‘Actually too much work for one person’
editor of NOS Sports
editor of NOS Sports
Experts agree: Sven Mislintat, Ajax’s new technical director, faces a monster job. “It’s actually too much work for one person,” it sounds. Or: “Usually you need three months to get to know a club a little bit.”
Somewhere in Amsterdam lies a vacant lot. The location is prime, the plot impressive and the potential enormous. But for now it is little more than a boggy field with some lost dandelions.
To a first-time German the task is to build a beautiful villa there within a few weeks. The finest in the Netherlands, which – if things go well – will also impress Europe.
The metaphor represents the situation in which Ajax currently finds itself. A selection that falls short, was beaten badly in Europe, had no chance of winning the title early on and was beaten again by PSV in a cup final to be ashamed of.
And then there is this huge vacancy within the club. There is still no coach for next season, the head of youth training is leaving, the head scout has a new club. In short: Ajax is back to square one after the successful era with director of soccer affairs Marc Overmars and trainer Erik ten Hag.
Building new empire
A new empire must be built, with 50-year-old Mislintat, who officially begins his job in Amsterdam next week, as the major contractor to lead the rebuilding effort.
Isn’t that difficult for someone on the outside? “I think so,” interim coach John Heitinga had to admit, Friday at the press conference ahead of the away game against at FC Groningen. “I do think there are some files that he will have to pick up,” said the coach, whose future is in the hands of Mislintat.
New coach or not, Heitinga likes to think along: ‘Boy of the club’
But that is not the only Ajax dossier Mislintat will be working overtime on. “It is actually far too much work for one person,” states Chiel Dekker, who earned his master’s degree in technical director from the University of Salford in 2018.
“Especially for someone who doesn’t know the Ajax culture yet. Normally as a club you are working on your selection in May, now the organization still needs to be built. Time will be his biggest opponent,” said Dekker, who received guest lessons in England from Manchester City coach Josep Guardiola, among others.
Ted van Leeuwen, former technical director of Vitesse and FC Twente, among others, agrees. “Usually you need three months to get to know the club a bit. And even then you still haven’t quite gotten to the core.”
As a former agent (of Kevin Strootman and Mateja Kezman, among others), Dekker has been walking around in the soccer industry for years. He currently works as an intermediary and advises clubs on organizational and strategic matters.
“But I have never experienced such an extreme vacancy within the most important positions of a club as I have recently at Ajax. Perhaps Mislintat will prove to be a hit man, but what he will now face is tough. He has to build his own team and make important decisions at the same time.”
Dekker’s roadmap goes as follows: first the German has to get the organization right. “He has to make choices about who he wants around him, which scouts, which head of youth training. That team must be there and must really be his.”
Next, it will be up to Mislintat to appoint the right coach for next season. “Because there is no player who comes to a club without knowing who the trainer will be,” he said. Only after those steps are taken will it be time to scrape the selection, according to Dekker.
‘First eleven above all else’
Experience expert Van Leeuwen, who could count on many compliments by creatively building a good team with relatively few resources at Twente, sees it totally differently.
“You start with the first team. That takes precedence. If that runs, the rest comes naturally. If you finish seventh next season as Ajax, a good organization is also worth nothing.”
Time is running out. Should Ajax hold on to third place in the premier league, it will play for a ticket to the group stage of the Europa League early in the season.
“Throughout the year, Overmars was constantly busy attracting players. He had them in his sights, playing chess with agents and clubs. That’s quite a process. Mislintat now has a month for that. That almost doesn’t work,” Dekker believes.
Anything goes at magnet Ajax
Yet it can be done, Van Leeuwen proved in the past. “Anything is possible. But I have also experienced that it took two or three transfer periods before I had a good team, you know. A large network is not even that important, according to Van Leeuwen. “The position of td at Ajax automatically already provides you with a network.”
Dekker sees it that way, too. “There are always guys who drop out at bigger clubs and want to be rented out to Ajax. Forming a team does work, but that is mainly for the short term.”
Van Leeuwen: “Ajax has a magnet function. They have always had that and they still do. But how big that function is in the world right now is another question.”
It is up to Mislintat to find out.