Sulejmani’s departure is a sign of how times have changed at Ajax
By Babette van Haaren
It’s 4 July 2008 and Ajax offically announce on their website that the club and Heerenveen have reached an agreement concerning the transfer of Miralem Sulejmani. Ajax paid €16.25 million for the Serbian attacker and broke the Dutch transfer record. He signed a five-year deal would claim in an interview that he himself didn’t even know that Ajax paid over €16 million for his services. He said: “I am a footballer and I only want to think about football.” Sulejmani had caught the eye of Ajax after his impressive first season at Heerenveen. He had a tough task on his shoulders to help De Friezen forget Afonso Alves, who was sold to Middlesbrough. The Serbian showed outstanding play on the wing and he turned into a dangerous attacker full of creativity, always finding a way to get past defenders. At the end of the season, Sulejmani became the club’s joint top scorer with 15 goals and provided 10 assists. He had been an ever-present and it became clear that Heerenveen would be unable to hold back the tide of bigger clubs, who would surely come calling. After weeks of speculation, the transfer saga ended on that day in July. Being the marquee signing of Ajax’ new manager Marco Van Basten, the most expensive player in the history of Dutch football had a huge amount of weight on his shoulders at only the age of 19. The left-footed player never lived up to those expectations. Not under Van Basten and not under his successor Martin Jol. Things started to look better when Frank de Boer arrived, who replaced Martin Jol and led Ajax to so much success. Sulejmani said De Boer gave him more self-confidence and he became a regular in the team. Despite the fact Sulejmani’s future at the club looked more bright, he refused to sign a new contract. De Boer told him his chances of getting game time would be little. Subsequently, Ajax’s succesful manager demoted him to Jong Ajax (Ajax under 21s), where he’ll spent his final weeks at the club. Ajax’s most expensive buy in their history will walk out and leave on a free transfer this summer and is likely to join his compatriot Filip Djuricic at Benfica. Sulejmani is deeply disappointed in the way he spent his last months in Amsterdam. “Ajax likes to talk to me in the media. I wish they had spoken (directly) to me more often. I thought I had had the worst under Martin Jol but it can always get even worse. I am very disappointed”. His transfer fee and wages combined have cost Ajax €28m in total.It was clear for the club from the Dutch capital that buying expensive players had to be history. The new transfer policy that Ajax has operated since last summer is not so much a wise choice of the new management, but rather a strict choice. Due to the financial mismanagement of the past, the club need rigorous rehabilitation to get things right. The new supervisory board and technical director Marc Overmars were shocked when they discovered the true extent of the miserable financial situation at Ajax. In previous years, many undue risks were taken with certain investments. For example Ajax bought expensive players like Albert Luque, Nicolas Lodeiro, Oleguer. Mounir El Hamdaoui, Timothée Atouba, Dario Cvitanich and I could go on. Since the arrival of Frank de Boer and Johan Cruyff’s ‘Velvet Revolution’, Ajax have done an about turn and gone back to what made them so successful in the first place. The “new” doctrine consists of improving the youth academy so young players are ready to step into the first team without any problems. Everyone at the club, right down through the youth teams plays in the same system so that each player knows what his ‘tasks’ are once he becomes part of the first team. Another component is that Ajax won’t pay more than €6m for a player (though you sense an exception might be made for the outstanding Adam Maher from AZ or Vitesse’s eye-catching midfielder Marco Van Ginkel). The final aspect is that scouts search around Europe to the best talents in the age-category 15-18 and they try to lure them to Ajax’s famous academy. Players who have joined Ajax so far are Lucas Andersen, Dejan Meleg, Nathan Leyder and Vaclav Cerny. Cruyff fully supports Ajax’s new policy and is statisfied with the current situation. It’s clear to him that the club needs to remediate first before something can be built. It has only just started but it can already be seen that Ajax are reaping the benefits of their new policy. It won’t always be easy to replace key departures with players who are just as good. However, the club will win its third successive championship despite the fact key players leave every year. The reason for it is that De Boer’s machine adjusts in time. The club’s youth players and purchases are all players who fit in perfectly in Ajax’s philosophy and system.