Welcome home, Jari

Three years after leaving Ajax for Barcelona, Jari Litmanen is back as an Ajax player after a free transfer from Liverpool. Around a thousand supporters gathered at Ajax?s training facility to witness Jari Litmanen?s return to the club where he became a European star. The Ajax players who came out of the stadium and onto the training grounds before Litmanen, paused in bewilderment. More people had assembled than on the first training day of the season. Smiling somewhat incredulously the players went onto the pitch.

And then came Jari. The man from Finland was sung at, cheered and touched. He was back, and the supporters wanted to show how fantastic they thought that was. Big banners saying ‘Welcome home, Jari’, the Finnish flag and his portrait proved that the international had never been out of the fan’s harts and minds.

Jari must have felt energised by the fans’ reaction when Ajax was training. The Fin, who played with his country against Wales on Saturday, got a big round of applause when he curled the ball around goalkeeper Stekelenburg during scrimmage.

During the press conference, attended by a great number of Dutch and also Finnish reporters, Litmanen was down-to-earth and sharp. ,,Do you want me to succeed Sjakie Wolfs as the equipment manager?’’, he said to a reporter who asked what he would do when he retires. Litmanen does not want to think about retirement just yet. ,,I want to play football for a few more years’’, he said. ,,I try to live my life one day at a time.’’

Ronald Koeman has his ideas about the Finnish player. ,Jari can play behind the striker, as a second striker or in midfield. The choice has become a little easier for now because unfortunately Van der Vaart is injured. But Litmanen and Van der Vaart can easily play together. We’ll discuss that in the next few days. In June I already talked to Jari about him returning to Ajax. He is a fantastic player. He can help this young team get better and he can transfer his experience onto this talented group. But let me clear that we have acquired Jari to play as many matches as possible.’’

That is precisely what Litmanen wants himself. Because in the past three years he did not get to play many matches. ,,yet I don’t regret going to Barcelona and Liverpool, even though it did not go the way I had hoped it would. But that’s football. It still left me with some great memories. There are not many Finnish footballers who have played for those two great clubs.’’

,,I see a lot of talents here, young guys who want to get ahead in football. They want to work hard. Quite similar to what I was like when I first came here ten years ago. I would like to experience that again.’’