For those of you who don’t follow Dutch football, or Ajax to be more specific, I wanted to provide you with a little context in terms of the current state of affairs at AFC Ajax.
This blog will help me to set the scene, after introducing you to my save ‘The Ajax Way’ to understand the true scale of the task ahead.
The Director of Football
Ajax made a strategic move in March 2023 by appointing Sven Mislintat as their new director of football, recognising the need for change. Mislintat, renowned as the ‘Diamond Eye’ during his time as Borussia Dortmund’s chief scout, earned this moniker due to his knack for discovering exceptional talents such as Robert Lewandowski, Ousmane Dembele, Mats Hummels, and Jadon Sancho.
However, his reputation took a hit during his stint at Arsenal from 2017 to 2019. There, he faced criticism for his heavy reliance on signing former Dortmund players like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Sokratis, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with varying degrees of success. Nonetheless, Mislintat defended his choices and emphasised his pride in these players, citing his role in shortlisting William Saliba.
Following his departure from Arsenal, Mislintat performed admirably at Stuttgart, helping the club quickly return to the Bundesliga as their sporting director. He was even linked with a potential move to Liverpool before Ajax secured his services.
When speaking to the media to announce Sven, CEO Edwin van der Sar stated the following;
“It is good for Ajax that we have been able to fill this important position with an internationally experienced football director who can start quickly. A careful process preceded the search for the right person. We were looking for someone who stands for attacking and attractive football. Someone who has an international network, and has an eye for scouting, development, and the growth of our own youth. Sven meets the profile, and he made a very good impression on us from the first talks in February. In addition, he has a way of working that fits today’s industry. I am convinced that he will make an important contribution to the new successes of Ajax.”
AFC Ajax – A transfer window like no other
During the summer, Sven Mislintat acted swiftly in the transfer market for Ajax. The club continued its tradition of selling players for substantial profits, including Jurrien Timber, Mohammed Kudus, and Edson Alvarez, who all moved to Premier League clubs.
In contrast, AFC Ajax welcomed 12 new players, most of whom were young talents with unproven experience at the highest level but with significant future resale potential. Notably, Josip Sutalo, 23, was the most expensive signing from Dinamo Zagreb, closely followed by Georges Mikautadze from Metz and Carlos Borges from Manchester City, aged 22 and 19, respectively. Ajax also acquired Chuba Akpom, the PFA Championship Players’ Player of the Year, following his impressive 28-goal season with Middlesbrough. Borna Sosa, a Croatian player, joined from Mislintat’s former club, Stuttgart.
In total, Ajax invested over €100 million (£87 million/$106 million) in new players during the transfer window (as seen in the below image from Transfermrkt), a substantial sum by Eredivisie standards. It’s worth noting that some of these transfers involved the controversial agent Vlado Lemic, who had been linked to a tax-fraud case related to the renegotiation of Luka Modric’s Real Madrid contract in 2018.
Entering into the chaos
During the season, Ajax experienced a mix of positive and negative results. They began with a promising 4-1 win over Heracles Almelo but followed it up with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Excelsior. While they managed to progress through a Europa League qualification tie against Ludogorets, they faced setbacks with a goalless draw against Fortuna Sittard, a 3-1 loss to Twente, and a 3-3 draw with Marseille in the Europa League. This left Ajax without a win in four games leading up to a crucial match against Feyenoord.
Behind the scenes, a tense working relationship developed between director of football Sven Mislintat and head coach Maurice Steijn, who was hired from Sparta Rotterdam in the summer. The friction became evident after the Fortuna Sittard match when Steijn remarked that he and the coaching staff had proposed ideas for summer signings, but Mislintat had made different choices.
In the Feyenoord game, Steijn made a statement by leaving seven of the 12 new signings on the bench and substituting defender Anton Gaaei, a recent recruit, after just over 30 minutes. He also made a tactical substitution, replacing Borna Sosa with Anass Salah-Eddine instead of Gaston Avila.
Notably, Mislintat had created a stir by openly discussing the possibility of firing Steijn with club employees just a day before the Feyenoord match, despite being expected to work discreetly in his role, as per supervisory board chairman Pier Eringa’s comments. This move surprised many and added to the already strained atmosphere within the club.
AFC Ajax then suspended Sven Mislintat, in response to allegations of a conflict of interest. These allegations arose due to the signing of Borna Sosa, represented by the agency AKA Global, which has ties to Mislintat’s commercial data systems company, Matchmetrics GmbH. Ajax initially claimed they were unaware of these shareholdings but later stated that Mislintat explained they stemmed from an investment round in 2020, with plans to convert the investment into a three percent shareholding at a later date.
On September 24th AFC Ajax decided to end the collaboration with Director of Football Sven Mislintat with immediate effect. The lack of broad support within the organisation was quoted as the reason behind this decision.
Steijn looked to have survived the chopping block. However the above post from @OptaJohan shows that AFC Ajax are actually outperforming their expected points! They should currently be in bottom place of the Eredivisie.
The defeat against FC Utrecht would see Ajax failing to win any of their last eight games in all competitions. Enough is enough, Maurce Steijn was removed from his position at the club, Steijn’s record at AFC Ajax saw him collect just 0.9 points per game, the lowest among all managers in all competitions in the history of the club.
The Ajax team continued their abysmal form, defeat on the road in Europe to Brighton and Hove Albion saw Roberto De Zerbi’s side record both the most passes (788) and the highest possession rating (65%) of any Ajax opponent on record (since April 2014).
At the time of writing this update, AFC Ajax sit in 18th place of the Eredivisie table, after defeat away to PSV Eindhoven (5-2). Defeat provided Ajax with yet another unwanted record, for the first time in the clubs history, Ajax have lost five Eredivisie games in a row.
And this is where my story begins.