Following Manchester United’s exit from Europe’s premier competition, social media has been ablaze with supporters calling for Louis van Gaal’s head. What seems to have annoyed fans most is that, after a huge outlay of £250 million over the last eighteen months, the team are struggling to put the ball in the net—and when they do attack, as they did against Wolfsburg, it’s at the expense of the watertight defending they’ve become notorious for this season.
This is in stark contrast to what van Gaal achieved in his first managerial position, at Ajax Amsterdam. In a six-year spell with Holland’s biggest club, he won a total of 11 trophies. Most impressively, in 1995 he won the Dutch league title and the UEFA Champions League without a single defeat in either competition. If that wasn’t incredible enough, two thirds of the players who took the field that night had come directly from Ajax’s world famous academy.
Louis van Gaal’s first great team: Ajax 1995
So let’s have a look at the players who took part in that final, in which Ajax beat the holders AC Milan 1 – 0 in Vienna, and how their careers panned out.
Edwin van der Sar. Goalkeeper, 24.
Touted as Peter Schmeichel’s successor when the Danish legend left Old Trafford in 1999, but moved to Juventus that summer. Finally arrived at United in 2005 from Fulham, and had a trophy laden six years, with four Premier League titles and another Champions League success being the major high points. Retired in 2011, passing the gloves to his successor, David de Gea.
Michael Reiziger. Right-Back, 22.
Moved to AC Milan in 1996, and then onto Barcelona the following year where he amassed more than 200 appearances in a seven year spell. Moved to Middlesbrough in 2004, and saw out the final two, injury hit years of his career back in his native Holland with PSV Eindhoven, before retiring in 2007.
Danny Blind. Centre-Back, 33.
The captain was in the twilight of his career during Ajax’s triumph in Vienna, having played for the club for nine years by that point. Retired in 1999, and would later manage his old club. Currently the head coach for the Dutch national team, his son, Daley, now plays for Manchester United.
Frank Rijkaard. Centre-Back/Sweeper, 32.
One of the greatest footballers of his generation. Having begun his career at Ajax, he returned to the club in 1993 following five years at AC Milan where we won every trophy on offer as part of the best team in Europe at that time. His final act as a player was lifting the 1995 Champions League trophy, at the expense of his former club. He won the Champions League as manager of Barcelona, in 2006, in addition to two La Liga titles.
Frank de Boer. Left-Back, 25.
Stayed at Ajax until 1999 when, along with his twin brother Ronald, he joined his old boss van Gaal at Barcelona. Won one La Liga title at the Nou Camp, but his time there was largely unsuccessful as Real Madrid were the top team in Spain at that time. Following spells with Galatasaray and Rangers, de Boer moved to Qatar in 2004 where he played out the remaining two years of his career. Current manager of Ajax.
Clarence Seedorf. Centre Midfield, 19.
One of the greatest midfielders of all time, and currently the only player to have won the Champions League with three different clubs – Ajax in 1995, Real Madrid in 1998 and AC Milan in 2003 and 2007. Left Ajax for Sampdoria following the Champions League triumph, and had a brief spell at Inter Milan before making himself a legend at AC Milan. Seedorf retired in 2014, after a two year spell with Brazilian club Botafogo, to take charge of Milan but was sacked after just six months.
Edgar Davids. Centre Midfield, 18.
Left Ajax in 1996 for AC Milan, but was sold to Juventus the following year where he became a firm fans’ favourite, winning a host of domestic trophies. He joined Inter Milan in 2004, following a loan spell at Barcelona. Davids famously wore eye protective goggles during matches after being diagnosed with Glaucoma. After years of being linked with a move to the Premier League (usually Manchester United), he joined Tottenham in 2005. Spent the final years of his career back at Ajax, Crystal Palace and a bizarre player-manager spell at League Two side Barnet.
Finidi George. Right Wing, 24.
The Nigerian international winger moved to Spain with Real Betis in 1996, where he maintained an impressive scoring record for a winger. Following their relegation in 2000, he joined Real Mallorca for the first of two spells, which sandwiched a two year stint in England with Ipswich Town. George never quite hit the same heights as at Ajax after leaving Amsterdam, and retired in 2004.
Marc Overmars. Left Wing, 22.
Overmars joined Arsenal in 1997, and scored the winning goal at Old Trafford which took his side above Manchester United in that season’s Premier League title race, which Arsenal duly won. He moved to Barcelona in 2000, although his time there would be trophyless. He was forced to retire with a knee injury in 2004, but strangely came out of retirement in 2008 to play one season with Dutch side Go Ahead Eagles, before the same knee trouble forced him to retire permanently.
Jari Litmanen. Attacking Midfield/ Striker, 24.
Undoubtedly Finland’s greatest ever player, Litmanen moved to Barcelona in 1999, and then Liverpool in 2001, but a succession of injuries meant that neither club got the same benefit as Ajax did, and he returned to Amsterdam on a free transfer in 2002. During the latter stages of his career he played for several clubs across Europe before retiring in 2011, following a spell in his native Finland with HJK Helsinki.
Ronald de Boer. Striker/Midfield, 24.
Like his brother, Ronald played for Barcelona, Rangers and saw out the remaining days of his career in Qatar. Unlike Frank, however, he didn’t play for Galatasaray and didn’t retire until 2008. He played as a striker in the Champions League final, but was usually deployed in midfield throughout his career.
Nwankwo Kanu. Striker, 18.
Kanu joined Inter Milan in 1996, but a serious heart defect put his career in jeopardy. He had surgery to correct the problem but was unable to win his place back, and was sold to Arsenal in 1999, winning both the Premier League and FA Cup twice. He later played for West Bromwich Albion, and then Portsmouth, with whom he won another FA Cup, before retiring in 2012.
Patrick Kluivert. Striker, 18.
Immediately thrust into the limelight after scoring the goal that won the Champions League for Ajax in Vienna. Kluivert joined AC Milan in 1997, but moved to Barcelona the following year following an unhappy spell in Italy. Despite being The Netherlands’ all-time leading goalscorer until 2013 (when he was surpassed by Robin van Persie), and a fantastic player, he never quite hit the heights expected of him. He left Barcelona in 2004, and saw out each of the last four seasons of his career in four different countries – England (Newcastle United), Spain (Valencia), Holland (PSV Eindhoven), and France (Lille) – before retiring in 2008.
Although they reached the Champions League Final again in 1996, a penalty shootout defeat to Juventus would stop Ajax from retaining the title. Louis van Gaal became manager of Barcelona in 1997, and tried to bring most of the side with him.
Unfortunately, the offers from Europe’s biggest leagues proved the key factor in breaking this side up. It would, however, have been nice to see what else this side could have achieved, had that not been the case.