AJAX Amsterdam: A different perspective On February 29th JUFC’s Director of Goalkeeping, Chris
Barocas, traveled to Holland to observe the legendary
club AJAX. He came away absorbing more than he
thought was possible in 5 days.
Its just the way they go about everything, everything
makes sense when you see the way the 8 yr olds play,”
says Barocas. “I saw the 8 yr olds with the mental
ideas and intangibles that I have trouble spotting in
the majority of teams below the 16s in the US. If you
told me that it was possible for players to have the
same level of advanced tactical knowledge at 10, 11,
even 12 yrs of age I would have told you that you were
Now several parts of the game have been slightly
altered at the younger ages in the youth academy to
allow successes of the younger player. All teams play
with a size 5. The ball is just lighter and increases in
weight as the boys mature. There is no offside or foul
throw until the U11 age group. Speaking with Ronald
De Boer, “why should we focus on things that hamper
development at a young age? We allow them to play
free and creative soccer that is close to the real game
and layer in rules as they mature.”
The culture of AJAX was something I grew up knowing a little bit about in the 90s following World Cup 94. My club coach
was always using their training exercises in practice for years. I honestly wish he had started us earlier. I remember
watching them play for the Champions League final two years in a row. They defeated AC Milan in 95, and lost to Juventus in
96 in a shootout. What happened after that was truly amazing. They just started sending players all over Europe. These
players made huge impacts for their respective clubs. Everyone knew who Dennis Bergkamp was at this time, but the De
Boer twins (Frank and Ronald), Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, Jaap Stam, Edwin Van Der Sar, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar
Davids, Michael Reiziger, and Frank Rijkaard all were a part of the youth program. Impressive?
How many of the JUFC 18’s team, or even the entire city of
Jacksonville’s 18 yr old boys teams are guaranteed to get a
professional contract for playing soccer? One, maybe two?
That is being generous. Compare that to the reputation and
pedigree of the players that have come through the AJAX
youth academy where each member of their 19s team is
going to get a contract on some level of professional
soccer. Many of them will be playing on high levels in
Spain, England, and Italy. AJAX is in the business of
development plain and simple. When their players hit 23
most of the time they are going to be sold for a huge profit.
The average age of their first team is 21. That would be the
equivalent of a US college team competing for the domestic
league title every year.
What makes them so good at development? Speaking with
several members of the clubs coaching staff I found that
they would rather play the system they believe in and lose,
than play just to win. They build the ball the entire length of
the field even at the youth ages. They start the youngest
teams off on the same philosophies as the pro side. It was
really impressive to watch. The players, even at the
youngest age would hold each other accountable for the
style of play.
Barocas with former Dutch national team captain, and Ajax
19 coach Ronald De Boer.
An empty Amsterdam Arena.
We took a tour of the stadium, and took in a match watching Ajax defeat FC Roda 4-1. It would have been awful if the home
team had lost. The best comparison I would give to the passion and history associated with the club would be similar to the
New York Yankees. Every child wants to grow up playing for this team. It is truly a special place. If you have that many
soccer legends play for your club you must be doing something right. Not to mention the fact that they return to coach for
the club after they retire. What other organization can boast having Champions League winners coaching youth teams?
What team has the former stars come out in full force to watch youth matches on Saturdays? What team will continue to
develop some of the best talent to showcase to the world? One word…AJAX!
Eriksen ready to
serve in a corner.
Bottom left: First
team warm up
Top Right: Patrick
Bottom Right: Justin
Kluivert, son of
AJAX legend Patrick