Erik ten Hag raiding his old club for Antony and Martinez, players going on STRIKE to force moves, foul-mouthed tirades and a new boss left short in several key positions… Ajax have endured a turbulent summer as they return to Champions League action
- Ajax kick-off their Champions League campaign against Rangers on Wednesday
- They also have Liverpool and Napoli in what is a challenging group
- It’s been a testing summer of immense upheaval at the Johan Cruyff Arena
- Antony and Lisandro Martinez are among a series of established names to leave
- New manager Alfred Schreuder planned with Antony but Man United pounced
- Other players were prepared to strike to get their moves but didn’t succeed
Almost a week after the transfer window closed and Ajax are still reeling from the ramifications of a turbulent summer.
As Champions League football returns to the Johan Cruyff Arena with Wednesday’s visit of Rangers, there is still simmering resentment at the loss of so many key players and how the deals were done.
The club’s sporting director Gerry Hamstra made no secret of his annoyance that Manchester United were able to sign Brazilian winger Antony practically on the deadline, leaving Ajax almost no time to replace him.
Ajax were left frustrated when Manchester United managed to sign Antony right on deadline
The Brazilian winger was a key player for Ajax and they were frustrated to see him leave
‘Manchester United’s timing was so bad,’ Hamstra told De Telegraaf. ‘It was difficult to leave our manager with such a void.
‘We all think we lost too many first-team players who always start. We had a summer with totally different expectations.’
Ajax sporting director Gerry Hamstra was less than impressed with United
He has a point. Antony was merely one final kick in the guts after Ajax saw Lisandro Martinez, Sebastien Haller, Ryan Gravenberch, Nicolas Tagliafico, Andre Onana and Noussair Mazraoui depart.
That’s before we get to Erik ten Hag’s exit to become United’s new manager after he’d successfully steered the club back to a position of domestic dominance in the Netherlands.
The summer exodus left his successor Alfred Schreuder in a position of weakness, facing the season without key players he’d banked on having.
Ultimately, money talked for Ajax. They couldn’t resist the £85million United offered up for Antony or the £55m they paid for Martinez, knowing full well their place in the food chain of European football.
They have raked in almost £200m from player sales over the summer – but at what cost when it comes to competing properly at home and abroad?
Even more galling was the tactics deployed by certain players to force through their exits.
It has emerged that Martinez went eyeball-to-eyeball with Hamstra and called the official a ‘f*****g nobody’ during a foul-mouthed tirade that made clear he wanted to leave for United.
United also signed Argentine defender Lisandro Martinez from Ajax earlier in the summer
Erik ten Hag was keen to take £55m Argentine defender Martinez with him to Old Trafford
Antony then went on strike and refused to play for Ajax when it became apparent United were prepared to pay more and more to secure his services, at the insistence of Ten Hag.
Schreuder was left with no choice but to leave Antony out of Eredivisie matches against Sparta Rotterdam and Utrecht before the move finally happened.
And as the deadline approached, Mohammed Kudus and then Edson Alvarez also took strike action to try and force through transfers to Everton and Chelsea respectively.
Neither got their wish in the end but it will worry everyone at Ajax that Antony has set a dangerous precedent for anyone who gets an offer from a bigger club in future windows.
It sends the clear message that Ajax will eventually cave in if you’re militant enough and the offer is high enough.
Mohammed Kudus failed to report to training on deadline day as he tried to force a move
Edson Alvarez was left furious after his move to Chelsea didn’t materialise on deadline day
Ajax vs Rangers
Wednesday, 17.45 UK time
Champions League Group A
Live on BT Sport 4
Despite all this upheaval, however, Ajax have started very well under Schreuder. They’ve won all five of their league games so far, scoring 16 goals in the process, and are already top of the table.
They come into their Champions League group – a tricky one containing Liverpool, Napoli and Rangers – in good touch.
The hole left by Antony on the right side of the attack has been filled by switching captain Dusan Tadic across from the left.
But Tadic has been far from convincing in his new position so far, with Rafael van der Vaart describing him as ‘hopelessly out of form’.
Ajax did scramble to get in Lucas Ocampos on loan from Sevilla in the final hours of the window, having failed in an attempt to get Hakim Ziyech back from Chelsea.
Ocampos can play on the right side but is usually on the left, so doesn’t really solve the problem.
He may find himself on the right by default with Steven Bergwijn, a £28m summer arrival from Tottenham, in blistering form on the left with seven goals in his first six games in Ajax colours.
So you can see how Ajax are suddenly imbalanced in attack after Antony was suddenly ripped from their plans.
New Ajax coach Alfred Schreuder saw his best-laid plans for the season ripped up after sales
Captain Dusan Tadic has been moved over to the right side of the attack – with mixed results
Summer signing from Tottenham Steven Bergwijn has made a very positive start at Ajax
The centre forward position represented another dilemma. Haller scored 34 goals last season, including 11 in the Champions League, but went to Borussia Dortmund for £28m.
Unfortunately, Haller was diagnosed with a malignant testicular tumour over the summer and is undergoing a course of chemotherapy that will keep him out for several months.
So now it’s 20-year-old Brian Brobbey leading the line. He’s started the season positively but there’s a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of a young man who failed to score at all during his brief time at RB Leipzig.
In defence, Martinez has been replaced by Calvin Bassey, who was outstanding as Rangers reached the Europa League final last season.
Bassey has taken the move in his stride and should form a solid partnership with Jurrien Timber, one target Ten Hag didn’t manage to get his hands on.
A lot of the goalscoring burden now rests on 20-year-old Brian Brobbey leading the attack
Rangers certainly know all about defender Calvin Bassey, who signed for Ajax in the summer
No doubt Schreuder has been pumping Bassey for the tactical lowdown on his former Rangers colleagues as Ajax aim to make a flying start in the group.
Ajax may well have been weakened by summer departures but they still boast plenty of quality.
It’s a club well used to upheaval. As soon as any of their players perform well in the Champions League, they find themselves in the shop window for wealthier clubs.
Just look at how their run to the 2018-19 semi-finals led to the departures of Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and others.
After such a troubled summer, what Ajax need now is the stability that comes with winning football matches. A flier in the Champions League on Wednesday night would be ideal.
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