Dutch football from Ajax to the Zuider Zee
When PSV Eindhoven and Ajax square off on Sunday it will be the 111th league meeting between two sides that have dominated the Dutch top flight for half a century.
With an incredible 51 titles between them in Dutch league football’s 110-year history, the scale of their domination becomes more evident when you cast an eye over the figures since the inception of the Eredivisie in 1956: 40 titles in the past 55 campaigns.
Yet strangely it has never felt like a bipolar-hegemony, perhaps as, bar the odd season, the title has not been won at a canter. Events of the past few years have also shown that other sides have closed the gap and now hold aspirations beyond merely finishing behind the so called ‘big two’.
Louis van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar were immediately followed by Steve McClaren’s FC Twente in winning the championship in 2009 and 2010 – the first time since 1965 that two seasons had passed without PSV or Ajax winning the title.
However order was restored last season, when Ajax ended their seven-year absence from the summit, and with PSV spending big this summer, there’s every possibility the pair may resume their battle as the nation’s undisputed top two.
From the onset of the Eredivisie, it was Ajax who established an era of control - winning eight of the first eighteen championships, including six between 1965/66 and 1972/73 - a period known as ‘Gloria Ajax’ in which they also enjoyed great success on the continental stage.
Ajax's Velibor Vasović lifts the European Cup in 1971
The club from Eindhoven then enjoyed three title wins in four years in the second half of the 1970s, led by coach Kees Rijvers. His squad included such illustrious names as Jan Poortvliet, Willy van der Kuylen and the Van de Kerkhof twins - Rene and Willy.
Jan Reker and then his assistant Guus Hiddink would later establish a mini-dynasty of their own in the mid to late 80s, with four successive title wins between 1986 to 1989 - a feat not seen in Holland since HVV Den Haag managed it at the turn of the 20th century. Hiddink would also add the European Cup in 1988.
Although Ajax won five titles to PSV’s three in the 1990s, the balance of power swung back towards Eindhoven at the start of the 21st century, with PSV winning seven league championships between 2000 and 2008. Such was their domination that some joked PSV should be presented with the championship trophy at the start of the season - why waste the time come May?
The stability at PSV was a far cry from the revolving-door policy at Ajax, where managers would come and go having barely made themselves comfortable in the dug out.
Given the successes of the two teams over the past 30 years, it’s a wonder this games is not considered a major derby on a par with the biggest in Europe.
Many of a PSV persuasion feel the answer lies in the fact they are not based in Randstad, a conurbation made up of cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag and Utrecht, and home to many of the major newspapers. As a result, Eindhoveners claim they’re made to feel they are from a ‘provincial’ city and not treated as seriously.
Games between the sides have always had a bearing on the destination of the title one way or another. In the years Louis van Gaal was in the Ajax hotseat he’d always comment on the importance of not giving the Eindhoven side an inch.
PSV's players celebrate victory over Benfica in 1988
The last few years have seen tensions at PSV reach near boiling point, with fans growing ever more frustrated with the current regime - a possible side effect of years seeing success and the self righteousness that comes with it. Coach Fred Rutten has so far this season proved his doubters wrong, though given the calibre of the signings made in the summer, his task was always likely to be made a little easier.
The acquisitions of Kevin Strootman, Dries Mertens and Georginio Wijnaldum have already been described on these pages as a masterstroke. Concerns over a possible ‘bedding in period’ proved misplaced, with Mertens in particular hitting the ground running.
The Belgian has scored in his first five league games - a feat only achieved by twice before by PSV players - Piet van der Kuil (1961) and Mateja Kežman (2003). The addition of Tim Matavž on deadline day only bolstered an attack that already included Ola Toivonen and Jeremain Lens.
As for Ajax, they currently sit at atop the league, after capitalising on a surprise defeat for Twente away at Roda JC by winning a gruelling game at Heracles.
In his playing heyday, Ajax boss Frank de Boer enjoyed the battles with the Boeren, and Sunday’s game will be his second taste as manager, following a cagey goalless draw in February. Although the match prior to that stalemate was also a bore-draw, recent encounters have generally be goal-laden, with 25 goals hitting the net in the previous four meetings.
The side from the capital’s last win away to their rivals away from home was a 5-1 rout in March 2007, but in truth Eindhoven hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for Ajax. Before that win in 2007, their last was at the start of the 1994/95 season. Only three wins in 22 years.
With those statistics and the loss of Miralem Sulejmani to a hamstring injury and Lorenzo Ebecilio to suspension means De Boer goes into this match perhaps feeling the pressure for the first time. The question is; how will he and his team react?
1) Holt and Davies set for foul-off Last weekend Kevin Davies became the second player in the history
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