‘We need to play like a champion’

‘We need to play like a champion’

Ajax resumes competition with a top match against AZ. In Alkmaar, the reigning national champion can bring the point difference with the current leader down to two points. Nicolás Lodeiro knows what Ajax needs to do in the city of cheese. The Uruguayan was on the bench for the first time in months last Thursday. He’ll need to fight for his spot.

The good news, of course, is that Frank de Boer once again has a choice of players for centre forward as the competition resumes. He has a bigger selection than at the end of last year, when both Siem de Jong and Dmitry Bulykin joined Kolbeinn Sigthórsson on the list of injured players. At the time, this gave Nicolás Lodeiro the opportunity to show what he could do in that position. The 22 year old Uruguayan native stood out by his tireless work ethic, and his significant contribution with assists on goals.

Now that De Jong and Bulykin are fit again, and Ismaïl Aissati has once again earned a spot in the selection, the pressure is high for spots in front. So last Thursday against AZ, Aissati is the one who received the nod instead of Lodeiro to take Derk Boerrigter’s (and Lorenzo Ebecilio’s) spot on left flank. Lodeiro watched the team lose the cup match from the bench. “It was a shame, of course, because I always want to play. Especially after playing every match last month. Of course, it’s the coach’s decision, and unfortunately he didn’t choose me last Thursday”, explains the international realistically.

Lodeiro won’t soon forget the image of the ArenA filled with kids. “It gave the match a special atmosphere. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. But still, the overwhelming feeling from that match is of defeat. Especially since we’re playing AZ again. We need to win this match, because they’re our direct competitor. We’re out for revenge and only have one goal: to leave with a win. We just need to play our own game. If we can do that, then I’m convinced that we’ll come home from Alkmaar with three points.”

By playing its ‘own game’, Lodeiro also means that Ajax needs to shine as befits the current national champion as they take on the current leader. “Ajax needs to play like a champion. That has to do with the status, greatness, and history of the club. During training camp in Brazil, we were able to see how big Ajax is on the other side of the world. That is all due to the rich history and image of the club. And we are national champions at the moment. Therefore, when it counts, we must perform to that level.”

Lodeiro is clear about his own role. “I always train at one hundred per cent. The training is the place where I must convince the coach to choose me. That is the only thing I can do myself. I must give it all every day to earn my spot on the team. Thankfully that is also my nature. I am positive, and always ready when he needs me.”
The South American pauses, to continue stressing the importance of the match against AZ. He thinks Ajax cannot miss the opportunity to come within two points of AZ. “Sunday we will need to demonstrate we are real champions. Although we should not live in the past. What eventually matters is who will be the next champion.”