Eredivisie

Ronald Koeman guides Ajax back to the top - Eredivisie in 2003/04

 
2:05pm on Thursday 14th May 2020
By
Martin Macdonald

Long known for their world-renowned academy, the fruits of Ajax’s labour returned the club to the top of the Eredivisie in 2003-04.

Academy graduates Wesley Sneijder and Nigel de Jong, both teenagers, burst onto the scene in their first full seasons, joining Rafael van der Vaart (20) and Johnny Heitinga (19) as crucial members of the first XI, helping to bring a 29th league title to Amsterdam.

Also involved in the youth movement were Maxwell, the 21-year-old proving a dominant figure on the left flank to earn player of the season honours, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who led the team with 13 Eredivisie goals despite missing three months of the season due to injury.

Ajax navigated through a gruelling campaign with remarkable consistency and maturity, outlasting a PSV side that remained unchanged from their title success the season before. A terrific young core and a proven coach in Ronald Koeman provided hope for a second coming of Ajax’s golden generation of the 90s.

CHANGES

This might go down as one of the most uneventful summers in the Eredivisie’s modern era. All was quiet on the managerial front, and there were few arrivals of note – Wesley Snock’s €6m move from KRC Genk and Zdenek Grygera’s €3.5m transfer from Sparta Prague, both to Ajax, perhaps the lone exceptions, along with Danko Lazovic’s €7m move from Partizan to Feyenoord. Dirk Kuyt made his switch to Feyenoord, arriving for just €1m from Utrecht.

There were a few high-profile outgoings, however – all out of Amsterdam. Christian Chivu completed an €18m switch to Roma, Andy van der Meyde followed him to Italy, bought for €12m from Inter, and Mido departed following a €6m transfer to Marseille.

SUMMARY

Ajax, eager to return to the top after settling for second the previous season, began their campaign with vigour as they would win 13 of their first 15 matches. Despite the strong start they still found themselves trailing PSV, who would eventually take back top spot after losing just once through to the end of January.

Another tense title race appeared to be on the cards as the two again swapped spots at the top following a 2-1 Ajax victory in Amsterdam in February, but the effects of the result lingered. The defeat was just PSV’s second of the season, but they would go on to lose four of their next seven while Ajax would lose just twice more the rest of the way. Ajax would build a 12-point lead by the end of March as they coasted through the season’s final two months.

AZ Alkmaar established themselves as title contenders early on, Co Adriaanse’s side showing remarkable improvement from the previous campaign. An impressive victory over PSV in Eindhoven highlighted their terrific start as they found themselves level with Ajax at the summit following the season’s first three months. While a hard-fought 3-2 defeat in Amsterdam at the start of November should have solidified their belief, it began their demise. The dreadful 10-match stint that followed knocked them out of the race and led to a fifth-place finish, but hinted at better things to come.

For Feyenoord, it was another third-place finish, their third in as many years under Bert van Marwijk as they won just once against the top five clubs. Beating the division’s bottom half clubs is a necessity for a title challenge, but an inability to compete against their top rivals suggested there was plenty of work to be done in Rotterdam to get the club back to where they wanted to be.

Elsewhere, A 7-1 demolition in Feyenoord on the final day of the season, coupled with Volendam’s 2-1 win over RBC, resulted in Zwolle finishing bottom, ending a brief two-year stint in the top flight. Volendam’s late heroics to avoid the immediate drop proved to only prolong the inevitable, as the club were thrashed in the relegation play-offs.

PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Maxwell (Ajax)

The left-back often looked too good for the competition, dominating the left flank throughout the campaign.

MANAGER OF THE SEASON

Co Adriaanse (AZ)

The former Ajax boss took AZ to new heights in the campaign - their defensive rigidity and penchant for goals making them a tough side to beat.

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON

Wesley Sneijder (Ajax)

Graduating from De Toekomst’s famed academy, the playmaker proved an integral part of Ajax’s title success with nine goals and 11 assists.

TOP GOALSCORER

Mateja Kezman

PSV’s talisman claimed the award for the third time in four seasons, the first player to achieve that feat since Dennis Bergkamp in the early 90s.

TEAM OF THE SEASON

Waterreus (PSV); Kronkamp (AZ), Mathijsen (Willem), Bouma (PSV), Maxwell (Ajax); N. De Jong (Ajax), Sneijder (Ajax), Van der Vaart (Ajax); Kuyt (Feyenoord), Buffel (Feyenoord), Kezman (PSV)

GOAL OF THE SEASON

To produce a finish like this in any match is special, but to do it in De Klassieker to give win your team the derby? Outlandish. RAFAEL VAN DER VAART wins it for this iconic scorpion finish against Feyenoord:

MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER

DANKO LAZOVIC (INCOMING), Partizan to Feyenoord, €7m

CHRISTIAN CHIVU (OUTGOING), Ajax to Roma, €18m

KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON

Following a 2-1 defeat in Amsterdam in February, PSV imploded. They surrendered first place and would lose four of eight, effectively ending their title defence and clearing the path for Ajax.

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