Was Frank De Boer’s Reputation Solely Built From His Time At Ajax?

Was Frank De Boer’s Reputation Solely Built From His Time At Ajax?
Sep 14, 2017

Crystal Palace Featured

During Frank de Boer’s run of four straight Dutch titles with Ajax, he spoke of needing to shield his players from the bitter in-fighting that was happening in the club’s hierarchy, as de Boer’s two mentors Johan Cruyff and Louis Van Gaal feuded over the formers blocking of Van Gaal’s appointment as club director.

At Crystal Palace, unfortunately for de Boer, he was unable to shield the club’s hierarchy from his players.
De Boer was supposed to be the “long-term”, but instead lasted just 10 weeks.

His sacking by Palace Chairman Steve Parish has been criticized from all corners for not allowing sufficient time for De Boer’s methods and ideas to develop. But a picture is emerging of a squad who never backed De Boer almost from the moment he walked through the door. In an article for the Independent, Ed Malyon wrote of senior players “turning against” de Boer, many going directly to Parish to complain. De Boer was doomed.

The Dutchman’s success at Ajax was based on Johan Cruyff’s desire to revive the spirit of the “Velvet Revolution”, to build home-grown Ajax teams such as Rene Michel’s triple winning European Cup winners in the late ‘60’s, and Van Gaal’s 1995 Champions League winning team (which included De Boer). De Boer’s Ajax played pressing, possession football clearly influenced by his two mentors. And despite the chaos upstairs, the Ajax project was revitalized.

Everybody in the playing and coaching staff bought into the project, and De Boer who had previously worked with the youth team worked well with squad, and is credited with the development Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen.

De Boer sought to emulate Van Gaal and Cruyff’s most successful teams who operated as a collective. Working together to win the ball back, and creating ways for every player to contribute in attack, by players interchanging their positions. To watch the teams of Cruyff’s greatest disciple, Pep Guardiola’s, you would see a similar ethos.

At the height of Barcelona’s dominance under Guardiola, you would see Lionel Messi respond instantly when the ball was lost to try and win it back. Players would look at Messi’s commitment and follow his example. Total Football needs total commitment and togetherness as a team. If leaders in the dressing room dispute the coach’s methods, such as Selhurst Park, then the approach doesn’t stand a chance.

Indeed Ajax grew stale under De Boer. His final two seasons were trophy-less, and the football started to resemble Van Gaal-esque possession football at its most tedious. Others teams in the league had figured them out, and Ajax fans were not distraught to see De Boer move on.

De Boer was criticized for being too set in his ways, unwilling to evolve. Cruyff and Van Gaal are both known for an uncompromising streak to their personality. Both were utterly convinced that their way was the best, and both had a history of clashing with owners and players alike. Despite his distinctly mellower demeanour, you can argue De Boer has inherited a similar stubbornness. While his players were trying to learn his system, there is an argument that De Boer didn’t realise he had a lot to learn himself about football in the Premier League.

The 47-year-old’s tenure at Palace follows his disastrous spell at Inter Milan (although such was dysfunctionality at the Milan club, it is hard to level too much blame at De Boer). While De Boer has had success as player and manager, he spent the bulk of his career at Ajax amongst the golden generation of the mid-90’s, before following Van Gaal to Barcelona.

And his time as manager of Ajax was driven by club’s most iconic player, and had the support of a host of former Ajax legends. Ajax exist in a bubble that is unlike most football clubs. To put it bluntly, De Boer had been spoilt. He hasn’t proven he has the calibre to be a “long-term” option for any football club, let alone was one as unstable as Palace. No-one comes out positively from the debacle at Selhurst Park. But wherever De Boer’s next position may be, it is vital he earns the support of his players.

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