Former FC Barcelona coaches Johann Cruyff (1988-1996) and Louis Van Gaal (1997-2000, 2002-2003) have never kept secret their disdain for one another. The former AFC Ajax players have been at odds for months regarding Van Gaal’s backroom appointment as CEO at the Amsterdam club. Cruyff, who serves on the five-member supervisory board at the club, was reportedly left in the dark regarding his nemesis’ appointment during a meeting in which Cruyff was not present. Cruyff appealed to a Dutch court, who ruled Tuesday that Ajax could not appoint the former Bayern Munich manager as a director based on the fact that the decision was not on the agenda for that particular meeting, a critical detail Cruyff openly objected to.
The four other members of the supervisory board, Steven ten Have, Paul Romer, Marjan Olfers, and Edgar Davids (whom some view as the catalyst for FC Barcelona’s meteoric rise in the early 2000s), appointed Van Gaal as a director in November in Cruyff’s absence and the Dutchman immediately began to make public his disapproval of the decision, citing that this directly clashed with his plans to rejuvenate the famed Ajax youth program.
Similar to Cruyff’s vision while at FC Barcelona, the goal of shoring up the quality of the youth program would ideally affect the capacity of the first team to feature cheaper and better quality players while bringing home titles. But critics argue that Van Gaal is the best man for the job based on his intimate knowledge of the club and his time there both as a player and coach. Despite the arguments in favor of his appointment, several youth coaches, including Marc Overmars, Wim Jonk, Japp Staam and Dennis Bergkamp, claimed in the press and to the Dutch court that Van Gaal would be counterproductive to the youth movement occurring at the club.
Board members Romer, ten Have, Olfers and Davids all claimed Van Gaal’s ratification was not pedant on Cruyff’s approval or lack thereof. They insisted to the Dutch appellate court that Van Gaal would have gotten the majority votes they needed despite Cruyff’s disapproval.
The court ruled, however, that by keeping mum on the subject, the board shirked its duty to transparency among its members and disarmed a potentially volatile Cruyff, who would have used his friends in the media to sway public opinion in his favor— never mind the fact that companies on the Amsterdam Stock Exchange are obligated to keep their negotiations secret.
Whether the Catalunya coach’s trumpeting will ultimately be beneficial to Ajax remains to be seen. Several things are certain however; Cruyff’s vision helped kick-start the golden era of Barcelona, starting with his fast-tracking of La Masia products and considerate appointment of former players as youth team managers. His influence currently puts his beloved club in a difficult position, one that remains director-less since July and threatens the faith of the club’s members in the supervisory board. A vote of no confidence looms in the distance, with one of football’s greatest youth factories in the balance.