YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Ajax Amsterdam, Bayern Munich facing challenges

Dutch and German teams think this might be their year to win a title in their respective leagues.

August 09, 2009|GRAHAME L. JONES

We begin with a fistful of dollars.

Well, actually, it's a wad of Chinese 100-yuan notes, but the idea is much the same.

They were brandished the other day by a fellow named Arie Haan, best remembered as an attack-minded midfielder on the great Ajax Amsterdam and Dutch national teams of the 1970s.

These days, Haan, 60, is coaching Chongqing in the Chinese Super League. Displeased with the officiating during a recent game, Haan pulled the cash out of his pocket and flashed it toward an assistant referee after a dubious penalty kick was awarded against his team.

"You need money?" Haan is alleged to have shouted, according to the China Daily.

The Chinese Football Assn. took a dim view of this, especially since stories of poor refereeing and corrupt officials abound in the sport in China. The CFA suspended Haan for three matches and fined him $2,500.

It's all a far cry from the glory days of the early '70s, when the Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax, with Haan in the lineup, swept all before it, winning one world club championship, three European Cups, three Dutch championships and three Dutch Cups, all between 1970 and 1973.

Things are a little different in Amsterdam now, and it has been five years since the team last won even an Eredivisie (first division) title. The start of the new season, however, has brought hope that Amsterdam can revive its fortunes.

Ajax is now coached by Martin Jol, who led Hamburg SV to fifth place in the German Bundesliga last season before he went home to Holland. Jol believes Ajax has a shot at ending its title drought, but defending champion AZ Alkmaar, along with PSV Eindhoven, loom as likely roadblocks.

Alkmaar also has a new coach, Ronald Koeman, the former Ajax, PSV, FC Barcelona and Dutch national team standout whose reddish-blond hair earned him one of soccer's great nicknames during his years in Spain.

Barcelona fans delighted in calling him "Snowflake," after the famous albino gorilla that was once one of the prime attractions at the Barcelona zoo.

Alkmaar fans are heading for their city's zoo to see what resides there.


Tulip time in Munich

It was Koeman who coached Ajax to its most recent Dutch championship, in 2004, and he came to Alkmaar in May to replace another Dutchman with a memorable name.

Aloysius Paulus Maria "Louis" van Gaal, is a no-nonsense sort, as evidenced by his "Iron Tulip" moniker. He led Alkmaar to its Dutch title last season -- the club's first in 28 years -- and then was tapped to replace Jurgen Klinsmann at Bayern Munich.

The Van Gaal era began with a whimper on Saturday -- the Dutchman's 58th birthday -- when Bayern was held to a 1-1 tie at Hoffenheim.

Van Gaal, who won a dozen titles during spells in charge of Ajax and Barcelona, was chosen by the 21-time German champions to straighten out underachieving Bayern in the wake of Klinsmann's dismissal in April. Van Gaal took over on July 1.

The club has since dipped into its deep pockets to bolster the squad.

Among those to join Bayern have been German international forward Mario Gomez (from VfB Stuttgart for a German-record $42 million), and Ukrainian forward Anatoliy Tymoschuk (from Russia's Zenit St. Peterburg for $15.4 million), and Croatian midfielder Danijel Pranjic (from Holland's Heerenveen for $10.8 million).

Such spending suggests that Klinsmann was correct in saying the team needed strengthening, but Bayern's directors never gave him the support now being given to Van Gaal.

It remains to be seen whether the Bavarian club responds any better to the whip-cracking approach of disciplinarian Van Gaal than it did to Klinsmann's motivational philosophy.

Chasing Bayern this season will be the usual pack -- led by defending champion Wolfsburg.

Also chasing Bayern will be the occasionally rabid German media. Van Gaal has always had a prickly relationship with reporters and his disdain for them is well-known.

Two weeks ago, after Bayern had thrashed AC Milan, 4-1, in a preseason friendly, he stomped out of the postgame interview after hearing a question he didn't like.

Remembered still are the mocking words he employed when he departed Barcelona: "Friends of the press, congratulations, I'm leaving."

Unless Bayern turns things around this season -- which means winning the Bundesliga and reaching at least the Champions League semifinals -- Van Gaal will be saying the same thing in German before too long.




The top 10 at a glance

AC Milan -- Acquired Dutch striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar from Real Madrid for $21.5 million. Rebuffed Chelsea in its attempt to pry away Italian international midfielder Andrea Pirlo.

Arsenal -- Was drawn to play Celtic of Scotland in the final qualifying round for the European Champions League. Still pursuing Moroccan forward Marouane Chamakh of defending French Ligue 1 champion Bordeaux.

Los Angeles Times Articles