Martin Jol explains why he left Hamburg and chose to return to his homeland to coach Ajax.
By Nick Bidwell
As far as Hamburg are concerned, Martin Jol really is the Flying Dutchman. Jol was only on northern German terra firma for 11 months; now he is jetting off on a three-year mission to revive Ajax’s sagging fortunes.
Brought in to replace Marco Van Basten, who unexpectedly quit at the end of the season after missing out on a Champions League qualifying spot, Jol was all smiles at his unveiling at the Amsterdam Arena. Thriving or not, Ajax’s history and prestige gives them a cachet every Dutch coach finds irresistible and Jol had no need for a spot of method acting to play the cat lapping the cream.
“Ajax have given me a great opportunity, a long-term brief with an extended package of responsibilities,” said Jol, who has coached Roda JC and RKC Waalwijk in his homeland. “I’ve come to a fantastic set-up. You just have to see the shirt, the fans, the stadium. I can’t wait to get started.
“The priority is the development of the players. Once that goes as we hope, the results will come automatically. For me, 70 to 80 per cent of the game is hard work, the rest is pleasure. The most important thing is everyone here works with enthusiasm and passion.”
Ajax were long-time admirers, having tried in vain to lure Jol away from Tottenham in 2005. Chief executive Rik Van den Boog said: “Martin has proved he is someone who is able to extract the maximum from his players. He is, furthermore, willing to give talented youngsters a chance, which, of course, is of paramount importance to us.”
Once again these are desperate times at Hamburg, where the coach has been sacked or walked out for the fifth time in six years. Although Jol’s team faded towards the end of the campaign – going from Bundesliga title candidates to Europa League invitees and losing to arch-rivals Bremen in both the UEFA and German Cup semis – he was praised to the heavens for putting down solid foundations for future success and becoming a highly popular figure among the fans.
Behind the scenes, though, all was not well. Hamburg’s willingness to sell their best players – in the past year Nigel De Jong and Vincent Kompany left for Manchester City, while Rafael Van der Vaart moved to Real Madrid – led Jol to question the club’s ambition and he was particularly unhappy with the January transfer window, when De Jong left for £19.5million and a half-dozen cheap back-ups were recruited.
Jol wagered everything on the board giving him more power, allowing him to be coach and general manager combined with the final say in the transfer market. But his bluff was called as chairman Bernd Hoffman saw nothing wrong with the management structure in place and backed director of sport Dietmar Beiersdorfer.
“Hamburg made a lot of money from transfers but spent little,” said Jol. “Instead of investing we went for loans. I see more of a future at Ajax.”
Jol’s departure met with a mixed reception among the players. Skipper David Jarolim and keeper Frank Rost apparently tried to talk him out of leaving, while an anonymous player declared he was glad to see the back of him, criticising the Dutchman’s uninspiring team talks, lack of tactical work and habit of telling the listener in individual chats: “You’re my most important man.”
It just goes to show that you can’t please everyone.