‘This is 1970s Ajax’

‘This is 1970s Ajax’
October 1982: Ruud Krol of Napoli (left) in duel with Zbigniew Boniek of Juventus

NOS Football

  • Luuk Blijboom

    editor of NOS Sports

  • Luuk Blijboom

    editor of NOS Sports

What awaits the city of Naples Sunday when Società Sportiva Calcio Napoli grabs the Italian national title for the third time in its history? Well, pretty much the same scenes as when he was guest of honor at the basketball match between GeVi Napoli and Germania Brescia two weeks ago, says Ruud Krol. “But then so tig times worse.”

He may have put on the azure shirt for the last time over the then lush head of hair 39 years ago now, but the Neapolitans wear Il Tulipano Azzurro anno 2023 still imminent.

‘Blue Tulip’ you are in southern Italy for life.

“I didn’t know what I was experiencing. Before I knew it, I was on the field in front of 10,000 supporters. ‘Rú-dy! ‘Rú-dy!’ echoed deafeningly from the stands. It sounded like old times.”

Ruud Krol and Gianfranco Zola

It was about the last thing the 74-year-old Krol had counted on when he accepted the invitation to be present at the duel in the basement of Italian basketball. “But that’s just the way these Neapolitans are. Sport is the outlet for everyday problems. Whether it’s soccer or basketball, they don’t care.”

Fixed pattern

His visits to Naples follow a fixed pattern. Immediately upon arrival, he is obliged to sit down in Mimì alla Ferrovia, one of those typical Neapolitan restaurants in the city center.

“One time I dared to eat somewhere else. When owner Mimì found out, he was completely upset.”

“And don’t think I’m allowed to pay. Frankly, that doesn’t make me happy. After all, that’s not the way I am. I just don’t manage to change that.”

Spalletti is playing with Napoli in the spirit of Rinus Michels.

Ruud Krol

During his 10-day stay, Krol got a taste of the impending craziness in Naples. “The whole city is blue and white. Every street, every square is decorated and hung full of Napoli flags. The mayor initially wanted to ban early festivities. He rescinded that after he also realized that Neapolitans don’t listen to him anyway.”

In November 2022, during an earlier visit, Krol took the opportunity to visit a Napoli training session. He spoke at length with coach Luciano Spalletti and gave him one of the greatest compliments imaginable. “I told him that his team’s play reminded me strongly of that of the Ajax of the 1970s.”


Krol can enjoy the frequent emergence on the right side of both Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Hirving Lozano. “That’s how we used to play with Ajax too. Spalletti plays with Napoli in the spirit of Rinus Michels. Who also insisted that the flanks had to remain occupied at all times, even when the right or left winger moved inside.”

Ruud ‘Rudy’ Krol on the cover of Italian fashion magazine L’Uomo

They were words that Spalletti accepted with gratitude. “Because Krol was part of the team that taught the world how soccer should be played,” the practice master left a note after the interview.

Indeed, for Neapolitans, Krol, who wore the Napoli shirt 107 times between 1980 and 1984, is still on a pedestal. He is considered the civilized equivalent of folk hero Diego Armando Maradona. A shining example for the people who never felt elevated above the tifosi. “As a result, I never had any problems with the mafia either.”


In 1981 Krol was even used, unbeknownst to him, during a campaign against legalizing abortion. Laughing, “Had they come up with a nice slogan: ‘What would have become of soccer club Napoli if mother Krol had ever chosen abortion?’ I knew nothing about it. Ah well, that’s how it goes there.”

The libero himself just missed out on the national title in his debut season of ’80/’81. Two own goals by Napoli, in crucial matches against Perugia and Juventus, meant two defeats. The Neapolitans eventually got stuck in third place that season.

Chvitsja Kvaratschelia strikes out against Juventus

A trauma Krol does not want to call it. “The team was simply not good enough at the time. Although, of course, I would have liked to have experienced such a championship.”

With the arrival of Maradona, in 1984, everything changed in Naples. Fluff gave Napoli the 1987 and 1990 national titles. And so now, after more than three decades, the third championship in the club’s history beckons.

“Since the Maradona era, Napoli has never been this close to the scudetto has been. Everyone in Naples still talks about Maradona’s greatness. Today’s Napoli, however, proves that you can become champions even without such a superstar in the ranks.”

No clones

They are not clones of Maradona, yet Krol can intensely enjoy Georgian left winger Chvitsja Kvaratschelia and Nigerian striker Victor Osimhen. “Great footballers. Although it is fair to say that even those two are currently a little off. It is inherent in the game Napoli plays. At Ajax we also used to often have that the game sank a bit somewhere at the end of March, beginning of April.”

Unhappily, Napoli encountered AC Milan three times in that very period. The Neapolitans’ play died in beauty in that triptych in both Champions League and Serie A, Krol concludes.

Two Napoli club icons in 2016: Marek Hamsik and Ruud Krol

“Napoli played soccer, Milan played catenaccio. Whereas, of course, soccer should have prevailed.”

The secret of this Napoli, which has a lead of no less than seventeen points over “pursuer Lazio? “That is that it plays as a team. It’s not about one man now, like in the days of Maradona. It’s eleven individuals who are amazingly well matched and always want to work. It’s just that sometimes they run into them.”

“Moreover, Spalletti is a coach with enormous experience. The way he coaches is impressive. When I attended that training last year, one thing struck me right away: that the fun radiates from all sides.”

Napoli could have taken the title under Spalletti last year, Krol believes. “Napoli was only unlucky then that Osimhen was sidelined for six months due to a broken eye socket and a shoulder injury.”

Twenty goals

Napoli’s success, according to Krol, hinges on the African. “I said that last year in an interview with the Gazzetta dello Sport. If Osimhen stays fit, he will score more than 20 goals in Serie A. That reporter thought I had gone mad or something. That’s impossible, he replied. Well, I said then, still it is.”

Krol was proven right. After 31 rounds of play, Osimhen’s tally stands at 21 goals. He played only 25 games.

That Lozano obviously throws the balls wonderfully for the pot, doesn’t he?

Ruud Krol

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to make that prediction, Krol hastens to say. Common sense will suffice. “Because that Lozano obviously throws the balls wonderfully for the pot, doesn’t he?”

It is only a matter of time before the immense popular party in Partenopei, as Naples is also called, erupts. The national title cannot escape the team with any possibility, Krol wants to say. “This team is far too good for that. It’s finally going to happen again. I think Naples will soon be on its feet for a week.”


Justice apparently does exist. Even in Italy’s third city often burdened by the camorra, the Neapolitan mafia.

“The scudetto accrues to only one team,” Krol believes. “That is Napoli. Their game is a boon to soccer.”

Kayleigh Williams