Five notable things about Ajax and Napoli

Ajaxnapoili 1420 Header Dino Zoff En Dick Van Dijk Ajax Napoli AFC006000009 439 (1)
Ajaxnapoili 1420 Header Dino Zoff En Dick Van Dijk Ajax Napoli AFC006000009 439 (1)

Ajax and SSC Napoli are among the best-known clubs in Europe. Remarkably, the Amsterdam team and the Neapolitans share only a brief history together. Yet there is plenty of common ground between the two clubs. Five notable things to know about Ajax and Napoli, Tuesday night's UEFA Champions League opponents at the ArenA.


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I: Ajax and Napoli only ever played two official matches

Ajax and Napoli have only played against each other twice before in history. In the 1969/1970 season, it involved a two-match tie in the third round of the Jaarbeursstedenbeker tournament. Coach Rinus Michels' Ajax players lost the outward match in Naples 1-0 on 10 December 1969. Due to bad weather, the return was not played until 21 January 1970. It became the most notable match for substitute Ruud Suurendonk. The supersub scored no less than three times against goalkeeping icon Dino Zoff in the extra within nine minutes. Ajax won the spectacular game 4-0. For the Amsterdam team, the tournament ended three months later in the semi-final against Arsenal. A season later, Ajax won its first European Cup I.

** Ajax and Napoli only ever played two official matches against each other. The two superpowers never even faced other in friendly matches.

II: Ruud Krol: Ajax icon and Neapolitan

Ruud Krol was a player at Napoli for four years after a prolific career as an Ajax player. The Amsterdam native made his debut in 1968 and played 457 official matches in the Ajax shirt until 1980. The defender scored 30 goals and was a star player in the 'Golden Ajax' team, which won the European Cup I (now Champions League) three times and lifted the World Cup, among other things. Via the Vancouver Whitecaps, where the two-time World Cup finalist played for only a few months, Krol ended up at Napoli.

In Naples, the ex-Ajax player grew into one of the most popular players in club history. Indeed, by the time he left in 1984, 'Rudy' Krol had become an unadulterated club legend. The former snack bar owner played 125 matches for the Italian club, in which he scored once.

** Amin Younes (now FC Utrecht) and current Juventus striker Arek Milik followed in Krol's footsteps as former Ajax players. Although they did not reach star status in Naples, they were allowed to call themselves Napoli players following several years at Amsterdam.

** To date, only two Dutchmen have played for Napoli. Besides Ajax player Krol, that included former Feyenoord player and current Spartan Jonathan de Guzman.

III: Daley Blind alongside Krol and Swart?

Krol is, after record holder Danny Blind (78 European matches) and Piet Keizer (77), joint number three in the ranking of Ajax players who played the most European matches. Like Sjaak Swart, Krol also played 72 European Ajax matches. If Daley Blind sees action against Napoli on Tuesday, he will be on a par with Krol and Swart. 'Blind junior' now stands alongside Frank de Boer with 71 matches. Incidentally, Daley recently played the 100th European game in his career against Liverpool FC (71 appearances for Ajax and 29 times as a Manchester United player).

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IV: Johan Cruijff & Diego Maradona

Ajax and Napoli once had the - at the time - best player in the world in their ranks. The world class players played a key role in achieving the greatest successes in club history. The greatest Ajax player of all is, of course, Johan Cruijff. Under Michels, 'JC' was the eye-catching player in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Ajax conquered first Europe and then the world. For the Neapolitans, Diego Armando Maradona holds that spot in club history.

By the way, there is a nice link between Krol and Maradona. After four successful years, Krol left Naples in 1984 to make financial space for Maradona's arrival. With the Argentinian's help, the Napoli club celebrated its first two league titles. Maradona also guided Napoli to UEFA Cup victory in 1989, the first and so far only European trophy in the Italians' trophy cabinet.

** In the 1985/1986, 1986/1987 and (the first half of) 1987/1988 seasons, Cruijff caused a furore as technical director/trainer at his club Ajax. During the same period, Maradona made himself immortal as a Neapolitan. Cruijff guided his Ajax team to the Europa Cup II in 1987, at the time the tournament for national cup winners. The perennial number 14 stepped down in January 1988 after a conflict with the Ajax management of the time. Two seasons later (in 1988/1989), Maradona personally gifted his club the UEFA Cup. The 1986 Argentinian world champion remained loyal to the Italian club until 1991.   


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V: Stadiums

Both Ajax and Napoli named their stadium after the greatest player in club history. In 2018 the Amsterdam ArenA was renamed Johan Cruijff ArenA. Napoli play their home matches at the Stadio Diego Armando Maradona. Until December 2020, the football temple bore its original name: Stadio San Paolo. Following Maradona's death at the end of November 2020, it was decided to name the 54,627-seat stadium after one of the best footballers ever. Incidentally, the Johan Cruiijff ArenA is slightly larger with 55,867 seats. 

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