[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ooking over Louis van Gaal’s venerable managerial history, there have been some notable successes.
This has included winning back-to-back La Liga titles at Barcelona, transforming modest AZ Alkmaar into Eredivisie champions and winning the double with Bayern Munich.
These feats rightly propel the Dutch maestro to a position where he is adjusted to be one of the most reputable managers in the game, with every sign that he can continue his track record of success at Manchester United.
However, looking at Van Gaal’s greatest achievement means examining his first job in management, when he took on the reins at Ajax in the early 1990’s.
The outspoken coach was assistant at the Amsterdam club for three years before being promoted to top dog in 1991 following Leo Beenhakker’s departure.
Over the space of six years as the Godenzonen’s boss, Van Gaal won three national titles, the KNVB Cup, UEFA Cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup, but his greatest achievement came in the 1994-95 campaign.
The manager took a supremely gifted young Ajax side and won the Champions League, completing a momentous and memorable double, following Eredivisie success the same season.
Given the fact that seven of the starting XI to beat AC Milan in the 1995 competition final were products of the club’s youth academy is a stellar feat and something that is almost unimaginable in the modern game.
Their opponents, managed by Fabio Capello, had world-class stars such as Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Marcel Desailly in their ranks, making Ajax’s achievement all the more special.
Ironically both teams started out their European campaigns in Group D of the competition, with the first match of the tournament between the pair in Amsterdam.
Ajax won that clash 2-0, with goals from Ronald De Boer and Jari Litmanen getting the Dutch side off to a perfect start.
Van Gaal’s charges would go on to top the pool unbeaten, winning four of their six games and beating the Rossoneri 2-0 again at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza courtesy of another Litmanen strike and a Baresi own goal.
After a 0-0 stalemate away from home, a Frank de Boer double and Nwankwo Kanu strike gave the Dutch team a convincing 3-0 win and set up a mouthwatering semi-final against Bayern Munich.
Van Gaal again kept things tight in the away leg in Germany, with the score again finishing 0-0, but Ajax sent shockwaves through European football with a 5-2 triumph on home soil to set up a date with destiny against Milan.
The final was a nervy affair between two evenly matched teams, with the collective experience of the Italians threatening to be telling the closer the game came to a conclusion.
However, it was the youthful figure of Patrick Kluivert that settled the game in Ajax’s favour, coming off the bench to score in the 85th minute and seal a 1-0 win in the clash in Vienna.
Looking back at that Ajax team, the term golden generation is certainly apt.
Edwin van der Sar kept goal behind an all Dutch superstar defence of Michael Reiziger, Danny Blind, Frank Rijkaard and Frank de Boer.
A central midfield duo of Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids was the fulcrum of the team, with the supreme attacking talents of Litmanen, Marc Overmars, Finidi George and Ronald de Boer completing the contingent.
Kanu, Kluivert and Winston Bogarde all featured on the bench, in a truly sensational Ajax outfit.
Looking at the respective teams, 13 of the 16 Ajax players in the matchday squad were Dutch, while 14 of the Milan players were Italian.
Despite the multiculturalism of the modern game, envisaging a situation where Ajax in its current format could win the Champions League with a team comprised of predominantly homegrown youth products seems impossible.
As such the romanticism of the Dutch side’s unlikely 1995 triumph shines through, with Van Gaal the mastermind behind this legendary Ajax team.
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