Ajax, Southampton, RB Salzburg, and Borussia Dortmund. What do clubs like these have in common?
They nearly always lose their best players. But through strong academy setups and shrewd transfer deals, time and time again they're able to rebuild.
Life last peaked for Ajax in the 2018/2019 Champions League campaign when a team mostly made up of young guns made it to the semi-finals of the competition.
Much has been said of that team and what they achieved, but the unfortunate reality is that most of that squad are at different clubs now.
A cool €313 million was spent on Hakim Ziyech, Donny van de Beek, Sergino Dest, Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt and Kasper Dolberg.
Two-and-a-half years is a long time. In 2019, both Dele and Donny van de Beek started in the Champions League semi-final for Tottenham and Ajax. Now, they’ve both joined Everton in the same window. pic.twitter.com/Q7H3vaQAT7
— Karan Tejwani (@karan_tejwani26) February 1, 2022
Do they just reinvest the money on big transfer deals? No. Their most expensive transfer of the last five seasons was Sebastian Haller for just shy of €24 million.
Their academy setup has produced some world-class talent over the years. It can't be understated how good the system is and has been since it started.
You only have to mention the likes of Johan Cruijff, Frank Rijkaard, Dennis Bergkamp, Edgar Davids, and Clarence Seedorf over the years.
Pair that with their most recent graduates who have careers to look back on in Toby Alderweireld, Nigel de Jong, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart and more.
Ajax have time and time again been able to rebound, rebuild and reimagine. This year is no exception as they pulled off an admirable Champions League run.
Watch every Champions League game for free here on the LiveScore app here . Registered ROI users only. #ad
How The Pandemic Affected Ajax
The January transfer window gone by was dominated by lower Premier League teams such as Newcastle United and Everton panic buying in the market.
The bigger teams across Europe have collectively spent less in the summer and in January, largely down to a loss in revenue with fewer ticket sales.
Empty stadiums, capacity limits, and fans watching from home hit clubs hard. Ajax was no exception, posting losses of upwards of €8 million last year.
But the big plus for Ajax was they were able to hold on to their top talent. The likes of Ryan Gravenberch, Noussair Mazraoui, and Antony could have made way.
Clubs weren't able to flaunt the kind of money they were used to before the pandemic. However, the big question is, how long will this last?
🇳🇱 Matthijs de Ligt (21): Centre-Back, Ajax academy graduate, plays for Juventus FC.⠀
🇳🇱 Sven Botman (21): Centre-Back, Ajax academy graduate, plays for LOSC Lille.⠀
The future Centre-Back duo of Netherlands made in De Toekomst. 🚫😍 pic.twitter.com/UG9dQcWpve
— Pro Future Stars (@ProFutureStars1) January 31, 2021
Ajax Looking To The Future
Top clubs are still able to find the money if the deal is right. You only have to look at the likes of Luis Diaz moving to Liverpool and Ferran Torres to Barcelona.
However, teams are trying to balance the books more, so for a lot of teams to afford to bring in top players they have to shed a bit of weight to do so.
We've seen it with Financial Fair Play rules at play in the Premier League. Everton were effectively under a transfer ban last summer for overzealous spending.
So that will undoubtedly affect Ajax going forward, even if the likes of Gravenberch will inevitably leave in the summer if a huge fee comes in for him.
The pandemic was also kind to Ajax on the spending front. They were able to bring in the likes of Antony and Steven Berghuis for relatively small fees.
Clubs were desperate to offload players to balance the books during that period. That was another plus for the Dutch champions but it won't last forever.
What will happen to this Ajax team? It's a tough pill to swallow to bow out of the Champions League last sixteen, especially after some of their performances.
They'll always produce top players through their academy. A bit more shrewd business and we might see a return of the 2018/2019 heroics soon.