Ajax may have had the league’s most prolific attack, its best defence, the competition’s top scorer and an impressive run of 14 consecutive matches without dropping a single point, but it still wasn’t enough to land their first championship since 2004.
“It’s bizarre,” admitted Ajax coach Martin Jol. “Finishing with 85 points, in any other country it would be rewarded with the title.”
But three defeats before the winter break proved to be fatal as last year’s runners-up Twente won the first title in their 45-year history.
Former Tottenham Hotspur boss Jol needed all his expertise to restart the Ajax machine this term after a chaotic year under Marco Van Basten. By the halfway stage, they were nine points behind PSV and Twente, but from that moment on the capital club won all their games and put the pressure on Twente right up until the end of the season.
However, much to the annoyance of the Amsterdammers, their rivals didn’t break down and Twente did what they had to do, winning four of their last five games to take the championship by a point. Their boss Steve McClaren also became the first foreigner to be voted coach of the year before announcing he will take charge of German club Wolfsburg next season.
Ajax did have the consolation of winning the Dutch Cup, though fears of hooliganism cast a shadow over the event.
They had been due to meet rivals Feyenoord in the Final in a single-match showdown in De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam but, since both clubs had agreed not to welcome visiting fans in the league because of past troubles, Ajax faced the prospect of playing the Final without their own supporters.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, announced an exception for the Final. But after internet threats by hooligans from both clubs looked set to push security costs up to £1million, the Dutch FA decided to make it a two-game tie with no visiting fans.
Simon De Jong scored four times and Luis Suarez twice as Feyenoord were beaten 2-0 in Amsterdam and 4-1 at home in a Final that bid farewell to the Rotterdam club’s former European Golden Boot winner Roy Makaay and international skipper Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, who both announced they were hanging up their boots.
While Twente and Ajax go into the Champions League, Feyenoord will be joined in the Europa League by PSV, who had a miserable season. The low point for the Eindhoven club came when Brazilian striker Jonathan Reis was sacked in January and sent to a rehabilitation centre for using cocaine.
Caretaker boss Dick Advocaat rescued AZ’s season by finishing fifth after the sacking of Ronald Koeman and the collapse of chairman Dirk Scheringa’s DSB business and they also go into the Europa League, along with Utrecht, who booked their place
by beating Roda JC in the play-offs.
At the other end of the table, bottom club RKC swapped places with second division champions De Graafschap, while Holland’s oldest professional club, Sparta Rotterdam, were also relegated, going down for the second time in their history – both times under the guidance of a European trophy-winning coach: Frank Rijkaard in 2002 and now former Ajax and Anderlecht boss Aad De Mos.
With confidence at an all-time low, Sparta faced crosstown rivals Excelsior in a play-off thriller.
After a goalless draw at home, Excelsior had a golden opportunity in the return game but Guyon Fernandez missed a penalty in the 88th minute with the score at 0-0. Rydell Poepon then headed home what looked like a winner for Sparta in injury time, before Fernandez volleyed the equaliser 30 seconds later to hand Feyenoord’s satellite club an unexpected promotion on away goals. The following day Sparta’s board and De Mos resigned.
Willem II managed to survive the play-offs but could still disappear from the top flight. The Tilburg club is heavily in debt and needs to find £1.5m or they will file for bankruptcy. That would mean either RKC or Sparta return to the top flight, or the Eredivisie starts next season with 17 teams.
Player of the season
The league’s top scorer with 35 goals, he transformed himself from an egocentric striker into a real team player.
Coach of the season
Steve McClaren (Twente)
The former England manager lead Twente to a first national title by bringing in the necessary professionalism and coping with the pressure when it really mattered.
Newcomer of the season
Bryan Ruiz (Twente)
The Costa Rica winger was known for his technique and dribbling at Gent but not his goalscoring. However, in his debut season in Holland he scored 24 goals in his side’s championship run.