Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More on the Van Basten fallout

Our friend Joep Smeets was available for comment to give us some insight into the mess at Ajax... COME ON YOU LIMBERGERS THIS WEEKEND!


Quite a few of my friends support Ajax, but none of them share an opinion about van Basten’s decision to leave his post one game before season’s end. One friend is disappointed, another one relieved. One is angry and another one resolved.

The decision follows a 2-6 loss at PSV in week 32, which killed off any title aspirations they may still have had and a 4-0 loss at Sparta, which lost them second place and the Champions League qualification.

Whether they’re angry or disappointed, when asked to look at Ajax’s season objectively, all of my friends agree results like these sound like reason for dismissal. But like I wrote in my Season Review, Ajax could not afford to fire van Basten for several reasons.

After years of hastily changing coaches, Ajax resolved to appoint someone for the long term. They went with van Basten, a child of the club and furthermore fresh off a pretty spectacular display at the Euros. They gave him a virtual carte blanche regarding staff and transfer policy, which is an usual position of power in Dutch football.

But van Basten inherited a squad that was meagre to say the least. His additions didn’t perform up to expectations either. Mickey Sulejmani, brought in for a record 16.5 Million Euro, obviously misses the outstanding support of Liverpool target Daniel Pranjic at Heerenveen.

Robbie Wielaert, who was brought in from FC Twente in the winter break to add leadership to a young defence has looked lost while his old team didn’t suffer in the slightest under his absence. Oleguer has looked disinterested and only turns up for European fixtures. Ismael Aissati was marred by injury. Don’t even get me started on Evander Sno.

Heavily depending on the maddeningly inconsistent Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, Ajax lacked an idea of what it actually was they were doing all season long. There was no consensus starting eleven and the contrast between the hungry attitude of the team in European competition with their lethargic play domestically was enormous.

Furthermore, van Basten showed the same subtlety in dealing with individual players as he had done during his time at the Dutch national team, which is to say not very much at all. When goalie Maarten Stekelenburg went down injured and inexperienced replacement Kenneth Vermeer did well, Stekelenburg was unceremoniously benched upon return, only to see Vermeer crumble under the pressure of being first choice.

Leonardo, a striker who performed well each time when called upon from the bench wasn’t awarded with a first team place long enough for it to become a national discussion.

A legendary striker in his day, he was never the tactician who set out the lines for his team, nor was he a team player, let alone a team leader, but rather an eisenlgänger who was as gifted as he was disruptive. Van Basten’s reputation as a world class player is justified and many believe he was shocked by the lack of quality of his own players.

Never a great communicator, he failed to instil his own winning mentality in his team. Through all this, doubt about whether van Basten was the right man for the job remained, apparently also with San Marco himself.

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