This year, Ajax have become the first side in the history of the European Cup to progress through two different knockout rounds within the same campaign without having won their first leg at home.
In the semi-finals of the Champions League for the first time since 1997, they visit Tottenham Hotspur’s new stadium before welcoming the Lilywhites in Amsterdam a week later at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
This year, after finishing second in the Eredivisie last season, Ajax’s route to the semi-finals first required two preliminary qualifying rounds and a play-off game. They then went unbeaten in a group featuring AEK Athens, Benfica, and five-time champions Bayern Munich, then became the first side in the history of the competition to progress through two knockout rounds having lost their first leg at home, and to European behemoths Real Madrid and Juventus at that.
Last year in an attempt to ignite a spark which has now gone on to reward with a continental treble-pursuing season, as well as universal plaudits and reverence seven of the most talented youngsters - including Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong - were each shown a video comparing them to an icon of the club.
Former players Edwin van der Sar and Marc Overmars initiated the move, the two having been intrinsic in Ajax’s last Champions League success in 1995, when Louis van Gaal’s side beat an AC Milan side that three months prior had won the Cup Winners’ Cup .
Almost a quarter of a century ago at the Ernst-Happel Stadion in Vienna, Ajax substitute Patrick Kluivert produced a late strike, slotting home five minutes from time past rossoneri goalkeeper Sebastiano Rossi. The trophy complemented their Eredivisie title which they had achieved without suffering a single loss throughout the season.
That side however did fall short of the treble, having been knocked out by eventual winners Feyenoord in the Quarter-Finals of the KNVB Cup, something which this current Ajax crop can hope to win on May 5 - in the 101st occasion of the competition - against Willem II in Rotterdam.
As this current Ajax side attempts to write their name into the history books, here are the individual career paths of that legendary starting XI who achieved the club’s last Champions League trophy.
Edwin van der Sar
Joined the club as a 19-year-old keeper in 1989, the legendary Edwin van der Sar is now witnessing first hand the Ajax resurgence in his capacity as Chief Executive Officer. Van der Sar moved up from his previous role as Commercial Director in 2016 to take over from Dolf Collee.
As a player, van der Sar won the Champions League almost exactly in the middle of his nine-year tenure with the club, where he won his first UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year award.
He also scored the only goal of his career, against De Graffschap, the year before moving to Serie A and Juventus. Venturing to the Premier League in 2001, he helped Fulham avoid relegation in their first season back in the top tier, then became beloved at Manchester United where he regularly jostles for the accolade of best goalkeeper of the Premier League era with Peter Schmeichel, winning his second Goalkeeper of the Year award amidst a gluttony of history-making individual accolades, a staggering four league titles and his second Champions League before retiring at 40-years-old in 2011.
Like many of his Ajax teammates, Reiziger found his way to Barcelona, fuelling the intrinsic connection between the two clubs that has been revitalized in the new era with Frenkie de Jong.
Reisiziger however ended his playing career at Ajax’ rivals PSV Eindhoven in 2007. He became interim coach of Ajax in 2017, being appointed by general manager van der Sar, and now manages the ‘B-team’, Ajax II ‘Jong Ajax’.
The longest-serving captain in the club’s history, Blind is back at Ajax in the role of commissioner having been nominated by the Supervisory Board, and took up the position at the end of April 2019. His son, Daley, was brought back from Man Utd last summer to provide some experience to a very youthful squad; the reacquisition, though relatively costly, reaping dividends.
The final in Austria was a fitting way to end his illustrious playing career, which saw two spells at Ajax intersected with beginning part of that famed Dutch triumvirate at Milan alongside Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. He went on to coach the Netherlands national team, then at club-level with Barcelona where he once again won the Champions League, before handing the reins over to Pep Guardiola. Rijkaard since retired from management, his last position being with the Saudi Arabia national team in 2013. Considering his numerous successes in the first decade of this century, it is quite simply staggering to have Rijkaard out of the game.
Frank de Boer
Defender de Boer was granted his first-team debut by Johann Cruyff and went on to slot into the sixth spot in the Club van 100 - three places ahead of his mentor - after a stunning 11-year-stretch, even switching from left-back to centre-back under van Gaal.
As manager, de Boer brought the Eredivisie title back to Ajax after six years, but went on to have the ignominy of being a Serie A coach for 85 days before unfortunately besting that in the Premier League with just 77 days with Crystal Palace, the Eagles failing to score a single goal while he was in charge. De Boer is now charge of MLS side Atlanta United
Though substituted for Nwankwo Kanu before the hour mark, Seedoof picked up the first of his record-making, unmatched three Champions League medals with three different clubs, in Vienna. After the victory, Seedorf moved to Sampdoria, then Real Madrid, then back to Italy with Inter and AC Milan, whom he eventually managed. Currently in charge of the Cameroon international team.
In the last year before the abolition of the three-foreigner rule in European club competitions, the two of the permitted non-Dutch representatives for Ajax were Nigerian duo Kanu and Finidi George, the latter making the starting XI. The two created history the year later, it being the last time a Champions League final featured to Nigerian internationals. Van Gaal has infamously said he paid the £3k fee for George himself.
Winger George helped his national side qualify for their first ever World Cup in 1994 and produced one of the best goal celebrations of all time. He has recently had to wade into the dispute between Super Eagles head coach Gernot Rohr and captain John Obi-Mikel.
At club level, unfortunately a move to Real Madrid fell through but George would still make a name for himself in Spain, with Real Betis. He eventually became Director of International Football at the club, six years after retiring for the sport, in 2010 for a two-year spell.
Like many of his comrades, ‘the Pitbull’ Davids - who also played for Juventus, Inter and AC Milan, and Barcelona ventured into management…. with then-English League Two side Barnet FC in 2012. Davids stuck around as player-manager as Barnet descended into the National League, having made himself captain and given himself the number one shirt. He also had a period of bagging himself three red cards in five games. Davids left the club in January 2014 and has gone on to complete his UEFA A Pro Coaching diploma.
Ronald de Boer
Frank’s twin brother is another figure honing the skills of the young talent at Ajax. The two-time Dutch Footballer of the Year is assistant manager of the club’s youth team. Ronald de Boer has been in the headlines recently for suggesting that current captain Matthijs de Ligt should join Premier League side Liverpool.
Finnish great Litmanen was the final member of the non-Oranje trio. Litamen scored the equalizer in the UCL final the next year, when Ajax ultimately finished runners-up to Juventus who won on penalties in their last triumph in the competition. He ended the season as the highest goalscorer in the competition, with nine.
Litamen’s quality was unquestionable, but the attacker was unfortunately beset by injury. He can claim to have a playing career in four decades and helped Liverpool win a treble in 2002. Before his retirement in 2011, Litti became his country’s oldest ever top scorer and his career was honoured with a statue at Kisapuisto. He is now a football pundit back in Finland.
As Ajax Director of Football, he’s now partner in crime with van der Sar and can rightly claim a good slice of credit for his club’s ascendancy. Having been in the role since 2012 - and responsible for sacking Recently signed a new contract to keep him as director until 2024.