Euro giants poised to swoop for Ajax stars


Football fans should make the most of the 'Ajax moment' and enjoy it while it lasts because in two months this splendid Dutch team that the whole of Europe is talking about could be torn apart by forces beyond the club's control.

Ajax would love to keep the bulk of this side together for as long as possible but they would have to be brave - or foolish - to knock back the rich clubs from Spain and England when they come calling with open cheque books.

The Amsterdammers' fearless and flamboyant style of play has set tongues wagging this season.

And any neutral who loves the beautiful game would want to see more of this splendid side that is turning the clock back to the 1970s and 1980s when the flying Dutchmen were among the most popular footballing countries in the world.

It is unfortunate that the current bunch of free spirits from the Netherlands are likely to fall to experienced Juventus in the quarter-finals of UEFA Champions League.

Nothing against the Old Lady of Italian football, but the Dutch champions this season have shown enough collective enterprise and individual brilliance to go with a super positive approach to deserve the continental crown they last won in 1996.

The first leg of the quarter-final with Juve was close and could have gone either way but Ajax produced moments of attacking excellence that brought the best out of the Italian club's defence and know-how.

Ajax probably deserved to win the game but had to be content with a 1-1 draw that sets up the return in Turin beautifully.

Ajax of course are more than capable of doing to Juve what they did to Real Madrid in the round of 16 and will not feel intimidated by the 'Bianconeri' or the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Yet even the club's most ardent fans would acknowledge that beating Ronaldo's team in their own backyard or even snaring a high-scoring draw is a big ask, even allowing for the fact that usually efficient Juve have become rather hot and cold in Europe this season.

Should Ajax fail to progress we would probably see the disintegration of this entertaining team because defeat would accelerate the departure of some of its finest talents.

Midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who is 21, already is on his way out, having signed a five-year deal with Barcelona worth an equivalent of $118 million from July 1.

Other stars who are under contract like defender and captain Matthijs de Ligt, 19, midfielder Donny van de Beek, 21, and strikers David Neres, 22, and Kasper Dolberg, 21, are generating lots of headlines and plenty of attention and it would surprise no one if they are snatched by some of Europe's most famous clubs at season's end.

Respected German website Transfermarkt values de Ligt at $110 million, van de Beek at $40 million, Neres at $33 million and Dolberg at $33 million.

Should Ajax beat Juve and perhaps even make the final, who knows what value will be placed on their prized assets?

Ajax turned a few heads when they twice drew with Bayern Munich in a tough group of the Champions League to go through to the knockout phase alongside the Bundesliga giants ahead of Benfica and AEK.

But when they crashed to an undeserved 1-2 defeat to holders Madrid at the Amsterdam Arena, that has been aptly renamed the Johan Cruyff Arena, we all feared that for all their exuberant play Ajax had no chance of toppling the 'Madrilenos' at the Bernabeu.

Well, we were so wrong, weren't we? In one of the most extraordinary matches seen in recent years Ajax took Madrid to the cleaners to score a hardly believable 4-1 victory that sent shockwaves around the football world.

With de Jong orchestrating wave upon wave of attacks from the base of midfield, disjointed Madrid could not cope with the cocky visitors who played with a positive, all-action arrogance that was reminiscent of the one that characterised the great Ajax sides of the past.

It was a hugely impressive and significant triumph against a money-no-object behemoth, particularly since Ajax operate on an annual budget of an equivalent of about $160 million.

One gets the feeling Ajax could have a substantially bigger budget to work with next season.