Posts Tagged ‘ Ajax ’

Ajax, the Dutch, the War

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Ajax, the Dutch, the War, Simon Kuper

This book was enjoyable but I think would have gotten more out of it if I had a better knowledge of World War II and the cultural and political happenings of the Netherlands and Europe. The relationship with the Jews for the Europeans generally and some soccer clubs specifically, is a large part of book. Again I don’t have a good understanding on this topic. Finally, a deeper familiarity with the histories of Feyenoord and Ajax would have allowed those passages to have made more sense. Having said all that, I did learn a lot, including the fact that soccer did exist during the war, which surprised me.

Whereas Dynamo was more of a linear story about a specific story line of the war, Kuper bounces around Holland and Europe to share his information and interviews. The delineation between good and evil is explored and challenges the reader. My favorite part of the book was anecdotes about various players attempting to keep playing football during the war either by changing their identity or escaping or negotiating with Nazis.

Kuper’s prose tells a tale of a very dark time in human history, and the book is worth reading because it gives a greater context to the influence of World War II on the game, the Netherlands, and football clubs in that country.

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MatchDay Memory: Luis Suarez Then and Now Part II (Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz)

Imagine a time in the distant future when a player named Luis Enrique joins FC Barcelona or a new Hughes is signed by Manchester United.  That player will inevitably be compared to their predecessor, with the shadow of former glory always hovering around the player.  For Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz, who joined FC Barcelona in the summer of 2014, not only was he not the first Luis Suarez to have played for the Blaugrana, but he will probably not be as successful in terms of trophies as his predecessor.  On top of this, he also comes with his own unique baggage.

Part I  Luis Suarez Miramontes

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Moving forward fifty years, the talent of El Pistolero or Luis Alberto Suárez Díaz is undeniable.  From the streets of Salto and Montevideo in Uruguay, Luis Suarez used the beautiful game to escape poverty, eventually securing a spot with Nacional in Uruguay.  After growing as a player and making a name for himself at Nacional, where he helped the club win the 2005–06 Uruguayan League, he was discovered by Dutch club FC Groningen.  As Michiel Jongsma tells the story for Benefoot.net, club representatives were visiting Nacional to look at Elías Figueroa.  They left trying to figure out how to sign Luis Suarez, with the player also looking for a move, as his girlfriend, Sofia Balbi, had moved to Barcelona to study.  So at 19, Suarez headed to Holland, played for Groningen, and averaged nearly a goal every three games.

Ajax came calling and Suarez forced his move to the Dutch giants, scoring over 100 goals in three and a half seasons.  Suarez never won the league in a full season with de Godenzonen, but he did help the club to the 2010 Dutch Cup.  It was during the 2009/10 season that Suarez scored 49 goals in all competitions and won the Dutch Player of the Year award. European success eluded both the club and player during his time there, with their best finish coming in the 2008/09 Europa League in which the squad got to the Round of 16.

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During the winter transfer window of 2011, the Uruguayan player moved to Liverpool with Fernando Torres going to Chelsea.  His arrival was part of a rebuilding project for the storied club, along with Andy Carroll from Newcastle, which finally paid dividends during the 2013/14 season as Suarez’s partnership with Daniel Sturridge saw the Reds finish second and return to the Champions League after a four year absence.  His only silverware with the Merseyside club came in the 2012 League Cup Final.

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Suarez made his International debut in 2007 and is currently Uruguay’s all-time leading scorer with 41 goals in 79 appearances as of the 2014 World Cup.  He was part of a wonderful cycle that saw Uruguay finish fourth at the 2010 World Cup, losing to the Holland in the Semi Finals.  The following year, La Celeste claimed the Copa America, with Suarez scoring four goals and being named the player of the tournament.  With that success, Uruguay qualified for the 2013 Confederations Cup, making it to the Semis before falling at the hands of the hosts Brazil.

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Heading into the 2014 World Cup, El Pistolero only played two matches after undergoing surgery after the 2013/14 season but knocked out England with two well taken goals, which set up a high pressure game against Italy in the third group game.  He did not score and was involved in an incident with Chiellini, but Uruguay progressed 1-0.  Suarez was suspended for the match against Colombia, who won to move on to the Quarter Finals.

Top Ten Posts of 2014

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2014 was a great year for the SoccerNomad blog.  Visitors from all over the world read about kits, memories and more.  Here are the ten most read posts from 2014. Thanks to everyone for visiting, sharing and commenting on the blog and it’s on to 2015.

10   1988/89 English First Division

9     Trip to FC Dallas Game

8     From my Year in Soccer 1974 Series, Johan Cruyff’s impact at FC Barcelona

7     Memorial Day Weekend in Detroit

6     Lansing Kit Nerd (September 2014)

5     World Cup 2014 Kit Preview Part 1

4     Germany Euro 2000 Away shirt

3     2014/15 Kit Preview

2     World Cup 2014 Kit Preview Part 2

1     Going Hollywood (Soccer Player Look-a-likes)

Thanks to everyone for visiting, sharing and commenting on the blog and it’s on to 2015.  Follow me on twitter @austinlong1974 and don’t forget to visit my podcast or subscribe via iTunes.

Copa Libation–PSG v Ajax

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Drink:  Bailey’s and Coffee

Snack:  Peanut Butter Pie

This match could best be summarized by experience beats youth.

PSG were already through to the Champions Leageue Knockout Round and went with first choice players up top (Ibra, Lavezzi and Cavani) and in the back (Sirigu, Van Der Wiel, Marquinhos, David Luiz and Maxwell).  Lucas Moura started on the bench, which was disappointing for me because I love his pace and directness, and he eventually came on as a sub, but Pastore more than made up for it.  He was really in the mood with some deft and clever touches throughout. Ibra reminded of Cantona.  The big Swede did what he wanted, strutting around the field, picking out teammates, making rash challenges.  He set up the opening goal as PSG took advantage of an Ajax turnover.  He played in Lavezzi, who laid off for Skeletor.  Ibra then scored a fantastic goal after controlling with his chest and firing into the far post. Another player that caught my attention was the French youngster Rabiot, who is only 19 and anchored the middle for the hosts.

Ajax needed a win to make sure of progression to the Europa League and put out a very young line up.  Both teams pressed early and made possession out of the back uncomfortable and the result was a lot of long balls not much in the attacking third.  After about twenty minutes the Dutch got their collective foot on the ball and knocked it around for several minutes but couldn’t muster a shot.  During this period of dominance they made the mistake (turnover in midfield) which led to the first goal.  They got back into the game in the second half as all the passing was finally finished up with an end product.  Kishna received the ball in left hand channel after a long series of passes and spotted the run of Klassen, and his diving header found the back of the net.  Unfortunately the visitors made another mistake which put the match beyond reach.  Zimling, on for Serero, made a horrible pass back to the keeper, and Cavani jumped on it, rounded Cillessen and made it 3-1.  Thought Serero did well holding down the middle and loved the aggressive play of Kishna on the left side of the visitors.

The two iconic kits looked very sharp and provided a nice contrast for the viewer.  It was the contrast of youth and experience that eventually showed itself.  As the commentator mentioned several times, Ajax dominated possession but could not create enough chances as PSG sat in and picked them off. Although PSG have struggled in the league to this point, with Marseille has coming back to the pack in recent weeks, I have felt that they are not far away from an European challenge after the progress made over the last couple of seasons. Ajax return home with only two points in the Champions League, but they are second in the Eredivisie and looking for fifth league title in a row.  Much room for improvement but promising signs from the Dutch side.

Dennis Bergkamp Stillness and Speed: My Story

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Stillness and Speed: My Story, Dennis Bergkamp

Dennis Bergkamp went under my radar for a long time.  Only now am I getting a sense of how amazing he was.  Yes I saw the goal against Argentina and the goal against Newcastle and the incredible control against Leicester.  But recently I have seen several other examples of control and finishing and the ability to create for his teammates.  Bergkamp was a gifted player that slotted in at Arsenal and raised the level of the Gunners, allowing them to push several versions Manchester United from 1997 to 2004 and the book, Stillness and Speed: My Story, focuses on this a great deal.

Bergkamp’s books is unusual in that it is not a straightforward recap of the Dutchman’s career—born, played at Ajax, moved to Inter, transferred to Arsenal, retired.  Bergkamp, along with David Winner, explains all of these checkpoints but uses a series of interviews with key people in each of those stages to unpack the events.  The style takes getting used to yet it allows for the subjects to share their thoughts in long responses instead of summarizing and merely recounting history.  The result creates a context and aura for a very special player.

Yes, the player had success at Ajax and struggled at Inter, but at Arsenal, there was a fusion of desire and technique that created a historic era at the club.  Bergkamp and Winner do a wonderful job of framing a situation and letting Bergkamp share his thoughts, along with other participants to give a deeper understanding.  This is where the book shines.

In the end, three things stuck out to me after reading this book: Bergkamp was held in high esteem by his teammates, especially at Arsenal and especially Thierry Henry; his pursuit of perfection was relentless; and Ajax is a unique club with a history and culture different than many of the clubs I have read about.

This book is well worth reading if you love Bergkamp or Arsenal, but it is really worth it for the artistic beauty of soccer, of a game that can transcend mere sport.

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For a full list of my book reviews, please visit the Recommended Reading page. And reach out to me with your suggestions as well.

MatchDay Memory–1974: Part 1 (Johan Cruyff)

Forty years ago I came into the world and while I may not have made an impact on the game of soccer, it has surely made an impact on me.  Playing the game from a very early age, I didn’t start following the game until my early 20’s.  Starting with Manchester United, I eventually started reading everything I could get my hands on and watching whatever game was on, learning about the rich and complex history of the game.  My MatchDay Memory posts over the next few weeks will focus on events in world soccer during the year of my birth, 1974.  It is in no way a comprehensive summation but rather an examination of teams and incidents that I was drawn to in my research.

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Starting my journey in Europe, the 1970’s saw the emergence of Total Football.  A post at Football Bible traces the path of footballing principles from England to Holland, focusing on Jimmy Hogan in the early 1900’s to Jack Reynolds at Ajax.  Former player turned manager Rinus Michaels laid the foundations at the Dutch club for unprecedented levels of success, and this style of play changed the game in terms of pressure, possession and spacing and continues to impact the game today.

David Winner spends a chapter diving into Total Football in his wonderful book Brilliant Orange.  Based on his interviews with many members of the Ajax and Dutch teams of the era, the system developed as a way to have a team instinctively know how and where to move to create space and press the ball in order to dominate matches.  The chapter makes the case that it was a collaborative effort between coaches and players and the more everyone engaged the system, the better it got.

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The post at Football Bible also identified an intelligent midfielder as key to making the system work.  For Ajax and the Netherlands, that player was Johan Cruyff.  After three consecutive European Cups (1971-73) with Ajax, Cruyff was transferred to Barcelona in August of 1973.  In reading Chris Clement’s recap of the season for Estadios de Futbol en Espana, I was stunned to read the following passage:

Faced with a veritable can of worms, the Federation relented and allowed clubs to sign two overseas players from the start of the 1973-74 season. Anticipating the change, Real Madrid reached an agreement with Ajax for Johan Cruyff, but the world’s best player would have nothing to do with the deal that had been agreed behind his back. Sensing an opportunity, Barcelona moved in and on 13 August 1973, Cruyff signed for the Catalan giants. As news of the agreement of Real Madrid and Ajax’s deal surfaced, the RFEF refused to sanction the deal and memories of the controversial Di Stéfano transfer resurfaced. However, Barcelona and Cruyff stood firm and eventually, eight weeks into the season, Barça got their man.

To think how close Cruyff was to wearing white instead of the blaugrana.  Reading Barca: A People’s Passion by Jimmy Burns, I was struck by how Cruyff’s signing was not only a sporting coup, but was, maybe even more importantly, a political statement.  The transfer had been in the works for a couple of years and the amendment by the Spanish Football Federation finally allowed the move to take place.  In October 1973, the Dutchman appeared in the blaugrana colors for an official match, and FCB President Montal had his signature signing, and the fans could now cheer for one of the best players in the world at Camp Nou.

After a successful period during the 1950’s, Barca had suffered during the 1960’s, winning only one league title during the decade.  After a slow start to the 73/74 campaign, FCB climbed up the table, winning 20 of their last 28 matches, including a 5-0 demolition of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, to claim the championship.  A post from Alex Mott for Football Espana recaps an amazing period in which Cruyff won a European Cup with Ajax, led FC Barcelona to the title and appeared in the World Cup Final with a series of dazzling displays.

However, after delivering La Liga in 1974, further success did not follow.  A combination of a poor coaching relationship, a fractured locker room and the absence of players able to perform Total Football saw Barca return to trophyless seasons and Cruyff left in 1978.  Burns ends his chapter entitled the Flying Dutchman with these quotes from Cruyff:

It is a challenge but you know when people cheer you on a Sunday when you do well and you win, it means more to them than simply the pleasure of winning.  It’s not just a game, football; it’s not just about the people on the terraces.  But you know what struck me most when we won the championship?  They didn’t say, “Congratulations.”  They said, “Thank you” That made a very deep impression.

Cruyff playing at Barca still impacts the club.  He later coached the team in the early 90’s, overseeing the Dream Team that won four straight La Liga titles in the early 90’s and the European Cup at Wembley in 1992.  A key player on that team was Pep Guardiola, who as manager would deliver another amazing cycle of success in the 2000’s. The Dutchman continues to wield power at the club, influencing decisions and offering his opinions.  A polarizing figure, it’s hard to argue his contribution to the Spanish giants.

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I chose 1974 simply because it was the year I was born, yet in reviewing the events of those 12 months it was interesting to see how many precursors and foundations and glimpses into the future were present.  The eternal battle between disciplined defenses against attack minded opponents; players and clubs searching for the next dollar/euro/monetary unit; shock results;  the constant emergence of new and dynamic talent from all around the world.  In 1974 I imagine that there were unknown pockets of activity around the world, complete with rich storylines and regional influence, and stories these days are now part of the worldwide narrative thanks to the internet and globalization.  Teams, players, coaches and cultures are more familiar and are part of a global fabric, with the game belonging to the world and being shared with the world.  Part of the sharing is this project, which was hard work, but informative and enlightening, and I hope you have enjoyed this look back into footballing history.

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Bibliography

MatchDay Memory–The Old Lady Reigns in Rome

Football, UEFA Champions League Final, Rome, Italy, 22nd May 1996, Juventus 1 v Ajax 1 (after extra time, Juventus win 4-2 on penalties), The Juventus team pose together for a group photograph prior to the match, Back Row L-R: Moreno Torricelli, Antonio Conte, Ciro Ferrara, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Angelo Peruzzi, Front Row L-R: Paulo Sousa, Gianluca Pessotto, Didier Deschamps, Alessandro Del Piero, Gianluca Vialli and Pietro Vierchowod (Photo by Popperfoto/Getty Images)

I went to Oklahoma State University with a dream and the best of intentions.  I also went there with the desire to get away from my parents and my life and everything that had come before.  When I tell people that I went to OSU, I usually get a quizzical look and the question, How did you end up there?  Oklahoma State ticked several boxes: after a decade in Michigan, I was looking for something different, my uncle was a professor in Stillwater, plus they had a decent journalism school, which is what I wanted to pursue (at that time).  So in the summer of 1995, we packed up the family wagon and headed out there.  My experience out in the middle of nowhere was a mixed bag, which may be discussed at a later date, but in the backdrop of everything was Juventus’ run to the Champions League Final.

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Juventus were drawn in a group with Borussia Dortmund, Glasgow Rangers and Steaua Bucuresti, which they won with 13 points and 15 goals for, tying them with Ajax and Spartak Moscow as top scorers in the group stage. My footy support was still in its formative stages, so I actually knew more about Blackburn getting into a fight on the field during a Champions League Group game than about Juventus’ solid Group Stage performance.

Tangent alert!! In doing research on the game, I came across this little tidbit via Wikipedia:

Dynamo Kyiv won their tie against Aalborg BK, but, in their first group game against Panathinaikos, they were accused of a failed attempt to bribe referee Antonio Lopez Nieto to get a win.  Despite an appeal, they were thrown out of the competition by UEFA and were banned for the subsequent two years.  Aalborg BK replaced them in the group stage.  Dynamo’s ban was eventually reduced to just one season.

What the what?!?  I didn’t know anything about that.  Four years later, Shevchenko and Rebrov would lead the team to the semis against Bayern.

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By the time of the knockout stages, I had hitched my wagon to the black and whites, skipping classes to watch the Bianconeri beat Real Madrid and then Nantes in a high scoring semi-final.  In watching the highlights against the Spanish team, I was struck by how many chances that Los Merengues missed in the first leg.  The result could have been beyond the Italians had Real wore their finishing boots, but the fightback at Stadio delle Alpi was fierce and Padavano’s goal in the second half led the Italians to victory.  Juventus didn’t make Real’s mistake in the semis, winning the first leg 2-0 in Turin and scoring early in France to put the pressure on the hosts.  In the end, they lost 3-2 but were in the Final.

The Old Lady faced off against defending champions Ajax in the Final.  I had watched Ajax beat AC Milan the year before thanks to Kluivert’s quick feet and toe poke (about 4:15 into highlights), so I knew the Dutch team was quite good.  What I remember from the 1996 Final was when Ravanelli won the ball and took a shot from an impossible angle, I screamed NOOOOO!!!!, which quickly turned into YEEEESSSSSS!!!!  The elation lasted until Litmanen scored just before halftime, and the game continued without any more goals through the second half and extra time.

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Watching the highlights again, each team had several chances to win but the deadlock couldn’t be broken.  I noticed that in the shootout, van der Sar guessed right on every kick but couldn’t catch up to the strikes from the Juventus players, while it has to be said that the efforts from Davids and Silooy of Ajax were poor.  When Jugovic stepped up, I couldn’t stand it.  Even now, my stomach flips as he strikes the ball.  The ball hit the back of the net and weeks later I picked up one of my first jerseys ever. For a while I followed La Madama but eventually life took over but I still have that spring of 1996 to cherish when Juventus ruled Europe.