We are writing the 1970/1971 season. The first half of the season is already well advanced when assistant coach Bob Haarms and his second Nol Boerkoel set out in the autumn of 1970 to judge a player from 1860 Munich. Under head coach Rinus Michels, Ajax is well on its way to conquering a permanent place in the European top.
Horst Blankenburg is the player to be judged. The then 23-year-old West German is an intelligent and multifunctional footballer. The Ajax players have not traveled to southern Germany for nothing, as it soon turns out. Haarms and Boerkoel see Blankenburg as a libero excelling against Mannheim. The Bavarian club wins the Bundesliga match with no less than 5-0. The ‘free’ center defender of 1860 Munich has a nice share in no fewer than three of the five goals.
Haarms will have noted these excellent statistics with satisfaction on the papers that belong to the collection of Ajax Heritage, the department that manages the club archives, more than half a century later. Apart from the shiny European Cups, that heritage can therefore also consist of a praising scouting report from an iconic assistant coach.
“When I came out of the dressing room after the game, someone patted my shoulder,” Blankenburg recalls well on the eve of his 75th birthday. “It was Harms.”You played well and will still hear from Ajaxhe said. I was surprised of course, also because I knew nothing about the interest from Amsterdam.”
Football boss Michels
Haarms must have discussed the report immediately with his football boss Michels after his return to the Watergraafsmeer. The observations offer a nice insight into the scouting of fifty years ago. Besides the assessment of all kinds of important skills, the written passages are especially worth reading.
Some fragments in the authentic speaking and writing style of Haarms:
†He (Blankenburg, ed.) plays libero in a very special way‘, Haarms noted in 1970.’He also really plays libero when losing the ball. The other defenders use strong man cover. If one of the opponents passes these defenders, he jumps in. Even if an opponent is released from midfield, he will approach or disturb this attacker†
Blankenburg: “I could play in midfield, but also in defense, as the last man. That was also my favorite position. Ajax knew that Velibor Vasovic (in 1970/1971 captain of Ajax, ed.) would leave after the season. I was therefore brought into the defense for his position.”
Back to the scout report. †In possession of the ball, he immediately chooses a free position (…) whereby he always gets the ball and then creates a lot of danger in the defense of the opposing team. (…) He did not hesitate to penetrate far into the defense of the opposing team†
†With this style of play you must have a terrible condition, which he also possesses because he was always on time in his defense when the opposing team came into possession of the ball†
The scouting report did not miss its effect. The club had in mind the successor of Vasovic, who retired after the season. Ajax acted quickly and brought Blankenburg to De Meer shortly afterwards. That also had to be done quickly, because otherwise the West German would have had to start the new year by fulfilling his military service. Blankenburg as a footballer was then forced to take a break.
“Thank God it didn’t come to this”, the relief of the former Ajax player can still be heard decades later. “At the beginning of 1971 I had to join the Bundeswehr† I certainly didn’t like that. Fortunately Ajax came quickly. On December 14, 1970 I was in Amsterdam for the first time and I got to know everyone.”
A week after his entrance in Amsterdam, Blankenburg already made his official debut. In the Classic Feyenoord – Ajax (on 20 December 1970 it was 1-1), the acquisition immediately showed its class. “That was surprisingly fast. Still, that first season was not easy for me. Especially because I didn’t Stammplatz (base position). Vasco played very well and the trainer therefore had no reason to change. I also played duels in the second team, of which Haarms was the trainer. Bob became a very good friend.”
After Michels left in the summer of 1971, Blankenburg was promoted to basic strength under the new head coach Stefan Kovacs. “As a libero I played almost everything.”
It turned out to be a good and above all very fruitful (read: successful) marriage between the club and the West German. Blankenburg had an important share in the profits of the three most important European Cups in 1971, 1972 and 1973. The first born and bred German Ajax player made a fine contribution to the worldwide name and fame that Ajax acquired in the early 1970s.
“I had my best football time in the Netherlands. I also had a few good seasons in the United States. I always felt welcome in Amsterdam. I also made many friends there. The camaraderie was fantastic. Ajax was my home.”