Siem de Jong, his coach Frank de Boer and Ajax’s marketing director Edwin van der Sar spoke to a fully packed room to the Indonesian press. The Ajax representatives discussed the aims and ideas behind this Ajax Indonesia Tour 2014. Naturally, the world-famous club philosophy was also addressed.
The setting was the Shangri-la Hotel, early evening. Night falls in Jakarta around six o’clock. A large room in the hotel where Ajax is staying this week is full of press people. Several cameras are lined up neatly. Enthusiastic writers, photographers and television reporters fill the room. A master of ceremonies, dressed in this season’s Ajax championship jersey, enthusiastically manages the press conference.
Pride is evident is the manner in which the Ajax representatives are called to the stage. He’s one of the legends of football, please welcome marketing director Edwin van der Sar. Frank de Boer and captain Siem de Jong also receive warm, respectful welcomes in the same vein. The master of ceremonies addresses the three Ajax representatives, as well as press manager Miel Brinkhuis: You are one of our favourite teams and players. Applause rings out in the fully booked room. Indonesia is a football crazy country. Ajax’s press man compliments the journalists, who have come in droves. The huge number of cameras and journalists reminds Brinkhuis, rightfully, of a Champions League level match.
Siem de Jong has had the Indonesian experience once before, when he trained with the Dutch national team in Jakarta. The Ajax player had an unforgettable interland, in which he scored twice. “I’m happy to be here again”, said De Jong to the reporters. “People here are always so incredibly friendly. It was the same last year. I hope that the stadium will be just as full for our friendly match as it was last year, when we were here with the Dutch team. That was a wonderful experience. Of course, I’m hoping to score here again.”
The Ajax captain is supported by his coach. De Boer has noticed people’s warm and welcoming reaction to the European visitors. “I hope we can provide people with a great match in return for the wonderful welcome we’ve received from everyone here”, says De Boer. “We’re not here for the matches alone. We’re also going to show our social side, for example with clinics.” De Boer has noticed immediately that football is very popular in Indonesia. “We’re going to experience how people here enjoy football. We want to see that culture, with our young team. We’re going to do everything we can to make it a great week.”
Edwin van der Sar experienced Indonesian hospitality first hand two years ago. The Ajax director hopes to make this trip a good one for Ajax and the Indonesians. Van der Sar: “We’re here for several reasons: for two friendly matches and social projects. We want to show what Ajax stands for. We’re going to make it great. I hope many people will be following us this week.”
When the reporters have a chance to ask their questions, the sports journalists appear critical of Ajax’s performances. Why hasn’t the team managed to remain in Champions League after the winter break in the past few years? De Boer explains at length: “It’s always our aim, and it will be next season, too”, says the coach. At times, Ajax was unlucky in the draw. “For example, two years ago, it was very difficult for us, in a pool with four champions”, De Boer recalls the CL draw which paired Ajax with Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Manchester City. Ajax ended up in third place, a strong achievement for the team. De Boer: “We always want more at Ajax. That’s why we’re investing so much in our youth.”
“Not only for Eredivisie but also for football in the Champions League. But experience is also key. Players need experience in the CL. But the best players, the key players, all leave. Then you need to start again from scratch. Our average age is 22, 21 years old, or less. Barcelona has an average age of 26 or more. An opponent like that is much more experienced. We are trying to get our youth ready for the big matches sooner. But it’s still tough to compete with Manchester United or Benfica; they also have bigger budgets. We’ll do everything we can to get better. Making it through the winter break in Champions League has always been our goal.”
De Boer talks more about his club. It’s a mini lesson in club identity: “Working for Ajax always means striving for titles. The pressure is always on. For the coming years, that remains the same; we want to win the championship again. We want to be stronger as a team. I’m still happy at Ajax. Maybe I’ll want to broaden my horizons at some point. But for now I’m happy and focusing on Ajax.” This time, De Boer is supported by his former team mate and current colleague Van der Sar: “Ajax stands for youth development. Good coaches can bring players to the higher levels. With hard work and faith in your philosophy, you can really make players better.”