Younger Dutch coaches often have their staying power and longevity questioned. Clarence Seedorf at Milan an obvious example. Though the same cannot be said of current Ajax boss Frank de Boer. Following an accomplished playing career, de Boer is enjoying his fifth year in charge of Ajax. April 2014 saw a fourth successive title, which represented a personal, club, and Eredivisie record. However, PSV’s championship last season interrupted the domination, and the current Ajax side are struggling to stamp any true authority in this season’s title race. As Ajax exited the Europa League with a whimper last week, has de Boer’s managerial stock peaked too early? Or does he remain an attractive option for Europe’s elite vacancies?

  • By Glenn Billingham
  • Follow Glenn on Twitter.

f de boer“I couldn’t have wished for a more beautiful birthday present”, and few could argue. On his forty-first birthday in 2011, Frank de Boer claimed his first managerial title in his first full year as a manager. It was Ajax’s first championship in three years. Initially appointed as a caretaker, de Boer made an immediate and strong case for a full-time appointment. His first match in-charge was a Champions League group game at the San Siro. Though Ajax were already unable to progress from the group, de Boer galvanised his team following the dismissal of Martin Jol. An AC Milan side including Ronaldinho, Robinho, Seedorf, and Pirlo, were defeated 2-0. A famous win, a statement of intent, and a passage to the Europa League confirmed. Not bad for your first ninety minutes as a manager.

His position as Ajax’s head coach was made permanent in December 2010.

Following the 2011 championship, Ajax and Frank de Boer were quick to dominate. Further Eredivisie titles came in 2012, 2013, and 2014. These achievements set numerous records, earned de Boer several personal awards, and the attention of English suitors.

It was widely reported that de Boer rebuffed Liverpool’s approach following Kenny Dalgliesh’s departure in the summer of 2012. Some reports state a further advance came from Merseyside just twelve months later. As recently as this season, de Boer was linked with Newcastle United. What is true is that on each occasion de Boer stated his work was not done with Ajax.

If de Boer’s stock was high two and three years ago, there’s case for the notion that it seems to be diminishing. With Ajax currently leading the Eredivisie by a whisker, this may seem harsh. However, a closer look at the bigger picture reveals some cracks. In the current league table, the big three, naturally, occupy the top three places, with fourth place Heracles eight points behind. Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV are struggling for fluidity in a season where first place appears there for the taking. Furthermore, Philip Cocu and PSV claimed the 2015 championship to break the Ajax cycle, and appear better-suited to balance domestic and European adventures this time out. Indeed, Ajax’s own European adventure ended prematurely last week.

With domestic success almost a given for a club of Ajax’s size, the harsh truth is that de Boer will be judged ever more excruciatingly upon European results. In Europe, he and Ajax begin to crumble. Having entered the Champions League in each of de Boer’s seasons at the helm, Ajax have never made it out the group stage. This season, reduced to the qualifying rounds, they didn’t even make the group stage. Some memorable victories and narrow defeats have ensued, but the bottom line is that for a club of Ajax’s budget, there ought to be more. Upon termination of each Champions League campaign, Ajax have entered the Europa League, and never made it past the round of sixteen. This season, not even the group stage.

If de Boer himself suggested his work was unfinished, one has to ask if he’s set any specific deadlines.

Fortunately for de Boer, football has a fickle memory, and statistics are often over-looked. Especially when considering the highly sought-after Dutch coach. As a legendary ex-player, a young coach (he’s still just forty-five), and for his early success with Ajax, he will surely not be short of offers when he decides to leave Amsterdam.

Both de Boer twins have shared success in their playing careers, and it wouldn’t be a stretch of imagination for them to replicate the Koeman brothers’ success with Southampton as coaches. Ronald is currently coach of Ajax A1, and Frank assisted the Dutch national team from 2008-2010.

The twins’ playing career virtually mirrored each others. They both enjoyed successful stints with the glorious Ajax team of the mid-nineties, and Barcelona’s transformation from under achievers to world beaters. Naturally, both Louis van Gaal, Frank Rijkaard, and Guus Hiddink at international level shaped their philosophies. Further, and quite different variations of achievement lay in store in the twilight of their careers in Scotland, Turkey, and Qatar.

One can’t help but feel Frank de Boer is destined for bigger things, yet one can’t help think that his moment should come sooner, rather than later.

Glenn Billingham (6 Posts)