Throughout its illustrious history, players from 51 nationalities have appeared for Ajax. Amazing players, many of whom have also played for their country. Their country is now playing in the finals with a whole new generation of footballers. Now that the 2022 World Cup is underway, we think this is a great time to hear from some of our former players once again. In this first episode: Mauro Rosales.
Rosales, who wore the red and white Amsterdam strip from 2004 to 2007, has fond memories of his time as an Ajax player. "Those were great times," he says without hesitation. "I was able to be part of an amazing team and develop my game even further. I will be forever grateful to Ajax for that wonderful time. I was able to showcase my talent at the highest European level, the UEFA Champions League. Besides that, I also really enjoyed scoring in the 'Klassieker' matches against Feyenoord."
Maxwell played an enormously important role in Rosale's life during the Argentinian's early days at Amsterdam. The former Ajax player could always turn to the Brazilian left back, who also spoke Spanish. "I couldn't speak English when I first arrived in the Netherlands, and he helped me enormously at the time."
'Teammates were my family'
Maxwell, who had been playing for Ajax for several years himself, showed his Argentinian teammate the ropes and gave advice. "After that I took responsibility for standing on my own two feet a bit more. I started communicating with my teammates better, and grew closer to guys like Klaas Jan Huntelaar, John Heitinga, Hedwiges Maduro and Yannis Anastasiou."
Rosales was just 23 when he moved from South America to Europe, so he saw a lot less of his family. "Ajax was my home at the time and my teammates were my family. They helped me grow up into a real man."
Former teammates Huntelaar, Heitinga, Maarten Stekelenburg, Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart all made it to the final of the 2010 World Cup. That achievement also made Rosales proud. "When I played at Ajax, they were all just young lads. It was good seeing how they developed from the time I arrived in Amsterdam all the way the World Cup final. Great seeing my former teammates shine in South Africa years later."
World champions with Argentina U20
Rosales also remembers his time as an Argentine international fondly. He played alongside Argentinian stars like Gabriel Batistuta, Hernán Crespo, Carlos Tevez and Lionel Messi. The former Ajax player appeared for the Argentina U20 side when they became world champions in 2001, he won a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics and even played in the Copa América that same year, when the Argentinians lost in a penalty shoot-out against host nation Brazil after extra time.
Catastrophic ankle injury
"We played with pretty much the same fantastic side for six or seven years. We won nearly everything, they were really great times. Seventy percent of the players from the team that won the world championship in 2001 went on to win a gold medal in Athens," said Rosales.
After losing in the Copa América final, the Argentines had to get ready for the 2006 World Cup. "That was when I came to Ajax. I suffered a serious ankle injury in the match against Willem II, so had to miss the World Cup in Germany. I can look back on a great international career, but it is such a pity I was never able to play in a World Cup."
'Maradona gave me his shirt'
Diego Armando Maradona is, according to Rosales, together with Messi, the greatest Argentine footballer his country has ever produced. The former Ajax right winger once met his great idol 'El Pelusa' (the hairy one) in Rosario, Argentina. Maradona came to watch a game at Newell's Old Boys, the club Ajax signed Rosales from in 2004. "After the match we heard that Maradona had been watching, so I was really excited to meet him. I had scored twice so I asked the manager if Maradona would sign my shirt. He told me Maradona had asked for my shirt, which was a bit odd," Rosales says with a laugh.
"A few years later I went to see a friend in Buenos Aires. We went to a 'Super Bowl' match where former Argentinian soccer players compete against other countries in a duel. I saw Maradona in the dressing room and wanted to say hello, and he just handed his shirt to me. He signed the shirt and now it's hanging on my wall at home. So in the end we did manage to exchange shirts."
Despite Argentina losing its first group leg 2-1 to Saudi Arabia, Rosales is very impressed with the squad. "They played well in the Copa America and the team is packed with quality. The team is totally solid, these lads have been playing together for about three years. Not only is the first team great, but the entire squad sets a high standard. But the World Cup this time round has several good nations who are chasing the trophy."
Nico Tagliafico and Lisandro Martínez are really popular in Argentina. "Nico plays more than Lisandro, but everyone sees the potential in Martínez. Having played so well at Ajax, he now has the opportunity to make the switch to Manchester United," says Rosales. The former Ajax players' mindsets are especially celebrated in Argentina. "They are true warriors, they push themselves to the limit. They are very reliable players."
'I love players like Frenkie and Matthijs'
Rosales is also impressed by the Dutch national side. He knows national manager Louis van Gaal's assistants well. "Danny Blind was my coach at Ajax and Edgar Davids is a former teammate," says the former Ajax player from Argentina, who is very fond of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt. "As individuals, they play very well, but as a team the Orange squad are also very strong. You see the same structure in the Dutch national team as when I was playing for Ajax. That's what makes the Netherlands so strong, I reckon."