Heitinga day before cup match with Feyenoord worried about Ajax: ‘You feel the turmoil’
Has John Heitinga lost all his Amsterdam bluff in twenty days? Almost humbly, the Ajax coach crawls into the underdog role, the day before the Klassieker in the semifinals of the KNVB Cup.
“Feyenoord is the favorite,” Heitinga is adamant about the encounter at De Kuip, where the Rotterdammers have not yet lost this season. “They play at home. Nationally and internationally they impress.”
And not only that. “You can feel the unrest at Ajax. Who will be the new technical director? And will I stay put or will there be a new head coach?”
The future is uncertain. Also for Heitinga, who would like to stay on as head coach. “But the picture has to be right,” he emphasizes. “You commit yourself to something, but in the end you also have to have an eleven with which you can compete in Europe.”
Heitinga would like to remain head coach Ajax: ‘I enjoy this every day’
Because not only sporting concerns are on the rise, administratively things are also unsettled. Heitinga was the proud successor to Schreuder and emerged as the home-grown boy who miraculously got Ajax playing soccer again quickly. Now he is mostly a survivor: “I live from day to day.”
“The fact that we haven’t won a top game yet this season also shows how this year is going for us,” he cites a sore point for the Amsterdammers. Promising million-dollar acquisitions are not paying off, leading to an inevitable split with technical manager Gerry Hamstra on Monday.
The timing is not happy, leading up to a crucial duel. “But that’s also soccer, you move on again. And you have to move on, too.”
What strikes Heitinga in his first months as Ajax head coach are the many opinions. And of course a player group gets them. Every day he is on the field with footballers who are not considered good enough by the outside world or do not meet high expectations.
“They can all play good soccer,” observes Heitinga, who has been given the thankless task of finishing the season with an unbalanced selection. “You try to have the conversation with the players every time, to ask what they need in the relationship.”
Heitinga adamant ahead of Cup Classic: ‘Feyenoord are favorites’
Heitinga enjoys every day, even if the pressure on him and his team is increasing in recent weeks. What does Ajax have to offer its stars when it is no longer playing in the Champions League?
“Of course you also voice your concerns. What will a number of players do? Guys like Jurriën Timber, Edson Álvarez and Mohammed Kudus. Give me a reason why they should stay?”, Heitinga wondered aloud.
“I can’t give them the clarity towards next season now, because I don’t know if I’ll be there next season either. There is quite an urgency to make decisions quickly. That’s why I say right or wrong, but make a decision.”
Heitinga stresses several times the importance of making good choices. To look to a bright future and not get stuck in the worrisome situation of today. “The fact is that we are less than the past few years.”
Watch the summary of Ajax-Feyenoord (2-3), over two weeks ago, here:
Watch the summary of Ajax – Feyenoord
It’s a world of difference from the Heitinga of twenty days ago.
“Of course we are the favorites,” Heitinga still spoke cheerfully, prior to the meeting between the two in league play. True, in their own Johan Cruijff Arena, but his Ajax did not need to fear anyone after a run of seven victories in the premier league. But suddenly everything seems different.
Feyenoord outplayed Ajax tactically and turned a deficit into a victory (2-3). And Heitinga complained mostly about the arbitration, after another loss of points at Go Ahead Eagles (0-0). The national title is way out of the picture; the KNVB Cup seems to be the only chance for a prize.
Now Heitinga points to Feyenoord as favorites. And they may have to get used to that in Amsterdam.