Ajax Podcast - Zlatan’s Ajax Years (1/2)

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It’s 2001. Rafael van der Vaart has just broken through at Ajax. Co Adriaanse is the coach and Leo Beenhakker is responsible for the technical side of things. In that summer, Ajax also brought in some new, relatively unknown players like: Maxwell, Mido and Hatem Trabelsi. And there is a young star from Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is his name.

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In this podcast, guest presenter Sam van Raalte covers the Swede’s first years in Amsterdam for Ajax. He speaks with Priscilla Janssen who helped guide new, young players as well as team manager David Endt and players like Maxwell and Nikos Machlas. This story is not a simple football fairy tale, but a reconstruction of the sometimes difficult path that Ibrahimovic had to walk to become the big star he is today.

Rising star
In the summer of 2001, Janssen is one of the first people from Ajax to familiarize the Swede with the club and the country. "There were already some controversial stories about his personality at the time. But Beenhakker absolutely wanted him: Zlatan was a big star in Sweden."

"I do remember that Maxwell, who was also just new at the time, came with me to Schiphol to pick up Zlatan. One thing you saw right away: Zlatan already had some "swagger". Other than that he was just nice and friendly. I immediately taught him some cultural things. For example, we ate a croquette sandwich, typical Dutch customs of that kind. I also explained to him that you shouldn't stick your head out too high here. Otherwise, they’ll cut your head off right away in the Netherlands."

Still, the Swede's first months at Ajax were not easy, to say the least. Completely new in the country, new in the city of Amsterdam, he had to take care of himself. In the podcast, the Brazilian Maxwell talks about the moment when Ibrahimovic called him to say that he had not done groceries and was broke. The attacker had to wait for his salary from Ajax.

Everlasting friendship
That phone call was the beginning of a strong friendship between the two. "I thought: I have to help him. I never doubted that. Of course he could come and live with me."

On the pitch, things did not go much better for Ibrahimovic and Ajax. Trainer Adriaanse was fired and Ronald Koeman replaced him, who initially opted for Mido at striker with Wamberto and Nikos Machlas on the wings.

The Greek Machlas saw Ibrahimovic struggling with his self-confidence at that moment. "At the same time he was so incredibly good in the training sessions. The Ajax fans were not always easy at the start. And Zlatan really wanted to show the fans how good he was. Everyone knows that now, but it was difficult at the beginning.”

The podcast tells the details of a difficult first season for Ibrahimovic. In addition, Endt speaks about the difficulty he had with the attacker's behavior. And there follows a reconstruction of how the Swede showed up exactly when he was needed most : in the final of the KNVB Cup of the 2001/2002 season. In extra time against FC Utrecht, the striker wins the Dutch cup for Ajax.

Endt: "He became the star of that competition. He really showed his worth that season, he only needed such a moment. In the later periods at the club, that came out more and more."

Next chapter
How Ibrahimovic eventually grew into a star player at Ajax can be heard in the second part of this special Zlatan edition of the International Podcast. Part 2 will be available on Thursday November 19, so subscribe to the Ajax Podcast via the JUKE app and keep an eye on the Ajax channels.

The broadcast is now only available on JUKE and the Ajax channels, and will be on all the other podcast apps too as of Monday afternoon.

On JUKE, you can also listen back to all the other episodes of the Ajax Podcast.

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