After four seasons of Premier League football with Southampton, Dusan Tadic was in high demand.
While there were bigger offers from other clubs on the table, Tadic made it abundantly clear to the Saints that he was only going to one place; Ajax, the club he had dreamed of joining since he was a boy.
“I think they needed me and I needed them,” Tadic explained on the way to the second of three Dutch top-flight titles he would win in Amsterdam.
Yet, by the summer of 2023, the dream had morphed into a nightmare. After turning down “crazy” offers from Chinese Super League clubs in years gone by, Ajax’s captain convinced the club to mutually terminate his contract, hastening a speedy exit from what he perceives to be a sinking ship.
Here’s everything you need to know about the current crisis engulfing Ajax.
Tadic was forced to cut ties with the club he captained because of a clash of ambitions. It is thought the Serbian playmaker expected Ajax to react to last season’s disappointing third-place finish by bolstering their squad.
While incomings have been thin on the ground, director of football Sven Mislintat sanctioned the sale of star defender Jurrien Timber to Arsenal. Mislintat’s constant presence on the training ground has begun to irk some players – the German has a reputation for a spiky demeanour, famously falling out with Thomas Tuchel while the pair were at Borussia Dortmund.
Mislintat may have overseen the departure of Tadic and Timber but he still has a long way to go to match last summer’s costly exodus.
Selling players is baked into Ajax’s model. However, the summer of 2022 represented an extreme that proved unsustainable.
Ajax lost eight key players, including top scorer Sebastien Haller, first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana, starting centre-back Lisandro Martinez and blossoming midfielder Ryan Gravenberch.
The club had already generated €100m in sales by July when Manchester United began sniffing around Antony.
“We have sold so many players that I assume nobody will leave,” manager Alfred Schreuder told ESPN, in hope rather than expectation. “If we sell one more key player, it wouldn’t be good for us.”
Yet, the club simply couldn’t turn down the obscene sum of €95m which United stumped up for the 22-year-old winger.
Schreuder was proved correct – one more sale was not good for Ajax. Although, arguably the most significant departure took place before the summer.
The loss of Erik ten Hag should not be brushed over. The steely-eyed tactician took Ajax to the club’s first Champions League semi-final since 1997 during his first full season as manager. However, two months before Ten Hag was poached by Manchester United, Ajax’s director of football Marc Overmars resigned in disgrace.
The former Arsenal and Ajax winger was rightly “ashamed” for sending a “series of inappropriate messages to several female colleagues” and had no business continuing at the club. However, Ajax did not replace the transfer specialist until signing Mislintat 13 months later.
In the absence of an expert in the room, Ajax fumbled not one but two managerial appointments.
Ten Hag’s former assistant Schreuder lasted until January. Three months earlier, Schreuder had overseen the club’s heaviest-ever European defeat, helplessly watching Napoli dismantle his side 6-1. He was eventually put out of his misery after the team embarked upon a seven-game winless run – the club’s joint-longest in Eredivisie history.
With Ajax in lowly fifth place, Johnny Heitinga was thrust into his first senior management role for the rest of the campaign. After a fast start, his inexperience told as Feyenoord powered through to the Eredivisie title and PSV Eindhoven beat Ajax in the Dutch Cup final.
In the wake of such a disastrous campaign – the club’s worst in terms of results since 2009 – Edwin van der Sar quit as CEO.
“I’m exhausted,” he sighed upon his announcement. Ajax were clearly unprepared. Supervisory board chairman Pier Eringa revealed that ‘we wanted Edwin to stay’ and the club have still not found a replacement.
Barely a week after his decision, Van der Sar was rushed into intensive care after a brain bleed was detected. Mercifully, the former goalkeeper is “stable, in a non-life-threatening condition and communicative,” but it certainly puts the crises of a football club into perspective.
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