‘We need to be gutsy in this atmosphere’

‘We need to be gutsy in this atmosphere’

A bit earlier than the scheduled 6.30pm press conference, Ajax coach Frank de Boer and left back/central midfielder Daley Blind sat down at the conference table in the Celtic Park football stadium. With a view onto the field where Ajax will meet Celtic on Tuesday, they both looked ahead. “We need to get three points”, said De Boer unequivocally.

Frank de Boer knows exactly what Ajax needs to do in Scotland. “A tie would be enough for third spot, because we’re playing in Amsterdam in two weeks. But we’re hungry for second place, so we want to win here in Glasgow. For both teams, a win here would be a big step towards continuing in Europe after the winter break. We just can’t lose. I consider Celtic to be the favourite since they’re playing at home. I don’t think there’s much difference in our levels. But we’ll see if that’s true after the last whistle has blown.”

Ajax’s coach knows all about the atmosphere at Celtic Park from his time playing with the Glasgow Rangers. As a Rangers player, he trod the beautiful green stadium of his team’s arch rivals several times. “I lost twice, so I hope that luck’s on our side tomorrow. In addition to the rivalry between the clubs, I remember the great atmosphere most of all. I’ve told my current players about that, leading up to tomorrow’s match. They should enjoy the atmosphere. It should boost their adrenaline to perform. If you don’t play so well, then perhaps you’re not good enough for this level. Of course you can be nervous, but when the referee blows the starting whistle, those nerves need to be gone.”

Just as his seemingly relaxed coach, Daley Blind is looking forward to the match in the beautiful stadium. “I’ve heard so much about how nice it is. Just like the other players, I’m planning to enjoy it.”
De Boer thinks that Ajax can post a good result in Scotland. He can explain the reasons for this: “We’re on an upswing. If you look at our match against Milan and the competition duels, then you can see that we’re getting better. And the results will come. If we can bring it up another notch in against Celtic, then I’m hopeful that we’ll get a good result.”
De Boer didn’t reveal which eighteen players will face Celtic. “We brought nineteen players. This last training is sort of a test for Niklas Moisander. If he passes the test, he’ll be among the eighteen. But Van Rhijn wasn’t at his best last weekend, and that’s why I’ve brought an extra player. You can’t take the risk of bringing eighteen players to a European match and having one of them drop off. Moisander can be an important player for us, because he played this type of match last season.” The question of whether Blind will play at midfield again like last Saturday is answered by De Boer: “Daley doesn’t yet know if he’ll be in the defense or at midfield, so I’m not going to say.”

De Boer, egged on by several Scottish reporters in the room, focused on Celtic and said that he sees Georgios Samaras as being one of the Scottish team’s most important players. “With his strength and length, he’s very important for this team. If they aren’t able to build anything, they send the ball to him. After that, it’s almost impossible to win a header duel against him, and the entire team is fighting for that second ball. And if you’re not in the right place, it’s hard. But their central defender and keeper are great players. Brown (suspended) and Commons (injured) are key players. Brown is their leader and Commons is a very technical player, they’ll both be missed. But even without them, Celtic has many strong points. We need to concentrate on our own game. The most important thing is that we can play our own game, even in this atmosphere. We need to be gutsy.”

Several hours before Frank de Boer looked ahead to the Celtic match, his Celtic colleague Neil Lennon addressed the press. When asked whether he just wants to win, he answered: “We can’t lose. I have faith that we can perform well in away games. But a win would put us in a good position. If we lose the match, our aspirations to continue will come to an end.”
Of course, Lennon was asked what he thinks of Ajax. “I saw them play on Saturday night. Ajax has lots of confidence. They believe in what they’re doing. And they don’t panic when they’re under pressure. They continue to play the same way and become stronger. A typical Ajax team.”
Someone who has experience with this is former Heerenveen player Georgios Samaras. “I think that Ajax will play the same way as they have in the past one hundred years. The typical 4-3-3, letting the ball pass around and win with good attacking football. That’s what Ajax has been doing for years and what they should continue doing. They’re not going to change that now.”