How it has all gone wrong for Ajax this season

Could Ajax get relegated? Dutch giants are eight games without a win, axed their sporting director, riotous fans are smashing up the stadium… and even their former players think they’re going down!

  • Ajax haven’t won any of their last eight games and sit second bottom of the table
  • Fans are angry and Rafael van der Vaart thinks they’re a ‘relegation candidate’ 
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast It’s All Kicking Off!

Just four years ago Ajax beat Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to the last four of the Champions League, and were just seconds away from making the final.

Less than 18 months ago, they picked up the 36th Dutch title in their history – their third in four seasons – to continue their domestic dominance.

But those glory days seem a lifetime ago now. 

The club reached a new low on Sunday as they slipped to their fourth defeat of the season to Utrecht, leaving them second bottom of the Eredivisie. 

Play was briefly suspended in the 89th minute after a cup was thrown onto the pitch by supporters, and when the game resumed Ajax could not hold on for a point as they conceded a late goal to lose 4-3.

Ajax lost 4-3 to Utrecht on Sunday to slip to second bottom of the Eredivisie table

Club captain Steven Bergwijn tried to calm down angry fans after the final whistle

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The players looked to calm down angry fans after the final whistle, but to no avail, highlighting the toxic atmosphere at the club right now after a run of eight games without a win in all competitions.

In the aftermath of the result, Rafael van der Vaart claimed his former club must ‘think like a relegation candidate’, a phrase he must never have expected to utter about the Dutch giants.

It all begs the question: how have Ajax found themselves in such a dire position?

In truth, their issues can be traced back to the summer of 2022. After four-and-a-half years of success in Amsterdam, Erik ten Hag left the club to join Manchester United – taking star players Antony and Lisandro Martinez with him – and was replaced by Alfred Schreuder. 

Schreuder had operated largely as an assistant coach for much of his career and struggled to make the step up to the top job at one of Europe’s biggest clubs.

Within months, there were reports of a dressing room revolt as the team failed to hit their usual lofty heights, and Schreuder was sent packing in January.

In came Johnny Heitinga to take the club through to the end of the season, but he could not get the side back into title contention as they finished third in the table, 13 points behind champions Feyenoord. 

Ajax’s problems have mounted since Erik ten Hag left to join Manchester United last summer

Ten Hag’s replacement Alfred Schreuder (pictured) lasted just six months before being sacked

He was subsequently moved on as well, with Ajax turning to Maurice Steijn this summer to try and bring about a change in fortunes.

The warning signs were there last season, but there was still hope that Steijn could get the team back on track, and he was heavily backed in the summer transfer market.

Ajax spent £100m on players, and there was optimism that they could return to the top of Dutch football.

An opening day thrashing of Heracles suggested better times were ahead, but that was to be as good as it got.

Ajax picked up just two points from their next three games and were held to a draw by Marseille in their first Europa League group match as they made a stuttering start to the campaign.

Sporting director Sven Mislintat was far from happy, and reportedly stormed into the dressing room to talk about the potential dismissal of Steijn just a handful of games into his tenure.

The pressure was ramping up on Steijn, and it all came to a head on September 27 when Ajax faced defending champions Feyenoord.

Stejn’s men delivered a dreadful performance as they fell three goals down at home inside an hour, and their fans responded by throwing flares onto the pitch to get the game abandoned before vandalising their own stadium, as police attempted to disperse them by using tear gas.

Ajax fans threw flares and vandalised their own stadium last month, causing their game against Feyenoord to be abandoned

The flares were thrown after the team fell three goals down inside an hour at home

Ajax sacked sporting director Sven Mislintat (pictured) after a dismal start to the season

The ugly scenes offered a snapshot of how far Ajax had fallen, and Steijn may have feared for his job after the humbling defeat.

Instead, Ajax sacked Mislintat just days after his extraordinary dressing room rant, indicating the hierarchy at the club were not signing from the same hymnsheet.

If the hope was that Mislintat leaving could be a watershed moment, offering Steijn a clean slate, it hasn’t worked out like that.

Ajax have played three games since Mislintat’s sacking and won none of them. Their league form has been dire, and they have been unable to click into gear in Europe either, drawing their first two Europa League matches.

The fans’ reaction to Sunday’s loss highlighted the atmosphere at the club is not improving, and Van Der Vaart was quick to voice his major concerns after the final whistle.

‘I think that Maurice Steijn has ended up in a terrible situation,’ he told Studio Voetbal.

‘Everything goes wrong. If you have one hundred percent, he might be able to do something about 20 per cent and not 80 per cent.’

‘Ajax has to play like Excelsior. You are no longer Ajax. You have to assume that you are not better than your opponent, because they simply do not have the qualities for that. Even the good players are dragged along with the level. Then there is little left.

‘It sounds a bit lame, but you have to think like a relegation candidate at the moment. That’s very sad, but it’s true.’

Van Der Vaart questioning the quality of the players brings us to the topic of recruitment. 

The pressure is mounting on manager Maurice Steijn after a dire run of results

Rafael van der Vaart feels his former club should stick with Steijn, and has placed the majority of the blame on the players

Ajax have become accustomed to losing their best players over the years, and it happened again this summer when Jurrien Timber, Mohammed Kudus and Edson Alvarez all headed to the Premier League.

They have typically responded to selling players by dipping into their famed academy, but they took a different approach this summer by spending big on talent from across Europe.

It has proved to be a mistake, with none of their new signings hitting the ground running.

Van Der Vaart does not expect the team to come good, but has revealed he would stand by Steijn.

‘Has the situation ever been so extreme that a technical director brings in twelve players?’ Van Der Vaart asked as he reflected on Ajax’s summer business.

‘With €115m (£100m) you have to be a champion with two fingers up your nose. I would continue with Steijn, but you have players on the field who cannot perform it.’

Whether Ajax opt to stick with Steijn remains to be seen, but his team’s task will not get any easier when they play leaders PSV Eindhoven next weekend after facing Brighton in the Europa League on Thursday.

PSV have won all nine of their league games to date and are brimming with confidence – the polar opposite of Ajax right now.

Ajax will then take on Volendam, the only team keeping them off the bottom of the table. 

Things will not get easier for Ajax as they are set to face league leaders PSV Eindhoven this weekend

Van Der Vaart’s fears about his old club being dragged into a relegation scrap could be realised if they come up short in that match. 

With the fans feeling disconnected from the club, results going against them and Steijn facing an uncertain future, Ajax have a number of major issues to deal with.

They have experienced one of the worst starts to a season in their history and nothing is going right for them on or off the pitch.

Just two months into the season, it is already looking like an uphill task to salvage their campaign, and with trips to Brighton and Eindhoven coming up this week, things could get even worse before they get better.


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