You Can Make Up Two Incredible Ajax Academy Graduates XI's
Ajax take on Lyon in the Europa League semi-final second leg tonight, with one foot already in the final following a 4-1 drubbing inflicted on their opponents in last week's first leg at the Amsterdam ArenA.
Fans were raving about the Dutch giants after the footballing masterclass, with the average age of Ajax's at a tender 20.45. The sheer freshness and youthfulness of this Ajax side is quite something, but as we know, it's something that Ajax have become known for in their time as a club.
Like Barcelona and their famed La Masia academy, for years Ajax have placed an emphasis on bringing youth players through the ranks. In fact, no other club has produced more players to play in Europe's top five leagues than Ajax Amsterdam. One of the most impressive things about Ajax and their approach is the fact that academy graduates are brought up playing the very same philosophy and the focus is on tactical and technical aspects - being comfortable on the ball, and having the ability to play multiple roles with relative ease.
4-3-3 is the formation set in stone, with players having to adhere to the 'TIPS' principles, which stands for Technique, Insight, Personality and Speed; all key areas in the philosophy and ethos held by the club.
An endless list of top-tier players have been developed at De Toekomst, so much so that you can put together two frightening starting XI's filled with players who came through the ranks at Ajax.
In light of the buzz surrounding Ajax's current crop, we've put together two teams containing only Ajax academy graduates.
Now at Everton, Stekelenburg came through the ranks at Ajax after joining as a 15-year old and made his first-team debut in 2002. He then became the first-choice goalkeeper and won two Eredivisie titles with the club, before later turning out for the likes of Roma, Fulham, Monaco, Southampton and Everton, his current employers. Edwin van Der Sar would have been a shoo-in here, but he didn't officially come through the Ajax system so he doesn't make the cut.
Tottenham Hotspur have reaped the rewards of the pivotal role Ajax played in the development of Toby Alderweireld. The Belgian moved to Ajax's youth academy in August 2004 from Belgian outfit Germinal Beerschot in 2004 and his career has been on an upwards trajectory ever since. He won for league titles at Ajax, before winning La Liga with Atletico and then moving to England, where he has established himself as one of the top defenders in the league following his strong displays for Southampton and current club Spurs.
Frank De Boer:
One of the most cultured defenders ever to play the game of football, De Boer was a key cog in the Ajax backline for many years, before turning out for Barcelona, Galatasaray, Rangers, Al-Rayyan and Al-Shamal. The 46-year old would then go on to manage his beloved Ajax for six years between 2010 and 2016, winning the Eredivisie consecutively for four years. He was sacked from his most recent managerial job with Inter Milan after just 85 days in charge.
Another Belgian Spurs defender whose career has been furthered by his footballing education at Ajax. After joining the club's acclaimed youth academy, Vertonghen went on to captain Ajax and won the Dutch Footballer of the Year award in 2012. Shortly after, he made the move to Tottenham and like his compatriot Alderweireld, is widely recognised as one of the best defenders in England.
Having risen through the ranks at Ajax, the versatile Daley Blind followed in the footsteps of his father, Danny, and became a key figure for the club, winning four Eredivisie titles under Frank De Boer before joining Manchester United in 2014, where he has won three major honours.
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One of the true masters of the defensive midfield role, Frank Rijkaard made his debut at Ajax as a 17-year and went on to have a glittering career in the game; winning three Champions Leagues - one with Ajax and two with AC Milan, before winning the very same trophy at Barcelona as a manager in 2005/06.
The third player currently tied to Spurs, Christian Eriksen had trials with a host of top European clubs as a youngster but chose Ajax, where he was given the perfect platform to progress. The Dane made his debut as an 18-year old and went on to win three Eredivisie titles on the trot before joining Tottenham, where he has been a revelation.
Rafael van der Vaart:
Sticking with gifted attacking players to have lit up both the Amsterdam ArenA and White Hart Lane, Rafael van der Vaart is held in incredibly high regard by Ajax and is one of their top academy graduates. The Dutchman scored over 50 goals for the club, and later played for Hamburg, Real Madrid, Tottenham, Real Betis and Midtjylland.
Playing in the same era at club and national team level, Wesley Sneijder is easily one of the most successful players to come through the ranks at Ajax. The diminutive Dutchman joined the club as a 7-year old and made his debut in 2002. Undoubtedly the best period of his career was playing under Jose Mourinho at Inter Milan, where he won the treble in 2009/10 season.
Perhaps one of the lesser names on the list, Ryan Babel was given his debut by Everton boss Ronald Koeman just after turning 17 in 2004. Best remembered from his time in England with Liverpool, the 30-year old now plies his trade with Besiktas in Turkey - the latest career move in what has been a rather topsy-turvy career for Babel.
Ajax have had a plethora of deadly strikers over the years, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez to name a couple, but Dennis Bergkamp is right up there, and all importantly, he is one of their own. A technical master who regularly did things with a football we didn't even know was possible, Bergkamp won four major honours with Ajax, and later had an unsuccessful stint with Inter Milan in his career before starring at Arsenal. He is currently assistant manager to Peter Bosz at Ajax.
So there's one pretty frightening team, but the sheer volume of players produced by Ajax means that there are enough players for a second XI.
Which team would win in a game?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
Featured Image Credit: PA