Mark Dillon: 'The key is to discover the Ajax culture'

Mark Dillon is the 'technical and managing director' of Ajax Orlando. Dillon was in Amsterdam to attend the Open Day, see Ajax play against Haarlem and to confirm the new collaboration between Ajax Amsterdam and Ajax Orlando.

Mark Dillon received an Ajax statue from financial director Jeroen Slop and gave an official Ajax Orlando shirt in return. ,,The development of the soccer club has been going on for 18 years'', the American said after the mini ceremony. ,,But the Royale Orlando Football Academy has only excisted for four years.'' The ROFA will now be Ajax Orlando. ,,We have five youth teams now, from the C- through the A-juniors'', Dillon says. ,,We will expand that. From 2004 we will work with F-juniors, just like Ajax Amsterdam.''

Dillon is not unknown with European football. He was the first American to earn a professional conract in Europe. ,,I went to England in 1973 and in 1977 I played as a pro for Wrexham. I could just keep my head above water'', he says modestly. ,,But it was a new challenge. I gained new knowledge there. I got my coaching diplomas in England and I got an idea of how the systems, the clubs and the youth programs work in Europe. I am also part-time scout for Bayer Leverkusen. It is good to study the systems of a G14 club. Ajax knew I had experience in European football.'' The first contact with Ajax came because Dillon met an opposing coach, who turned out to be a former Ajax player: Wim Suurbier.

Ajax Orlando won't be part of the Major League Soccer. ,,That is not our goal. The MLS takes over all the contracts as an organisation, so that is not much use to us.'' Orlando plays in the A-league. ,,A transition league, for players who have played for a youth team or at a school and want to make the step to the seniors'', says Dillon. ,,We want to be the first club to form a bridge to Europe.''

Dillon intends to apply the Ajax system as much as possible on his club. ,,The key is to discover the Ajax culture'', the director of Ajax Orlando thinks. ,,We are good students and will try to learn fast.'' In America there are about 22 milion people who play football. Forty percent are women. ,,But we hope to discover a few talented men among the rest'', Dillon jokes. ,,If you can choose from so many people, there is a big chance that you'll discover talent.''

There are many football lovers in the United States. The news that Ajax and Orlando had formed a partnership stirred up a lot of emotions in Florida. ,,Right when the news was announced, I received many phone call and emails. All of a sudden many applied for the Academy'', says Mark Dillon.