On Sunday, I went ahead and promoted Bullets Forever community member Dutch Hoopfan’s FanPost on why Wizards fans should for soccer team Ajax Amsterdam of the Netherlands in light of the fact that Washington missed the NBA Playoffs.
I get it. Ajax is not a basketball team. And I have written about the NBA and the Netherlands not once, but TWICE. It will be even more than that if you count the WNBA because Emma Meesseman and the Belgium women’s basketball team blew out the Netherlands a couple years back.
Anyway, Ajax played Italian power Juventus in the second leg of the UEFA Champion League quarterfinals and won, 2-1 last Tuesday. They are now headed to the semifinals for the first time since the 1996-97 season when it was easier for a team outside the UK, Spain, Germany or Italy to make deep runs in Europe.
I already mentioned why the Mystics are a model for the Wizards to follow. But if you’re a European soccer fan, you can also admire what Ajax has done over the past several years to get into the Champions League semifinals. Here are the three things that we all can admire from this Dutch team.
Investment in young player development
Ajax has a youth academy in Amsterdam that trains boys who are groomed to make the senior team as they get older. For example, they brought up their team captain Matthijs de Ligt from the academy. Most of the boys Ajax groom are Dutch, but some are from nearby countries like Belgium where Jan Vertonghen also came through their academy.
Americans have also played in Amsterdam. One-time Team USA player John O’Brien was also part of the youth academy and started for them in the early 2000s and still feels passionate about youth soccer today in a 2019 interview (in Dutch). Today, Joshua Pynadath may be the next American to play for the senior since he’s on the U17 team already.
The Wizards will never have a youth academy where they recruit middle and high school boys to learn their system. The professional sports systems in the United States uses schools, nonprofit club and college teams to develop players unlike the Netherlands. Still, the Capital City Go-Go is a place where younger players can be groomed to play larger roles on the Wizards later on.
Spending money to buy veteran players who fill key gaps
The Netherlands may be a rich country and a great place to live, but it hasn’t been a place where the top European players want to spend the prime of their careers. So Ajax’s best players, who are often very young, are often “raided” by the big-money teams in the transfer market season. De Jong is going to Barcelona next year. De Ligt and some other players probably will go somewhere else next year as well because the Dutch Eredivisie doesn’t pay as much.
In past years, Ajax may just have ushered in players from the youth team to replace players whose rights were sold, rights that give the Dutch team a pile of cash. However, they often didn’t spend that money on surefire first-team talents and used it to buy younger players from other teams or keep in the coffers. That makes the team vulnerable to being too inexperienced.
This season, Ajax spent €16 million to acquire veterans like Daley Blind from Manchester United and another €11.4 million to acquire Dusan Tadic from Southampton. Both have done well at Ajax. Tadic is arguably the best player in the Champions League at the moment.
How does this apply to the Wizards? It’s free agency and trades. Unlike Ajax, who don’t have a salary cap, the Wizards have to be wise when they pick up free agents. Ernie Grunfeld didn’t do that in 2016 and that led to his ouster in early April 2019.
The next General Manager has to be wise with cap space going forward. Unfortunately, the Wizards are in salary cap prison for at least the next couple seasons. So fans will have to expect some “bottoming out” or “waiting out” the expiration of big contracts starting with Ian Mahinmi’s before there is significant movement there.
The coaching’s great too!
Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag has done a fabulous job coaching the team. Dutch Hoopfan already noted that they are in position to win the Eredivisie and the KNVB Beker (That’s the Royal Dutch Soccer Association Cup) in addition to the Champions League.
The run in the Champions League is impressive in and of itself, but Ajax did not start their European journey in the group stage like most of the powers do. Rather, they started in the second qualifying round back on July 25, 2018! They had to win six games just to get into the group stage! And since the group stage, Ajax only lost one game which was to Real Madrid on February 13.
Teams aren’t supposed to make it to the semifinals from the SECOND QUALIFYING ROUND. It’s the first time that it’s ever happened!
Now if only Scott Brooks can come up with great inspiration and game plans for the Wizards’ players. He already came very close to a 50-win regular season in 2016-17 and won a Southeast Division title in Washington. The Wizards aren’t going to hit these achievements for awhile, but when the Wizards get past their salary issues, can he get the Wizards to come back strong? We’ll see.
When is Ajax’s next Champions League round?
Ajax plays against Tottenham Hotspur in the semifinals on April 30 at 3 p.m. ET in London for the first leg. The second leg is on May 8 at 3 p.m. ET in Amsterdam. If they beat Tottenham, Ajax would play either Liverpool or F.C. Barcelona in the championship on June 1 at 3 p.m. ET.
Happy Dutch-American Friendship Day everyone!
Today also marks an important day for our readers both here in the United States as well as our readers in the Netherlands. It is Dutch-American Friendship Day!
On April 12, 1982, President Ronald Reagan gave Proclamation 4928 which made April 19 a day celebrating relations between the United States and the Netherlands.
President Reagan also noted that America’s “longest unbroken, peaceful relationship with any foreign country” is with the Netherlands. Nearly 30 years after President Reagan’s proclamation, President Barack Obama noted the same in 2011, saying that “we have no stronger ally than the Netherlands.”
Think about it. When’s the last time you could think of the United States going to war against the Dutch or having a “Freedom Fries” moment? Never.
Here are just some of the other things on the Dutch influence on America and even Washington, D.C.!
- We invest in each other — The U.S. is the Netherlands’ biggest foreign investor, which is common with most western European countries. But the Netherlands is also the eighth largest importer of American goods and one of the biggest investors in America.
- The Netherlands was where U.S. and U.K. relations finally began to thaw — The Americans and British were at war from 1812-15 over trade and expansion disputes. The war ended after months of negotiations in Ghent, a city in the southern part of the country when the United Netherlands was formed. Since 1830, Ghent has been in Belgium.
- There are over 4.5 million Dutch Americans — That’s a lot of people. The D.C. area doesn’t have many Dutch Americans, but that’s also partly because our area will have people from all over the world as the nation’s capital. If you’re wondering which American regions have more people of Dutch ancestry, upstate New York and Midwestern States like Michigan and Wisconsin are your best bets.
- Many D.C. area supermarkets are owned by the Dutch — Ahold Delhaize is a supermarket holding company based in Zaandam, a city just north of Amsterdam. It owns many chains worldwide. In America, Giant and Food Lion are two local chains that are part of their grocery empire.
- The Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Va. is a gift from the Dutch to the Americans — After World War II, the Dutch created a 50-bell carillon with a 127-foot high tower. Joost W.C. Boks designed the tower while Paul Koning designed two lions that are at the base of the tower. It was officially dedicated on May 5, 1960, 15 years after the Dutch were liberated from Nazi rule. It’s on the edge of the Rosslyn neighborhood next to the United States Marine Corps War Memorial or as many locals call it, “The Iwo Jima Memorial.”
- Sam Dekker has Dutch ancestry — Gotta finish this with some tie to the Wizards. But in an interview with Candace Buckner of The Washington Post, Dekker noted that his grandmother came to the U.S. from the Netherlands.
Any popular music to listen to that is in Dutch?
Though the Dutch people are known for their fluency in English and are the kings of EDM songs in English (like Martin Garrix, Yellow Claw or Armin van Buuren), they have plenty songs in their own language which are popular at home and their southern neighbors in Belgium.
The top Dutch language song in the Netherlands is “Het Geluid” (“The Sound”) by Lil’ Kleine a rapper from Amsterdam.
And last year, Ali B., one of the most popular Dutch rappers and a judge on The Voice of Holland, released “Meli Meli” (“What’s Up With Me” in Arabic) with Ronnie Flex, another Dutch rapper/singer and Numidia, a Dutch singer who was on the Dutch (and flagship) version of The Voice Kids a few years ago.
And Boef, another Dutch rapper who’s been referred to as the “De ‘50 Cent’ van Nederland” by Belgians and here’s an introduction to him by Studio Brussel, a radio network in Belgium (video in Dutch but you can use YouTube’s translations). His latest hit at home is “Allang Al Niet Meer” (literally “No Longer a Long Time”):
I’m sure our Dutch readers will comment on this, so they can probably tell you more about them than I ever could. But they are all popular with Dutch people.
Anyway, that’s all I have on this Friday. Happy Dutch-American Friendship Day everyone!