We met with Co Adriaanse, head coach of AFC Ajax Amsterdam, in the media room of the Amsterdam Arena on Thursday, April 26, 2001, one day prior to the Ajax-NAC match. The room, which is equipped with a podium and backdrop for Ajax's press conferences, was on this day arranged casually with numerous small tables for private interviews. While we spoke to the coach, we were surrounded by similar interviews between members of the Dutch press and Fred Grim, Joey Didulica and Cristian Chivu.
Co Adriaanse has a definite manager's character; strong, no nonsense to the point of being abrupt. But he was always very courteous to us, and as the interview progressed, it became clear that he was making a genuine effort to understand our questions and respond in a meaningful way. He took his time with his answers and responded thoughtfully to every question we posed.
Ajax USA: What should we look forward to tomorrow night (against NAC)? What kind of a match will it be?
Adriaanse: Well, I think Ajax is much stronger than NAC. Ajax has to win because we have to gather points for the international football possibilities. NAC has a rather good team, they are for the first year in the highest division now, but they are doing well. And especially in away games, they can defend very good. Especially against Feyenoord they played very, very well in Rotterdam, and they lost the game in the last minutes. But we are going to attack, with high pressure, and we hope to score a lot of goals.
Ajax USA: Great. We would appreciate it.
Adriaanse: Yes of course! It's a long journey. I don't hope it will be zero-zero. A lot of money for no goals.
Ajax USA: What about the fitness of Chivu and Machlas?
Adriaanse: Chivu was injured about two and a half weeks ago, in his hamstring, and we already took a lot of risks, let him play too early, and two times in games he stepped out. I think it's too great a risk to let him play tomorrow, so I hope to get him fit for the next game, next Thursday against RKC. So, he doesn't play.
Machlas has an injury in his ankle. It happened in a friendly game with Greece, against (under 21) Greece. This morning he was at the pitch, and he had some running sessions with Laslo Jamborg. But he's not fit for tomorrow, because he's been out for three or four weeks, so his physical condition is also not so good. So I think for next game, next Thursday he's also not ready. Hopefully the game after; RKC.
Ajax USA: What is the effect on the team when the schedule changes suddenly? Vitesse is on, it's off, it's on, it's off... How difficult is it for the team to respond to that?
Adriaanse: Yeah, we worked toward the game with Vitesse, and I got a phone call on Wednesday that it was cancelled, so it was a great disappointment for us. But we are used to fitting our training sessions to the schedule of the league. About twenty, thirty years ago, we always played Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. But because of the influence of the media, especially broadcast television, we're playing on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. So I already have to fit my schedule to the schedule of the competition. So in Holland, we are quite creative with such things.
Ajax USA: I'm curious about the role of Leo Beenhakker, in working with you. How do you collaborate on the future of Ajax?
Adriaanse: Leo is the Technical Director. He's not involved in the training sessions or the games, but he has to protect the typical Ajax culture, the concept. But also he is very busy with buying players, with selling players, in a very close cooperation with me, of course. And he's also the man who has to stimulate the cooperation between the director of the youth development program, Kees Zwamborn, and me.
Now it's not a problem, because I'm a typical Ajax man. I already worked for five years as a director here at Ajax. But maybe in the future, when I'm gone and there's a new man coming, he's not aware of the typical culture of Ajax. He (Beenhakker) has to protect that philosophy.
So that's why Leo is here. Because the coach is as good as his last three games. If you are losing three or four games, you're out. But Leo, he has to stay to protect the Ajax culture. Otherwise, there comes a new coach and he says, "Oh I want to buy him and him and him." In that way you are (wasting) a lot of money on players. And that's the main reason... It was my idea. When I came, it was my idea (to establish a Technical Director) in the organization.
Ajax USA: So, for example, with a player like Ibrahimovic, who was just bought, who has the final word on whether to buy him?
Adriaanse: Three people. The first man is the General Director Arie van Eiden, because he has to ask, "Do we have the money to buy such a player?" If there is no money, we can't buy players.
And Leo and I, the Technical Director and the Director of Professional Football, each give 50%. So if I'm saying, "I don't like the player," he doesn't come. If I like a player, but Beenhakker doesn't like the player, he doesn't come, either. So we both have to agree. And we also have the advice of the scouting team of Mr. Pronk (Tonnie Pronk, Director of Scouting), and also the advice of my assistants, Peter Boeve and John van T'Schip.
So we have a lot of people, with a lot of knowledge of Ajax football, who can judge the qualities of the player.
Ajax USA: Have there ever been any strong disagreements about a player?
Adriaanse: Yes, it happens. We had money to invest after we sold Gronkjaer, and we have looked at a lot of players. Sometimes I disagreed; not good enough. Another time, I agreed, but Beenhakker, he didn't. So, that can happen.
Ajax USA: In looking forward, for Ajax to become champion of Holland, and competitive in the Champions League, what are the things that aren't there now but need to be there, in the team?
Adriaanse: First, I have to develop the physical condition of the players next season, to be physically stronger. I had a lot of injuries last season, because, I think, their bodies are not used to working hard, and (with) a lot of training sessions during the week.
Second, I have to develop the young players further. They can be better next year because they are older.
Third place, I have to make a better team, with better concepts, so that they can view each other better than this season.
And the main (method) is to buy good players. We bought a good player, Ibrahimovic. But I think we have to buy one, two or three players more, to make our team stronger. Because I sent a lot of players away, and I didn't buy any players.
So, these are the four points to make my team stronger.
Ajax USA: Do you have anything new or different that you have been using, or will be using, for the physical conditioning, to make the team physically stronger?
Adriaanse: No. I think if you want to swim, you have to swim. If you want to be a cyclist, you have to get on the bike. To be a good player, to play a lot of games, (you need) a lot of training sessions with football. I don't believe in power training for football players. No supplements, no dope... Sleep good, eat good, have a good mind, and a lot of work on the pitch.
Ajax USA: But in the recent game against Roda, for example, it was obvious that Ajax's defense was physically weaker and smaller than the Roda strikers. Are you looking for big defenders?
Adriaanse: Normally, Chivu and Pasanen are playing there. And they are not so big, but they can jump and they are physically quite strong. But they are young. If you look at the past, Ajax always have technical players. But not tall players, body builders. We have to play football with our feet.
Ajax USA: I want to ask you about America. Do you think there will be a time when Ajax will turn to either scouting, or even actively developing, youth in America?
Adriaanse: We already have some clubs abroad, in Belgium, South Africa, Ghana. It's a new policy and costs a lot of money and a lot of energy of the organization. So I think at first we have to observe this new philosophy. And maybe after one or two years we can judge if we are going through with the policy, or if we are opening new clubs abroad, just like in America.
Ajax USA: Speaking of which... John O'Brien: how is he doing now? What needs to happen for John to re-assert himself into the Ajax first team?
Adriaanse: I think John is a very, very good player, a typical Ajax player. And I have known him since his fifteenth birthday. Of course, I was the man who brought him to Ajax.
But he was unlucky. The last three years, he was injured... Half the year at FC Utrecht. Last season with Jan Wouters, also injured. This season I couldn't use him in one game! He did a very good preparation, he was one of the best players in the Amsterdam Tournament. But three years he's always injured, so that's a problem. I couldn't put him in my team.
Now he's fit, and maybe tomorrow he is with the first 18 players. I have to think about it because if I take him in, another has to go out, and that's a problem for me. But normally, if John is fit, keeps himself fit, I think he is in the team. Because he can also play on different positions. Left defender, left midfield, center midfield, (anywhere) in the defense. He's left-footed, right-footed. You don't see any difference. He's mentally good. He's a good boy.