In the imposing press room in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, Frank de Boer and Theo Janssen spoke to the international press, who hung on to their every word. No fewer than 19 cameras were there to record the press conference. Spanish journalists wanted to know all about former Barcelona player De Boer, the Dutch ones wanted to know how they would avoid repeating last year’s disappointing performance, and the Danish press was mainly interested in comments about Christian Eriksen.
The journalists had headphones which gave them access to the translation of the Spanish questions and answers. They thus heard, among other things, that De Boer had spoken with Barcelona coach Guardiola about Madrid’s weak spots during the UEFA conference. “We spoke about where the dangers are for our team.”
But of course, the million dollar question was how De Boer plans on avoiding a similar humiliation to what Ajax suffered last year on September 15 in Bernabéu, at the time under the lead of Martin Jol (2-0 loss, which could easily have been a 7-0 loss). De Boer’s philosophy is clear: “We need to play with guts. These guys are with Ajax because they can play. They need to show that, and is there a more spectacular stage than Bernabéu?´ the coach asked.
De Boer hasn’t watched last year’s match again. “I don’t need to. It’s burned into my memory”, says the former A1 coach, who, three months later, found himself at the head of Ajax A1. “If we’re as scared as we were last year, then it will be a similar result, and I’ll be very disappointed. Real Madrid is a difficult team to beat, they also have more quality than we do; but if we play as a team, we could make it hard for them. We need to play our own game, go onto the field with our chests out, and leave the same way. We’ll see what the result will be. If we don’t win, but we play a gutsy game, then I’ll be satisfied.”
The Ajax coach will not be able to shake the hand of his current assistant and former coach (José Mourinho was assistant coach under Van Gaal when De Boer played there). Against Ajax, Mourinho is sitting out his last game in a suspension that he received from UEFA. “Of course it makes a difference that he won’t be on the field, or in the locker room. He’s a fantastic motivator for his players if something needs to be straightened out at halftime.”
During the press conference, Theo Janssen sat next to his coach, listening, although not always in the headphones as the answers followed in Spanish. De Boer still speaks good Spanish, from his time in Barcelona, where he played more than 150 matches. Janssen played Champions League last season with Twente. “But this is the biggest match of my career”, said the midfielder, who has recently been the subject of national debate. “I believe Real Madrid are a cut above Internazionale, whom I played against last year with Twente”, said Janssen, who only addressed the recent columns and articles written about him once. “I don’t have an issue with the discussion. I know what I can do, and I’m doing my best.”
That’s exactly what Ajax will do on Tuesday evening. Asked what he feared most, De Boer answered: “Real Madrid are good at transitions, and they’re strong in normal situations, with guys who are good at headers. In principle, we’ve also grown defensively. But I’m not afraid of their corners, I’m more concerned about our own corners if they can transition quickly afterwards.”
Answering a question from an English reporter, who again wanted to know how Ajax would play, said De Boer in English: “We don’t want to play with arrogance, but with confidence.”
And to the blonde journalist who wanted to know what he thinks of Eriksen, the answer followed: “He’s very important for our team. I hope that he’ll show us his many strengths tomorrow.”
After twenty minutes, the player and coached were finished. They needed to practice, because on Tuesday night, the players need to be sharp, fearless and confident against Real Madrid.