Spurs’ and Ajax’s CL Achievement Worthy of Celebration
April 30, 2019
In the words of Wu-Tang Clan, ‘Cash rules everything around me.’ The 1994 lyric from one of America’s most notorious hip hop groups is one that successfully sums up our 21st-century society, and more specifically, one that epitomises the current climate in football.
Wage bills and astronomical transfer fees continue to dominate the headlines, with our social media feeds being plastered with lucrative figures that simply defy reason. Many fans cite the influence of money on our game as a negative factor and one that continues to polarise the European elite from those below.
Two clubs that are currently disobeying this factor though are Tottenham and Ajax, with both sides upsetting the Champions League odds by reaching the semi-final stages of the competition.
Two Fairy-Tale Esque Stories
The Champions League rarely ever sees an underdog winner. It is a competition that is ruled by the European heavyweights and usually those who have spent largely in the previous summer. The last team to truly upset the odds was Jose Mourinho’s Porto back in 2004, with the victory resulting in the Portuguese club’s second top European honour.
Now, both Tottenham and Ajax are aiming to replicate a similar journey in the tournament.
This is certainly unfamiliar territory for Spurs, as they have never reached the European Cup or Champions League semi-final since the competition originated back in 1955. Given the fact that they haven’t spent a penny in the last two transfer windows, Mauricio Pochettino has definitely exceeded expectations by reaching such a position.
It hasn’t been an easy ride for the North London side either, having to overcome the dynamic Borussia Dortmund and Premier League champions-elect Manchester City. The latter result was certainly one that raised eyebrows, but their fearless display at the Etihad was rewarded with three precious away goals. Their counter-attacking threat is Spurs’ biggest threat, and one they will try and utilise against Ajax.
On the topic of tough routes, perhaps nobody else has had a harsher one than the Lancers. If a group stage that consisted of Bayern Munich and Benfica wasn’t difficult enough, Ajax then came up against serial winners Real Madrid. The Spanish giants have experienced unprecedented success in the Champions League in recent years, but they were left stunned by Erik ten Hag’s young stars. Their 4-1 win at the Bernabeu left the whole of Europe watching on in awe.
Next up? Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus. The Portuguese sensation touched down in Turin last summer and many predicted his arrival to spur Juventus towards their first European honour since 1996. Ajax, however, had different ideas. Donny van de Beek and Matthijs de Ligt grabbed the two pivotal goals at the Allianz Arena in another courageous performance away from home. Both Real Madrid and Juventus were two of the Champions League favourites, but both teams suffered the same fate to this young and daring Dutch side.
Setting an Example With Blueprints
Not only have Ajax been lauded for their performances on the field, but off it too. Ever since the Johan Cruyff era, the club have always operated with a heavy emphasis on their youth squad. It is a philosophy that has been carried into the 21st century and one that their CEO, Edwin van der Sar, continues to enforce.
Not only is the majority of the squad compromised of De Toekomst products, but even their external recruits don’t tend to push the £15m mark. Over the last three transfer windows, Ajax have acquired over fifteen players for a spend of just over £100m. Take into consideration their departures and the Dutch club actually come away with a £60m profit. Put their spending into further perspective – Juventus paid this for one player alone.
In terms of a framework and hierarchy structure, the Lancers are an exemplary ran football club, as they have a clear philosophy and system set in place. Players that join must fit the mould of their desired play on the field, a key factor behind their recruitment policy as opposed to signing names that will sell the most shirts in the shops.
Their philosophy has been carried over for decades now, and it isn’t something that looks likely to fade away. Ajax are on course to win their first Eredivisie title since 2014 and this season highlights just how efficiently they are being run. Key names will inevitably depart in the summer, but Ajax will successfully re-build and move forward. It’s in their DNA.
Poch the Miracle Worker?
The Sons of Gods certainly show you how to work with a limited budget, whereas Pochettino shows you how to work without one altogether. Spurs shocked the Premier League last summer, by becoming the first ever club to not spend a single penny on a player. Given the modern day importance that is placed on transfer activity, nobody gave Tottenham a chance this season.
However, the Argentinian has made it work. They look destined to qualify for the Champions League again next season and his achievement of guiding the club to their first-ever semi-finals in the competition should not go unrecognised. Many narrow-minded fans enjoy downplaying Pochettino’s credentials as he hasn’t won a trophy yet, but his capabilities as a manager speak for themselves.
Instead of moaning, he has worked with the tools at his disposal and formulated a plan on the pitch that capitalises on his player’s strengths. Moussa Sissoko is a player who epitomises such a point, as once a figure deemed not good enough for a ‘top six side’, the Frenchman has developed into one of Tottenham’s most important players. Many managers would have shipped the 29-year-old off after his debut season, but Poch has played to his capabilities and found a place for him in the starting XI.
It is this type of player management that has led to speculation over Manchester United and Real Madrid trying to appoint the 47-year-old, as he really is a club’s dream head coach. Reaching the CL final should be considered a remarkable achievement too, as, given the lack of backing that he has received from Daniel Levy, the club are punching well above their weight.
Gameplan Analysis and Team News
Liverpool vs Barcelona may be regarded as the stand-out semi-final tie, but Tuesday night’s fixture is just as intriguing. On the field, both sides enjoy setting up in a dynamic and fluid fashion, particularly when it comes to their players in the final third.
Dusan Tadic has been nothing short of a revelation since joining Ajax last summer, with the Serbian being supported by the tricky figures in David Neres and Hakim Ziyech. Against Real Madrid and Juventus, Tadic was deployed as the false nine, playing with a license to drop into pockets and link-up with the wide men. Such players will test the defensive shape of Spurs’ midfield, who will be without Sissoko and Harry Winks.
Frankie de Jong will look to pick the ball up from deep and start dictating the play for the Lancers. Ajax could well see more of the ball from this respect, as Dele Alli and Danny Rose will have to act as make-shift central midfielders. Tottenham were overrun by West Ham’s frontrunners at the weekend, with Felipe Anderson and Michail Antonio finding space down the flanks.
This is an area that Ajax will undoubtedly look to exploit, but they will also be wary of Spurs’ own attacking threat. Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min are the two players that will look to hurt Ajax, with both forwards enjoying the freedom to penetrate back-lines up top. Ajax will also not need to be reminded of Christian Eriksen’s talents, as the Dane will be keen to hurt his former side by dropping deep to collect the ball and distribute attacks.
For those with a keen eye for tactics and flexible systems, Tuesday night will be a delight. Both managers are not likely to hold back with their approach and both teams look destined to find the back of the net. Picking a winner isn’t easy, particularly over two legs, but you have to recognise just how depleted Tottenham’s squad is with their injuries. For me, I fancy Ajax to grab an encouraging result.
Prediction: Tottenham 2-2 Ajax – 12/1 with Betfred
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As an experienced sports writer, Josh has been published across various different platforms, writing about his beloved club Manchester United and other footballing topics. He also covers a range of other sports, specialising in UFC and Formula One.