This week in China marks the end of Frank de Boer’s ten years coaching at Ajax. Added onto his fifteen years as an Ajax player, the 46 year-old De Boer has been with the club for a quarter century. 8.000 away from Amsterdam, in Shenyang, he looks back on a fantastic time.
It’s a beautiful sight. In a roomful of partner CST’s Chinese guests, De Boer sings the Ajax Marsch wholeheartedly. The club song is blasting from the speakers and tempts the departing Ajax coach to chant his love for the club one last time. “I have been connected to this club my whole life. I’ve been an Ajax supporter since I was seventeen years old. As a coach and player, I’ve experienced amazing things here for 25 years. In both cases, I started here at Ajax. It’s almost like a marriage. And that feeling will never go away. You never forget your first love.”
Directly after his return from Qatar, De Boer decided to focus on coaching in 2006. “Together with Jan Olde Riederink (former head of the Ajax youth academy) and my business manager Guido Albers, we looked at what would be the best way for me to get into coaching. As the coach of Ajax Under 12s and later on Ajax Under 19s, I was able to experience what coaching consisted of, and what it was like to lead a group. I had perhaps had a bit of experience in that as a captain, but here I was doing it 24/7. I also started the Professional Football Coaching course and was doing my internship at Ajax under Henk ten Cate. Hennie Spijkerman and Carlo l’Ami were there at that time, too. The combination of the course and my own youth team ended up being a fantastic build-up to my coaching career. If you had told me then that I’d be the head coach within 4,5 years, and would win four championships within the first 3,5 years, I’d have thought you were crazy. That’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
During the tour through China, various names and matches went through his head. “Of course, I think back to that first match in Milan. The 0-2 win in San Siro was amazing. The game we won at home against FC Barcelona is also high on my list of favourites. We played incredibly well in the first half. The home win against Manchester City was great, too. And of course, the championship match against FC Twente in 2011. That was unbelievable.”
In his 5,5 years as head coach, he has seen many players come and go. “You often remember the guys who went on to a big competition. That’s the wonderful thing with a teaching club like Ajax. Look at how well Toby Alderweireld is doing now with Tottenham Hotspur. And that also goes for Vurnon Anita, Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen. They all have many Premier League games to their name, now. And what about Daley Blind? He fought his way back at Ajax in a fantastic way, and now he’s a steady asset with Manchester United and the Dutch national team. These guys’ development makes me happy. I am still following them closely.”
Kenny Tete also gets a special mention from De Boer. As a new coach with the Ajax Under 12s, he took the right back under his wing. “I still remember that a young Kenny, during a tournament, was lying on the ground the whole time. I said: “Kenny, you made more slides in one tournament than I did in my entire career. It’s great to see where he is now, ten years later. Kenny is a steady asset in the first team and the Dutch internationals. I also worked with players such as Ricardo van Rhijn and Davy Klaassen for a long time.”
His future is still unclear. “I don’t know what my next step will be, but I think I’m ready for a new adventure. As an Ajax player, I had that feeling at a certain point as well. You just get to a point where you need to experience something different. To get new energy, to charge your batteries. Maybe I’ll take a sabbatical and perhaps a great, new club that has lots of potential will come along. It’s unpredictable, although I know how fast things can go in football. It’s all about timing. At the end of 2010, I got the opportunity to become Ajax’s head coach. At the time, I felt that I was ready for that, and it was a good time. Something like that could happen again now.”
De Boer: “I can look back on my time with Ajax with satisfaction. I enjoyed it to the fullest. It’s the end of an era. I truly enjoyed my work as Ajax’s coach. I hope that my time at Ajax will be followed by another good one. I trust that it will. Ajax will always be the biggest club in the Netherlands and will always win prizes. As of now, I’m going to follow what’s going on with the club every week with the official Ajax App. Not least, because many of the guys are going to stay with Ajax for a while still. I’m interested in following their development.”