‘Competition makes you sharp’

‘Competition makes you sharp’

The training camp in De Lutte closed on Thursday with a press conference by Frank de Boer. In the Bloemenbeek country hotel, Ajax’s coach looked back on a successful training camp. According to De Boer, Ajax is in good shape with less than two weeks to go before the UEFA Champions League qualifying round match. “We’re looking good.”

After a disappointing last season, the focus is now on what’s ahead. During the De Lutte press conference, talk turned to the future. At the end of this month, the first important game in the third CL qualifying round is on the agenda. During this so-called kick start, Ajax can take an important step towards the main tournament. The pre-season has therefore been tailored to an early peak. Ajax needs to be in top shape before the Eredivisie has even started.

De Boer: “I still have the same values as when I started four years ago. The goal is to prepare the guys as well as possible. But the pressure is high. We want to play Champions League again, at the highest level. Are we ready? It looks good and the team is in good shape.”

Of course, the (potential) reinforcements for the new season also were discussed. After John Heitinga, Nemanja Gudelj and Mitchell Dijks, it seems that Yaya Sanogo and Amin Younes will complete the selection. De Boer said of Sanogo: “He’s a player of a very high caliber. He hasn’t gotten the chance at Arsenal yet. I think he can take some good steps at Ajax. We need a player who can pass his opponent out of the blue. That’s a great weapon to have within a selection. The same goes for Amin Younes. I’m also expecting great things from him. Although of course there is no guarantee that Sanogo and Younes will make it.”

The competition is high. In contrast to previous years, only about forty per cent of the envisioned squad is fixed. Only Jasper Cillessen and Davy Klaassen are undisputed. “The competition is making the group very hungry. For us, as a technical staff, that’s fantastic. They all need to work hard and do well. They all are bringing each other to a higher level. This competition is hard on the guys, but it’s making them hungry. It’s not always easy for me to make choices, but I’m able to separate personal issues and work ones very well. In addition to that, many new young talents have joined us. Riechedly Bazoer, Kenny Tete and Jairo Riedewald are making an especially good impression. It’s nice to see that they’ve been playing more in the past six months.”

Competition is especially tough at midfield. When asked who could potentially be dropped, De Boer answers: “We have five good midfielders. We’re not making any hasty decisions, but eventually we’ll need to make choices.”

Under the leadership of captain Klaassen, Ajax will head into its last training week prior to the third round qualifying match for the CL. After friendly matches against VfL Wolfsburg (Friday) and Saint-Etienne (Wednesday), Ajax will need to be ready: “As I’ve said before, Davy is the perfect man for this job; he’s a true and true Ajacied. Moreover, John Heitinga and Nemanja Gudelj are the right players who can show the young guys what’s required of them at this level.”