Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar has spoken of his regret at the late transfer window move of Antony to Manchester United – but admits it is something Ajax have been forced to get used to over the years.
The Eredivisive champions have endured a huge summer of upheaval. With Erik ten Hag plucked away by Manchester United, they then saw two stars follow him to Old Trafford. But they weren’t the only departures though with several other big names lured away.
Asked if this summer was more difficult than the others, Van der Sar had a straight answer for BT Sport. “Yeah, I think so. Because firstly, we needed to replace the manager. Erik ten Hag did a fantastic job for Ajax and earned a well-deserved ‘transfer’ to Manchester United.
“Then, around the moment, we lost, I think around 40 players. Not all of them first-team players, but six or seven starters that we had to replace.”
Van der Sar was then asked if the lateness in the window of the Antony transfer did not help.
Again the Ajax chief executive did not pull any punches.
“We thought, along with the manager, we knew which players that were leaving and those we thought would stay. So, of course, to lose Antony to Manchester United so late was a very hard blow for the manager and the technical people.
“Of course we wish him all the very best and good luck. But for sure, we will miss him, especially on nights like tonight [at Anfield].”
Ajax left with no choice but to accept Antony transfer
Van der Sar admits Ajax were determined to resist United’s approaches. However, they continued to push and, despite the ongoing price rise – with one pundit claiming they were ripped off – the Red Devils ultimately got their way.
United ended up spending a near club-record £85.5m for the Brazilian on the final day of the window. And with the player also pushing for the move, Van der Sar admits they were simply left with little choice. In the end, the money on offer to both Ajax and the player was simply too big to turn down.
“Of course we wanted to keep Antony longer. But the lure of the Premier League, sometimes it is too big for the player,” he added.
Asked how Ajax plan for this and whether they expect that many players to go, Van der Sar added: “No, we had a few on a free – Onana to Inter Milan, Mazraoui to Bayern Munich, a couple of guys went to Spain. Then [Sebastien] Haller went to Dortmund, and then a couple to the Premier League of course.
“But this is Ajax. We should be able to replace them. We have players coming through our academy, so this is something we are used to. But we know the situation we are in and that also makes it hard. Eventually we want to go to the last 16, the quarter-finals and so on.”
Ajax a model for all football clubs to follow
The Ajax model for developing their own and selling players is the envy of world football. In recent years, the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Donny van der Beek (albeit not since successful) and Frenkie de Jong have also left for hefty sums of money.
And despite seeing their top talents lured away, the quality of the side rarely drops. Indeed, they were a whisker away from reaching the 2019 Champions League final, only to see that side ripped apart.
And while not quite as good in the intervening years, they rarely fail to qualify for the Champions League and are never far away from the top honours in the Netherlands.
And having come so close to a point away to Liverpool on Tuesday night, it proves they cannot be taken lightly again.
As such, Van der Sar believes the new era is shaping up very nicely indeed.
“I think what [Ajax coach] Alfred [Schreuder] has done so far is promising, but of course it is very early days. When [if] we get to the latter stages we come up against teams who have been together longer, and maybe are better prepared and that’s a difficulty we have.
“I think we could compose a very nice Champions League side out of all the players who have left in the last six years or so, yes.”