This is a UEFA Champions League semi-final clash not many would have predicted when the draw for the last eight was made. Ajax and Tottenham defied all expectations to ensure that is them, and not the likes of Juventus and Manchester City who will fight it out for a place in the final.
While Tottenham’s run to the last four is a stupendous achievement for Mauricio Pochettino and his men, their match-up with Ajax is a fine testament to the Dutch side’s traditional excellence when it comes to churning out some of the best young players in Europe.
The two-legged semi-final clash will see the likes of Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez line up against the club that was instrumental in moulding them into the force they are now for Tottenham.
While it is the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt who are flying the Ajax flag high in Europe this season, they are only the latest successful products of the famed academy of the Dutch side over the years.
Despite the Dutch league not having the financial pulling power that the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or Bundesliga enjoy, Ajax have still managed to carve out a unique identity as a conveyer belt for some of the finest talents in the continent.
Eriksen, Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Sanchez have all spent the best part of their formative years as footballers at the Amsterdam club. And it is not just them. There are players like Luis Suarez, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert and the likes whose careers were shaped by Ajax.
Brought up on the philosophy of ‘total football’ of which the legendary Johan Cruyff was the greatest exponent, it is hard not to see the similarities in the playing styles of Ajax payers over the years.
The Ajax imprint, is after all, permanently etched in the players who have walked out of the historic academy. Eriksen and the likes are not the first ones to fly the Ajax fly high at their subsequent clubs and neither will they be the last based on the evidence of the ongoing season.