Edwin van der Sar after a turbulent title with Ajax: ‘I will not be the Sjaak Swart of the boardroom’ | Ajax champion 2021-2022

General manager Edwin van der Sar has concluded the most turbulent season of his career as a director at Ajax with a third national title in a row. “It was a success from a sporting point of view,” he recalls. ,,But it was also tough, especially the last three months. Then you sometimes think, what am I sacrificing everything for?”

The departure of director of football affairs Marc Overmars due to cross-border behavior had a major impact on Van der Sar. ,,We’ve known each other for a long time, as a teammate at Ajax and Orange and as a director at Ajax. And then you see how his behavior has made colleagues at Ajax sad. I don’t want to say too much more about it. We have picked up everything again at our club,” says Van der Sar. ,,Shortly after his departure I spoke to Marc regularly, not in the last month. He has also suffered a major blow from it.”

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Ajax became champion of the Netherlands for the 36th time. The club from Amsterdam secured the third national title in a row with a home win against sc Heerenveen (5-0). Read all about the championship in our special file.

Ajax was startled last July by a fatal traffic accident involving youth player Noah Gesser. ,,That has also had a huge impact, especially in our youth academy,” says Van der Sar. ,,And we close the season with the death of our former players Jody Lukoki and Henk Groot in one week. I knew Henk from Lucky Ajax and old images. What could that man think. Fortunately, we have made a financial arrangement with the family of Abdelhak Nouri this season. He will forever hold a special place in our club.”


From a sporting point of view, Steven Berghuis’ transfer was spicy, but he quickly found his way on the field

Edwin van der Sar

,,From a sporting point of view, Steven Berghuis’ transfer was spicy, but he quickly found his way on the field with goals and assists,” says Van der Sar. ,,Our matches in the group stage of the Champions League were great. We won all six. Before the winter break, we lost one or two too many times in the Eredivisie. The cup final against PSV unfortunately went wrong and the unpleasant taste of the elimination by Benfica in the eighth finals of the Champions League has not yet washed away. I think we were better, just like last year against AS Roma. But if you look at it in detail, we have more than achieved our sporting objectives.”

It says a lot about the growth of Ajax that the elimination by a club like Benfica in the eighth finals feels like a heavy defeat. ,,I do remember that it was a party here when we reached the group stage of the Champions League,’ laughs Van der Sar. ,,But we are hooked up again in Europe. In this way we want to continue to perform at a minimum.”

Van der Sar expects clarity soon about the successor of trainer Erik ten Hag who will leave for Manchester United. He does not want to respond to names, not even to those of Alfred Schreuder, who, according to several sources, has agreed in broad terms about a multi-year contract.

The new trainer and technical people face a challenge. There is interest for many Ajax players. ,,That makes sense when you perform so well in Europe. But we also want to maintain our ambitions ourselves,” says Van der Sar, who has been active as a director of Ajax for ten years, the last six of which as general manager.

“I will certainly not continue to do this until I am sixty,” says the 51-year-old former goalkeeper. ,,It is all very intensive, especially this year. I will not become the Sjaak Swart of the boardroom of Ajax”, he refers to the 83-year-old club icon who still visits his favorite association almost daily.

Huntelaar and Hamstra

It could very well be that Gerry Hamstra and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar will continue to shape Ajax’s technical policy. “Ajax is a company that gives people opportunities,” says Van der Sar. ,,On the field, that often happens with talented players. If they do well, they can often remain standing.”

Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Erik ten Hag. © Pro Shots / Toon Dipping

Van der Sar is satisfied with how Hamstra and Huntelaar have functioned in recent months, since director of football affairs Marc Overmars left due to persistent cross-border behaviour. Hamstra was appointed as technical manager of Ajax last year. He previously worked in that position at SC Heerenveen for five years and was previously head of the youth academy at Vitesse. He also held technical positions at FC Emmen and FC Groningen. Huntelaar returned to Ajax in a technical role two months ago. The former top scorer has been supporting Hamstra ever since.

The technical leadership of Ajax awaits a lot of work in the coming months. ,,We say goodbye to a goalkeeper and right-back”, Van der Sar refers to André Onana and Noussair Mazraoui. ,,And we have a midfielder with a wish to leave”, he points to Ryan Gravenberch.