Litmanen got a festive feeling from the Ajax shirt: ‘Match day was a holiday’

Jari Litmanen has beautiful memories of playing matches in the Ajax shirt. The Finnish public favourite, who was a guest at the book presentation of the book ‘The Ajax Shirt – De Glorie Van Rood En Wit’spoke to Ajax Showtime about beautiful and less beautiful shirts, the exchange of shirts and a possible return to Ajax.

The Ajax home shirt looks good on the former midfielder anyway. ‘It always remains more or less the same and is number one. In my period there have been a number of beautiful shirts, but also a number of less beautiful shirts. I’m not saying they were ugly, haha, but less beautiful’, laughs the Finn, who won the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 in a dark blue and purple away shirt. “We wore that away shirt all year. In the league, cup and in the Champions League. I have fond memories of that shirt. When I saw that the first time, I already had a nice feeling.’

Another beautiful shirt in the eyes of Litmanen was the shirt that Ajax wore in the 1993/94 season. The shirt had vertical stripes with the colors dark blue and light blue, which were close to green. ‘You could loosen that shirt at the neck with laces. That was a very stylish shirt. For me, a training day was a working day and a competition day a holiday. That shirt gave me a very festive feeling.’

Getting used to certain Ajax shirts

Not every shirt at Ajax was equally attractive to Litmanen. He says that he had to get used to the fact that Ajax sometimes did not play matches in the recognizable white-red-white. ‘In my first season, 1992/93, Ajax played in a yellow/green shirt. That took some getting used to, haha’, he laughs now. “And there was another shirt that I didn’t like in terms of material. I think it was 1996 or 1997. It was a black shirt. The material was hard and it didn’t sit well.’

In his second period, Litmanen again played in a striking shirt. In the 2002/03 season there was an inner shirt in the normal competition shirt. “In that season there were two shirts in one, yes. It is true that it could have been warm because of that. It also felt a little heavy at times. It was not easy to carry. You also had to work a bit to put on that shirt.’

Jari Litmanen in Ajax’s away shirt at the time of the Champions League win in 1995. ‘I have great memories of that shirt. When I saw that the first time, I already had a nice feeling.’

Swapping shirts with players like Steven Gerrard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Dennis Bergkamp

During his career, Litmanen regularly exchanged shirts with an opponent. “I have a lot of shirts at home,” he says. ‘During my career, I wasn’t so concerned with it. Moreover, in my first years at Ajax it was not such a habit that you exchange shirts. You actually only did that after matches in the European Cup.’

With the national team of Finland, Litmanen exchanged shirts after every game. That was different before. For a qualifying period of two years, each player received four shirts: two home shirts with both short and long sleeves, and two away shirts with again short and long sleeves. ‘You weren’t allowed to exchange it either. Later on I started swapping shirts more often and at a certain point it became a habit. Then you put it in your bag, wash it and put it in a box. Now I have a lot of boxes at home. I didn’t keep all the shirts, I also gave a lot of them away.’

During his career, Litmanen exchanged shirts with many special players. For example, after an international match against England, he exchanged shirts with Steven Gerrard, his then teammate at Liverpool. He also swapped shirts with players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Frank de Boer, Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp, ​​Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar. ‘But also with players like Stoichkov, Deschamps and Redondo. It was often direct opponents or someone you already knew with whom you swapped shirts.’

Love for shirts with stripes

Litmanen also played for Liverpool and FC Barcelona in his career. They are clubs with iconic shirts, the Finn knows. “They all play in nice shirts. I grew up with Liverpool, that was my club as a kid. Ajax has been the most beautiful club for me. I played there for nine years and it was the most successful period. I have become an Ajax player. I have been following Barcelona from a distance for a long time now.’

“My first club was Reipas Lahti. There I was used to playing with stripes. That club played with orange and black stripes. When I was young, there were few clubs with stripes. Juventus, Inter and AC Milan were therefore separate. That’s why I still have a bond with those three clubs.’

Will Litmanen ever return to Ajax?

And Litmanen still has a bond with Ajax. For example, he was recently present in the Johan Cruijff ArenA to present the championship bowl. He has been getting questions about a return since 2004 and that is no different to this day. “I’ve been gone for eighteen years now and every year I’m asked,” Litmanen laughs. ‘I have two sons, aged fourteen and sixteen, and a wife. After my career, which I ended in 2011, I always made more choices and I always chose my family and I still do. The children attend a good school in Estonia and have their football and their friends here. We live in Estonia with the family, but I regularly go to Finland to visit my Finnish family and friends or I’m on Finnish TV for a football match.’

Still, Litmanen does not want to rule out a return to Ajax completely. ‘But it’s not the issue now. There have been some conversations in the past, for different positions too, but we never really got into deep conversations. At times I was with the Finnish Federation, while at other times I chose my family. When I return, I’ll basically be someone who likes the football part. I want to be close to the players and the field. A role as chairman is not for me, haha.’

Litmanen got a festive feeling from the Ajax shirt: 'Match day was a holiday'
Jari Litmanen embraces Ajax captain Dusan Tadic. ‘He feels at home at Ajax as a footballer and as a person. We should enjoy that while we can.’

Enjoying Tadic as long as he is a player of Ajax

During the celebration of Ajax a month ago, Litmanen spoke with Dusan Tadic, among others. The Serb is, just like Litmanen, who was, and still is, extremely popular with the fans in his Ajax time. Litmanen understands why. “I think Tadic is a very good player. He fits very well with Ajax. It is multifunctional, you can place it in multiple positions. He is football smart, plays with his head and is technically good. When he has the ball, you can always expect something. He has a smart pass, provides assists and can score. I’m a fan of his, although I don’t remember exactly what I said to him.’

Litmanen is not afraid that Tadic will leave Ajax. He sees that the Serb is well placed at Ajax and has already played in another competition. For players like Jurriën Timber and Antony it is something different. ‘But that’s how it always goes at Ajax. Players come and players go. But Tadic has already seen something. He feels at home at Ajax as a footballer and as a person. We should enjoy that while we can.’

Bart Veenstra (Twitter: @Bart_Veenstra † email: b.veenstra@ajaxshowtime.com)
Bas Velzel (Twitter: @BasVelzel † email: b.velzel@ajaxshowtime.com)