In May 2013, Ajax were once again the focal point of Dutch football as they were crowned Dutch champions for a third-straight year.
They swept away their league opposition in sublime and quite simply brilliant style on the road to tasting another championship success for the 32nd time in their illustrious history, but although that image of esteemed triumph has become iconic of late, it wasn’t always that straight forward at the club until current manager Frank de Boer retuned to Amsterdam, but this time, in the dugout.
When he graced the world stage of football as a defender for the self-proclaimed de Godenzonen, meaning the Sons of Gods, Frank de Boer was known as a legend. In an 11-year stint as a player for the club, the 43-year-old won five league titles, two Dutch cups and the 1995 UEFA Champions League amongst the countless honours he achieved and returned to the club as a youth coach in 2007.
Despite the fact that he was indeed reverting back home to the most successful club in Dutch football, it was PSV who were the reigning dominant force in the league at the time, celebrating their third successive league triumph that summer, whilst Ajax, although still victorious by winning back-to-back Dutch Cups in 2006 and 2007, were without a title feat since 2004.
But things began to change that year at the Amsterdam ArenA and although the transition to success wasn’t exactly instantaneous, the right calibre of player was being nurtured and De Boer was being educated as a coach significantly well. He worked with the highly-promising youth pouring out of the Ajax academy, something which would later help him in his quest to get the club back to supremacy as manager, and the Amsterdammers also signed striker, Luis Suarez from Groningen for €7.5m that summer and the Uruguayan later proved to be a worthy investment by the club, scoring 49 goals in 48 games in the 2009/10 season.
In the next three years, Ajax still wouldn’t go on to win a title. PSV rounded up another success in 2008 before AZ Alkmaar (2009) and FC Twente (2010) would both win the next two league campaigns respectively in surprise and unexpected circumstances. During that period of time, though, De Boer became more knowledgeable and jetted off to the 2010 World Cup as Bert van Marwijk’s assistant for the Netherlands national side in a successful tournament which saw them reach the final against the all-conquering Spain, losing 1-0 in extra-time.
Although the final result left his nation heartbroken, the 2010 World Cup was a valuable learning curve for De Boer. Shortly after it, then-manager of Ajax, Martin Jol, resigned in December, presenting a wonderful opening that matched De Boer’s aspirations.
He had the opportunity to inherit a side that had the likes of Luis Suarez and Mounir El Hamdaoui firing on all cylinders, plus the chance to once again work with the youngsters he had previously helped make the step-up from the academy to the first-team, such as, Gregory Van Der Wiel, Toby Alderweireld and Siem De Jong.
But one player that stood out to De Boer, ready to take over Luis Suarez, who soon left for Liverpool in January, as the club’s most prized asset, was Christian Eriksen. De Boer knew everything about the player, having seen him embedded into the academy from Danish outfit, Odense Boldklub in 2008 whilst he studied what it took to become a manager.
The midfielder was promoted to the first-team setup by Martin Jol just after the World Cup and has since morphed into Dutch football’s biggest talent, revelling in the spotlight after transforming into a world-class star from the same academy De Boer was produced from, under his management.
The painful wait to become league champions once again was ended in De Boer’s debut season in 2010/11, albeit not in a overriding manner as they only just pipped Twente by two points, but it didn’t matter as the much-coveted title was finally back in their hands after a seven-year absence.
Two titles have since followed, with the margins in those races, if they can even be called that, getting bigger and bigger and Eriksen has become the vanguard of the dominance that currently persists during De Boer’s tenure, with various clubs taking notice of his obvious talent on the pitch.
Eriksen has been pivotal to Ajax’s three successive title wins, scoring 22 goals and creating 38 assists, but with just one-year left on his current contract, it’s understood the Danish superstar is looking to test himself in a better league and embark on the next chapter of his career, having proved what he is capable of in the Eredivisie.
German giants and last season’s UEFA Champions League runners-up, Borussia Dortmund, were touted as a possible destination but they instead chose Shakhtar Donetsk’s attacking midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan to replace Mario Götze at the Signal Iduna Park.
This leaves Eriksen weighing up his options, but having been linked with a move to several Premier League sides for the last two years, this could be the year Eriksen finally makes the switch and is rumoured to be on Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal’s radars in the transfer market.
Ajax have, in essence, admitted defeat in trying keeping hold Eriksen for the upcoming season, with De Boer announcing the club have already started planning who from the current squad can shift into his attacking midfield role, with Lasse Schone and Davy Klaassen being major candidates for the role, but the big question is whether Eriksen can cut the mustard at the three clubs mooted to want him.
The three sides that finished above Arsenal last season have all appointed new managers this summer and many expected the Gunners would therefore go out and seriously invest in the transfer window, married with Arsene Wenger’s wealth of experience, and exploit that period of change to good effect.
However, things haven’t particularly panned out that way and the Gunners, who have clearly made signing a top-line striker the priority this summer, have acted frustratingly slow for the supporters to cope with and by thoroughly chasing Luis Suarez from Liverpool, they have therefore missed out on all the realistic and world-class targets who were available in a transfer merry-go-round in that position.
Christian Eriksen was linked with a move to the Emirates on Friday and although he isn’t a striker, adding further creativity into the side may well help the strikers already at the club such as, Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, although his track record suggests he does know where the net is from midfield.
The 21-year-old has proved in the last two years that he is UEFA Champions League quality, despite Ajax failing to get past the group stages. Eriksen made an average of three key passes a game in the 2011/12 version and last season, only PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic (7) and Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze (5) created more assists than he did (4), which is impressive considering he only played six games in the tournament.
Giroud, who has impressed in Arsenal’s pre-season tour so far this summer, scored 17 goals in all competitions last season, alongside Podolski’s 16, and both would love to have Eriksen providing them with the service to score more this season.
But it’s all down to where he would fit in. Arsenal already have brilliant artistic midfielders in Santi Cazorla, who was the eighth highest creator in Europe last season, and Jack Wilshere, who is ready play more regularly this season after recovering from a long-term injury. If there is one type of player the supporters have already voiced their opinion about signing in midfield, it’s a defensive one and playing Cazorla, Wilshere and Eriksen in a three-man midfield would have its pitfalls in that department, although it would be potent going forward.
For that to work, Arsenal would maybe need to play Wilshere, the better out of the three at tackling, in a deeper playmaking role whilst Cazorla and Eriksen were more advanced. This again sounds reasonable, but a defensive player such as, Luis Gustavo, Marouane Fellaini or Etienne Capoue, plus the heavily desired striker, seems higher on the agenda, although the interest in Eriksen is there. This video, in glimpses, highlights Wilshere’s ability deeper and his tackling, but his best strength is ultimately going forwards.
This seems the more natural fit for Eriksen should he move to England this summer but it would all depend on whether he would accept not playing in Europe this season. Brendan Rodgers is building an expressive, possession-based side that are entertaining to watch and has brought in clever and nimble players such as, Philippe Coutinho and Iago Aspas to get it working and Eriksen would slot straight into a prospective 4-2-3-1 formation with an apparent ease.
Scandinavian players such as, Jan Molby, John Arne Riise and Daniel Agger have all been huge successes with the Liverpool faithful over the years and Eriksen’s invention and craft would be welcomed at Anfield with very open arms. The Reds were linked with Mkhitaryan before he chose Dortmund, therefore its possible there is room for Eriksen at the club and although Rodgers has added well this summer, a quality centre-back and another top midfielder could see them really give Arsenal and Tottenham a good run for their money in the race for fourth.
Eriksen scored 13 goals and created 24 assists in all competitions last season, but with Mkhitaryan and Atletico Mineiro midfielder, Bernard also being linked with a move in the same position, it’s obvious that Rodgers is looking for more goals from midfield, as they already have strong creativity coming from the likes of Coutinho, Steven Gerrard and Jordan Henderson.
Daniel Sturridge proved at the back end of last season that he is more than useful as a lone striker, and with Suarez, Coutinho and Eriksen easily versatile across those three positions just behind him, the England international would never be short on service but the relationship between all four attackers would be symbiotic and Eriksen’s goal tally would most likely stay intact if he signed.
Like Liverpool, Eriksen has also been majorly linked with a move to Tottenham for the last two years and the rumours simply won’t go away, especially if Gareth Bale is sold to Real Madrid this summer.
Spurs have already improved in the centre of midfield with the signing of Corinthians midfielder, Paulinho, following an impressive Confederations Cup with Brazil but with Bale, who scored 26 goals in all competitions for the club last season, expected to leave for Spain, that leaves a creative gap in the team that manager, Andre Villas-Boas will need to fix before the start of the new Premier League season.
It’s all about getting back into the Champions League for Spurs this season and the return of Sandro will be like a new signing for the club, after he missed a large chunk of last season due to injury, and his class in a deeper defensive role is crucial for the attacking midfielder ready to fill Bale’s boots.
Mousa Dembele done well in his debut season just gone at White Hart Lane and Lewis Holtby, who moved from Schalke in January, will be looking to impress in his first full season in England. They’re creativity is key but now Spurs have finally signed a 15-20 goals a season striker in Roberto Soldado from Valencia, depending on Bale’s exit, they will need someone with a bit more class behind him and Eriksen is a fantastic candidate, given his Champions League experience and record at scoring and creating goals in the Eredivisie.
Eriksen grabbed a goal and four assists in the Champions League last season and was pivotal in Ajax claiming four points over their two encounters against Manchester City, in what was known as last year’s ‘Group of Death’ in Europe’s most prestigious club tournament.
He made an average of 2.7 key passes a game (16 in total), with an overall pass completion of 84%, before Ajax finished third and dropped down to the UEFA Europa League, where Eriksen made 3 key passes a game in both legs against Steaua Bucharest in the last-32, with an overall pass accuracy of 83.7% compared to Bale’s 78% from eight games.
Of course, the loss of Bale will be massive for Spurs but the arrivals of Nacer Chadli, Soldado and Paulinho is good business by the club, and with Sandro on the comeback trail, the money from the Welshman’s sale can be reinvested on two or three quality players, such as Eriksen and also another centre-half, which could see Spurs exploit Arsenal if they fail to add quality in the transfer window and claim a Champions League spot ahead of their arch-rivals
Ready To Move
With Danish counterpart, Viktor Fischer, ready to become the next star at the club under De Boer, Ajax will be able to cope without Eriksen should he leave and Fischer, the heir to his throne, can make a similar impact to what he has done at the club within the next couple of years.
All three Premier League teams remain good options for Eriksen to ply his trade, with AC Milan and FC Barcelona also interested, and there is no doubt that he is ready to make the move to the top level of football after a trophy-laden start to his career in Dutch football.
Stats from whoscored.com and Voetbal international