Dusan Tadic has signed a one-year extension to his Ajax contract, which will keep him at the newly-crowned Dutch champions until 2023.
However, that is not all, as the Serbian forward has also agreed to remain in Amsterdam for a further three years beyond that – ultimately maintaining his association with de Godenzonen to 2026 – as he transitions from a playing career into that of a coach at the club’s famed academy.
Since joining from Southampton last summer for a reported £11.4m, he’s become an integral part of Erik ten Hag’s team and even deputised as captain in Matthijs de Ligt’s absence.
His leadership of men aside, which proved to have a galvanising effect, particularly among the younger members of Ajax’s squad, Tadic – donning the number 10 jersey – was instrumental last season as the club secured a first league and cup double since 2002.
Remembering the past, looking forward to the future
The 30-year-old, who often played as a deep-lying forward – or false nine – made no fewer than 56 appearances in all competitions, registering 38 goals and creating a further 24 for his teammates.
A notable standout performance came during their Champions League round-of-16 second leg meeting against Real Madrid away from home. Tadic – channelling his inner Zinedine Zidane – dominated the game, providing two assists and scoring another in a sensational 4-1 victory.
L’Équipe subsequently gave him a rare perfect 10 score. Naturally, this – plus other artistic displays – attracted clubs across Europe and beyond. It has been known for a while that Tadic – who previously represented FC Groningen and FC Twente in Dutch football – has grown fond of the nation’s powerhouse, whom he previously confessed to being enamoured with.
This does make a semblance of sense given he grew up in the 1990s when Ajax and their aggressive brand of beautiful football captivated audiences worldwide. In that sense, Tadic is a romantic and clearly believes Ajax belong in the conversation of Europe’s biggest clubs.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) July 8, 2019
Unfortunately, economic might and geography rules today, being a big fish in a relatively small pond has made it hard for Ajax to retain and sign top names. Although that is somewhat changing, it has not occurred quick enough to prevent Frenkie de Jong – the press resistant midfielder – from becoming Barcelona’s latest Dutch signing or golden boy De Ligt from being tempted to ply his trade elsewhere. Hakim Ziyech, who has struck up a telepathic understanding with Tadic, could also be on his way out.
However, reports of Ten Hag’s side being decimated have been wide of the mark. André Onana, Noussair Mazraoui, Nicolás Tagliafico and David Neres have all confirmed they will be wearing red and white in the 2019/20 season. Their commitment, which validates a new approach under sporting director Marc Overmars, plus a host of new faces, strengthens Ajax’s chances of defending their domestic crowns as well as competing in Europe.
A conveyor belt of coaching talent?
Since the 1960s, Ajax have been synonymous with developing the stars of tomorrow. No team in world football is more renowned for educating youth and their fabled academy De Toekomst – which has produced talent such as Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard and Dennis Bergkamp – has, in some quarters, been likened to Harvard, so much so that others have felt the need to copy its methods. Even today, key personnel from across the globe visit to learn secrets, which always comes back to the educators.
Teaching is not possible without teachers and the coaches within Ajax’s system must take a great deal of credit. They, like the footballers, learn a craft that has been passed down for generations. Many former players have benefited from coaching within Ajax’s doors. Ten Hag has one such example as part of his current backroom staff: his assistant Michael Reiziger who, until recently, managed the club’s youth team.
Tadic can see firsthand walking down the halls of De Toekomst – Ajax’s under-19s, for example, are being coached by John Heitinga – that the notion of players coming back from overseas to coach (and impart their wisdom) has been part and parcel of the club for decades.
The likes of academy graduates Louis van Gaal and Frank de Boer both returned to coach the future stars before ultimately rising to manage the senior team.
A desire to coach hasn’t been something Tadic has previously expressed, but the revelation isn’t surprising given his sheer force of personality and leadership skills. As mentioned earlier, Ten Hag gave him the captain’s armband on three occasions last season. Given his love of Ajax’s philosophy, Tadic must see no better place to begin his coaching career.
But for now, Ajax and their supporters can continue to enjoy watching him on the field.