Ajax started the season with Co Adriaanse. Halfway through the season he was replaced by Ronald Koeman, who brought about success. With Koeman at the lead Ajax were national champions and took home the Dutch Cup. At the same time, the reserve squad reached the semi-finals of the cup tournament.
With the KNVB Cup final against Vitesse next Sunday, O'Brien and Pienaar look back on that unique and ultimately successful season in the latest episode of the Ajax Podcast.
Adventures with Ajax 2
In 2001, Pienaar was one of the most talented players in the Ajax reserve squad, Ajax 2. In the final stages of their cup run, Pienaar no longer played with the reserves as the attacking midfielder had already moved on to Koeman’s first team.
"Actually, I was a bit disappointed about that", says the former midfielder with a laugh. "From the quarter finals on, I played with the first team. But I started the journey with the U23."
"Of course, I was ultimately happy to be in the first team. We played against PSV in the semifinals of the KNVB Cup and won 3-0."
The South African, who’s now living in the Netherlands, remembers well what the atmosphere was like with the reserves at the time. "We had seven to eight different cultures in one dressing room, but we were one family. You felt that vibe too."
That year, O'Brien saw firsthand how his young teammate secured a role in the first team, having earned his own place two years prior. "He did these unorthodox things. He often rolled the ball under his foot, more than average. It was also incredibly fast."
In the podcast, the two former Ajax players look back on that season, nineteen years later. What was the year like for them, so full of ups and downs? What do they still know about their teammates like Mido, Andy van der Meijde, Rafael van der Vaart or Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
"It was a really interesting team", says O'Brien. "Young players need older players. Even though they often don't think so. In that team you also had Jan van Halst, André Bergdølmo, Tomás Galásek and Fred Grim. They formed the stability. That worked in the first season. That fell apart later."
Finally, the former Ajax players look back on winning the league against NEC Nijmegen in the pouring rain and the final of the KNVB Cup against FC Utrecht.
This episode can be listened to via JUKE and the Ajax channels and can also be found via all other podcast apps as of Monday afternoon. Don't forget to subscribe via your favorite platform so that you never miss an episode again.
Via JUKE you can also listen to previous episodes of the Ajax Podcast.