From UCL to relegation: The sore story of Ajax’s fall from grace

How Ajax went from a Champions League team to struggling in the Eredivisie

From UCL to relegation: The sore story of Ajax’s fall from grace

Tunde Young 23:43 - 07.11.2023

Ajax have gone from competing at the highest level of football to battling relegation in the Eredivisie at some point this season and here is how that happened.

Ajax recently suffered a 5-2 defeat away at PSV which ensured that they dropped down to 17th place on the Eredivisie table.

Although two consecutive wins have seen them move out of the relegation places, the embarrassment at the hands of longtime rivals PSV is a big indication of how far they have fallen.

In addition to their Eredivisie struggles, Ajax are also currently bottom of their Europa League group where they are yet to win a single game as well.

Ajax risk relegation with their worst Eredivisie form in decades | Imago

The bad run of results led to coach Maurice Steijn getting fired with just two wins in 12 games across all competitions so far

In fact, Steijn has the worst points per game record in Ajax history at just 0.9 which is rather alarming for what many consider to be one of the easiest jobs in European football.

Although interim manager John Van't Schip has led them to consecutive wins for the first time this season to move up to 11th in the league, they are still very far from out of the woods.

Ajax’s good old days

The truth is football is ultimately cyclical and no one dominates forever but Ajax fans are well within their rights to find it difficult to adjust to this rather sharp decline.

Ajax have been so dominant domestically that their current struggles are almost unfathomable to anyone familiar with their history.

The Dutch giants have only finished outside of the Eredivisie top three once since the 1999/00 season and a 13th-place finish in 1964/65 is the only time in history that Ajax have ever finished out of the Eredivisie top half.

Ajax fans have been subjected to an unusual amount of suffering this season. (Photo Credit: Newsfoot/X)

Apart from winning the Eredivisie a record 36 times and the KNVB Cup a record 20 times, Ajax’s good old days also extend to the European scene as well.

Ajax have won four European Cups/UEFA Champions League titles, one UEFA Cup and two UEFA Super Cups.

So it is quite understandable that fans of a club with this level of history and pedigree are struggling to adapt to their new circumstances of 11th in Eredivisie, just three points above the relegation zone.

How did Ajax become so bad?

The simple answer to the above question is complacency. Ajax have thrived at least domestically regardless of the situation.

A Lucas Moura hat-trick stunned Ajax in the 2019 Champions League semi-final

Controversies off the field, change in coaching personnel and constant turnovers of important players have never really hindered Ajax from being Ajax which is why they got complacent and stopped actively taking steps to keep the team competitive.

The signs of this falloff were they but they were ignored. Ajax finished third in Eredivisie, 13 points behind title winners Feyenoord and seven behind PSV.

PSV responded to finishing second with an impressive summer transfer window, adding proven quality such as Hirving Lozano, Serginio Dest, Noa Lang and Arnell Bella-Kotchap amongst others after losing Xavi Simons to PSG and Ibrahim Sangare to Nottingham Forest for big money.

That level of ambition shown in the transfer window is a big reason PSV currently sit seven points clear at the top of Eredivisie, 22 points ahead of Ajax.

Ajax on the other hand lost Mohammed Kudus, Davy Klaasen, Edson Alvarez, Jurrien Timber and captain Dusan Tadic, all five players who were guaranteed starters.

Mohammed Kudus left Ajax this summer (Photo Credit: Ajax/X)

That sheer volume of important and experienced players leaving at the same time was never going to end well, especially since the club did not sign players of commensurate quality to replace what they lost.

They in truth had a busy summer with €109.3 million spent on 13 new signings in what was a scattergun approach with little mind paid to squad building.

The disarray at the club was exemplified by new signing Josip Sutalo being given the captain band on his debut despite joining the club five games into the season and the defender had never even been a captain at his former club Dinamo Zagreb.

Sutalo was the most expensive of their 12 first-team signings at €20.5 million in a recruitment drive that also saw the arrivals of Chuba Akpom, Georges Mikautadze, Carlos Borges, Gaston Avila and Borna Sosa, all good players in their own right but none at the level of quality and experience which they lost last summer.

Even worse, a good number of these 12 new signings were thrown directly into the line of fire with little to no time to adapt to their new surroundings under a coach who himself was still adapting.

This chaotic approach could have only culminated in poor performances and results and that is precisely why Ajax are so bad right now with no real end in sight.

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