We go back in time to Thursday, March 12, 2009. Ajax visits Olympique Marseille in the round of sixteen of the UEFA Cup. In Stade Vélodome, Marco van Basten’s team got 2-0 behind after a distance shot from Benoît Cheyrou and a backheel goal from Mamadou Niang. Ajax quickly got back into the game. In minute 36, Enoh gets floored in the opponent's penalty box. Luis Suarez uses the opportunity to shoot from eleven meters: 2-1. Right before half-time, Gregory van der Wiel receives two yellow cards shortly after each other, resulting in him having to leave the pitch. The Ajax players show character in the second half and prevent more damage from being done.
"We were struggling during this match, but in the end, we were left with a good feeling. Suarez brought us back into the match, and we did not concede another goal. Despite the loss, it was a positive result for us", Enoh says while looking back at the first leg in France.
Six days later, the return in the Johan Cruijff ArenA, formerly the Amsterdam ArenA, was next on the program. The message was clear for Enoh and his consorts: winning. "The pressure was very high; it was all or nothing. Ajax had not been successful in Europe for a couple of years, and we were close to reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup", Enoh, who still remembers the pre-match meeting with coach Van Baster well, says. "He said that we just needed to have fun on the pitch and that the goal would happen by itself."
Ajax started the match energetically in a tumultuous Amsterdam ArenA. "Our supporters were amazing; I will never forget that. The atmosphere in the stadium was truly something different than the one at different European matches I've played at Ajax", according to Enoh, who was proud of starting in front of his supporters during this important European match. "In Africa, Marseille is a club with a rich history, partially because of Abédi Pelé. I had not been in the Netherlands for long, and I already got to play such a big match; that was an amazing feeling."
Explosion of joy
"The return against Marseille was one of the best European matches I've played with Ajax", the cheerful Cameroonian continues. "The whole team played the way you want to see at Ajax. With good combination play and a drive forward."
After half an hour of playing, Ajax takes the lead. Enoh gets one-on-one with goalkeeper Steve Mandanda after a beautiful pass made by Suarez. The midfielder places the ball in the top bin: 1-0. The religious Enoh points two fingers up to the sky and looks up while an explosion of joy erupts in Amsterdam. "When I got the chance, I knew the ball would go in. It was my first goal for Ajax. It was amazing to score in one of the biggest matches I had played in back then. A lot of joy and energy was released in the team."
After two minutes, Olympique Marseille scores the equaliser through Niang, but Van Basten's team does not let that throw them off track. Ajax retook the lead fifteen minutes before the end of the match. Suárez clears the ball through two defenders and gives a perfect assist to Miralem Suljemani, who heads the ball into the net: 2-1. "Suarez was a player that could create a chance out of nothing; that’s why I often looked for him in the matches. On the pitch, we felt that we would win the match."
"But we played against a team with a lot of experience", Enoh says, meaning players such as former Dutch national team player Boudewijn Zenden, captain Hilton and Niang. The experience got the upper hand in the match. In the extra time, Olympique Marseille scored the 2-2 against the youthly Ajax. The Ajax players fail to score, eliminating them from the UEFA Cup. Despite the loss, the Ajax players leave the pitch with their heads held high. "It still hurts. With that team and the way we played that day, we should have won. When I look at the match, I still think it’s offside, which makes it extra painful."
Ajax will play a new European match against Olympique Marseille on Thursday evening. Enoh expects it to be a challenging night for the Amsterdam-based team. "Marseille has a strong team with many new players. Ajax has been through changes too. There are many new players, a new coach and a new Director of Football. Many newcomers will want to show themselves in Europe. It will be a good test for the 'new' Ajax."
Enoh thinks Ajax can end at the top of the group with Olympique Marseille, AEK Athens, and Brighton & Hove Albion. "But it's important that the team gains confidence. They are still searching for the Ajax identity and hopefully will find it soon. With that confidence, the Ajax players will start to play well again and score many goals", Enoh decides.