January 12, 2019 / 3:28 PM / 6 days ago

Ajax coach desperate to hold on to sought after talent

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Ajax Amsterdam coach Erik ten Hag is determined to fight to keep his talented team together as a bevy of his young players feature on the shopping lists of leading European clubs.

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Champions League - Ajax Amsterdam Press Conference - Johan Cruijff Arena, Amsterdam, Netherlands - December 11, 2018 Ajax coach Erik ten Hag during the press conference REUTERS/Toussaint Kluiters/File Photo

Transfer speculation surrounding Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, David Neres, Andre Onana, Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech has been rife ahead of the January transfer window and in the wake of Ajax reaching the Champions League last 16.

But as Ajax train in the warm weather of Orlando ahead of the resumption of the Dutch league later this month, Ten Hag has spoken of his determination to keep his young side intact ahead of next month’s Champions League tie with holders Real Madrid.

“It is a compliment to us that so many are interested in our players but we do not want to let any of our regular starting lineup leave,” told reporters.

“But we do know that the transfer window can be unpredictable and there are some processes that are already underway that cannot be stopped.

“We will fight to try and keep this side together as we did last summer to keep Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong and Andre Onana.”

Young Dutch internationals de Ligt and de Jong are Ajax’s top commodities and offer the club a chance to make a fortune as they are linked with a bevy of big-spending teams, notably Barcelona and Manchester City.

Cameroon goalkeeper Onana is also highly sought according to media reports in recent months.

Ajax have also received a 40 million euros (35.7 million pounds) offer from China for Brazilian Neres, according to the Dutch daily Algemeen Dagblad, but Ten Hag said that although the 21-year-old forward was not a regular, he was needed in Amsterdam.

“We’ve been very happy with him and we desperately need him. We don’t want to lose him. Plus at this time it is not easy to find a replacement who fits in with our playing philosophy.

“You need time to reach that and we don’t have time now. Soon our title race will be decided.”

Ajax are bidding for their first domestic championship crown since 2014 and will start the second half of the season in second place, two points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven.

“We are now fighting on three fronts and we need to find the right balance,” Ten Hag said with Ajax not only in the Champions League but fighting for both the domestic league and cup titles.

“What is most important is to keep continuity. That will be crucial in the coming months. We have a mission to get some silverware by the end of the season.”

Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris

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