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Emulating Ajax - A Dutch Adventure

Started on 24 April 2020 by InvertedWingbacks
Latest Reply on 15 June 2020 by Zed
Ajax. A name synonymous with success, youth development and attractive football. One of the Eredivisie's top clubs, and a consistent performer in Europe. The club captured everyone's imagination in 2018/19, fighting their way to a Champions League semi-final, only to have their hearts broken by Tottenham (a true loss for the neutral). That squad, led by Matthijs De Ligt, was raided in the summer, with De Ligt heading for Italy, Frenkie De Jong making the switch to Barcelona, and numerous other players (most notably Kasper Dolberg) moving on. With total transfer income of almost £190m, Ajax were in a position to rebuild, and as well as promoting a number of young talents, they spent almost £60m of their transfer war chest on Quincy Promes, Edson Alvarez, Razvan Marin, Lisandro Martinez and Kik Pierie.

It is a story which will be familiar to Ajax supporters, who already know Hakim Zieych is moving to Chelsea this summer - the club develops some of the greatest young talent in the world, and that talent is snapped up by the bigger European clubs. All through history, some of the greatest players have come from the Ajax system: Patrick Kluivert, Edwin van der Sar, Dennis Berkgamp, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf, Marco van Basten, even Johan Cruyff himself.

But even with almost constant departures, Ajax always seem to be in a position to continue their development as a club - even this season, with De Ligt and De Jong leaving, they promoted Ryan Gravenberch and spent under £30m on a trio of centre-backs. More often than not, the replacement for outgoing players is either already at the club, or is identified and bought for much less than the outgoing player is making for the club.

Ajax's model of player development and club growth is one which I have often admired, and the aim of this save is to emulate the system, and i'm sure that accomplishing this with Ajax would be relatively straightforward - they have the facilities, they have the players, and they more or less have the finances to be able to hold onto their best players, and develop into a real European power. In fact, when I was looking at starting this save, I used a game of pure chance and spun the wheel, and the wheel chose Ajax as the club...but for me, I want to be able to emulate them, not just simply be them.

So, I respun the wheel. We had the choice of any playable dutch side, and we came out as Sparta Rotterdam - less illustrious than neighbours Feyenoord, Sparta can still claim to have developed some more recent stars in Danny Blind, Gini Wijnaldum, Kevin Strootman and Memphis Depay. I'll be looking to continue with the club's strong attitude towards developing youth, and hope to eventually turn them into the best youth system in the country.

As you can see, it is a vision shared by the board - the club culture very much sets us up for the way i've been wanting to play: we have to nurture talent from within the club and from the lower reaches of the domestic game in order to bring success to the club.

Sparta are newly promoted, having come 2nd in the Keuken Kampioen (Dutch 2nd division) last season, so we do have a lot of work to do before I can really get into developing facilities. The priority has to be staying in the division, and aiming to grow from there.

We have just over £10m in the bank at the start of the save, so the financial position is relatively sound, and the club have no debts listed, which means all of the work I do to control the finances (a relatively alien concept for me), directly benefits the club.

In terms of aims and objectives - the Board's 5 year plan seems relatively solid. We're looking to establish ourselves as a consistent Eredivisie team; to do so, we're going to have to invest smart, and keep tight control of the finances - even league winners in Holland only get £7m in prize money, so a lot of the financial work will be done through developing and selling players, at least initially. Of course, if we luck our way into a European spot, there's more money to be had, and there's a couple of Million on the line in a Dutch Cup run.
Excellent start will be following for sure
If I was doing my PSV save from FM19 still I'd throw you some shade, but I'm a new manager this year.
An intriguing challenge to try and emulate arguably the best youth system in the history of football. Best of luck!
Good luck in Rotterdam. I like the idea behind this save.
One of the things which intrigued me the most about trying to emulate Ajax and their youth development system was the streamlined nature of their youth squads. A lot of the way I have set up is adapted from this document which gives a lot of detail on the Ajax youth system. At each age group, they keep only 16 players – I have adapted the original plan of choosing by right-footed and left-footed and training across several positions (mainly because I’m not entirely sure FM would accommodate that much multi-position training within the CA/PA system) and instead, I will use a first-team 11 at each age group, plus 5 substitutes who are the next highest potential within that age group. The idea will be that each player will get a more bespoke training experience, and less pressure will be placed on the coaching staff with fewer players to work with. Ideally, this will mean a higher quality of coaching and therefore greater gains in development.

Initially, Sparta have an absolutely unreal amount of Under 19s players, and some of them will be moving up to the B team, however, I’m a wonderkid hoarder, so it is hard for me to let go of 24 youth players without giving them a shot at developing (and maybe selling them in the future). With 40 Under 19s and a B team of 18, it’s obvious that streamlining the youth squads will be a couple of seasons of work, however, I don’t see the point in releasing a huge number of players at the outset, without being able to decide over at least a few months which players have a future at the club.

In the first team, I am going to aim for a squad size of 25: 2 players per position, plus 3 highly-rated youngsters who rotate in for easier league games and appear in cup matches for the club. Again, the first team squad is initially bloated, so we will be looking to streamline that by selling players throughout the season as it becomes more apparent who has a future and who doesn’t.

Tactically, the plan is to strip everything back, and keep the instructions simple – i’m often guilty of over-complicating tactics, and getting frustrated when I can’t seem to figure out what’s going wrong. The idea here is that the regista will pull strings from deep, with the left winger stretching the defence where possible, and the right winger, attacking mid, and striker all quite fluid and clogging the channels to create chances. The Anchor man will shield the defence, and allow the wingbacks some freedom to go forward and support the attack. I’ve initially set us to play narrow, purely in the belief that this will pull the attack in towards the box and give us some more penetration.

Having settled on our tactical style, I was able to set players’ individual training – at this point, all players will train in their intended role (which all going well, will be the same position throughout all age groups) with individual focuses on mainly physical and mental attributes in the youth groups, depending on their needs. Once a player reaches senior level, I am hoping that we will have put enough work in on their physical and mental growth that we can then focus on fine-tuning their technical attributes and traits where useful.
Very impressive analysis of your philosophies going forward. Intrigued to see how your chosen players will develop in the coming months :)
A clearly well-thought out strategy. It's massively important that there is a clear direction in everything you do, of course.
Nice to see somebody that is frequently in the same position as me over tactics with overcomplicating things trying to simply get a job done! Great start so far.
Enjoying this so far and looking forward to reading that linked document as some late night reading tonight.
As we reach the mid-season break in Holland, I want to take a quick break and reflect on a mixed start to life in Rotterdam. With basically £0 in transfer budget, I have had to focus on making the most of the players available to me at the club. In the last post, I spoke about keeping our tactical approach simple and allowing the players the freedom to express themselves a bit more and adapt the tactics as time advanced. It is an approach that I often struggle with (I love a TI), but I felt with the focus on development through the club, I had an opportunity to create an identity throughout the club from the ground up.

We started well – pre-season was overwhelmingly positive, and I had plenty of reason to believe we were on a consistent run of form. However, almost as soon as the first whistle of the league season went, we became outrageously inconsistent;

I spent a lot of time tinkering with instructions and player roles during this time, trying to get the best out of the players we had, but as we hurtled towards the mid-season break, our form went completely out of the window, and we are staring dead in the face of a tactical change.

Now, I should make the point that while I’m sitting tearing my hair out about our recent form, we are still sitting (relatively) comfortably in mid-table; after 18 games we are 9th – P18, W6, D6, L6. So really, if i’m objective about it, we are the most bang average team in the league. Given that we were predicted a 15th-placed finish and relegation, some might even say we’re over-performing.

I would agree with those people, however for me, the way that we have played our football in the first half of the season hasn’t been sustainable – quite often we have been cut open in midfield, and with our attacking 4 unable to get back in time, our defence has been exposed. So while, yes, we are outperforming our pre-season goals, I want to take steps to ensure that is not a flash in the pan.

With that in mind, I have adjusted our shape to involve a Defensive midfielder to anchor a midfield 3 and provide more support to our defence. I have also changed a couple of midfield and wide roles to encourage more attacking play and ask our wingers to cut inside to create chances. Again, I have left the instructions mostly blank, with the only real instructions at this point designed to win the ball back early, and keep it

Because, as we know – they can’t score if they don’t have the ball.
A very inconsistent start to the season but as a team predicted to go down, you are performing well enough. The tactical move should help the defense and maybe help turn those defeats into points.
Good to see you back! However, as Seb said I hope the change in system can get you back on the desired path.
Hopefully the slight tweak to the system can give you some sustainability and enable you to become more consistent. It seems your home form is largely strong whereas your away form is proving to be quite patchy. There are plenty of impressive results in the mix though.

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