Jari Litmanen still learns every day

In 2002 Jari Litmanen played for both his favorite teams. Hhe played for his dream club Liverpool the first part of the year. In August he left the English club to go and play in Amsterdam for the second time in his career. The Finn looks back on the first months of his second Ajax life.

The reception for Jari Litmanen at his first training early in September was overwhelming. Fans had put up giant banners around the training ground and had come from everywhere to welcome their hero. For the first time the Ajax website showed live images of a training session. Litmanen: ,,Initially, the transfer did not happen. But in the end, in August, everything was settled within three days. All those banners on the fence, it really did something to me. The attention you get is part of your job. And luckily I have always had a good relationship with the supporters. That transition went well. Of course, I already knew the club, only the playeres were different, although I knew some of them from playing against them with the Finnish national team. The quality in the group is very high, but most of them are still very young, so they can only get better.”

Litmanen returned to Ajax after he had had a lesser period at Liverpool. Ajax had won the championship and the national cup. ,,It is still a challenge to win the championship. Especially after a season that you finished as the champion. That is where the challenge lies for me. And a player can always learn more. The first time at Ajax and later at Barcelona I worked a lot with Van Gaal and I learned a great deal from that. Now with Koeman and Krol there is a coaching duo that has a enormous amount of experience and works together very closely. You see, Kijk, I cannot change the funamentals of my game any more. Each match is different, each player is different, but the surprises become smaller and smaller.”

For many young players Jari Litmanen is a great example. Rafael van der Vaart, Steven Pienaar, Nourdin Boukhari, they all loved nothing more than playing with the Finnish midfielder and learn from him. Litmanen does his best to help his teammates, but he thinks that the youngsters have to do it themselves as well. ,,I can learn from them too. Often it are the little things, of which I cannot think of an example right now. Everyone, young and old, has strenghts and weaknesses. They all have their talents. I try to help the team as much as possible. But I don't spend all of the time talking to other players, I think that they also have to learn for themselves.”

Litmanen signed a one-year deal in August, with an option for another year. Ajax and the player will evaluate the first months in January, after which a decision will be made by both parties whether a contract extension is possible. Litmanen is not thinking about the negotiations yet. ,,I live from day to day, so I'll just see what happens. I do my best every day and take the things as the come. I am trying to help the club fulfill its goals as much as possible. I don't think about the future.''

Litmanen is known to be injury-prone. Not much has changed his second time around at Ajax. Where a number of players have played close to 30 matches, Litmanen has seen action in only twelve. It should be noted that the other players have gone through the entire preseason with Ajax, whereas Litmanen did not report until early September. He was present in the most important matches, in the league away to Feyenoord and at home against PSV, and he played in five of the eight Champions League matches. ,,Of course I never intended to miss so much”, Litmanen says. ,,But things are looking up. I expect to be fully fit after the winter break.”

Litmanen won't continue to train during the holidays. ,,I have only two weeks off and that is so short that I am going to enjoy every minute of it. I'll be at home with my family at Christmas. I'll use those two or three days to rest.”

Despite the many things that happened in the past year, there is nothing special that Litmanen looks back on. Except for the passing away of his grandparents. ,,That is one important event in a negative sense. They have always been very important to me, I have had a good relationship with them from day one. Therefore I miss them a lot. In a positive sense? Nothing really stands out, every day something nice happens.”