After seven years away from title glory, Frank de Boer has returned Ajax to the top of the mountain and maintained a level of success that has been hard to match anywhere in Europe. A 2-2 draw two weeks ago against Heracles helped to secure the Amsterdam side their fourth Eredivisie title in four years.
De Boer’s has been diligent since arriving at Ajax in December 2010. He’s taken in youth games, he’s promoted from within and helped to strengthen that aura which surrounds the club’s famed youth academy.
De Boer has also had time and comfort. We can adjudge that the success of the club over the past four seasons has been because the manager has had the freedom to work, the resources to succeed and the right personnel alongside him who understood what was required from the club and how to work to its ethos.
The fact that Ajax have spent so little in first re-acquiring the Dutch league title and then going on to retain it three times means de Boer is a favourite for clubs who work to lesser budgets and who want to maximise the output of what they already have.
The admiration for the Dutchman is widespread in England. Tottenham aren’t the only club to sound out de Boer for a future managerial role. Liverpool enquired after him before turning to Brendan Rodgers, and Manchester United kicked the tires on the possibility of landing de Boer not too long ago before turning their attention elsewhere.
De Boer, however, must understand that the life he knows at Ajax is vastly different from what managers have experienced in the past at Tottenham.
Under Daniel Levy, the shelf life of a manager is short. He’s moved on coaches who have a history of success with clubs in cup competitions (Juande Ramos), and he’s booted the polar opposite in managerial style, yet one who still gave Tottenham what they’d long sought to achieve (Harry Redknapp).
After each managerial sacking at Tottenham, we’ve gone over the mistakes that led to the final action of dismissal; for Andre Villas-Boas, there were plenty. Yet we’ve hardly ever gone over the problems and mistakes that exist in the boardroom.
Let’s call a spade a space: Tottenham aren’t a club who have a modern identity in the way Ajax do. They’re not trying to uphold one set of values. They’ve bought good to great players over the years – Dimitar Berbatov, Michael Carrick, Luka Modric, Gareth Bale – but they’ve been a stepping stone for each of them. Each time the club land on something good that could help to shape their future, whether it’s Villas-Boas or Redknapp, Levy is quick off the draw following any kind of setback.
Levy is a chairman who doesn’t really know what he wants – at least that’s what we can infer from his erratic behaviour on the managerial front.
Will de Boer be comfortable with life at Spurs, will he be given the freedom to carry out his work? Probably not. Franco Baldini is still floating about, and his isn’t a position which requires little to no work. Tottenham have been one of the clubs in the Premier League to embrace the idea of a director of football. Whether they’ve done it the right way is another matter.
We shouldn’t assume that de Boer will be a success wherever he goes. Tottenham, above all, shouldn’t assume he will either. The Dutchman has the right people in place who have helped him get Ajax where they are now. They’re on the same page, just as Ramos and Sevilla’s Director of Football Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo (Monchi) were.
What kind of relationship can de Boer expect with Baldini at Spurs? Probably a confusing one, if we’re going by what we saw during the first few months of this season with Villas-Boas in the dugout. The trio, Levy included, looked to be on the same page during the summer, seemingly spending the Gareth Bale money wisely. What we saw in on the pitch was a group of players who didn’t fit into the manager’s tactical setup. He couldn’t bring out the best in Roberto Soldado; when was the last time someone saw record signing Erik Lamela?
These uncertainties and inconsistencies eventually help to spell the end for managers, regardless of where they came from and what their history of success is.
De Boer has stability at Ajax. He’s alluded many times in the past to unfinished business with the club. It should be remembered that this is one of Europe’s great clubs, a four-time winner of the European Cup. They may be dominating domestically, but they’re surely not happy to settle for their Champions League campaigns ending in December.
Tottenham may offer de Boer more in the way of resources to build a stronger team; the club would also offer the Ajax coach the excitement of something different, and no one is of the opinion that he’ll stay in Amsterdam for the rest of his career.
But is the structure at Tottenham right? Its history doesn’t provide confidence. Daniel Levy may not be the right man to offer de Boer the time he needs to be a success.