Amsterdam wakes up with a massive hangover. Ajax was so close to the next round of the Champions League but Valencia ruined that (0-1). CEO Edwin van der Sar takes stock in an interview with the Algemeen Dagblad.
How hard did was the blow of Tuesday night?
van der Sar: “This is quite the blow. After successful qualifiers, we started the group stage with two victories. The game versus Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, we should have won. Decisions by the VAR that came down to millimeters. A draw in the previous round at Valencia – Chelsea, where a penalty kick was missed, as well as a few 100% chances. And there were more moments. We’ve gotten compliments for a playing style again this season. Rightfully, because after some mainstays left last season no outsider thought that was possible.”
The next round was so close.
“In the end, we have to blame ourselves. At home versus Valencia, we just came short, and you could sense that during the game already. In the game where it has to happen, we can’t score. We hardly registered any dangerous shots at goal.”
Where did it go wrong?
“That is the question we’re asking ourselves, and we have to. We have to be critical of ourselves. Analyse how this could have happened and first and foremost: what can we learn from this in the future?”
Does this mean the selection isn’t deep enough?
“We can’t have three equal wingers on the bench. We’ve had bad luck in that aspect; Promes, Neres, and Labyad are all injured at exactly the same moment.”
An important goal of Ajax is catching up with the European top. That won’t happen soon, now.
“Why not? It’s not like that goal is gone now. It’s painful that our CL-journey is over now. In the Summer we rebuilt our team, which first had to be able to reach the groupstage of the Champions League. We succeeded in that. We were able to sign players for a longer time and made the financial resources available to achieve that. Just like last season, we showed in Europe what Ajax stands for. But what is the top of Europe? That’s the top 8, or the top 16. The quarterfinals in the Champions League, that’s where you want to be, but the reality is different now. Still, we certainly don’t park our goal. The bar remains high, Ajax remains ambitious.”
The goal was to still play in Europe after the winter break. That goal was achieved, but not in the Champions League. What is the goal in the Europa League?
“A place in the semi-finals could be the goal, but we’ll have to survive quite a few rounds in order to achieve that. That won’t be easy because our status has changed. In the CL we were the underdogs, now we’re the team to beat. Three seasons ago, we made it to the finals of that tournament. That was a great achievement for the whole club, the fans, but also for the Netherlands as a football country. Now it’s different, that’s for sure Now we come from a semi-finals spot last season and good matches in the Champions League this season.”
It’s about prestige for me!Edwin van der Sar on missing out on Champions League money
No longer in the spotlights of the Champions League.
“We’ll have to get used to it. Playing in Turin or Madrid is great for the club, the fans but also the players. Those games will make them better. Things are different now, but this is certainly a new challenge. You also notice that our status has changed. The whole of Europe finds it regrettable and striking that Ajax has not advanced. We didn’t have that status a few years ago. That’s great to see, but it doesn’t win you anything.”
What are the direct consequences for the short term?
“There aren’t any. People immediately ask questions about money, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about prestige for me, about the games. How the players develop. That is what counts. We don’t make our budget expecting to reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League.”
Do you expect that players will want to leave in the winter break now?
“No. It’s possible, but I don’t think they will want to. In the Summer we also weren’t certain of Champions League football and a lot of the players decided to stay. We have thought along with the salary, expressed our ambitions. And these have remained unchanged in many areas. We also have three great prizes to play for. The players know that too. Marc Overmars will not open the door this winter. And otherwise, I’ll throw myself in front of it.”