x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Jol hopes to scratch Ajax's five-year itch

The first of Europe's big leagues, the Dutch Eredivisie, starts tonight when Heerenveen host Roda JC at the Abe Lenstra Stadion.

Ajax captain Luis Suarez, centre, duels for the ball during a friendly against Benfica.
Ajax captain Luis Suarez, centre, duels for the ball during a friendly against Benfica.

AMSTERDAM // The first of Europe's big leagues, the Dutch Eredivisie, starts tonight when Heerenveen host Roda JC at the Abe Lenstra Stadion. Neither of these two sides would expect to win the league, but in Amsterdam, where the four-time European champions Ajax have gone five years without a title, expectation is constant.

With the former Hamburg and Tottenham manager Martin Jol in charge there is hope that the club can add to their record haul of 29 Eredivisie title. Jol believes the toughest competition this season will come from champions AZ Alkmaar and an upgraded PSV Eindhoven team. "Alkmaar almost kept their team together, while PSV Eindhoven made a step forward by signing the experienced couple Andre Ooijer and Orlando Engelaar," he told Dutch weekly Voetbal International. "You can say it is almost unfeasible [for Ajax to win the title] but it can be done and we will go for it," he added.

Jol had limited transfer funds available and focused on signing a real leader on the pitch. He got his man when Dutch international Demy de Zeeuw was signed last Friday from Alkmaar. Jol has also been reunited with Cameroon left back Timothee Atouba who joined from Hamburg, but saw team captain and Belgium international defender Thomas Vermaelen sold to Arsenal for £10 million (Dh60m). "Playing for the title is a must for Ajax, but being the biggest club in the country, seeing the fans and organisation, is not a guarantee for success, like we noticed in the last few years," Jol said.

Champions Alkmaar managed to retain most of last season's squad and made an impressive start to the season when they thrashed Heerenveen 5-1 to win Dutch Super Cup on Saturday. Alkmaar have a new coach in Ronald Koeman, who was in charge when Ajax last won a Dutch title in 2003/04. He replaced another former Ajax coach Louis van Gaal who is now at the helm at Bundesliga club Bayern Munich. PSV, whose run of four successive Dutch titles was ended by Alkmaar last season, also have a new coach, Fred Rutten, a former assistant at the club. Rutten, who was sacked in March by Schalke 04, has signed Dutch international midfielder Orlando Engelaar from the Bundesliga club.

He has also brought Dutch international defender Ooijer back to the club after three seasons in the English Premier League with Blackburn Rovers. * Reuters