De Boer: 'Being in the lead is not a prize'

De Boer: 'Being in the lead is not a prize'

Frank de Boer is reasonably satisfied with Ajax’s first half of the season, which will end on Sunday in the ArenA against De Graafschap.  The coach gives them a 5,5 - a passing grade.  “At the start of the season, the idea is that midway through the season, we’d still be in the Europa League and the KNVB Cup tournament as a minimum.  We didn’t manage that, so it’s hard to be satisfied”, according to De Boer.  “We may be in the lead of the Eredivisie, but it’s not a prize.”

“Of course I’m pleased that we provided many internationals in the first half of the season, but that’s not a prize, either”, says De Boer.  “But the team has developed well.  If that continues, we have a good shot at winning the title.  That’s important, because at Ajax it’s all about winning the championship and prizes.  The focus is now solely on the Eredivisie.  We have it in our own hands, but after only sixteen games, that’s not saying much.”

De Boer was asked about the development of several players.  Kenny Tete received much praise.  “Kenny has made huge progress.  Especially on defense, he’s done an amazing job.  I don’t think you’d be very happy if Kenny were your opponent.  He can still improve in terms of building up and attacking, but maybe we don’t need to pay that much attention to that.  The most important for him is defending.”

Risk

De Boer is generally pleased with his defense, with which he has taken some risks.  “If you compare this defense with last season’s, there are three new people: Jairo Riedwald, Mitchell Dijks and Kenny.  We know they’re big talents, but we had no guarantee that they would do so well.”

One of the players suffering from this is Mike van der Hoorn, who has not received much playing time.  But still, a departure for the defender is not something De Boer wants to consider.  “I understand that Mike wants to play, especially at his age, but I’m happy with him.  If Joël gets hurt or isn’t playing well, I can easily use Mike.  At the moment, we don’t have an alternative.  We want to become champions, preferably with Mike van der Hoorn.”

Keeping players who aren’t playing much happy is a tough assignment for a coach.  “That’s difficult”, says De Boer.  “I can’t keep twenty players happy.  I’m looking for the balance and looking for moments where the guys can play.  But the most important thing is to win points.  Right now, I think our chances of doing that are best with these four on defense.”

Ajax’s identity

At the weekly press conference, De Boer was asked about the outcome of the members’ meeting, which was held on Thursday.  “We had a dinner with the selection, so I couldn’t be there.  But I’ve heard the important parts and am pleased with how it went.  I think Van Praag closed it well.  We need to do whatever we can to preserve Ajax’s identity and Johan (Cruijff) will always be welcome.”

De Boer emphasized again the importance of Ajax’s youth academy.  “That’s the club’s lifeline.  If we need a new player, we first have to check who is in the academy.  That’s our duty, since we invest so much energy and money into it.  I will always do it because I’m an Ajacied, and the next trainer needs to have the same mentality.”

3-4-3

There is a chance that Ajax will play with the 3-4-3 system on Sunday, as they did against FC Utrecht.  “That depends on how De Graafschap will play”, said De Boer.  “If we play with two strikers, we’ll have three defenders.  We did that against Utrecht.”

Ajax lost 1-0 in de Galgenwaard, but De Boer wasn’t overly negative about it.  By tweaking a few small details, he feels that it should be possible to do much better.  “Utrecht plays in a very organized way, but still, we had our fair share of opportunities in the first half.  They played more compactly in the second half.  Then, the important thing is that you recognize this mind-set and realise that you need to do something different.  Then, you need to recognize that you should probably be more opportunistic, because just shifting from left to right won’t get you anywhere.”