(Reuters) - Ajax Amsterdam’s hopes of long-term financial stability rest on the Dutch club keeping together a talented young squad that has taken them to the cusp of a first European final in more than two decades, CEO Edwin van der Sar said.
Despite having an average age of just 22, Ajax’s current crop of players has this season rekindled memories of the club’s past European glories.
They face Olympique Lyonnais in the second leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday, holding a 4-1 advantage from the first leg in Amsterdam.
European champions four times, Ajax have recently gained a reputation for being a feeder club, selling on top talent to richer rivals in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Van der Sar says they should avoid the short-term temptation of cashing in on the latest generation and look to build a business that can compete again with the continent’s elite.
“We want to make Ajax more financially more stable and are looking to close the gap on the European front,” the former Manchester United goalkeeper told Reuters in a telephone interview.
”We are not reaching the 600-700 million (euro) (£504.2 million - £588.2 million) budget that the top clubs in Europe are making mainly through sponsoring, TV revenue in their country and revenues from the Champions League.
“We want to do it differently, by focusing on quality and maintaining the best players.”
Ajax have an enviable reputation for developing talented young players, but the current team is arguably the most exciting since the club reached the Champions League quarter-finals in 2003.
With a core of young Dutch players strengthened by shrewd signings such as Cameroon under-20 goalkeeper Andre Onana from Barcelona and winger Amin Younes from Borussia Moenchengladbach, questions linger over whether Ajax will be able to keep its squad together next season.
“The Dutch league is not one of the strongest five leagues in the world or even Europe and that’s why it is difficult to maintain,” Van der Sar added.
“But at the moment we are in now, reaching a semi and hopefully a final, we have to take it on to next year.”
The current generation at Ajax includes Justin Kluivert, whose father Patrick Kluivert scored the only goal when they beat AC Milan to win the Champions League final in 1995.
Other young prospects to shine at Ajax are attacking midfielder Donny van de Beek, 20, and teenage centre back Matthijs de Ligt, who in March became the youngest player to be capped by the Netherlands since 1931.
“Ajax has always been about homegrown players developed in a small country,” said Van der Sar, who was also part of that 1995 team with Kluivert senior.
“The importance of having youth players combined with one or two buys is what has made our tremendous current season.”
A long overdue shot at European glory is the reward that awaits Ajax for the thrilling football produced under coach Peter Bosz, who took over at the start of the season.
“It has been 25 years this week since we played Torino in the final of the UEFA Cup and won the tournament,” Van der Sar added.
“Here at Ajax it has been too quiet for the last 20 years.”
Ajax look likely to miss out on the league title this season, trailing Feyenoord by a point with only one match to play.
“We have done OK in the Champions League over the last few years but have not reached the knockout stages, and that will be our new objective for next season, along with the domestic title,” Van der Sar said.
Editing by Keith Weir