Today vs Tomorrow
As Henrik Mkhitaryan flicked in the second the hearts of football fans sunk. At 2–0 behind against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United everyone knew it, there would be no way back for Ajax. United would clinch the 2017 Europa League.
The sinking of hearts was not down to the common schadenfreude of watching Manchester United lose. This Ajax side had captured the imagination of the neutral, the opponent was not important, it was the collective will that this exciting young side would collect the trophy.
The average age of the line up was 22, Lasse Schone at 31 the oldest Ajax player by six years. Matthijs de Ligt playing at the heart of the defence a mere 17 years old. Not only this, but Ajax possessed a further squad of young players ready to step in. Nothing jump starts the soul like the promise of youth. Particularly at Ajax.
The names of the little sparks that have passed through the Ajax youth system are some of the greats of the modern game. Bergkamp, Overmars, van Basten, Kluivert, Davids, Seedorf. Cruyff. Of course Cruyff. Always there is Cruyff.
Through Cruyff the Ajax influence has spread to Spain and as such forms the core of much that youth coaches attempt to develop in their young players. With it comes a particular expectation of attacking football. The style and verve of Peter Bosz’s team is what drew in all those fans from around the world. A young team that sits and defends is all well and good but a team that plays with vibrancy excites. And in football there is nothing more exciting than seeing the team of tomorrow.
Ajax filled their iconic white and red strip with mostly home grown players. In Germany a club with their own iconic strip was looking to build a squad of mostly imported young talents.
The club management structure of Borussia Dortmund made an unusual and bold move. They would invest heavily in young players. Already within their ranks were Felix Passlack, Julian Wiegl and Christian Pulisic. By the time they had finished shopping they had a team for tomorrow.
It was as though they were playing a video game and planning on going on a journey. Bringing in the hottest prospects and readying themselves to sit back and enjoy the ride.
There was a problem.
In England managers are denied real time in charge at their club. Not fulfilling expectations will lead to losing your job. Developing young players can be done, but not if it is a risk to the league position. Time is a luxury that is not meted out. The fast pace, big money, daily snack of the Premier League is impatient. Not lacking in young talent, but lacking in trust of the young. Experience or ready made young players are the order of the day.
At Dortmund it seemed that this precious time was precisely what was being given to Thomas Tuchel. Dortmund had decided to trust. To be patient. Unfortunately the manager wanted to win today, not tomorrow.
Tuchel’s departure from Dortmund was a very complex affair and it would be unfair and inaccurate to point to a singular factor. The shocking bus attack, the loss of key players and the players bought in all playing a part. Yet Tuchel did site the young signings. Players he was not familiar with and expected to work with when his eyes were on more established targets. The 2016/17 season would yield a German Cup but in the league they would slip behind newly promoted Red Bull Liepzig into third place. Tuchel wanted a team for today. Dortmund were happy to wait until tomorrow.
After Tuchel moved on Dortmund turned to Ajax and the man who had guided an exciting group of players, Peter Bosz. Logically and romantically this would seem to be the perfect combination. No match maker could wish for a better marriage. A club that has faith in young talent. A manager that has a track record for nurturing young players, coming forth from one of the most highly regarded hot beds of young footballing in the world. A group of exciting young wunderkinds. This is truly a set up that football fans can get behind and root for. Both Ajax and Dortmund do not just have good young footballers but they have young footballers with high levels of technical ability. Player that can change the outcome of matches in an instant. The type of players who play the game in the way that fans love.
We can only wish that a club in England would share the same vision. The international teams have had a phenomenal summer in 2017, with the ability levels of the players matching up with nations known to produce top quality players. Now these players are in need of their Bosz. Their Ajax. Their Dortmund. With the time, trust and talent to build the team of tomorrow.