Johan Cruyff is one of the most respected - and expensive - pundits in football. Not for him self-serving cliches or back-slapping of former teammates. The Dutch legend is usually original, informed and articulate. He holds power without a position at Barcelona, where prospective presidents court him.
In Holland, his status as the greatest ever Dutch player means that he is listened to, but if he was expecting general agreement with his recent comments about Ajax's playing style then he was greatly mistaken. Cruyff, who watches Barcelona most weeks, opined from Catalonia that Ajax are not playing the way for which they are famed throughout the world. He lamented the loss of three strikers and many football purists would agree with his romantic notion. The problem is, most do not watch Ajax every week and those who do have seen their side fail to win the title since 2004.
"We knew where Cruyff was coming from, but we just want to win the league," said Imre, a season ticket holder on the F-Side of the Ajax Arena where the hardcore go. "We're not playing brilliantly, but we're league leaders after seven games and Martin Jol is a realistic man. We want a title and Jol is the man to deliver it." Imre travelled to the Bernabeu two weeks ago with 1,400 Ajax fans to see them beaten 2-0 by Real Madrid in the opening Group G game.
"We got a football lesson," he said. "And should be pleased that it was only 2-0." Like many Ajax fans, he sighed when they were grouped with Real, AC Milan and Auxerre in the Champions League. While Real travel to Auxerre tonight, Milan visit the ArenA in a repeat of the 1969 and 1995 European Cup finals. The Italians won the first final but Ajax exacted revenge in 1995 when Patrick Kluivert, later a Milan player, scored the game's only goal.
Danny Blind, the Ajax assistant coach, captained the side that beat Milan in the 1995 final and his son Daley is a member of their current first-team. All 50,000 tickets have been sold for the visit of the side who count Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the former Ajax striker, and Clarence Seedorf, the midfielder, in their ranks. Milan will come up against an emerging wave of Ajax players who are eventually likely to leave the club for richer pastures, such is the limited economic power and status of the Eredivise. To them, the Champions League is the perfect shop window.
Luis Suarez, the Uruguay striker and club captain, has repeated in the league the form which he showed as his side reached the World Cup semi-finals. He missed out on that game after being sent off sent off for handball during their quarter-final victory against a Ghana side including Milan's Kevin-Prince Boateng. Maarten Stekelenburg, the goalkeeper fared better as he reached the final with Netherlands. He is expected to join a bigger European giant. Eyong Enoh, the Cameroonian enforcer, and Jan Vertonghen, a Belgian have been the other outstanding Ajax players. Vertonghen and Suarez were suspended and sorely missed for the Real game and Ajax fans are hoping their team will perform better at home with their two key stars.
They also would not object if Ibrahimovic replicates his performance when he played four times against Milan as an Ajax player. He failed to find the net on each occasion. At least that would give Cruyff something else to comment on.