At first nobody worried that he arrived injured – he missed almost entire season in his first Ajax year because of that. In 1973 Cruiff was sold to Barcelona and Mulder was to replace him. According to the new coach Knobel, Cruiff was not to be missed, because of Mulder. Well, Mulder was no Cruiff… Ajax went into great slump. But the policy was not changed at all – perhaps with one exception – the buying of the Dutch national goalkeeper Schrijvers – Ajax never bought a star player (and it is questionable was Schrijvers really a star… at least he is the closest approximation to a star Ajax ever spent money for). Unlike any other big club Ajax prefers to develop their own players, to buy unknowns, and to make profit out of them later. It is the only big club which thinks of itself as small club, supplying others rather than spending on big names.