The announcement on Times Square was big news last November, nationally and internationally. Via an advertisement, Ajax announced that it was opening an office in New York in order to conquer the U.S. market. Part of the strategy is to introduce as many Americans as possible with Ajax’s philosophy and trademark: talent development. In the past few weeks, Camps and Clinics have been organized in five different locations. “I’ve learned things that other coaches never taught me.”
As of 2015, Ajax owns the Ajax Coaching Academy (ACA), a department striving to become the global institution of expertise where players, coaches and clubs can develop talent. Ideally, Ajax would like to be present on every continent. As of 9 months ago, the program is active in North America.
Help Ajax’s name grow internationally
“The starting point has been to establish the ACA in strategically good places in the world”, says General Manager Edwin van der Sar. “The goal is to expose people to the Ajax name, our philosophy, and jersey. We offer various segments. Guangzhou R&F is our biggest client. In China, there are several coaches who have taken over the youth academy in accordance with Ajax’s philosophy. There are also international partnerships with Sagan Tosu (Japan), Ajax Cape Town (South Africa) and Sydney FC (Australia). In addition to that, we offer consultancy in several areas.”
‘At the end, we told the participants that the camps may be over, but their journey was not.’
“It’s not a marketing tool for us”, continues Van de Sar. “We’ve always said: ‘we need to do what we’re good at’. That’s teaching players, and developing talent. The most important, of course, is that our youth players here in Amsterdam get the best training, but we definitely want to share our knowledge with other countries, clubs, regions, or anyone who is interested. But it needs to be done with the real Ajax signature. The people who do this must know Ajax inside and out, must have been trained here, and preferable have worked here, and can transmit the philosophy.”
In this setting, the role of Sonny Silooy becomes clear. The well-known former Ajax 1 player (circa 250 games in the first team) joined the camps that Ajax has organized in the U.S. last week. These locations were, successively, Milwaukee, Columbus, Baltimore, Ellicott City and Fairfax.
Central role for Ajax’s core values
With his wealth of experience and infectious enthusiasm, Silooy can convey like no other what Ajax stands for and which route youth players should take to succeed in reaching the first team. In this, Ajax’s core values play an central and leading role.
Silooy: “Afterwards, we told the participants that the camps may be over, but their journey was not. You have to try to improve every single day. The participants now need to go further with the skills we have taught them and the tools we’ve given them, both in the technical and tactical areas.”
From close by, the Americans noticed that there was no beating around the bush. “Our goal is to train players who could make a difference at the Champions League level. With that, in typical Amsterdam style, we are very direct. We don’t get angry or disappointed when things go wrong, but we will give the right information. The goal is to help, but in the end, the players need to do it themselves.”
Video imaging was well received
It’s exactly this attention to detail and intensive leadership that the Americans appreciated. Not only were the participants extensively coached during the camps, but they were also provided with feedback afterwards. In order to make this as visual as possible, participants were shown video footage of themselves. Ilya Lalich appreciated the whole package, as she explained in her reaction.
‘That’s what we had in mind. To contribute to the success of football.’
“I’ve learned things that no other coach has taught me. Thank you as well for the time that Ajax invested in the video footage. I watched it and found it very useful. I had a lot of fun during the camp and can honestly say that I’ve become a better player.”
And, of course, that’s what Ajax and the ACA want; to bring players to the next level. To bring football, globally, to the next level. Coaches play an important role in this. They need to help football players develop themselves. For that reason, the ACA held 4 education sessions, during which 118 coaches received additional educational training themselves.
Van der Sar: “We started the ACA in 2015 with 2 people. The department has now multiplied in size, not counting all of the people abroad. It’s a complete component of Ajax now. And that’s what we had envisioned; to contribute to the success of football. That’s something that truly fits with Ajax.”
As far as Van der Sar is concerned, in the next few years Ajax will be exploring even more in the land of opportunity. “There is a very big football market in United States. We want to be visible there. To give courses or trainings, to discover talent, and to attract people to Ajax to see what else is possible.”