07.04.2024 21:29 h

'Playground Ajax': Dutch giants plumb new depths

"You can always lose, but not like this". Ajax captain Steven Bergwijn summed up the humiliation after Sunday's 6-0 capitulation against arch-rivals Feyenoord that sent the Dutch giants to rock bottom.

It was a record margin of victory in a "Klassieker" between the two top Dutch teams, but the truth is it could have been more -- a seventh was ruled out for offside.

"Ten, ten," chanted a jubilant De Kuip in Rotterdam that was packed only with home supporters -- away fans are not welcome after years of violence between the two clubs.

Feyenoord had 30 shots, 15 on target. Ajax had one. Feyenoord ran the Ajax defence ragged, with the second half seeming more like a training ground possession exercise.

It was, as the Algemeen Dagblad put it, "a beating for the ages".

"Ajax are in a phase where things are going badly," said manager John van 't Schip. "But this was men against boys, or even schoolchildren."

"This was really shameful... This is a day you want to erase from your mind quickly, but it will haunt us for a long time."

It was the nadir in an Ajax season that has already had its share of low moments.

The reverse fixture in Amsterdam was abandoned after 55 minutes when home fans lobbed flares onto the pitch with their team already 3-0 down.

Frustration boiled over as fans then fought pitched battles with mounted police. Some fans smashed up their own stadium, while players were kept in the dressing room for their safety.

To add insult to injury, Feyenoord added a fourth goal when the game restarted three days later.

"Over the season, we've beaten them 10-0. That's pretty special," crowed Feyenoord's Quinten Timber.

Ajax seem certain to avoid the worst-ever season of 1964/65, when they came 13th in the Eredivisie.

That was the year Johan Cruyff joined the youth team and Ajax won the championship the following season.

But it's hard to see the four-time European Cup champions bouncing back so quickly this time -- their first goal is to secure European football, which seems a distant prospect.

They currently lie sixth -- a staggering 33 points behind runaway leaders PSV Eindhoven, and seven behind AZ Alkmaar in the fourth place that would qualify for Europe.

Scandals off the pitch are not helping matters.

The word "playground" is currently in vogue with Ajax supporters.

It comes from Chairman Michael van Praag, who was blistering in his criticism of CEO Alex Kroes when the club suspended him on suspicion of insider trading.

Kroes bought more than 17,000 Ajax shares a week before his intended appointment was announced on August 2, 2023.

"Kroes is very naive," blasted Van Praag. "We do not need him back. It's not a playground here."

But his words came back to bite him when it emerged on Friday that Van Praag had failed to declare his own stock -- around 100 shares -- to the appropriate authorities.

"Welcome to the Ajax playground," ran a bitter headline on the Ajax Supporters Association website.

The website likened the current state of the club to a playground "full of landmines and where the swings are loose, the slide stops halfway and the sandpit is empty."

The club of Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp "played like a relegation team" against Feyenoord, according to public broadcaster NOS, while the Supporters Association called it a "fitting end to a disastrous week."

"Feyenoord scores in the Ajax playground," the editor of the association headlined his match report.

"To all Ajax fans, we wish you the best of luck at the office coffee machine, because there are limits to how much you can take as a supporter."