Ajax plays it second home game of the UEFA Champions League. Its opponent is Manchester City, and someone who is familiar with both clubs is Alfons Groenendijk (48). He’s played in both Amsterdam and Manchester in the past. The Leiden native looks forward to an interesting meeting. “It will be a tough assignment for Ajax, but then again it’ll be nice to see where Ajax stands”, said the former Ajax player.
Alfons Groenendijk has been employed in Ajax’s service in several different periods. In the eighties, when he was a player, he played for the club, and in this millennium, he’s an assistant coach here. He stood by, among others, Hen ten Cate, Adrie Koster and John van der Brom at Ajax. “This is a very special Champions League pool for me. I have history at both Ajax and Manchester United. Ajax has always been a top European club and hopefully it’s on its way back to being that. On the other hand, City has always been in United’s shadow, and is now on its way to reaching the European top.”
The difference in visions between the two clubs is a big as night and day, says Groenendijk: “Ajax is using a lot of its own youth. Its budget is much smaller that City’s. The Citizens, thanks to their wealthy investors, have a lot more funds at their disposal. It’s a team which was bough. When I still played there it was a big club, but it’s much bigger now.”
This large investment literally paid off last season. “They won the championship and the FA Cup. Finally”, says the man who played nine matches in the Premier League in 1993-1994. “The frustration at City and with the supporters was so deep, because United always won the prizes. They want to do that now. City wants to try to win the Champions League for the first time in its history. The match against City will be a tough one for Ajax, but it will be nice to see where Ajax stands. I’m curious.”
Groenendijk sees many advantages for Ajax. “Dutch teams have always been able to play well against English clubs. You get some room to move between the lines. They often play at the back with four men on a line. I think that if Ajax can manage to play in between that, that they’ll have opportunities. Ajax needs to play its own game and show its true self. If they do that, they can play against anyone, including City, and get opportunities.”
The club is no longer comparable to what it was when Groenendijk played at City. “At the time, it was a middle – feeder. It was a big club with lots of support, mainly coming from the city itself. United fans come from all of England, Scotland and Ireland, from everywhere, actually. City is more of a club for the city. It’s clear that the rivalry in Manchester is big. The frustration of City supporters has run deep for years. Now, they’re walking proud. The fans don’t care that there are no English players on the team. If you’re a City fan, then you’re from the city.”
Groenendijk learned that first hand. After the 1992-1993 season, he left Ajax. “I could have gone to several English clubs but finally, it was Manchester City. That was a great club to play for even back then, and it was a good step financially. I was received very well by the fans and the players. They liked me. But, as a player, it wasn’t my best time, I had an operation and it wasn’t going very well. I do have very fond memories of that time. The experiences in England are just more intense than in the Netherlands, and it was nice to live that. England is a fantastic place to live with very friendly people. The supporters liked me. You’re one of them and as a player of a club like that; you’re put on a pedestal. I was treated very well wherever I went.”
What does Groenendijk think of today’s City? “It’s strange. There are many foreign players, and many top players. It’s a team that can do a lot. If you can keep United and Chelsea under you, it says a lot. I expect that they’ll go far in the Champions League this season.”