Innovation and youth development remain the two pillars of success for Ajax as far as former player and now club CEO Edwin van der Sar is concerned.
While the Dutch giants have enjoyed plenty of success domestically, they’ve always had to punch above their weight when competing against European powerhouses – even when they came agonisingly close to reaching the Champions League final last season.
“That’s always the challenge for us. We did it last year on a budget of €100m, reaching the semi-final of the Champions League,” Van der Sar told Sport360 at the Dubai International Sports Conference, reflecting on the exploits of the young squad.
“We’re not the strongest league so we have to be innovative and focus on the development of younger players. We have to find the right talent and develop them until they make the next step to a different country with a different club and that way it brings revenue to our club as well.”
That’s a model that Ajax have followed consistently with their recruitment of players from South America, and now Mexico as well, a testament to their innovative side.
“Four-five years ago we were focused a lot on Scandinavian players but they were very much like Dutch players,” the former Oranje goalkeeper explained.
“We needed something different and we found that in South America with [David] Neres in Brazil, with [Lisandro] Martinez and [Nicolas] Tagliafico in Argentina. Now Mexico with Edson Alvarez. So we need to find the right balance between the South American and the Dutch or the European style.”
Having spent six years at Manchester United, Van der Sar recognises that English clubs are starting to turn to youth but maintains that the high stakes still restrict their ability to do so.
“A lot of clubs are looking more at giving young players a chance now. Because of the importance of the Premier League though it’s more difficult. At a club like Ajax it’s easier to develop them and give them opportunities.”
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