An Ajax Fairytale

by Okanga Okanga II
2nd May 2019

For those who may not be familiar with Greek mythology, Ajax was a prominent character in the great Trojan War that ended with the conquest of Troy by the armies of Greece. He was one of the bravest and strongest of the lot, the "bulwark of the Achaeans." Unlike the later terrorised Odysseus and many other prominent characters, he did not make it through to the end of the war, falling on his own sword like Saul of Israel. But like Achilles, his death did not make his life less of a legend.

When we speak of Ajax today we speak of the football gladiators from the Dutch city of Amsterdam - a team captained by a butterfly of 19 who has every bit shown himself to be a bird. The team of relics of yesteryears, Dusan Tadic and Daley Blind, have become more relevant than ever. The only top team in Europe with an African goalkeeper. The ever-rolling wheel of Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Luis Van Gaal and now Erik ten Hag.

There is no team that I have taken to more in the UEFA Champions League this season than Ajax. Why wouldn't I? They are the neutrals' delight. They are the real daredevils. They thread upon the valley of the shadow of death and conquer the pit and the dark. They fear not the arrow of the day nor the terror of the night. The Bernabeu has fallen by their left-hand side and the Allianz by their right-hand side. They have left the Spurs hanging on the tree like Absalom. What more shall we do but anoint their heads with oil?

As a Nigerian and a lover of "kwality" football (never mind my Chelsea affiliations) I have every reason to love Ajax. We cannot forget the first club to win Europe's top club competition with Nigerian players in it. This is also a team with the shrewdest of budgets that is notorious for lunching the careers of young players who go on to dominate the game. They are too numerous to mention here. Unlike in 1995, there are no Nigerians this time, but there are certainly Africans. Not less than a half-dozen of them, most prominently Andre Onana and Hakim Ziyech.

Ajax has not just been a team of giant killers. They are not like the Greece of 2004 or the FC Porto of the same year who built their game on an impregnable defence. They are a team that epitomises the Dutch purity of total football: attackers who can defend and defenders who can attack. They are totally dominant, like a swarm of bees and a troop of raiding wolves. With guile and tenacity, they dissect the opposition at will, regardless of stature or budget. They are such a Calabar delicacy that can connect a man's stomach to his tongue and his balls.

Just two years ago Ajax fell at the last hurdle in the UEFA Europa League, losing the final to Manchester United. That team has weathered the scars and since exhibited incredible maturity both in age and experience. They are fearless and breathless. Watching them run around their opponents at 90 minutes, you would think they bore extra lungs. They are a team in the real sense of the word. No man is an island. No man strives, attacks or defends on his own. Everyone is just a spoke in the revolving wheel. My worst fear is that if they do not win they will be forgotten like the Hungary of Puskas.

Unlike the mythical Ajax who, by suicide, did not live to see the fall of the Trojan walls, I hope that this Ajax will, like in 1995, cross the finish line and lift the greatest club competition in football this year. In a time of Game of Thrones, Regina Daniels, Tonto Dike and the Kardashians, I hope that this humble band of the young, wild and purposeful men will conquer Europe and make all the meaningful headlines.

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