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'A club with our DNA can beat Spurs & Barca' - 'historical' Ajax backed to go all the way in the Champions League

2:00 AM SGT 30/4/19
Ajax 2018-19
George Ogaruru oversaw the development of some of the world's finest players during their time at the club and believes they can win the title

"A club without DNA or that doesn’t appreciate its history and brings it to the current setup then it doesn’t have much of a future,” is the philosophy George Ogararu follows, instilled in him during eight years at Ajax as a player and a coach.

Ajax is certainly a club that knows its past and for a while it weighed heavily around its neck but by embracing it, they have reached those heights once again thanks to the return of some club legends. Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar have been key in turning fortunes around thanks to their work as director of football and chief executive, respectively.

Former Romania defender Ogararu learned the ways of the club after arriving in 2006, seeing many of its most talented youngsters rise through the ranks and going from unknowns to superstars. Three of those team-mates were current Spurs stars Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen.

Upon retiring, Ogararu returned to the club to coach the youth team, including many of the players who will line up against Spurs in the Champions League semi-final.

The turning point in Ajax’s recent history was the return of Frank de Boer to the club as manager in 2010 when he put emphasis on youth, bringing through the the likes of Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Eriksen and creating a side that won their first Eredivisie in seven years.

“Christian was a fantastic player, his ability on the ball was unquestionable, and it helped a lot that Frank de Boer was becoming the first team manager as he knew him from the academy very well. So they came together and grew together," Ogaruru signalled.

“He trusted him a lot and it’s a great boost when the coach trusts you so much. That was a big chance for him but the talent that Christian has, which he’s proved in Europe and for the national team, is something that you cannot miss. I think with him in the first team it made Ajax have a greater impression on the pitch.”

Learning from the best is a principle at Ajax and the likes of Vertonghen and Alderweireld joined squads containing experienced Dutch internationals Jaap Stam and John Heitinga.

“Vertonghen was loaned out for a year and then he came back to Ajax, but came back to the club and proved himself to become the club’s captain at a young age, while Alderweireld came straight into the side," he added. 

"At the time Stam and Heitinga blocked the pathway but you could see when they were coming through that they had the physical and technical capacity to make it into the first team and it was just a case of deciding when it was the right time for them to take a step further - and that is the Ajax way.”

Ogararu was offered the chance to work for the club when he retired, bringing through the next set of starlets into the team. He knew there was no better place to learn how to be a top class coach.

“The methodology and the way of training at Ajax shows how professional a top club can be. It’s no surprise these players are reaching the top and they can play anywhere in Europe as they are trained well, they have a good education and the coaches really know what to do.”

Johan Cruyff made the club into what it is, imposing the style that would become so successful for years, aiding them to win the European Cup in 1995. Those coming through now still follow that philosophy - it is a concept that has seen the likes of Overmars and Van der Sar return, in addition to Daley Blind and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the pitch.

“I think it is connected to the culture and connected to the history. I think for them Johan Cruyff made the difference. Once you meet Johan and see the way he sees football, how he constructed this club, then you want to go back there and continue what he started as he’s a phenomenon.

“For them they grew up in the academy, they were part of one of the club’s greatest moments [winning the European Cup in 1995] and it’s normal for them to go back and continue to the ‘normal’ level for Ajax, this is how clubs should proceed, bringing back the successful players to connect to the younger generations. So to have this bridge it makes it possible.”

The likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek and David Neres studied under Ogararu. Now he works as Sporting Director at Viitorul in his native Romania, a club created by the legendary Georghe Hagi, who was heavily influenced by Cruyff while playing under him at Barcelona.

“You cannot anticipate this level of success in the Champions League, it is something else - even with such talented players it is tough. De Ligt was impressive, De Jong was great, they all were, and you knew they would be able to make the difference in any game at any moment," Ogaruru explained.

"In the second team we scored more than 100 goals in the season, which shows their potential and we almost won the league with all these youngsters but you could not predict they would go this far in the Champions League.”

Ogararu knows that those above him deserve the praise for creating a structure that can create top quality players to star in the first team and be sold for profit to keep the cycle going.

“I think at this point all the credit can go to Overmars, Van der Sar and the scouting department, who made these right choices, who bought these players like [Dusan] Tadic and [Nicolas] Tagliafico, Neres, [Andre] Onana before other clubs came in for them.

"They brought them and put them in the team in positions in which they didn’t have players coming through the academy. Now they play a style and a system which shows the best qualities of Ajax and has put them back among the top teams in Europe.”

There is an inevitability that this squad will be broken up, with Frenkie de Jong already heading to Barcelona and the rest of the young players linked linked with moves. Ogararu would prefer the players to stay to grow at Ajax but accepts the club has a system that will ensure success in the long term.

“It is sad that you have to sell these players as you’re not at the level of Barcelona, so you can’t keep the players and next year you have to try and repeat the same performance when the fans are getting used to this level in Europe - but this is the Ajax business model. They have a lot of talent coming through and they need the chance to progress, so it has to be managed and coped with," he said.

No one, however, is interested in next season at the moment and everyone is focused on defeating Spurs over two legs in the Champions League to reach an historic final in Madrid.

“It is surprising if you look at the names and budgets that they have outplayed Real Madrid and Juventus and beat them away. But it is not surprising when you look at the games themselves, when you see how they play on the field, then I think Ajax could beat anyone at this point. They can beat Spurs and even if they make it to the final and play someone like Barcelona, everything is still possible.”