Sunday sees two teams with a long history of success in domestic competition doing battle in Rotterdam. While casual fans may believe both these sides to be dominant powers in the Netherlands, the reality is that while Ajax have overcome their own period of mediocrity to re-emerge, Feyenoord’s spell in the wilderness appears set to continue until a series of on and off-field issues can be resolved. However, the one variable that Feyenoord have in their favour is the partisan and vocal support in Rotterdam. They remain strong at home, and thus the visit of a superior Ajax side is indeed an intriguing contest.
It cannot be easy being a Feyenoord supporter right now. As one of the long-running triumvirate of Dutch football, it was they who were first thrown out of the annual soiree that was the top three places in the Eredivisie. Indeed, they have failed to finish higher than fourth in any of the last four seasons, and the title has eluded them since 1999. The problem, as is often the case, comes down to finance. The speculate to accumulate attitude towards transfers that blighted many clubs in the early 2000s hit those at De Kuip harder than most. Now they are under the supervision of the Dutch FA with the threat of a licence review a distant cloud down the track, but a black one nonetheless. The appointment of Mario Been as Coach in the summer perhaps hints at scaled back ambitions given the lower budget. Capable a coach as Been is, much of his time with NEC Nijmegen was spent fighting a different battle, at the wrong end of the table. Transfers are off-limits without the acknowledgement of the FA, so most of the activity will be out of Rotterdam and the new man at the helm has to make do with what he has. While still unbeaten at home, a 2-3 loss to former nursery club Excelsior is something of a new low. Most fans realistically understand that Ajax or PSV Eindhoven will beat them every now and then, but never expected to surrender Rotterdam bragging rights. It is their form at De Kuip which has kept them going, and a 4-0 win over Vitesse Arnhem last time out at home is a sign that they will be competitive on their own turf against anyone.
For Ajax it is a season centred around two individuals who one could argue should not be there. Both Coach Martin Jol and striker Luis Suarez were linked with moves away in the summer, but both remain for the time being. Suarez has been a late starter this season but has made up for lost time, notching a hat-trick in a 5-0 success at De Graafschap as he seeks to emulate last season’s superb achievement of scoring 35 goals at a goal a game. Ajax top the table and their goal difference of +18 underlines how dominant they have been. After losing 0-2 at the Bernabeu, they cruised past bottom side Willem II 2-0 without so much as getting into third gear. Jol’s only concern will be, despite playing in a similar vein last season and notching a +82 goal difference, the occasional freak result saw Twente taking the title. With the Enschede side looking not quite the same minus the Steve McClaren effect, the signs are already looking positive for a successful season at the Amsterdam Arena.
Both sides have an added reason for producing a great game on Sunday. Evander Sno, who started his career with Feyenoord, collapsed after suffering a heart attack in the week while playing in Arnhem for Ajax reserves. With the midfielder fortunately making a recovery, a memorable occasion in his honour would be most welcome. The home crowd will no doubt spur Feyenoord on but one cannot escape the feeling that superior class will tell eventually as it often does. A 2-1 Ajax win would be no surprise given the start both these sides have had.