Ajax goes to Brazil from January 6th to 13th for a training camp. To prepare for the second half of the season, Frank de Boer’s A-selection will be – at the request of Ajax’s head sponsor, AEGON – in Rio de Janeiro. The city is where former Ajax player Clarence Seedorf is showing off his skills at Botafogo. Among others, Maxwell, Leonardo, Wamberto and Marcio Santos once travelled in the opposite direction and played in Amsterdam for a period of time.
Last summer, Seedorf left for Cidade Maravilhosa, which means ‘Beautiful City’. After a fantastic career in Europe, at top clubs such as Real Madrid and AC Milan, the 36 year old midfielder signed a two year contract with the former champion of Brazil last June. In Nicolás Lodeiro, he found a team mate who also has an Ajax history.
Márcio Santos was the first Brazilian to seek his fortune at Ajax in 1995. The fact that the central defender selected the record championship holder was an achievement in itself. The 42 time international had already earned his stripes at Bordeaux and Fiorentina. His place in the Brazilian team, which had won the world title in 1994, was undisputed. Expectations in Amsterdam were high, but the retired Frank Rijkaard’s successor didn’t live up to expectations. In his first season, the South American tore his Achilles tendon, and in his second year, he lost to competitor Frank de Boer. His lowest point was on December 19, 1996, when he came in as a substitute in a home game against PSV, and was sent off after nineteen seconds after he hauled down a player who had broken through. Fifteen years after leaving Amsterdam, Santos is still in the record books for this.
One year after Santos’ departure, fellow Brazilian Wamberto made his debut at Ajax. The small Brazilian came from Standard Luik and ended up staying five years. In this period he won the national championship one, among others. He also played two seasons with Maxwell, who he took under his wing.
Leonardo was the last Brazilian in Ajax’s first team. The unpredictable winger was brought in in 2007 by then-coach Henk ten Cate. Following in Santos’ footsteps, Leonardo also got injured after barely two months in Amsterdam. After his return, the quick left winger was often used as a ‘supersub’, and in the 2007/2008 season, he scored several key goals in Europa League matches against Hamburger SV and Fiorentina. At the end of the season, Leonardo returned to NAC Breda.
During his time at Ajax, Leonardo hinted regularly that Vasco da Gama was his favourite Brazilian club. Interestingly enough, the Rio de Janeiro based club will be the only opponent Ajax will face next week. Whether or not Ryan Babel and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson are given playing time by De Boer is still a question mark. Both players suffered shoulder injuries last month, but are currently recovering and will go to Rio with the team.
It won’t be the first time that Ajax spends time in Brazil. Last season, the South American country was also the team’s practice ground to get ready for the second part of the season. The Sao Paolo training camp ended with a 1-0 defeat against Palmeiras. De Boer’s team had seemed poised to play to a scoreless tie until Pedro Carmona sent a header past keeper Jasper Cillessen to score the winning goal in the 95th minute.
One week after returning to the Netherlands, Ajax will resume competition play with a home game against Feyenoord. Based on the Eredivisie rankings, this game is slowly but surely regaining some of its shine as a true ‘Klassieker’. The arch rivals each have forty points after eighteen rounds of play, and occupy third and fourth spot. Only PSV and FC Twente have three points more from the same number of games.