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There is something deeply, undeniably satisfying about the prospect of Ajax being back on the big stage, competing in a European showpiece 21 years on from their last.
Those red and white shirts, and the youth, vigour and sheer abandon of the football played by those wearing them in recent months—certainly on the continental stage—has ignited thoughts and hopes of a glorious new dynasty in Amsterdam to add to those that went before.
We are jumping the gun, of course. This is the Europa League, even if the Stockholm final against Manchester United does have a flavour of the Champions League—or, indeed, the pre-1992/93 European Cup—about it.
The swagger of some of those performances at the Amsterdam Arena especially on the way here, however—dazzling as they may have been—have to be set against the flirtations with collapse in the returns with FC Schalke 04 and Lyon in quarter- and semi-finals, respectively, and a failure to win back the Eredivisie title.
This Ajax side is not the finished article, and why would it be? The XI that took the field for the final match of the Eredivisie campaign on May 14—an ultimately in-vain 3-1 win at Willem II—had an average age of 20 years and 139 days, with 24-year-old midfielder Davy Klaassen the only over-21.
20y 139d – @AFCAjax starting XI against Willem II is the youngest ever line-up in Eredivisie history. Exam. https://t.co/gkcC6xyDyG
In the context of the modern game it’s remarkable, even bearing in mind that coach Peter Bosz made a few freshening tweaks to the team that just about held on in that frantic second leg at Lyon.
Bosz clearly believes that Kasper Dolberg, the scorer of 23 goals in all competitions this season at the age of just 19, and 20-year-old Davinson Sanchez can deal with the demand for consistency and adaptability. They and their peers have…