BY GLENN BILLINGHAM
Football’s global media circus has been understandably distracted this week. Jose Mourinho’s noise-making at Old Trafford has held column interest, frantic forum discussion, and sent Twitter into overdrive.
Just across the North Sea, at another ‘grand old dame’ of European club football, Peter Bosz was confirmed as the new head coach at Ajax. His appointment drew international reaction somewhere between mild disdain and complete indifference. The latter, likely serving regrettable testament to the growing insignificance of both Ajax and the Eredivisie. However, Bosz’s appointment is creating discreet enthusiasm in Amsterdam, and understandably so.
Excitement at a new era is carefully applied. This season’s Eredivisie title culmination remains naturally fresh in the memory. Ajax, needing to match PSV’s result, had it all in their own hands. A final fixture at lowly De Graafschap saw that failure was unlikely. However, after scoring early through German forward Amin Younes, authority and its killer touch couldn’t be found. Under an intense early summer sun in the Achterhoek, Ajax missed several chances, conceded an equaliser, and laboured to a 1-1 draw.
De Graafschap ended the season in the relegation play-offs, where defeat against Go Ahead Eagles condemned them to the Eerstedivisie next season. PSV, as they did last season, evidenced their own strength of mind and stamina to get the job done. The team who exited this season’s Champions League on penalties against Atletico Madrid picked up a 3-1 win at PEC Zwolle, and claimed their second successive Eredivisie in the process.
Disdain in Amsterdam had been growing for a while. Frank de Boer, despite his lengthy and trophy-laden Ajax history, had shackled Ajax in recent seasons. Even throughout de Boer’s impressive four successive league titles between 2010 and 2014, he drew criticism for stifling the team’s attacking players. Furthermore, as is the case at Celtic Park, winning the league is rarely enough.
De Boer didn’t achieve his success with enough style, and he couldn’t replicate any of it in Europe. Though he consistently guided Ajax to the Champions League group stage, it represented an unsurpassable first hurdle, and the Europa League became a very temporary safety net. Only once did de Boer and Ajax navigate as far as the Europa League round of sixteen. Last season saw Ajax miss the Champions League group stages altogether, and fail to emerge from the Europa League group stages.
As a previous technical director at Feyenoord, and something of a lesser-known coach outside the Netherlands, Peter Bosz can give the deceptive appearance he’s on a hiding to nothing. However, despite never having been privy to the inner workings of Ajax, Bosz is rightly lauded as one of total football’s most modern disciples.
His work with Heracles Almelo and Vitesse Arnhem provides clear evidence of a coach able to take an ordinary group of players, and mould them into a cohesive, fluent, pressing, and attacking unit. At Heracles, Bosz took a small and somewhat unfashionable club to the summit of Dutch football’s second tier. Promotion to the Eredivise had them earmarked for immediate relegation, but Bosz achieved mid-table security with impressively attacking and attractive football.
Bosz departed Heracles for the role of technical director at Feyenoord. Maintaining close connections with club he also represented as a player, Bosz worked above and alongside manager Gertjan Verbeek for two and a half years. In proving a comfortable fit at one of the Netherlands’ bigger clubs, Bosz was responsible for the significant signings of current Feyenoord boss Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Roy Makaay, Kevin Hofland, and Denny Landzaat.
Summer 2010 bought a return to Heracles, where Bosz built on his own principles and took the club to the European play-off places. However, failure to make the next step on the ladder of success resulted in consecutive 12th place finishes, and Bosz signed a two-year contract with Vitesse in June 2013.
Culmination of Bosz’s work with Vitesse was signaled by a surprise January 2016 appointment as head coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv. However, the legacy of his work lives on, and serves as encouragement for Ajax supporters. At Vitesse, a comfortable club of stoic Eredivisie existence, Bosz ignited another seemingly ordinary squad, and seized upon momentum. Two consecutive top five finishes paved the way for European football, scouting systems and academy structure were overhauled, and all were set to the backdrop of attractive, energetic football. With Maccabi, Bosz again proved highly effective, leading his new charges to runners-up in the Israeli league, and Israeli Cup runners-up. In doing so, Bosz has had an important taste of managing a big club and challenging for serious honours.
Evidencing that Bosz is currently fulfilling some kind of pseudo-football-philosophical destiny, it has since been revealed that he had an Ajax-themed clause written into his Maccabi contract. It stated that Bosz would be free to leave if ever the call from Amsterdam came. With de Boer stating his mind has been made up for months, that call came earlier this month.
Later next month, on Monday June 27th to be precise, the first-team squad of Ajax will report for pre-season training, and there to greet them will be a man who has made a habit of igniting rapid and positive momentum. Whether Ajax are able to retain the services of youthful promise remains to be seen, but if the likes Riechedly Bazoer, Jairo Riedewald, Arkadiusz Milik et al do stay, expect Ajax to be upwardly mobile once more.
Despite his significant history with bitter rivals, Feyenoord, and despite not being truly ‘one of the family’, Ajax do not currently have the luxury of being picky. They are in need of a style makeover more than anything. Bosz is clearly seen as a breath of fresh air, a wind of change, and an energetic brush with which cobwebs of disappointment can be swept away. Furthermore, his style and philosophy is a gloriously stylish throwback to the heady days of total football, and a fitting appointment to tribute the year in which the world lost Cruyff.