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Ajax in ‘existential crisis’ on and off the field

Once a giant of European football, Ajax is now mired in one of the deepest crises in its glittering 123-year history, 14th in the league, top officials sacked, and the fans running riot.

“The club is in flames,” screamed a headline on the supporters’ association website, describing the scrapping of Sunday’s ‘Klassieker’ against bitter rivals Feyenoord as “a low point in the crisis.”

With Ajax shipping three goals in an abject first-half performance, elements of the club’s hardcore supporters threw flares onto the pitch, leaving the referee no choice but to abandon the match.

Ugly scenes ensued in Amsterdam, with fans smashing down the entrance to the ground and fighting running battles with mounted riot police firing tear gas.

It was a sad chapter in a glorious history unmatched in Dutch football.

Thirty-six times Dutch title winners and champions of European four times, Ajax will always be associated with Johan Cruyff, who gives his name to the stadium that bore the brunt of supporters’ frustration on Sunday.

But you have to go back to 1964/65, when Cruyff had just joined the Ajax youth team, to find a worse start to the season.

Only one win and two draws have left Ajax 14th in the Eredivisie, already 10 points adrift of table-topping PSV Eindhoven. It doesn’t help that Feyenoord are also unbeaten so far this season.

“Tactically laughable,” said Amsterdam paper Het Parool, saying that some of the Ajax defending against Feyenoord was “stuff you don’t even see in the local leagues on Sunday mornings.”

Especially embarrassing was Feyenoord’s third goal when a defensive mix-up allowed Santiago Gimenez to waltz virtually unopposed the entire length of the field, before playing in Igor Paixao.

The NRC daily said the match “symbolised the existential crisis in which Ajax find themselves.”

In their opening Europa League match last week, Ajax managed a draw against Marseille, another club battling a major crisis, but face a tough task to get out of a group that also contains high-flying Premier League team Brighton.

‘They need a dictator’

The smoke had barely cleared from the stands when another club statement rocked the fans — Ajax had parted ways with director of football Sven Mislintat “with immediate effect.”

“The painful reports are coming thick and fast,” the supporters’ club said on its website, adding, “there’s clearly unrest at the club, not only on the pitch but also on the management side.”

Mislintat was under external investigation for a possible conflict of interest over a last-minute eight-million-euro transfer in the summer.

The club denied that the sacking had anything to do with the probe, citing “the lack of broad support within the organisation” as the reason behind the decision.

But even the announcement itself was bungled, the initial dry statement hastily replaced by one thanking Mislintat for the “tremendous effort” during his four-month stint at Ajax.

The Dutch press has been full of reports of a power struggle at the top of the club.

Mislintat apparently stormed into the training ground while the players were preparing for the Feyenoord game, shouting that it was “D-Day” and that under-fire manager Maurice Steijn could be sacked if Ajax lost the Klassieker.

In the end, it was Mislintat himself who lost his job, but there is huge pressure on Steijn to turn things around.

“It’s naturally a very dark afternoon,” admitted the coach.

Already speculation is swirling over who could replace him — ailing Ajax legend Louis van Gaal has ruled himself out, saying his health had to take priority. 

Ajax’s interim CEO Jan van Halst, also the target of fans’ anger, admitted the club was in a deep crisis.

“It is a very difficult period. If only it were that easy to flick a switch and turn things around.”

And Dutch football pundit Jaap Stalenburg told AFP: “It’s chaos, complete chaos.”

“They are struggling everywhere. On the field, off the field. They need a dictator — a strong leader to come and sort things out.”

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