AFC Ajax and FC Barcelona are two clubs which have been intertwined together for the past 40 years and through the relationship they have built, we have been able to witness some of the greatest football teams ever to grace the field of play.

  • By Harry Taylor
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cruyff djkmfThe foundations of Ajax’s connection with the Catalan club starts with the Englishman John ‘Jack’ Reynolds who endured a 27 year association with the club and put them onto the path of success and glory. Reynolds moved to Amsterdam in 1915 and took over the club, he introduced some innovative methods at the club which had never been seen before. Firstly, he began by creating a philosophy of offensive football which was heavily focused on youth development and technical ability. Reynolds also came up with the idea that all teams at Ajax from the youth to the senior, should play the same way, with skill and intelligence. Through this method of creating a youth system that focuses on technical ability, Reynolds was laying the seeds of a great foundation for Dutch football. Reynolds was a massive success at the club winning 8 league titles, the KNVB Cup and as well as establishing a new system of play.

In 1971 Ajax managed to win their first European Cup under Rinus Michels, who had lead them to the clubs first European final two years previous, Michels created one of the most renowned teams in world football at that time with the likes of Cruyff, Neeskens, Haan, Swart and Keizer all featuring in the squad. The team revolutionized the game of football, by playing with skill, strength and attitude, where all players had the freedom to roam around the pitch and use their own creativity and intelligence to breakdown the opposition. This style of football was known as ‘total voetbal’ and was pioneered by Michels over his 6 year stint with the club. This philosophy of  football was based around the core prerequisites set by Reynolds during his reign with the De Godenzonen.

Michels then left Amsterdam to move to the North-East corner of Spain to Barcleona, the style of play that Michels brought over is now the style of play which the club stands for today. Michels inherited a Barça side which was unsettled from going through 12 managers in the space of 11 years. In Michels first year, he restructured the youth development at Barça by putting Laureano Ruiz and Oriol Tort in charge of youth development as well as incorporating his methods of coaching used at Ajax and ensuring all youth teams played with the same panache as the first team.Then in 1973 Michels signed his charismatic playmaker from Ajax, Johan Cruyff, over to the Blaugrana side. This move was an instant success with FC Barcelona going onto to win la Liga for the first time in 14 years. Michels then departed the Spanish side to manage the Netherlands at the World Cup, where he exhibited to the world the Dutch way of playing football.

In 1988, along came the three-time winner of the Ballon d’Or Johan Cruyff, who had just arrived from winning the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in his 3 year tenure as manager of Ajax. His arrival injected some much needed Dutch flavor to the Catalan club. Cruyff showed that his abilities as a player were equally as impressive as a coach as he lead the team to 4 consecutive titles and the clubs first elusive European Cup. This team which consisted of players such as Guardiola,Stoichkov,Laudrup and Koeman became known as the ‘Dream Team’. Cruyff got this Barça side to play a dynamic, high pressure possession based style that had full emphasis on the attack, with all players contributing in the build up. As Cruyff put it ‘ In my teams, the goalie is the first attacker, and the striker the first defender’. Cruyff, like Michels, also put a lot of emphasis on the clubs academy, he converted La Masia which was an old farmhouse used for residence of  Barça players and transferred it into a state of the art academy. This new set up meant that the club now had the facilities to follow their drive and passion to produce highly technically skilled and intelligent footballers. When Cruyff did leave Barcelona he left behind a legacy.

The next Dutchman to leave their mark on the Spanish club was Louis van Gaal, a Champions League winner as Ajax boss in 1995, He took charge in 1997 and brought with him a strong influx of his teammates, including Patrick Kluivert, Michael Reiziger,Marc Overmars and the De Boer twins; this intrusion of former Ajax players played a huge part in the triumph of 2 la Liga titles and the UEFA Super Cup.

Following van Gaal was another Dutchman to take charge of the Blaugrana side, and this was former Ajax and Netherland centre-back Frank Rijkaard. In Rijkaards reign he managed to seize European football’s most craved trophy in 2006, the Champions League. By now, Cruyff and Michels Ajax philosophy had conquered the club, resulting in an end product of a team that could be self-sufficient by relying on its academy to produce top quality players; players that know how to play the Ajax way, the right way.

In return, for the many greats that Ajax have provided  Barça with over the past 40 years, along with their invaluable secrets of how to develop a youth academy and create an ethos of creative free-flowing football, they have received very few players on  Barça’s behalf. Michael Laudrup joined Ajax in 1997. Midfielder Roger García also played in Amsterdam, so did defender Oleguer Presas. Most recently, loanee Isaac Cuenca was added to Frank de Boer’s team and he was sent back in July and Bojan Krkić has joined to strengthen the side in this campaign, but he has failed to live up to expectations.

So in general it appears Ajax gave Barca the provision they need to reach the top, and that they have, winning 4 European Cups after Rinus Michels first arrived in Catalonia. During this evolution of  Barça, Ajax have fallen behind Europe’s best purely down to the fact that new teams have emerged that just buy the elite players for sums of money that just can’t be refused, so the club often end up selling their home grown talents.But with Ajax getting stronger each year under Frank de Boer, who knows, maybe in a decades time Ajax and Barcelona will both be apart of Europe’s elite and battling it out in a champions league finale. One thing we do know however, is that without Jack Reynolds we would have never of seen both these sides reach the pinnacle of European football. Reynolds laid down the seeds of a philosophy and method to produce a sustainable football club; that plays in an innovative and exciting manner. The end product from his foundations was then developed by Rinus Michels,Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal to create what is now known and adored by the masses as ‘Tiki-Taka‘.

Harry Taylor (30 Posts)