Much of it was made up of home grown players who are now household names such as: Danny Blind, Frank & Ronald de Boer, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Edwin van der Sar etc there were also players acquired from abroad like Jari Litmanen, Finidi George and Nwankwo Kanu.
Posts Tagged ‘Finidi George’
February 19, 2011 Leave a comment
By Mohamed Moallim
Mohamed has chosen a performance from one of the great Ajax teams for his favourite match. This dutch team possessed a wealth of talent which had grown up together in their famed academy. Their style gained many plaudits and this evening in Madrid was a perfect example of their attacking philosophy.
It was the 22nd November, 1995. Just a usual autumn day, nothing out of the ordinary, but on this day something remarkable was to happen, something that would be spoken of for years and generations to come.
The remarkable event I speak of took place at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid, home to Spanish giants Real Madrid; they were hosting a Champions’ League group game against the reigning champions AFC Ajax, who had won the competition months prior.
Again there was nothing strange about this but after the full time whistle everything changed.
Compared to today, things were very different in the mid-90s European football wise. Unlike today, a side back then could realistically win the European Cup with a side assembled for less than £1m – but that side had to be very special, and this Ajax side was.
Having the players was one thing, but they needed to be guided and the man in charge was Louis van Gaal. The side he ended up winning the European Cup with in the midst of Vienna was different to the one he inherited, it slowly matured but the signs were already there.
Van Gaal kept the Ajax philosophy and continued the 3-3-1-3 formation which served Johan Cruijff well during his spell as coach in the mid 80s (despite being the bitter of enemies there was this mutual understanding and if you want respect – both knew how to play good football).
As said in the Guardian’s Joy of Six ‘forgotten classics’: “With their exhilarating speed, fiendish imagination and exquisite technique, Van Gaal’s young Ajax side of the mid-90s were magnificent to watch.”
Going into the game, the Ajax players didn’t feel like they were underdogs, compared to now where the gulf between the two sides is vast and growing. In 1995 Ajax going to Madrid and expecting not to leave without anything wouldn’t have been scoffed at and called a ‘dream’.
This game changed everything. Van Gaal’s Ajax side played the game the right way and their attacking approach has always been met with praise and adulation at home and abroad, but this game it seemed they went up a level or three.
Their starting XI was as follows: Van der Sar; Reiziger, Bogarde, Blind, Musampa; Ronald de Boer, Davids, Litmanen; George, Kluivert, Overmars.
And this wasn’t against a bad Real Madrid side which included Luís Enrique, Michael Laudrup, Fernando Redondo, Raúl and Iván Zamorano to name but a few. Real went into the game on the back of a 1-0 win in the Madrid derby against Atlético de Madrid, a step in the right direction after a torrid start to their season. But this proved to be a false dawn as the Spanish titleholders simply had no answer to the pace and intelligence of Litmanen, George and Kluivert.
The seamless dominance from the opposition began to tell as the rings of boos and whistles from the home crowd intensified every time Ajax kept going forward – but in no ways did this deter Van Gaal’s men. In the end it was a surprise that Ajax didn’t win by more than the two goals they scored (Litmanen and Kluivert the goal scorers both had goals disallowed and the woodwork was hit several times) such was the dominance that Ajax’s first goal came when they only had 2 up against 6 Real Madrid players.
Finidi George sliced the Madrid defence open with a slick through-ball that Litmanen latched on to before drilling under the keeper and in. Eight minutes later they were two up, Kluivert combining niftily with the outstanding Marc Overmars before nudging the ball into the net off the far post.
Then Real Madrid coach Jorge Valdano (and now sporting director of the club) after the game commented: “Ajax aren’t just the team of the 90’s, they’re approaching football utopia.”
But what really was memorable that night was the ovation, a standing one, from the home crowd towards the Ajax players, what were boos turned to applause and the Ajax men soaked it in and rightly so, good football deserves such adulation even from the opposition. It was the closest Total Football was played since the days of Cruijff, Krol, Keizer, Neeskens et al.
“We were heavenly, world class,” said Frank de Boer, who watched the game and subsequent lap of honour from the sidelines because of injury. “This was Ajax at their best.”
An urban legend goes that this game has been used by Real Madrid youth team coaches to show their students on how the beautiful game should be played, a compliment of the highest order if true.
Ajax would go on to reach their second Champions League final where they would agonisingly lose to Juventus on penalties, that side would subsequently break up as the bosman ruling took full effect, the club has yet to rediscover the dizzy heights of the mid-90s but with a member of that side in charge now it may not be for long.
If you would like to be involved in the ‘My Favourite Match’ series, read this post to find out more