After two straight losses, he would have liked to keep his players together. But interland commitments can sometimes have a positive effect, said Frank de Boer before the home game against Heracles Almelo.
First a loss at home to PSV, then away at FC Groningen. The past few weeks haven’t been pleasant for Ajax’s coach. And to make matters worse, he was forced to relinquish some of his players to national team coaches directly after the loss in Groningen. Tough? “The best would have been to regroup as fast as possible after that and come together for a good training week”, admitted the coach on Friday during his press conference at De Toekomst. “On the other hand: it can be beneficial to take a break. They’ve also been together for so long, and now they had the chance to be in a different setting.”
After the interland period, De Boer was able to train again this week with his selection. “I’m satisfied”, he said of the quality of his players’ group. One newcomer is Niki Zimling, the Danish replacement of Daley Blind. “He needs to get used to the intensity of the trainings and the style of play, but Niki is making a good impression. He’s just missing some rhythm.” The midfielder needs to experience how he needs to fill his position at Ajax. That’s not unusual for anyone who’s new to the Ajax system, emphasizes De Boer. “For example, when we apply pressure. At Mainz, they perhaps let the opponent make the play or they probably did zone coverage, but we put on the pressure towards the front. Sometimes you need to let the opponent go and just go forward. He needs to get used to that.”
It was De Boer himself who tracked Zimling down, much before the transfer period. “When we made the deal with Poulsen two years back, Zimling’s name also came up. I was in contact with the Danish national coach Morten Olsen at the time. He advised me to take a younger player than Poulsen, but at the time we had already made the deal with Poulsen. After that, I always kept Zimling in mind. I also enquired about him. Many people were enthusiastic about him. In terms of mentality, he’s comparable to Poulsen. Christian is physically stronger and better with headers, but Zimling is someone who can easily move the play.” 29 year-old Zimling was also acquired for his experience. “I also told him that he can have an impact on the group process. I’ve heard that he can handle that.”
Who are the leaders within Ajax? When this question was put to De Boer, he pointed to captain Niklas Moisander. “But I also think of Lasse Schöne, thanks to his role on the field and his age. And culture guardians like Davy Klaassen and Joël Veltman, who already have quite a bit of experience.” But as to who takes on the most leadership will need to be shown in practice, said De Boer. “There are different types of leader: the physically strong, the best on the field, but also someone who is good at putting things into words.”
De Boer also looked back onto the competition games played to date, in which Ajax has scored seven goals. His explanation: “Very naïve defending. I’ve also discussed it with the guys. That’s just not possible at this level. Of the seven, five came out of wrong decisions.”
In the upcoming period, his team will need to shake off that naiveté. The next few weeks will be busy with competition, cup and Champions League duels. “We’re physically ready. Hopefully we’ll post a few good results and get into a flow.” It will be difficult, but many players are now in the rhythm of two games per week. That makes a difference. “I’ve told them that they need to watch themselves, both in terms of nutrition and rest. And now it’s all about what’s going on upstairs, so to speak. Can they manage to stay consistent?”
First, they players need to show that mentality in the home match against Heracles Almelo tomorrow evening in the Amsterdam ArenA (18:30). What does De Boer want to say about that match? “That’s very difficult”, he says. “They have nothing to lose and are in a difficult position. But losing three games in a row is simply not an option for us.”