Ajax finished the 2014-2015 campaign in largely disappointing fashion. You won’t find too many Ajax supporters that will tell you PSV was not the best side in the Eredivisie this year. However, many in the Ajax camp expected to be in the hunt down to the final weeks of the season. A run of lackluster matches against mediocre opponents has Frank de Boer and company searching for answers going into the summer as Alex Pieter describes.
As for European competitions, Ajax again had the unfortunate luck of drawing a tough group, with European giants Barcelona and PSG. Yet, Ajax left points on the table. Drawing a winnable game at the ArenA against PSG 1-1 was a killer. The second-half of that match is perhaps the best 45 minutes Ajax strung together the entire season. The other match that comes to mind is the dismal draw in Cyprus against APOEL, a solid side, yet one Ajax was expected to beat. The Europa League did not treat Ajax much better. After an encouraging display against Legia Warsaw, Ajax saw their dreams dashed in Ukraine against a talented, but beatable, Dnipro squad. It must be noted though that Ajax started the youngest average squad of any club in either European competition with an average age of 22 years old.
Ajax will not have the privilege of qualifying for the Champions league group stages automatically next year. Rather, they will have to play a series of difficult qualifiers. If you remember back to last year, Feyenoord, who finished second in the league during the 2013-2014 season, had to play Besiktas. The year before that, PSV went crashing out in the qualifying rounds to AC Milan. The Champions League group stages are far from guaranteed for Ajax at this point and a quality opponent is guaranteed.
Ajax will lose a few familiar faces heading into next year. The first being captain Niklas Moisander, who has come to terms with Serie A side Sampdoria and will leave on a free transfer. Moisander failed to live up to the expectations set up by his predecessors, Toby Alderwerield and Jan Vertonghen. The loss will hurt Ajax because of the lack of depth at the center-back position. While de Toekomst continues to churn out talented midfield prospects, the number of talented defenders has been lacking. Stenfano Denswil, once pegged as a future starter for Ajax, was sold last year and is now struggling for Club Brugge in Belgium. Possible successors for Mosiander’s CB position are: Riechedly Bazoer, who has played mostly as a defensive midfielder, but who’s future could be at CB, Mikey van der Hoorn, who has showed flashes of potential but overall hasn’t lived up to Ajax expectations, Jairo Riedwald, who is well-known for his 2-goal debut for the club last year, or the most likely of the candidates, Nick Viergever, who has played mostly on the outside, but has proved capable of holding down the center.
There have also been rumors of late of a Ricardo Kishna departure. Whether there is a factual basis for these rumors is unknown. Kishna’s agent, Mino Raoila, has always been known to stir the pot and create drama out of thin air. What is known though, is the innate talent possessed by Kishna. Easily one of the bigger talents in the squad, he has been linked to multiple clubs in Serie A. With the return of Viktor Fischer there is increased competition on the left-wing. If Kishna were to go, it would be a big loss for Ajax. Kishna has shown he has the talent to make it big someday.
Will we finally see the exit of Kolbeinn Sigthorsson? The Icelandic battering ram never really found his stride in Amsterdam. The striker is not a typical Ajax number 9. Granted, he was never the same player after his ankle injury a few years back. Sigthorsson possesses the talent to help a club where the fit is right. Sadly, that club is just not Ajax. Where Sigthorsson may land during the summer is still a mystery. Unfortunately for Ajax, his value may be at an all-time low.
The Niki Zimling experiment will be remembered as a failure. Brought in to fill the void left by veteran Christian Poulsen, Zimling did not contribute much on the pitch for Ajax this season. The 30 year-old loanee from Mainz was expected to provide experience and toughness in a young, sometimes frail and timid Ajax midfield. He also spent much of the season battling injuries. It is no surprise he will return to Mainz after the season.
Another year, another rumor of a former club legend returning to Amsterdam. This year, it is Rafael van der Vaart. His current club Hamburg SV is currently battling relegation and has told the 32 year-old midfielder they do not intend to renew his contract. That has left the door open for a return to Amsterdam for van der Vaart. While it is a romantic idea, it is not very likely. Ajax is unlikely to be able to pay the wages van der Vaart will demand. If van der Vaart were to take a pay cut, it remains to be seen how he’d fit into the squad. He has not aged as gracefully as some of his peers, such as Wesley Sneijder. Van der Vaart cannot cover ground like he used to, a key aspect of the Ajax midfield. How would his return affect the development of other youngsters such as Sinkgraven, Nouri, and van Beek? As someone who has played at the very highest level, van der Vaart could provide much needed experience and guidance to the younger generation. It all depends on van der Vaart, is he content to take a pay cut and play the mentor role, or will he opt to play every week and make the big bucks in MLS or somewhere in Asia?
Nemanja Gudelj has also been on the Ajax radar. The 23 year-old AZ Alkmaar Serbian midfielder is the most likely candidate to join the club next year, although a deal has not yet been reached. Guldelj would certainly add some toughness in the midfield and could prove useful alongside Klaassen and Sinkgraven. His arrival could possibly spell the end for fan-favorite Thulani Serero.
The name Oscar Cardozo has also been thrown around. I won’t comment too much on this because of the extreme unlikelihood he lands in Amsterdam. A 31 year-old, target-man striker, with no Eredivisie roots is just simply not an idea Ajax would seriously entertain.
Ajax would be wise to add some experience though. The youth of the squad proved costly too many times this season. Hopefully Overmars will take some shots at some big-name targets, as Ajax are in a very good financial position at the moment.
With the financial success Ajax have found themselves in, another route would be buying their stadium, the Amsterdam Arena. This is something Ajax have been pondering for some time and would prove to be a long-term financially responsible decision.
No matter what Ajax decided to spend their resources on, the fact remains that Ajax expect to challenge for – and win the 2015-2016 Eredivisie title.
As summer progresses, we will learn more and more about how next year’s squad will shape up. Some questions leading into the summer:
-Will Zivkovic get his act together and get back on track toward reaching his potential?
-Will Arek Milik continue his progression and become the next great number 9 for Ajax?
-Will Klaassen take the next step in his development and prove himself a legitimate prospect for the top clubs of Europe?
-Will next season be Frank de Boer’s last?
-What will Overmars do, if anything, to make ensure Ajax are not only challenging for domestic titles, but also relevant in Europe?
-What talents will step up and show they are ready for the senior side and which need a year or two more with Jong Ajax?
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