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How will Ajax rebuild again after the departure of Erik ten Hag?

The Erik ten Hag era will be remembered fondly at Ajax. The Amsterdam club won three Eredivisie titles and two KNVB Cups under the 52-year-old. They also made the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2018/19 and impressed once again in Europe last season, winning all six group games.

Now, ten Hag is gone.

As ten Hag faces up the size of a new task at Manchester United, Ajax must start life without their manager of the last five years. They have lost more than just their head coach since the end of the 2021/22 season – the Dutch champions find themselves at the start of a complete squad overhaul. 

Ajax originally wanted Mitchell van der Gaag to take over from ten Hag having served as the club’s assistant manager, but he decided to join his mentor and coaching partner in England. This led to the appointment of Alfred Schreuder from Club Brugge, although Ajax fans know the 49-year-old well – he was also an assistant to ten Hag for a spell.

Schreuder has a lot on his plate. The team that caught the eye last season is being picked apart, with central midfielder Ryan Gravenberch and right back Noussair Mazraoui joining Bayern Munich this summer. The pair were central figures for Ajax and have left gaping holes in Schreuder’s team before he has even got started. Andre Onana has also exited to sign for Inter.

More are likely to leave before the start of the 2022/23 season. Central defender Lisandro Martinez has expressed his wish to join a Premier League club with Arsenal and Manchester United both revealing interest. Martinez is crucial the way Ajax play out from the back and would be extremely difficult to replace.

Brazilian winger Anthony has been linked with Manchester United, who also wanted central defender Jurrien Timber before their interest cooled. Ten Hag knows what his former Ajax players are capable of and has pushed his new employers to raid the Dutch champions. “Erik knows that he should not buy players from Ajax,” Schreuder said.

Sebastien Haller is another key figure departing Amsterdam this summer after being sold to Borussia Dortmund for €31 million as a hopeful replacement for Erling Haaland. Haller netted 21 goals in 31 league appearances for Ajax last season, on top of 11 goals in just eight Champions League appearances. Only Karim Benzema and Robert Lewandowski scored more in the tournament, illustrating the gaping hole the sale leaves in Ajax’s attacking line.

On the reverse end, Steven Bergwijn has joined from Tottenham Hotspur, hinting at a more fluid approach from Schreuder in the final third. Bergwijn is capable of playing in a number of different positions across the forward line, including as a centre forward in the mould of someone like Memphis Depay. He can also operate as a secondary striker – Bergwijn could forge a partnership with Brian Brobbey.

Nicolas Tagliafico could be another player who departs Ajax for a new challenge this summer, but the Dutch champions have already moved for AZ left back Owen Wijndal as a direct replacement. This could be a shrewd move that actually sees Ajax upgrade on what they currently have in the position.

Of course, Ajax are renowned for their record in bringing through young players and Schreuder will be expected to continue this. Youri Regeer could be given an opportunity to replace Mazraoui, while highly-rated goalkeeper Jay Gorter could be Ajax’s future number one.

20-year-old Kenneth Taylor is seen as a potential replacement for Ryan Gravenberch with ten Hag even fast-tracking the youngster into the Ajax first team towards the end of last season. By that point, it was clear Gravenberch was a target for some of Europe’s biggest clubs. Ten Hag was safeguarding his team’s future even as he himself was departing.

Ajax are a club accustomed to building and rebuilding in cycles. Their influence across European soccer as a whole is clear such is the number of players that have used the Amsterdam club as a springboard to even bigger things. Schreuder has a daunting job ahead of him, but if there’s a club that can absorb the loss of so many important players and point itself in the right direction again, it’s Ajax. 

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