The Ajax it had been 13 years since he played a round of 16 tie Champions. And if tonight he receives Real Madrid, nothing less than the champion of the last three editions of the European Cup, it's thanks to a new generation of soccer players, young but well prepared, of those who like in Amsterdam, who leads Frenkie de Jong next to his inseparable friend Matthijs de Ligt.
The last time the ajacied club was in this round the Amsterdam Arena His name was not yet Johan Cruyff Arena. That time it was measured and eliminated by the Inter. In the local team they played Vermaelen, Stekelenburg, Babel, Juanfran or Huntelaar, who has returned. So, Frenkie de Jong (Arkel, 12 / V / 1997) was ten years old and could not imagine that he would become the most expensive Dutchman in history - it will be if the Barça ends adding the 11 million in variables to the 75 that will pay in summer for the midfielder-.
Discomfort and motivation
"He has rested for a few days and I suppose he will have a special motivation", reveals technician Ten Hag
To the naked eye, today's duel could be that of a few beardless children against men made and rights. De Jong is 21 years old and De Ligt is still two years younger. Modric is in 33 years, Ramos will fulfill them next month and Benzema already has 31. They are promises against great champions. That group of Madridistas has already won four Champions while De Jong, second twice of the Eredivisie and finalist of the Europa League of 2017, has not yet raised any title. But football does not understand ages. These two clubs know this. Madrid suffered and had to resort to extra time to eliminate an incipient Cruyff in 1967. In 1995 Van Gaal's team crushed the Whites at the Bernabeu with two goals, another two canceled and two goals. Now Ajax clings to the talent of the last pearl of Dutch football, already signed by Barcelona, the architect of the Ajax renaissance.
With suspense but everything points to De Jong may be on the lawn moving the strings. The player dragged discomfort in the adductor of the left leg and had to be replaced on Saturday when his team lost against Heracles. Yesterday he trained normally before the press, with his usual smile. "It's okay. Last week I had a problem but had a few days to rest. I'm counting on him, "explained Erik ten Hag, the Ajax coach when the last session was still missing. "It is very important for us. We hope he's recovered, "striker Dusan Tadic wished.
Praise and more praise
"He always finds the spaces", defines Overmars; "Messi will be happy to have him," says De Boer
The truth is that the fact of being in three competitions is forcing Ajax and his star to an extra effort. In the whole last season he played 26 games with his team and 5 with the U-21. This course is the first in which De Jong notes the responsibility and the requirement. He already has 32 games plus 5 with the absolute oranje, in which Koeman has given him the alternative.
So many eyes will be on De Jong. The fans of Madrid because they know that the Dutch brain can complicate the tie as leader of their generation and because they want to know what they will face from next season. The looks of the Ajax fans because, in a rarefied climate after a turbulent start to the year, they are aware that they depend on him as their most talented player to generate games. And finally, Barcelona fans will be watching the performance of Ajax 21 because they expect a first big favor from De Jong to the cause struggling to eliminate the Whites of the Champions and at the same time are eager to see what kind of footballer has signed the club to take the baton of the Blaugrana orchestra.
"Messi will be happy to have him there," said Frank de Boer, a former Ajax coach who played four and a half years at Barça, on his incorporation. "This player had to wear the Barça shirt. I have known him since he was 15 years old and he always passes the ball forward. In Barça there are very few spaces and Frenkie is always looking for solutions, "said Marc Overmars, sports director of the club who participated in the negotiation and also with Blaugrana's past.
Without a doubt, it is a special game for him. "De Jong is happy to play the game, like all of us because we are in the last rounds of the Champions League. Although I guess it will have that special motivation [por ser contra el Madrid]", Revealed his coach, who also defended him from critics who say his millionaire transfer to the Camp Nou has decentralized him. "I am sure that Frenkie only wants one thing and that is to close the season well with Ajax and that means making a good game against Madrid." The champion is threatened by a child wonder, the child of the Dutch prodigies.