By Bulldog Drummond
As we look forward to a Champions League game against PSV, I must admit I looked around asking myself, “Where’s Ajax?” because Ajax are always in the Champions League aren’t they? So a quick look at the current Dutch league table revealed the problem:
Yes in an 18 club league Ajax are not top, which is where we often expect them to be, but right down in 12th. They finished third last season behind Feyenoord and PSV and won the league the season before that. That’s a bit strange… a bit like, well, not to put too fine a point on it… Chelsea, who having won the Champions League in 2021, finished 12th last season and this season are sitting comfortably in… 14th with one win in five.
Of course the situation in the Netherlands and England is different, but basically, Ajax lost Erik ten Hag, slumped to third, lost the cup final, missed out on the Champions League, and now have slipped further and further.
So is there a link? Is there something going on that means that clubs that see themselves as far too big to fail then simply, fail?
One of the things that immediately pops up as one looks at the collapse of Chelsea and of Ajax is that of having rather a lot of changes in the position of chief coach. So much so in Ajax’ case that the CEO of the club (Edwin van der Sar) also decided he had had enough.
Now what happened then was that as Ajax floundered around, heading in four or five directions at once, other clubs moved in and waggled some money at their top talent, suggesting that the players might be happier in a more “stable” club.
As a result Jurrien Timber moved to Arsenal and others went their own separate ways.
But what causes all this uncertainty and upheaval in clubs that have in the past been able to weather anything thrown against them and stay up or near the top?
One thing is that the players themselves don’t like uncertainty. Indeed it is often reported from within that one of the key questions that agents ask in the early stages of discussions about a move is, how likely is it that this manager and his team will stay? Of course agents can’t get guarantees but they know their players are concerned about moving to stable club where the manager who buys them will still be there come the start of the next season.
Clubs lacking stability generally lack a well-structured transfer handling department, and are unable to give the assurances that players want. And we can see this with Arsenal. When the future of Wenger was made uncertain by a combination of the AST supporters’ group, and the ever gleeful media, it was clear that it was becoming ever harder to recruit players. They would come and play for Wenger because of his reputation of getting the very best out of players, but not for someone unknown.
The implied instability following the actions of some supporter groups meant recruitment got harder, and the removal of Wenger and then 18 months later of Emery suggested the Arsenal ship had lost its rudder. However, the determination to keep Arteta in the job, even with two eighth-place finishes, showed that stability was back; hence the ability to buy most of the players that the club wanted, subsequently.
The media’s subsequent attempt to denigrate Arsenal for losing three matches in a row at the start of the 2021/22 season again caused a flurry of disruption, but the return from that point was enough to convince players in the summer of 2022 that Arsenal was the place to be.
What Chelsea have lacked is that return from uncertainty through multiple managers to being a stable club. And this affects players dramatically since they most certainly do not want to be brought in by a manager who four weeks later is not there. The cases of Malang Sarr, and Jamie Cummings might have been conveniently forgotten by the media, but they are remembered by players.
Had Arsenal followed the media and AST demands of removing Mikel Arteta on Christmas Day 2020 when the club was 15th in the league, the transfers of the subsequent seasons would have been very unlikely.
We should always remember, when players are deciding if they are going to join a club, they want a promise of stability – which is why the agent is always asked to check out if the manager is staying, or going.
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