Ajax began the preparations for the second half of the season on Wednesday. Twenty-five well-rested players crossed the little bridge to the training grounds, where they had to remove their wollen hats. ,,No hats on the pitch", Koeman yelled at his world-famous intern Marco van Basten, who had pulled his wollen cap far over his ears. The coach said it with a smile, but it turned out to be the cold truth.
Only Rafael van der Vaart, John Heitinga, Victor Sikora and John OBrien were not able to train. The latter was on the pitch and , just like he ended last year, he had to run on his own. ,,Van der Vaart's leg is still swollen and he cannot train, that is a disappointment, Koeman admitted. ,,He is still working out on a lower level than the others.
Mido and Aron Winter were not on the pitch either, but for other reasons. The Egyptian had to arrange some paperwork and is expected to join the group on Thursday. Aron Winter is no longer an A-squad member. Koeman: ,,We discussed it with Aron and he supports the decision. In his mind he had already said farewell to football. That was noticable in training.
Jan van Halst is, contrary to newspaper reports, still part of the group. ,,He is always welcome, Koeman reacted. ,,Van Halst is a different case than Winter. He still has a fantastic mentality. I told him that his chances for playing time are minimal and if he does not accept that, he is allowed to go and look for another club. The same goes for Nikos Machlas.
There also were new faces in the group that trained on the snowy pitch. Wesley Sneijder and Stefano Seedorf have been transferred from Ajax 2 to Ajax 1 and David Mendes da Silva had his first training under Ronald Koeman. He also saw his boyhood idol Marco van Basten.
,,I was nine years old when Holland won the European Championship in 1988. It's great to be on the same pitch with him, said the brand new Ajax player, who is hired from Sparta. ,,It took a little bit of time getting used to it, and when I arrived here this morning I had some butterflies, but they disappeared quickly. I introduced myself to everybody and gave them the best wishes for the new year. The pace is higher here than with Sparta, but it went fine, it was an easy training.
Ajax did not start too wildly. For the biggest part of the training the players had to run the pitch in different speeds. The last bit was more intense, in the positional drills on the sunny parts of the pitch. Henk Timmer went to a goal to train with 'keeperstrainer Wil Coort. Bogdan Lobont and the tanned Joey Didulica and Maarten Stekelenburg took part in the circular drills. Flying tackles could be seen, screams of laughter sounded over the training grounds and Ruud Krol's voice could be heard from miles around. Ajax are back in business.