“Take a killer's mentality to the Kuip”

The intense atmosphere in the Kuip always brought the best out in football player Frank de Boer. Now that he’s the coach, he hopes that his players will be just as fearless, he said during Thursday’s press conference leading up to Sunday’s Classic.

Once again, De Boer sat down before reporters, just as he had the previous evening, after Ajax’s European duel against Paris Saint-Germain. The coach did refer back to that match, but this time it was all about the away game against Feyenoord, on Sunday. “I’ve always told my players to enjoy the atmosphere”, said De Boer. “From those middle fingers and all of the other words thrown your way. I loved it as a player. It gave me extra stimulation.”

De Boer expects that fearless attitude from his players. He wants to see, in his words, a killer’s mentality. De Boer used that word when he was reminded to that PSG goal, which came when left back Nicolai Boilesen was bluffed. “We’re always trying to instill a killer’s mentality with Nicolai. He was definitely in the wrong. In the first half, he could only think of that moment. Mistakes are part of the game, but you need to pick yourself up again and keep going. Otherwise, you make it difficult for your team mates.”

De Boer also referred to his former Ajax coach, Morten Olsen. “He told me that you need to feel like you’d get the death penalty if your personal opponent scored. You needed to try to awaken that feeling in yourself. And you needed to be prepared to do everything it takes to prevent that situation. Italians have that in their genes. We don't have that so much.”

Regarding the PSG game, De Boer said that he was pleased with the second half, partly thanks to substitute Niki Zimling. “He was patient, played out front. Thanks to that, we came closer to the penalty kick area and were able to apply pressure directly. At a moment like that, it’s important that they guys with experience take over. That their body language says: give me the ball.” Zimling was a good example of that.

Naturally, there were questions about the man who will be in the spotlights on Sunday, former keeper Kenneth Vermeer, now Feyenoord’s keeper. “That’s a closed issue”, said the coach. “I wish him all the best.” What Vermeer’s move may teach Ajax is that the club may be better off not letting players leave for a rival club like Feyenoord. That thought that truly got a rise out of De Boer. “Sometime you have too much faith. I never saw this coming. Do I understand him? The way I look at it now, I’d never do it. But Kenneth is not the first, and certainly won’t be the last. Maybe he felt like he was in a position where he had no other choice. I don’t blame him. I hope his career continues to go well. He deserves that after everything he’s done for us.”

Can Vermeer deal with the additional pressure on his shoulders Sunday? “He has enough experience to deal with that.” Can he provide Feyenoord with inside information about their opponents for Sunday? “He knows Ajax’s philosophy. Feyenoord can certainly benefit from that.” One disadvantage for Feyenoord may be Thursday’s Europa League match against Sevilla. That physical exertion can have the effect that the players will tire more easily this weekend, says the coach. “You can see that in the last fifteen minutes.”

De Boer also knows how they will play, and with who. “I’ve basically decided. I still have a couple of days, but nothing usually changes after I make my initial plan.” At the end, he did say that Nick Viergever is an option at left back, which would come at Boilesen’s expense. “As coach, I’m going to look at what will give the best result for the team.”