Ajax’s decision to appoint Frank de Boer as its new head coach in December 2010, following the departure of Martin Jol, was seen by many as something of a gamble.
The ex-Netherlands international may have known the club like the back of his hand, having graduated from its youth academy to make more than 400 official appearances before returning as a youth trainer in 2006, but he was completely unproven as a head coach.
Fast forward three-and-a-half years, and it’s fair to say that Ajax’s gamble has paid off.
De Boer immediately guided the Amsterdammers to the Eredivisie title in his first season on the bench, and repeated the feat in the following two campaigns as they proved too strong for long-standing rivals Feyenoord and PSV.
It seemed unlikely at the start of the current campaign that the 43-year-old would make it four in a row, however. Not only had Ajax never won four consecutive domestic titles, but it also lost star player Christian Eriksen and center back Toby Alderweireld before the end of the summer transfer window. Both Feyenoord and PSV looked to be in prime condition to end the capital club’s hegemony.
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But irrespective of Ajax’s early struggles, De Boer always remained true to his philosophy and maintained his belief in his players. Youngsters Davy Klaassen and Joel Veltman were brought in to replace Eriksen and Alderweireld, and Ajax returned to the top of the table by Christmas. It never looked back, and Sunday’s draw with Heracles saw De Boer clinch a quartet of Eredivisie crowns.
While the players deserve a great deal of praise, there’s no denying that much of Ajax’s success this season is down to De Boer. His squad - player for player - is by no means superior to those of his rivals, yet his tactical nous, composure and the ability to nurture his youngsters has made the difference.
De Boer’s work - unsurprisingly - has not gone unnoticed abroad, yet the Ajax trainer has so far insisted that he’s happy with life in Amsterdam.
“Liverpool and Tottenham have made approaches over the past few years, but it's not an option at this stage because I am feeling well here," De Boer told Trouw.
Nevertheless, it seems inevitable that he will bid farewell to Ajax sooner rather than later as more and more chairmen and presidents open their eyes. He has been mentioned as a potential successor to David Moyes at Manchester United, Inter president Erick Thohir has publicly voiced his admiration and even his former club Barcelona is reportedly pondering a move as Tata Martino continues to struggle.
De Boer remained humble when questioned about a potential switch to the Catalans earlier this week, yet there’s no arguing that he would be an interesting option for Barca if it does decide to part ways with Martino this summer.
“As for Barcelona’s style of play, that would be a match for me. But do you really think I could teach players like [Lionel] Messi, Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta anything… People management is very important at a club like Barcelona,” De Boer stated.
Not only would the Dutchman’s attacking philosophy be a perfect match for the Catalans, but his impressive work with youngsters makes him an even better candidate for the job. Experienced schemers like Carles Puyol and Victor Valdes are leaving, while Xavi is approaching the end of his career, too, and Barca simply must rejuvenate its squad.
If there is one coach who has proven to be capable of doing just that, it’s De Boer. Hot prospects such as Veltman, Daley Blind, Klaassen and Ricardo Kishna have all made significant steps forward under the Dutchman’s guidance this term and there’s no question that he would be able to do the same with the best La Masia could offer.
And unlike three-and-a-half years ago, De Boer is no longer an unproven coach. Four Eredivisie titles in as many seasons are proof he’s ready for a major club. Now is the time for a European giant to make their move - Barcelona especially should be taking note.
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