A few hours after Ajax 1, Ajax A1 was also air bound. The first team is travelling to Lyon for the Champions League match, and Ajax A1 boarded a flight to England. Fred Grim’s team will play a European match against Aston Villa on Tuesday in the NextGen Series. “This is an amazing learning process for the guys”, says Grim of the series of high level matches.
Ajax A1 has played four matches in the new competition: twice at home and twice away. On Tuesday, the fifth match takes place in England, and the last group match will happen next Tuesday against Rosenborg. The experience of playing these matches and certainly of taking the trips to Rosenborg and Istanbul will be valuable to the young players when they make the step to Ajax 1 and have to face midweek European games. And, as Davy Klaassen and Lesly de Sa found out last weekend, this can go very fast. They were actually meant to leave on Monday morning for England, but the talented twosome was asked to report a few hours earlier for the Ajax 1 trip to Lyon.
“The A1 players have extra baggage because of these NextGen Series games. We leave on Monday for Tuesday’s match, then we train, and go to the hotel in the evening. It’s a different kind of excitement than the competition”, says Grim, speaking from experience. “The way the guys are experiencing it all, and dealing with it, is great. They’re focussed and looking forward to it all. Then it’s the art of it to post a good result the weekend before the European match.” That was the case on Saturday, as Ajax A1 won at Groningen/Cambur, 0-1.
Just like in the competition, Ajax A1 is also undefeated in four European matches – three wins, and a scoreless tie- and has already qualified for the quarter finals against one of Barcelona, Olympique Marseille, or Celtic. The quarterfinals consist of one match, and will be played on the group winner’s home turf. “The teams which are participating in the NextGen Series are of a very good level”, said Grim. “Although we won three matches, we’ve been getting strong opposition. On Tuesday we play Aston Villa; in the stadium, no less. These are great moments to measure your strengths against English football.”
Taking part in the NextGen Series is not only invaluable for the players in terms of experience, but for the coaches, too. “It’s definitely a challenge for us, too. It’s tough for the players. We return on Wednesday, and on Thursday we start focussing on Saturday’s game – the cup match at Groningen/Cambur A1 – and then play the last group match against Rosenborg. The coach’s job is to ensure the right work – rest balance.”