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Inside FutbolInside Futbol


Interview: Frank de Boer Talks Ajax Success, Tottenham Approach and Liverpool Snub

“This is the most beautiful title of the four.” Frank de Boer has no doubt about it – and he is right because as Ajax coach he has made history. This season marked the first time ever that the Amsterdam side won four titles in a row. In three and a half years (De Boer replaced Martin Jol in the middle of the 2010/11 season), the coach has won the last four Eredivisie titles, the same number as Dutch giants Rinus Michels and Louis van Gaal. Only Guus Hiddink, with six titles, has done better.

“When I first became coach”, De Boer explained to Inside Futbol, “Ajax didn’t play football. They didn’t create. I wanted to play dominant, attacking football, developing young players from our youth academy and building a competitive team. I think I’ve accomplished my mission. Now positional play and individual technique are the key factors for Ajax.”

Ajax’s young talents, from Davy Klaassen to Joel Veltman and Jairo Riedewald, played a key part in winning the title. “I am very pleased about their impact in the Eredivisie”, De Boer explained. “Take Klaassen, he should be an example for every youngster who aims to progress to the first team. When I worked with the Under-15s, it wasn’t just his excellent technical abilities that impressed me, but also his team spirit. This is a quality that is not so easy to find in an ambitious kid who aims for the top, because he generally thinks more about himself than about his team.”

Klaassen was voted the Eredivisie’s best young player of the year. “If you look at his style of play, you can see the outstanding job Dennis Bergkamp did with him. His way of shooting with the inside of his foot, the cold-blooded composure in front of goal, how to make the right choices… Klaassen had a great maestro.”

De Boer has never failed to praise his staff, being keen to emphasise their importance. “They are fundamental for me”, the coach explained. “I have four assistants: Hennie Spijkerman is the supervisor and he is vital for me because he is a master of organising, while I prefer to focus myself only on coaching. Then there is Bergkamp, everybody knows about him, and Jaap Stam and Carlo l’Ami. Stam works with the defenders, l’Ami the goalkeepers. Talking about Stam, look at the progress made by Veltman, who was called up for the Dutch national team despite only playing a few games in the Eredivisie. How many players today in top football have the chance to have individual training sessions with an excellent defender like the former Dutch international?”

Daley Blind has been another key man and switching the starlet from left-back to defensive midfielder was one of De Boer’s tactical masterstrokes. “In the midfield Daley could show his two sides, blending his defensive abilities with his football qualities. Defensive midfielder is a role that needs a lot of qualities: speed, anticipation, ability to read the game, to pass. He sits, in a tactical sense, at the heart of the game and at the centre of the pitch where everything goes through him in both phases. Blind did a great job.”

Despite a tough start to the season, Ajax won the Dutch title conceding only 26 goals, flourishing in the second half of the season. “We had a lot of ups and downs in the first months because of the departure of Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld – a big blow for us, and not only for tactical reasons. The team lacked self-confidence. However, they learnt quickly, especially the youngsters. A key moment in the development of every talent is when he becomes experienced enough to understand when he can take a risk during a game, and when he cannot. That is vital. Have no fear of making a mistake, I often tell my players. But when you make it, do everything to help your team-mates.”

However, while Ajax enjoyed domestic success, they were criticised for a disappointing European campaign. De Boer though, does not feel the Amsterdam giants flopped on the continental stage. “I don’t agree. We have to be proud about our Champions League campaign, despite finishing third in the group stage. We played dominant football in five games out of six and we showed we didn’t fear any opponents. Only on two occasions I wasn’t satisfied: the second half in the away game against Barcelona and the last game when AC Milan played with ten men. Of course, finishing third in the group disappointed me too.”

Milan adopted an ultra-defensive approach at the San Siro against Ajax in the final, crucial Champions League game. “In Holland we don’t have this kind of tactical choice”, explained De Boer. “Playing with ten men behind the ball is something our football philosophy doesn’t contemplate. It isn’t in our DNA. I am not blaming Milan, or any other team that plays in that way, I am just saying that this is not in our culture.”

Is it time for De Boer to look at the future, a future away from Holland, given he has dominated football in the country in recent years? “I am very happy here in Amsterdam”, the Dutchman said. “I will only move for a big challenge in a big club, where I have the possibility to test myself. There has been a lot of talk about Tottenham Hotspur. Tottenham had an unofficial talk with Ajax about my contract." De Boer is not taking a move to a European giant for granted though, adding: "However, every big club has many different options for the future. For example, two years ago Liverpool told me I was one of their four candidates. I replied to them that it was my intention to remain with Ajax.”

While De Boer may not be heading to the Premier League this season, one of his countrymen looks certain to make the journey, with current Holland coach Louis van Gaal destined for Manchester United. It is an appointment that the Ajax coach backs completely. “Van Gaal is the ideal coach for every club”, De Boer explained. “He knows what he wants and has a lot of experience.”

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