Not in the photo’s order: 1.Heinz Stuy 2.Schilcher 3.Wim Suurbier 4.Velibor Vasovic 5.Ruud Krol 6.Arnie Mühren 7.Johan Neeskens 8.Swart 9.Gerry Mühren 11.Piet Keizer (Captain) 12.Horst Blankenburg 13.Barry Hulshoff (4 in earlier years) 14.Johan Cruyff 15.Arie Haan 16.Johnny Rep
Johan Cruyff was undoubtedly the star in the Ajax attack. Regardless of his frail physique, Cruyff had tremendous speed with the ball and was not shy about finding the net. Cruyff’s success with Ajax and the Dutch national team earned him the prestigious European Footballer of the Year award three times in 1971, 1973 and 1974.
Ajax’s midfield line was the backbone of the team. Keizer and G.Mühren played as attacking wingers and Haan and Neeskens worked the ball in the middle. It is important to note that the team played loosely in term of positions. Ajax moved the ball across the entire pitch and all of the players were involved in the midfield to some extent.
Ajax had a talented defensive line. Ajax defenders were not only solid in closing down the opposition, but also got involved during attacks. Yugoslavian international Velibor Vasovic is the best example. Vasovic displayed a wide array of skills, varying from tackling to passing and shooting.
Heinz Stuy played at goal during Ajax’s golden years. In 1971, he set a shutout record by keeping a clean sheet for 1082 minutes of play.
Coach Rinus Michels was allegedly obsessed with physical conditioning. His presence at Ajax coincided with one of the greatest group of soccer players ever assembled. Under Michel’s stern eye, Ajax raised their game to an unprecedented level. Michels is considered as one of the founding fathers of what later became known as Total Football. It is important to emphasize that Michel was not the first to employ Total Football, but was first to reap major trophies. After Michels moved to Barcelona in 1972 his role was given over to Stefán Kovács.
1968 – 1970
The golden era of Ajax began with the collaboration between experienced players such as Bennie Muller, Henk Groot and Theo van Duivenbode along with younger talents like Cruyff and Keizer. The chemistry worked and during the 1968/1969 season, Ajax had a surprisingly successful run in the European Cup. With an early version of Total Football, Ajax defeated Fenerbahce, Benfica and Spartak Trnava to find themselves playing at the European Final for the first time. On the 28th of May, 1969 at Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, Ajax faced the established powerhouse AC Milan. With unwavering defense, Milan outsmarted the Dutch. A hat-trick by Prati Pierino and another goal from Sormani shaped the final 4-1 in Milan’s favor. The lone Dutch goal came from a penalty by Velibor Vasovic.
The following season (1969/1970), Ajax was surpassed by rival club Feyenoord who took Total Football one step further. Feyenoord did everything that Ajax had introduced, eventually winning the 1970 European Cup. Ajax had to settle for a run in the UEFA Cup. By 1970, two hot prospects were introduced to the Ajax squad: Ruud Krol and Gerry Mühren.
1970 – 1973
During the 1970/1971 season, Ajax managed to reach the European Cup final once more. After a difficult run against teams like Nendori Tirana, Basel, defending champion Celtic and Athletico Madrid, the Dutch were about to face tournament surprise Panathinaikos. On the 2nd of June 1971 at Wembley Stadium, Panathinaikos with Ferenc Puskas in the coaching seat were swept away 2-0 by Ajax. All eyes were fixed on Ajax as they thrilled with their Total Football.
Next year, Ajax were back at the European Club final, after topping established clubs like Dynamo Dresden, Olympic Marseille, Arsenal and Benfica. Italian FC Internazionale had the misfortune of facing Ajax in Rotterdam for the European Cup. Inter’s cautious defense could not prevent Ajax’s 2-0 triumph. The 1972 European Cup final made it evident that Ajax were practically dictating, how football should be played.
Ajax reiterated this message in the following 1972/1973 season. In the European Cup, Ajax effortlessly swept through CSKA Sofia, Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. At the final in Belgrade, Ajax faced an Italian side once again. FC Juventus could do little to stop the energetic Dutch. After an early goal from Johnny Rep, Ajax maintained possession for the rest of the game. After 90-minutes of one-sided football, the European Cup trophy was raised by Ajax players for the third consecutive time.
1973 – 1974
There are many speculations as to why Cruyff left Ajax. Some claim that it was because he was not given captaincy. Others insist that the club forced him to play through his injuries. In 1973, Cruyff was sold over to Barcelona for the unprecedented 6 Million Guilders, where he was joined by his former coach Michels. Meanwhile, George Knobel was appointed as head coach of Ajax. Although Knobel tampered little with the “classic” Ajax formula, Cruyff’s absence was evident. Ajax were knocked from the top of the Dutch league by Feyenoord and was eliminated early in the European Cup. Nevertheless, by 1974 the principles of Total Football had transformed the way the game is played across the world.