Frank de Boer says it is a 'big surprise' to be facing Manchester United in the Europa League

The Dutchman admits he didn't expect to see the Red Devils in Europe's secondary club competition, but believes their presence will help increase interest in the tournament
By Ashish Sharma

Ajax manager Frank De Boer has admitted his surprise at seeing Manchester United drop into the Europa League, although he concedes that teams like United and their rivals City do bring a lot to the competition.

Ajax found themselves in a similar position to United going into their final group game of the Champions League, knowing a win would see them through to the second round.

However, neither side managed the win and ultimately find themselves scrapping it out for Europa League glory, something de Boer has admitted was a shock to him, though he believes it is good for the tournament.

De Boer told “It’s a big surprise that Manchester United are no longer in the Champions League.

"We also came close to reaching the next round, but then there was Lyon’s win 7-1 in Zagreb. It’s a good thing for the tournament though, with Manchester City and other big teams in the Europa League as well.

"Uefa wanted to raise the level of the Europa League, and that is definitely happening with these teams being involved.

Despite the two clubs’ rich pedigree, they have not met competitively since 1976 when United overturned a 1-0 deficit to win a two-legged tie 2-1, and de Boer has admitted he is surprised the two have not crossed paths more often.

He continued: “It is quite surprising that Manchester United and Ajax haven’t met more often Europe since they are two big teams.

"We have won four European Cups, and I believe United have won three as well. I remember a game in the 1970s, but nothing in the past few decades.

Despite de Boer's recollections of Ajax’s rich history, the club have failed to lift silverware on the continent since 1995, when they possessed the enviable talents of Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids, Frank Rijkaard and Patrick Kluivert.

When asked if he believes Ajax can reach those dizzy heights once again, de Boer replied: “I think that will be very difficult to achieve.

“A team like Manchester United have players such as Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, who play their entire career at the club because there’s no next step after United. They’re already at one of the biggest clubs out there.”

Not only does the Ajax manager believe the calibre of other clubs is affecting their ability to push on, but also the wages they are able to offer.

“The financial difference with the big clubs from England, Italy, Spain and Germany has become so big that we can no longer compete with these teams.

“Ajax have become an academy for those clubs. What we see these days is that players leave Ajax in their early twenties for a bigger salary elsewhere.”

With the Amsterdam based club unable to hold on to any big-name players, de Boer recognises the club’s reliance on youth and also concedes they have become almost a feeder club.

“Yes, and we do realise that,” he added.

“That is why our youth is so incredibly important for us. And maybe, if we have a bit of luck and have six or seven great youngsters coming through plus perhaps two experienced players, we could do something in Europe."