In their Champions League home game against Manchester City on the 24th of October 2012, the Ultras 410 (hard core supporters) of Ajax Amsterdam unveiled a banner reading “Again$t Mod€rn Football”. By doing so, they incurred the wrath of European football authorities, UEFA, who duly fined the club €10 000 for the unbecoming behaviour of their supporters.
For the Ultras it was the continuation of their campaign to show their displeasure to modern football which is mainly dominated by how deep your pockets are. There is even a website, http://www.stopmodernfootball.com/, where club supporters, who subscribe to this philosophy, can post the pictures about their recent actions in support of the campaign. Ajax Amsterdam supporters, in general, support and subscribes to this campaign and their Ultras, in particular, are the most vocal across Europe.
This is because Ajax Amsterdam is the biggest casualty of this current system of Football. This all started on the 15th of December 1995, when the European Court of Justice granted a relatively unknown and low profile Belgian midfielder, Jean-Marc Bosman, his desire to move, for free, from lowly Club de Liege to Dunkerque, after his contract had expired.
That ruling, which is better known as the Bosman Ruling, was the beginning of what we now call modern football. It allowed teams to field as many foreign players as possible as long as they belong to the European Union. That meant club could, for instance, field a starting 11 that consists of players from different countries to the country that the club belongs to.
On the 26th of December 1999 English club Chelsea FC was the first club to field a starting 11 without Englishmen or Irishmen in a Premier League game against Southampton. From 2005 onwards, Arsenal FC, another English club, took this to the next level by consistently fielding a team without Englishmen in their entire 16 players in the squad, starting by their home game against Crystal Palace on the 14th of February.
In so doing, this system allowed billionaire Capitalist from all over the World to buy stakes or even total buyouts of clubs and turn them into quick money making machines. In order to achieve this, they buy star players all over the World and turn their clubs into immediate Super clubs.
That has also deprived the young up and coming local players the opportunity to make their mark in their local clubs. This is what is at the centre of the “Again$t Mod€rn Football” campaign. Youth development has been at the centre of Ajax Amasterdam’s football philosophy.
When this unjust rule was passed which led to the current morass, Ajax Amsterdam had gone 56 games unbeaten from 1994 to 1996. They had won the Champions League in 1995 and reached the final in the following season only to lose on penalties to Juventus. That ruling led to Ajax losing most of their star players, for nothing. Kluivet and Davids went to AC Milan, Seerdorf went to Real Madrid, van der Sar to Juventus, de Boer twins to Barcelona, and Nwanko Kanu went to Inter Milan. Ajax has never been same again.
They now battle to get out of the group stages of the Champions League, their young players sign pre-contracts with big-money European teams, lost their attractiveness of being the destination of young talent, and so on. The reason: they can’t afford to pay the big salaries being paid by these sudden Mega-clubs. Anzhi Makhachkala, Chelsea FC, Manchester City, Paris St Germain, Real Madrid are just some the symbols of this new era, hence Ultras directed their anger at City.
But, how does Ajax reinvent themselves so that they can belong to this new elite cream of World Football? Maybe a lesson from Manchester United would suffice. When this ruling was introduced in the mid-90’s, United were at the beginning of their glorious era ever. Having just won their first Premier League title under Alex Ferguson and with their Golden Generation of young players starting to reach their peak, they didn’t lose any of their players.
Giggs, Scholes, Beckham, Neville brothers, and Butt all remained with the club because the club managed to pay them market related salaries and also for the love of the club and Manager. Even when foreign billionaires started to flood the English game, United remained true to their identity. They also got their own billionaire, the Glazers, when the need arose and continued to operate normally.
They manage to mix the big stars from across World with their youth players without compromising the club’s identity. When necessary, they do pay huge wages as well. For Ajax though, their country’s economy and league is small and very little television interest to their product and that lead to their young players leaving, sometimes for nothing. Barcelona though, is the shining light in this midst of all this controversy. They seem to thrive in this environment even though they are doing the complete opposite. They develop their own players, don’t have a recognized sponsor (except Unicef logo in their shirts), are not associated with any billionaire because they are a public club in truest sense (owned by the people of Catalonia), play the best Football ever seen, and are winning trophies.
Eight of the players that started the Champions League final against Manchester United at Wembley in 2011 came directly from their famous youth system. Had Carles Puyol been fully fit, that number could have increased to 9. There still hope for Ajax Amsterdam. After all, most people in Holland still believe that this Barcelona style of play was exported to Spain from Ajax by Johan Cruyff.
Pep Guardiola was one such scholar in the Cruyff’s university and he still credits him with all what Barcelona achieves on a regular basis. But UEFA must change this rule before it totally kills the identity of clubs and their Championships. They must talk to the EU for the benefit of Football!