Amsterdam (AFP) – Edwin van der Sar was in goal the last time Ajax beat Real Madrid and what he remembers most is the applause.
Madrid’s players had trudged off, their 2-0 defeat at the Santiago Bernabeu something of a blessing given Ajax might have scored four or five. But Madrid’s fans stayed.
“The Spanish crowd stood up and, in their own stadium, applauded the way we had played,” Van der Sar said, in an exclusive interview with AFP.
“It was a special moment, something I remember even now.”
That Ajax team, with Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and Ronald de Boer, had also seen two goals wrongly crossed off.
“We were fuming at half-time,” Van der Sar says. “But Louis van Gaal told us all to shut up and stay calm. He said we would score more.”
Twenty-four years have passed and on Wednesday, in the last 16 of the Champions League, Ajax have the chance to do it again, this time in front of their own fans.
It was Van Gaal who unearthed Van der Sar, acting on a recommendation from a friend over a game of cards.
Now the former goalkeeper is the current chief executive and he signs off those that come in and out of one of the world’s most historic clubs.
Van der Sar was at the table when Frenkie de Jong, Ajax’s latest superstar of tomorrow, was granted a 75 million-euro ($66.3 million) move to Barcelona last month.
“Unfortunately they made their move early,” he said.
Van der Sar is honest about the inevitability but also the club’s sense of pride.
“You want to build your own team for the highest level and that happens more with teams that stay together,” Van der Sar said.
“But we are in a smaller league, we know there are bigger clubs. When a player like Frenkie goes to Barcelona, it has not come easy.
“He has done it with the help of coaches here and the people here too. That is why we are proud.”
The perspective is unusual. Most clubs dread losing key players, particularly of the calibre of De Jong, who spoke to Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City, before finally choosing Barca.
“He reminds me a bit of Isco at Real Madrid, that low centre of gravity, and even Eden Hazard, the way he dribbles and tries to beat people,” Van der Sar said. “Frenkie does that too, but through midfield.”