A touch of class from graduates epitomising Ajax and Feyenoord
In an age when clubs are starting to lose their identities, it is refreshing to see a few, in this case, Ajax andFeyenoord, bucking the trend. Both are institutions, described by De Telegraaf as "standard-bearers of Dutch football", but share an intense rivalry defined by ideology. It’s essentially a clash between two clubs with extreme differences in attitude and culture.
However, amid all the animosity there's common ground. Two sides of the same coin is an apt description of these eternal foes. Central to their sporting policies is an unwavering commitment to the education and development of footballers - as well as preaching a distinctive playing style - and that is seen by many as key to a better future.
Sunday's meeting, the 177th Klassieker, a game that stops a nation, was by no means a classic. With that said though, there should be no antipathy towards either club; it's easy to forget – when all that seemingly matters in the modern game is the here and now – the small but significant steps made in the last few years which have placed them on a good footing. One by-product of reverting to a back-to-basics, self-sustainable model has been the influx of graduates in their respective first XIs.
There's nothing more satisfying for those on the terraces than seeing one of their own come up through the ranks. Of those who started yesterday's game 10 were taught at either De Toekomst (Ajax) or Varkenoord (Feyenoord) - both model academies and the envy of Europe. For supporters it's something greatly encouraged as it solidifies a connection; they are more likely to be emotionally invested with footballers who live and breathe the same air as them. Seeing them rise to prominence brings a great sense of pride akin to a delighted parent witnessing the growth of their child.
Contemporary examples would be Jordy Clasie and Davy Klaassen, both of whom made their full debut months apart in late 2011. They are the embodiment of the virtues their respective sides represent. Klaassen, a quasi-deep-lying forward, has evolved into Ajax's fulcrum, such is his rise to prominence he was named along with Toni Kroos and Xavi by Johan Cruyff as an example of how a midfield player should dictate the game. "All three of these players have a perfect first touch," the legendary 'Number 14' commented. "As soon as Klaassen plays from midfield, the ball is played faster".
Klaassen's effectiveness lies in his flexibility. Though not an Amsterdammer, born in Hilversum, the club he supports is renowned worldwide as the apostles of 'total football' or universalism, and he's championing their philosophy, being comfortable out wide and when dropping deep (2.7 tackles per game). He didn't take part in the recent derby, a goalless affair, and it really showed.
They missed his guile, speed of thought and capacity to transition between midfield and forward lines. Klaassen is averaging 1.8 key passes per game, subsequently creating eight goals, which puts him joint first in the race to be crowned 'assist king'. Nonetheless, Cruyff's demand that the central midfielder "should be the man setting up the attacking play" was met by Jordy Clasie.
Feyenoord's reputation as a hardworking and closely-knit outfit contrasts with Ajax's modus operandi. Their supporters revere players that reflect the will-power and never-say-die attitude of the fans.
Clasie, for all his technical excellence as a 'number six' (controlling midfielder) sitting just in front of the back-four, has been lauded for his tenacity. "I love to tackle and work for the team too. I need that kind of game". He's averaging 2.6 tackles per game; tactically versed, one of the best readers in the Eredivisie, he's making 2.1 interceptions per game (the best of any non-defender in his team). "You have to be smart by positioning yourself correctly. When I intercept, it's because I know where the ball was going". It sounds simple, but as we know playing simple football is the hardest thing. Being appointed captain last term by Ronald Koeman, who's responsible for the rejuvenation on the river Meuse, felt like a dream come true. Even though he's not a local, hailing from the city of Haarlem and joining the club aged nine, he feels like one.
Being appointed captain last term by Ronald Koeman, who's responsible for the rejuvenation on the river Meuse, felt like a dream come true. Even though he's not a local, hailing from the city of Haarlem and joining the club aged nine, he feels like one.
"I've grown up in Rotterdam". Koeman describes him as "Feyenoord-crazy". His playing style – proficient in the tightest of spaces; master of the instep with every move starting before the ball is touched courtesy of his sharp brain, 180-degree vision and impeccable foresight – earned him the nickname 'Xavi of De Kuip'. "I want to be like him," Clasie once told Voetbal International. "He's unplayable in everything he does".
Over the weekend in Amsterdam he again demonstrated his meticulous approach as a conductor – orchestrating attacks as well as making sure the opposition doesn't infiltrate his defence – making two tackles and four interceptions, whilst no player bettered him when it came to number of touches (107) and passes made (84).
Everything the Rotterdammers did that was positive was because of him, but it's been that way for some time now. Across this campaign he's proven his value when it comes to recycling possession, averaging 62.7 passes per game, 5.3 of which have been played long, or executing a defence splitting ball. Given his deep position he's more often likely to be the provider for the assist maker, which is why a future Netherlands midfield triumvirate featuring Clasie and Klaassen is bound to work.
Speaking of Oranje, the modern "Dutch school" is an amalgamation of concepts. Distinguished contributors include those who built the house of Feyenoord and Ajax, and their disciples – notably Wim Jansen (instrumental in renovating Varkenoord) and the aforementioned Cruyff – agree a better tomorrow is being shaped at the nation's most illustrious clubs as they continue to evolve and rewrite the blueprint.