This blog picks off from where we left off at the Ajax way mid-point analysis, concluding the first season in charge of AFC Ajax.

I must admit, the Ajax way save is providing me with an abundance of entertainment, having a clear identity which I am looking to build on, along with my usual focus on youth development, is providing me with a laser focus as I strive to take the club back to the top of the European game.

In today’s blog I will look to provide you with a synopsis of the 2023/24 season, including some data analysis, key matches, and individual accolades. Before providing a foreword look to next season, exploring the board and fans demands, along with a dip into the transfer market.

2023/24 SEASON REVIEW

EREDIVISIE

If you are here for silverware, I am afraid you are going to have to wait, despite finishing as the Eredivisie’s top scoring side, we closed the season in third-place. Feyenoord’s improved defensive efficiency, paired with their ruthless scoring, has seen the side from Rotterdam secure back to back Eredivisie titles for only the second time in the clubs history.

If you are keen on viewing our full list of results from the second half of the season in the Eredivisie, the link has been provided. In today’s post I will look to provide some key analysis, along with a breakdown of a few key fixtures, as I look to the future, with a view to improving our performance.

GOAL SCORING

The above visual shows the areas on the pitch from which our goals have been scored (right), and the areas from which the assists have stemmed from (left). Firstly, looking at the area’s from which our assists come from, it is pleasing to see just how much stems from central areas, particularly zone 14. The right flank plays a greater role in goal scoring, which shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, given the winger on this side of the field has the support duty. Finally, our ability to work the ball into the box is reflected in goals scored, with well over 90% of all goals being scored from those all important high xG areas.

WITHOUT THE BALL

Out of possession we are making considerably fewer defensive actions compared to the average side, this is what you would expect from a team which has closed the season with the second highest possession (61%) in the league. You can see that the majority of possession gained has been just before the halfway line, a figure which has been influenced by our high defensive line, most turnovers stemming from a CB winning an aerial duel. With regards to pressing, we are in an exclusive club of four sides, who have been effective at playing a high-press, along with being effective at breaking the opposition’s continuity with the ball.

IN POSSESSION

We closed the Eredivisie with a pass accuracy of over 90%, and are one of three sides to complete over 600 passes per match. When looking at the pitch tilt, you can see our final third dominance, we produce a high number of passes in the final third compared to the average. Interestingly only PSV had a better pass completion against figure, highlighting our effectiveness at playing the Ajax way, favouring possession. This paired with our high goals scored, ensured that entertaining football has been delivered.

CHANCE CONVERSION

Only FC Twente had a better conversion rate than us in the Eredivisie. However, when you factor in the fact that we have taken 167 shots more than Julio Velázquez side, for information both sides xG per shot closed at 0.17. As stated earlier, Feyenoord were the most effective side out of possession, they closed the season with an expected xG against of 0.59, 0.35 better off than second placed PSV!

AN APRIL TO FORGET

Looking back at our results, it is clear to see that the month of April was a game-changer in terms of our title charge, we only managed to secure five points from the 12 available. Whilst it is unfair to state that taking maximum points across the month would have seen us crowned champions, I think even securing three points against both Go Ahead Eagles and FC Twente, could have put Slots team under more a greater pressure, as they always had a nice buffer to rely on, although it wasn’t needed.

This one hurt…

Feyenoord vs AFC Ajax

At De Kuip, Feyenoord got their redemption for the 4-0 defeat which they suffered in the reverse fixture.

Looking at the game in finer detail, we failed to penetrate our opponents box, which reflected in our chances created. You can see from this chalkboard visual the importance placed on exerting pressure in the final-third, as we could only muster up a total of five shots.

MOTM: Yankuba Minteh

  • 1 goal, 1 assist
  • 4 key passes, 2 clear cut chances created
  • 7 dribbles

A special mention must also go to Peter Bosz’ PSV, even if his side join an exclusive club of sides which have failed to win their domestic title, despite closing the season invincible. PSV closed the season with the best away record (P17, W13, D4), along with having the second best defensive record in the Eredivisie (26 conceded).

UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE

Our UEFA Europa League campaign was abruptly derailed by Milan, with my side not having the success of Louis van Gaal’s Ajax of 1995. Despite salvaging a little pride in the second leg (0-0), we were well and truly demolished at the San Siro.

This game served as a little bit of a wake-up call, it highlighted that we still have a little way to go in terms of our performances on the continent. I don’t think the problem is a lack of quality, it could well simply be the fact that the players need more time together as a unit, playing the system. This paired with a little more rotation for those lesser games in the Eredivisie, to ensure our key players are firing on all cylinders come the business end of the season.

Milan vs AFC Ajax

As stated above, this wasn’t as bad a result as the score line reflected, we finished the game with a non penalty expected goals figure of 1.31 compared to Milan’s 2.04. Everything good for Milan stemmed from the work of Samuel Chukwueze, the Nigerian had an exceptional game.

  • 77 passes received (1st)
  • 3 key passes (1st)
  • 10 dribbles (1st)
  • 3 fouls against (1st)

KNVB BEKER

Our failure to secure victory against FC Twente in the KNVB would mean that we would go the season without securing any silverware. FC Twente lifted the trophy after defeating FC Groningen (1-0) in the final.

INDIVIDUAL ACCOLADES

What would an end of season analysis be without a squad profile comparing players age, to minutes played. Looking at the below, you will firstly note just how young our side, the vast majority of players are below 24. This provides me with hope for the future, if I can persuade a large proportion of the current playing squad to extend their contracts at the club, we will have a squad which contains a high volume of players in their prime.

Looking at the average minutes line above, you will see that Chuba Akpom, despite being in his prime, has secured less than average minutes on the pitch. Chuba was signed from Middlesbrough at the end of the 2022/23 season for £10.5m. Despite the hefty fee, Akpom only scored six goals in 1,146 minutes of football, and his conversion rate of 15% is way below Brian Brobbey (38%) and Georges Mikautadze (30%). Again comparing his xG per shot of 0.19 to Brobbey (0.26), and Mikautadze (0.27), the Nigerian is also failing to get shots away in high scoring value positions, this led me to make my first executive decision at the club, I placed Akpom on the transfer list.

Lens instantly showed their interest and Akpom joined the French side on loan (£1.1m fee), with a mandatory future fee of £7m secured. Not a bad piece of business if I do say so myself.

With the return to full fitness of Gerónimo Rulli, we now have three goalkeepers in the first-team. Will another decision need to be made next season? Time will tell, for now I am hoping that I can ply one in the cup (Ramaj) and have Rulli accept that he will play as back-up to Gorter, my first choice.

Brian Brobbey picked up the two biggest individual accolades, winning both the fan’s player of the year and the young player of the season award. The striker had an excellent season playing as a trequartista as he had his best season to-date, putting behind his failure at RB Leipzig, a move which in my humble opinion was made too early on in his career.

Above is our best eleven, I am looking forward to seeing how this develops as we get deeper into the save. However, after such a good first season, it will take some effort to break into the so-called ‘best eleven’. I have no idea as to why Medic is featured in the BPD role, as he always plays on the right of the three, and Rensch has never played on the left…hey ho!

The manager timeline – I really like this feature, I think this year a little more work has gone into the detail.

The below items make the timeline, you can see that I have made a conscious effort to bring back individuals to the club that can relate to the Ajax way. Edgar Davids a.k.a. ‘The Pitbull’ and Dennis Bergkamp, ‘The Shaduwspits’ have both played key roles for the club during their playing days and they both will be valued, Dennis joins as my Assistant Manager, whilst Edgar is a coach in the under 18s.

The appointment of Louis van Gaal for the club as the Director of Football had to be done, we are looking to replicate his tactical style ‘The Iron Tulip’. Therefore excluding him from the journey, well simply would have been rude.


THE AJAX WAY – OFF FIELD EXPECTATIONS

THE SUPPORTERS

Failing to win the Eredivisie, and having to endure Feyenoord retaining the label as the ‘best team in the Netherlands’, it was never going to be a season to remember for our supporters. However, we are doing well when taking into consideration their desires of playing an entertaining brand of attacking football.

THE FIVE YEAR PLAN

The Board have a clear plan and expect us to win the Eredivisie in 2025/26. Therefore, the heat is most certainly on and although this season’s goal is to challenge for the title, we could well see ourselves at risk if we don’t put up a significant challenge for silverware this season.

ACTIONABLE OBJECTIVES

Some absolute beauties of actionable objectives below, which I will try to meet, to ensure that I am ticking all the boxes required by the hierarchy.

Spend the original transfer budget – Spend as much of the transfer budget made available at the start of the season as possible.

I haven’t seen this objective before in all my years of playing Football Manager, and to be honest I am not 100% certain as to why it is associated with Ajax, as the side historically have invested roughly 50% of all transfer revenue back into player acquisitions. However, I am not one to argue and immediately engaged in conversation with Brighton and Hove Albion over the loan signing of Joao Pedro, the Brazilian is well aligned to the Ajax way (179 DNA) and can play anywhere across the front four positions.

Having featured only 11 times for Brighton and Hove Albion last season, I thought I was in with a good shout to secure the player for a short-term deal. However, Tony Bloom would only let him leave for £4.3m per month! That’s £51.6m even before including the mandatory £77m to make his signature permanent, after the initial deal. £128.6m combined package, I know inflation is high, but they only signed him from Watford for £29.5m, he is one to watch for the future.

Grow the club’s reputation – continue improving the club’s reputation

FM is well aligned to the real world in terms of reputational development, as far as I understand elevating your club’s reputation in Football Manager demands a strategic blend of on-field success, financial prudence, and astute management.

Primarily, success in matches stands as the cornerstone of reputation enhancement, especially those against clubs with a higher reputation; along with consistent high league standings, again another fundamental way to drive reputation. Whilst attracting and nurturing top-tier talent is pivotal, as the acquisition of skilled players can significantly bolster your team’s competitive edge.

Another way to gain an improved reputation is through youth development itself, a continuous pipeline of homegrown talent, one which contributes positively to the club’s identity both on and off the pitch will lead to long-term dividends. Additionally, success in European competitions, such as the UEFA Champions League or Europa League, serves as a powerful catalyst for elevating your club’s reputation on the global stage. The prestige associated with triumphs in continental tournaments can attract attention and admiration from football enthusiasts worldwide.

Effective media relations are an often underestimated aspect of reputation management. Interacting positively with the media, maintaining composure in interviews, and praising your players contribute to a favourable public image. A manager’s conduct off the field can have a resounding impact on the perception of the club.

Negative transfer budget business model – sell players to fund player purchases


RECRUITMENT

I wanted to spend a significant amount of our transfer budget on bringing in a new midfielder, I have been scouting a large proportion of the world cross the season, with my scouts assigned to the above regions, looking at players aged 15-23, with a potential ability of 3.5 stars or more, and a current ability of 1.5.

*click on the players image to view his attributes

The decision was made to invest in Gabriel Moscardo from Corinthians in Brazil, in a deal worth £18m. The youngster is well aligned to the Ajax way, and holds a DNA value of 183, which sees him already as a first-team regular.

Using the same approach as the one which I covered in my Thiago Motta: The Value of The Ball blog, the below table helps to show the diversity of our midfield, and really highlights what Moscardo can offer. Hence, deciding to sign him, rather than promote from within.

The below visual compares players attributes in relation to different profiles of midfielder (ball player, dynamic, aggressor, goal scoring, and the engine). This can easily be replicated across any position, you simply need to think of what attributes fit your selected descriptor, and then use a conditional format to colour the cells on a scale, from lowest to highest.

First and foremost, if you can remember from the earlier blog The Ajax Way – DNA, the Eredivisie attribute average is 11. Taking Moscardo’s attributes across the board you will note that he rates above average for all but one of the criteria, the Brazilian is well rounded, and has the ability to play a multitude of roles in the midfield.

When comparing him to our other young talents, both of which will be securing first-team minutes this season, he is more dynamic, stronger, has a better goal instinct, and engine than Silvano Vos. Whilst he out performs Gabriël Misehouy in all areas, apart from ball-playing.

The 18-year-old was signed with a release clause written into his contract with the value of £38m, the beauty of this deal is that it expires in September 2026. If met it will provide us with a significant profit, if not then I am anticipating his future fee could well be even bigger.

Additionally two further acquisitions were made as Jhojan Torres, and Óscar Perea join from Columbia. Both individuals are loaned out immediately, with Atlético Nacional S.A. taking the loan-back option on Perea, whilst Torres moves to Belgium with KAS Eupen, to continue his development.

Both players are again well aligned to the Ajax way, with Torres having 160 DNA points (Jong Ajax Key Player), and Perea with 173 DNA points (First Team Integration). With regards to players leaving Amsterdam, there were a few moves which are documented below.

The one departure which I wasn’t expecting was the exit of Owen Wijndal, who moved to al-Hilal for a deal worth £17.75m. The offer came in for Owen after I had decided to move on Borna Sosa to Al-Qadsiah on loan (£1.4m), with a mandatory future fee of £10m. Sosa, despite scoring a high DNA, had the squad status of an important player, but wasn’t really effective at playing as a wide-centre back, unsurprising given he is an excellent complete wing-back, who has one of the best deliveries (crossing 18) in the game.

The unexpected sale will see Ahmetcan Kaplan join Gabriël Misehouy, Ethan Butera, and Skye Vink progress from the Jong Ajax side into the first team. Whilst, Naci Ünüvar (187 DNA) is the only player returning from a loan spell that is retained by the club. The 21-year-old will play a supporting role for captain Steven Bergwijn.

  • Kian Fitz-Jim (187 DNA) loaned to sc Heerenveen (7th place) for the season to build on his development, after spending last season at Excelsior Rotterdam, who finished in 13th place.
  • Francisco Conceição (177 DNA) loaned to RB Salzburg with £5.25m fee after 20 matches

The season preview has placed us as favourites to be crowned the Dutch national champions, can we add to the clubs illustrious history and etch ourselves in the AFC Ajax history books for eternity, only time will tell.

Join me next time for the next edition of the Ajax way. The next post will be the one which you have all been waiting for, the tactic in all its glory in a blog called The Ajax Way – Masterclass in Total Football.

Author

  • SteinkelssonFM

    SteinkelssonFM is a distinguished tactician in the Football Manager community, celebrated for bridging the virtual and real football worlds through meticulous analysis. His knack for recreating iconic real-world tactics in-game, like Mário Zagallo’s 1970 Seleção strategy, offers a nostalgic yet innovative gameplay experience. An active blogger on Medium and WordPress, SteinkelssonFM shares his football philosophies and FM adventures, enriching the community with guides on youth development and tactical masterclasses. His contributions extend to the official Football Manager website, affirming his position as a reliable mentor for aspiring virtual football managers. Through his content, SteinkelssonFM continues to blend historical football charm with modern-day FM gameplay.

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