When it comes to developing their own players, few teams can compete with Ajax Amsterdam. Forget the Man Utd youth team that found the likes of David Beckham, the Neville brothers and Paul Scholes. And never mind the Liverpool set-up that unearthed players of the calibre of Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher. When you're talking about a production line of real world class talent, it's all about Ajax's world-famous De Toekomst (which translates as 'the future') academy. just consider this list of players who came up through the Ajax ranks: Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard (former national team coach) Edgar Davids (Juventus), Clarence Seedorf (Inter), Patrick Kluivert (Barcelona), Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal), Mark Overmars (Barcelona), Frank De Boer (Barcelona), Ronald De Boer (Rangers), Kanu (Arsenal) Jari Litmanen (Ajax- Liverpool released on a “free”- said he was too old at 30!) Not a bad line-up! So what is it that allows a club that, by its own admission, cannot compete financially with the likes of Man Utd or Real Madrid to discover such fantastic talent? Well our friends at BBC World Service's World Football programme went over to Amsterdam to try to find out! So what are the Ajax coaches looking for in a young player? In a word, it's TIPS. (insert: at Liverpool FC its TABS) . TIPS is Ajax's famous system for assessing their young players and stands for Technique, Insight, Personality and Speed (insert-physical and more important, technical and mental speed). Essentially, you need to be a very good player with the skills, understanding of the game, strength of character and out-and-out pace to shine in a very competitive environment. Not much to ask! But the club believes that the most important part of any young player's armoury is their ability on the ball. "It's mainly ball skills," says coach Arnold Murhen. "We don't ask the kids to run all day - it's all about skills." In terms of actually spotting the talent, Ajax believe you're never too young! De Toekomst is divided into age groups, with the youngest intake arriving at just eight-years-old. But the club actually begin to search for players with six-year-olds! Makes Wayne Rooney look like a pensioner! They have scouts all over Holland as well as in parts of South America and Africa to keep an eye out for the best young players It also hosts a three-day 'talent week' once a year where 1,400 children are offered the chance to showcase their abilities in a series of tests and drills. Occasionally a player will be invited to join the academy after impressing during the week. One player who made his mark at the event is Rafael van der Vaart, now rated as the most exciting player in Dutch football.
So what is it that makes De Toekomst such a prolific supplier of top-notch football talent?
For starters, the facilities at the training centre are second-to-none. With seven grass pitches (including three specifically for training), an artificial pitch and a small stadium where the second-team (aka Ajax 2) play, the complex lacks nothing in comparison to Europe's biggest clubs. All this just across the road from the 51,000 capacity Amsterdam ArenA, so the carrot of the possibility of first-team football is always there for the 160 youngsters. The complex also includes a weights room, a gymnasium and a swimming pool for recuperation from injury. And the club leaves nothing to chance when it comes to the personnel employed to guide the young plnayers. As well as 10 full-time coaches. there's a doctor, dietician, chef. six masseurs and physiotherapists, three medical assistants and several teachers. Teachers? That's right - don't think that just because you get into one of the most famous football academies in the world that you ca get away without doing your homework! The club places great importance on their players' education, and any time missed in the classroom is expected to be caught up in full.
Ajax Amsterdam ‘95 (The European) “ Capitalizing on Youth Culture”. Julian Coman.
Youth became the focus at Ajax in 1980 when the Spanish and Italian Leagues opened up their markets. Developing young players and ploughing substantial resources became imperative. Kieft, Van Basten, Rijkaard, Roy, Van Schip, Winter, Vink, Bergkamp, Jonk, Davids, Frank De Boer, Ronald De Boer, Finidi George, Kanu, Kluivert, Litmanen, Overmars, Seedorf, Van Vossen, Koeman….. 80% of the 1995 Dutch national team are/were with Ajax. “We give our youth team first priority. Both myself and the first team manager Louis Van Gaal consider the youth team coach Co Adriaanse to be the most important man at the club. If anything we think that trainers for young players should be more accomplished than the first team coach. We emphasize quality not strength in young players. The results don’t interest us. Were interested in the style and pattern. Ajax sees themselves as artists, not artisans and the young players coming through learn to see themselves in the same way” David Endt. Chief Spokesman. Ajax Amsterdam.
An Ajax youth player will not be expected to win every match, but he will be expected to play with an emphasis on precision, technique and speed.
Ajax begin looking for potential youth soccer players at the age of six. Scouts are employed all over thr world to keep an eye on the best players. The club holds a three day talent week event each week to spot any potential players. The talent week allows 1,400 young soccer players the chance to showcase their abilities in a series of tests and drills. The goal of Dutch youth soccer coaching is to develop players who are versatile and capable of playing a number of positions. Dutch players have a wizard like ability to control the ball with either foot, any part of the foot, and combine through the tightest spaces and barely perceptible lanes. Players like Arjen Robben, Robin Van Persie are excellent examples of what Dutch youth coaching can develop. Dutch youth soccer coaching places a heavy focus on the individual, developing the ability of each player in possession to a level of true excellence