Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk both signed contracts for an indefinite period with Ajax, formalizing the agreement which had been verbal for some time. With head coach Frank de Boer, Bergkamp (42) and Jonk (45) will form the technical heart of Ajax. In an interview with Ajax.nl, they look back on the period gone by, and look ahead to the future.
Are you relieved that the contracts are finalized at last?
Bergkamp: “I must admit that my own contract wasn’t really a priority for me. For Wim and me, the most important thing was to get a good training staff on board to start the season. And this was most important in the area of individual coaching of youth players. That’s the first thing we took care of as of June 1, when we were given the green light from management. Our contracts took longer, but that’s because they’re new roles within Ajax. That required extra time and paperwork.”
Jonk: “Fortunately it’s all taken care of now and we can move on. It’s great that everything’s official, on paper.”
In the last few months, a lot of media attention has been paid to the two of you, Ajax and Johan Cruijff. How did you experience that?
Bergkamp: “The most important thing is that this attention from outside doesn’t have a negative influence on the people you’re working with. Of course annoying things happen sometimes, but that has to do with decision you need to make. The idea remains that we’re working on something positive. I’ve been connected to this club since I was twelve years old, so I’m used to everything at Ajax being under a magnifying glass. We kept pretty cool despite it all. And that’s important if you want to stay in control.”
How do you divide the tasks between you?
Jonk: “I’m mostly working with the teams from Jong Ajax, A1, B1 and B2. I’m focussing mostly on players who are coming up. Next to that, I’m still giving individual trainings, like I was doing at Ajax before. Together with Dennis and Frank de Boer, we’re responsible for the results at Ajax, both in the short and long term. The three of us make up the technical heart of Ajax, and we guard the entire line.”
Bergkamp: “Assisting Frank de Boer with the first team is my main task. In addition to that, I have a link to youth development. From my role, I need to make sure that the Ajax philosophy – with lots of opportunity for youth, attacking football, and a recognizable system – remains intact. This is of course in great hands with Frank at the helm, but it’s important that someone within Ajax keeps working on this for continuity. I’ve played with Ajax since D1, as well as twenty years at the top. From that experience, and my love for the club, I can take care of this side.”
With the first team, De Boer is mainly concerned with the short term. With youth, Jonk is focussed on the long term. Is Bergkamp’s role a sort of link between the two?
Bergkamp: “Sure, you can look at it like that, although there are lots of connection points in between. Don’t forget how many good coaches and other important people work here. Each and every one of them knows football and Ajax, inside and out. That knowledge can be used to create something good. The individual is key.”
Jonk: “A while back, I said that Ajax’s youth development program has been a 7 during the last years, and sometimes a 6. That’s not bad, but we want to be a 9, like we used to be. 7 needs to be the lower limit. Only then can you stand out. That’s the idea that players need to get from us, from the youngest age.
What’s the role of Ajax supervisory board member Johan Cruijff?”
Jonk: “Cruijff calls a lot. He’s very involved with the entire process. And fortunately, he’s been here often during the last period. It gives everyone an extra boost when he’s here, because he talks to the coaches himself. Moments like that just add so much value.”
Bergkamp: “Cruijff’s preference is to play an advisory role. And he wants to talk football most of all. He’s focussed on youth training. He has many ideas about it. For example, we want to work with skill boxes. We can thus evaluate the players mentally and technically on what they can and can’t do. After that, we can make a plan for each individual player on how we can improve and maintain. From there, he can develop himself within his team. On the long term, this should translate to the first team.”
What’s going to happen in the coming period?
Bergkamp: “The organization’s structure has been the priority in the last few months, but we’re slowly moving back to football. We’re talking about content now. We’re experiencing a lot at the grass roots level, while Cruijff sees the big picture. That combination works well for all of us. It’s unreal how much knowledge and understanding he has of football, and the issues surrounding it. He’s already been through everything we’re doing. They say that Cruijff thinks three steps ahead; I’ve been able to see that first hand. Now I can see that it’s really true. From his experience and knowledge, he knows so much about the material. We can all benefit from that in the years to come.”
Jonk: “That also explains why Dennis and I signed on for an indefinite period. We really want to establish something in the next few years. And it gives the right signal. Our connection with the club gives trust and stability for the future.”