The situation at jax is chaotic. The Dutch team is getting ready for a crucial match against Brighton in the Europa League, but they are facing their worst crisis in years. They recently fired their manager, Maurice Steijn, and are currently ranked second to last in the Eredivisie, putting them in the relegation zone. Additionally, they are currently experiencing their longest stretch without a win since Dutch professional football began in 1954.
Is it possible for Ajax to be demoted? It is unlikely, but the situation is deteriorating instead of improving. A month ago, despite being in the lower half of the standings, you could bet 2,500-1 on them being relegated. Now, the odds have decreased to 150-1. Rafael van der Vaart, who is a club legend, stated this week that Ajax currently has to approach matches as if they are fighting to avoid relegation. This is disheartening but true. They can no longer rely on their reputation as Ajax and must acknowledge that they may not be better than their opponents due to their lack of quality.
The Guardian published an article on September 27th discussing the chaos that had already taken hold of Ajax. That same day, they suffered a 4-0 loss to Feyenoord in a closed-door league match. The game had been stopped a few days prior due to ultras throwing fireworks onto the field after Feyenoord took a 3-0 lead in the first half. A riot broke out outside the stadium, causing damage to the Amsterdam Arena and resulting in police using tear gas and horses to disperse the crowds. Steijn, a member of the club, described it as a dark day in their history.
During that period, the team fired their sports director, Sven Mislintat, who had previously worked for Stuttgart, Borussia Dortmund, and Arsenal. In his place, they brought on Louis van Gaal as a “consultant” to help stabilize the team. However, they have not won any league games since then. Their most recent match was a 4-3 loss to fellow struggling team Utrecht, putting them 22 points behind their traditional rivals PSV. This Sunday, they will face PSV after playing against Brighton. It is not an ideal start for assistant coach Hedwiges Maduro, who has taken over during this challenging week.
The Europa League is a competition that can at least provide some relief and gives Ajax something to aim for other than domestic survival. After two draws in Europe, away at AEK Athens and at home to Marseille (with 10 men), Ajax sit third in Group B, level with Thursday’s opponents, Brighton.
On paper, Ajax’s team is not considered poor. They have experienced some notable departures in recent months, including Mohammed Kudus and Edson Álvarez to West Ham, Jurrien Timber to Arsenal, and Calvin Bassey to Fulham. However, they have also invested more than €100m in reinforcing their squad, which finished third last season. This includes the €12m acquisition of Chuba Akpom from Middlesbrough and spending around €30m on Croatian defenders Josip Sutalo and Borna Sosa. While Argentina goalkeeper Gerónimo Rulli is a World Cup winner, he has not had much playing time this season due to injury. Additionally, captain and key player Steven Bergwijn, who broke the Eredivisie transfer record when he returned to the Netherlands from Tottenham last summer for €31m, has only scored one goal (a penalty) since the first day of the season. He was also confronted by fans after their loss to Utrecht.
What is the current situation? The search for a new coach to replace Steijn has already begun, but it is a complex process that involves various levels of hierarchy beyond the team’s dressing room. The specific responsibilities of Van Gaal are unclear, and there are even rumors that Ajax may consider rehiring Marc Overmars, a former player who became a director and oversaw a successful period for the club, including their run to the Champions League semi-finals in 2019. However, he left the club in 2022 following a scandal involving inappropriate messages to female employees at Ajax.
Mitchell van der Gaag, the current assistant manager at Manchester United, is a top contender for the managerial role at his former club, where he previously worked with Erik ten Hag. While it is anticipated that van der Gaag will remain in England, he may be enticed to become Ajax’s savior for the current season, as they are in need of improvement.