Sunday, October 19, 2014

Paying tribute to Ajax

This Tuesday Ajax Amsterdam comes to play to Barcelona for a Champions League game. I will not miss it. Time to pay tribute to the great Dutch team. At the end of the 1960s and early 1970s this soccer team, under coach Rinus Michels, invented a new style of play that had some roots in Hungary and other places: total football. Players exchanged their positions, defended by attacking and occupying the rival’s half of the pitch, played with a much faster pace than was usual, and were obsessed with the efficient use of space. The star of that team was Johan Cruyff, “The Flying Dutchman”. We Barça fans have a lot to thank to these innovators, because after their experience in Amsterdam, Michels came to coach our team and Johan Cruyff came as a player and settled himself in Barcelona. For some time, Michels was simultaneously the manager of FC Barcelona and of the Dutch national team, which arrived to the final of the World Cup in 1974, being probably the best team ever not to win the World Cup. Johan Cruyff was later the manager of FC Barcelona between 1988 and 1996. Then in the late 1990s another Dutch manager that had led Ajax again to the peak of European soccer, Louis Van Gaal, today in Manchester United, also came to manage FC Barcelona. Pep Guardiola –manager of Barça and today Bayern Munich- played under Cruyff and Van Gaal, and Luis Enrique –the current manager of Barça- played under Van Gaal and was a team mate of Guardiola both as a player and as a manager. The style of play that is today revered in Barcelona has its roots in the great Dutch team.
I am reading the book by Simon Kuper "Ajax, the Dutch, the war," where he explains the history of Ajax, a club linked to the Jewish communities in Amsterdam that were practically exterminated during the Second World War.
Today Ajax cannot aspire to win the top European championship, because the rules of global soccer make it very difficult for teams from small countries to win. According to Branko Milanovic, globalization of soccer input markets has implied more concentration of talent among a small number of clubs, all of them playing in the leagues of the largest European countries. But globalization and the specific institutions of global soccer contribute to a more egalitarian structure among national teams, so that The Netherlands still present very talented teams in each edition of the World Cup. The best Dutch players play in the big teams of England, Germany and Spain from a very early age, but go back to their national team in the World Cup and the Eurocup.
To whet your appetite for Tuesday’s game, enjoy the video of the highlights of the game between Uruguay and The Netherlands in 1974.

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