25 May 2020 03:45
It's 25 years since Kanu Nwankwo and Finidi George helped Ajax beat a star-studded AC Milan side to win their fourth Champions League title. Finidi was on from start to finish while Kanu was a second-half substitute as a Patrick Kluivert strike sealed a stunning win for Louis Van Gaal side. The two stars left the shores of Nigeria to join the Dutch giants in the pre-season of 1993-1994, and they went on to win three Eredivisie titles and a Champions League. However, a former teammate, Ronald De Boer, has revealed that the then Ajax manager, Louis Van Gaal, took a gamble on the two Nigerians but it paid off at the end. De Boer who also played for Barcelona claims Kanu could not hit the ball straight, while Van Gaal had to choose between a Youri Petrov and Finidi George.
"We brought Finidi George and a Russian winger, [Youri] Petrov, on a training camp to Finland," De Boer told Nick Ames on the anniversary of Ajax win against Milan. Ajax's victory over Milan in the 1995 Champions League final, earned by that single prod from the 18-year-old substitute, may not have heralded an era of domination from the Dutch side but its ramifications went further. Daniele Massaro, who played his last game for Milan that night, says: "After that final, 10 great years ended where we won everything and wrote pages of history in world football." A new chapter began with Ajax's young, largely homegrown squad spreading around Europe and becoming its new footballing reference points. "It was like a volcano, an eruption from inside," says Ronald de Boer, who was among seven academy graduates to play in Vienna. Facebook Twitter Pinterest The Ajax lineup for the Champions League final in Vienna.
The 5-2 win over Bayern Munich in the semi-final second leg remains among the best matches in the Champions League era, Finidi and Marc Overmars destroying the Bavarians on the wings. "Before we left for Vienna she said to Van Gaal: 'Wait a minute, you know my son will score the winning goal,'" Kluivert says. Facebook Twitter Pinterest Patrick Kluivert scores the match-winning goal despite the efforts of Milan's Alessandro Costacurta and Franco Baresi (second right). Facebook Twitter Pinterest Clarence Seedorf, Frank Rijkaard, Finidi George and Jari Litmanen celebrate their victory over Milan. Rijkaard, who retired, and Seedorf were the only immediate departures and Ajax would reach the 1996 final with a team De Boer thinks was "maybe even better".
While there is no doubting just how special Ajax's domestic form was throughout the campaign, truly great teams must also succeed beyond that and it was their barnstorming run to Champions League glory in 1995 - elements of which were emulated on their way to the semi-finals in 2018-19 - which cemented their endearing and enduring legacy. The potential was evident early on; Louis van Gaal's side were drawn against defending champions AC Milan in Group D and opened their campaign against the Italian giants, who just months earlier had embarrassed a Barcelona side managed by Ajax's favourite son Cruyff in the 1994 Champions League final. The reward was a quarter-final against Hajduk Split, which Ajax won 3-0 on aggregate, and Bayern Munich were then swept aside with a 5-2 win in Amsterdam - three of those goals coming in a blistering five-minute spell either side of half time. A third showdown with Milan was the reward in the Vienna final, and Ajax completed their hat-trick of victories over the defending champions, who boasted the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Marcel Desailly, courtesy of Patrick Kluivert's 85th-minute strike. No other team in Dutch football history has gone an entire league season unbeaten, while no club anywhere has managed an invincible campaign en route to success in both their domestic league and the Champions League. It was not all straightforward in the buildup to the campaign, though; Ajax had won the league title the previous season, but a number of Van Gaal's decisions in the transfer market had proven controversial. Van Gaal was a relatively divisive figure in terms of Ajax's history too, becoming embroiled in a public and bitter dispute with Cruyff, a man whose influence at the club was still towering despite having left for Barcelona in 1988. An 18-year-old Kluivert was Ajax's top scorer in the league with 18 goals, Clarence Seedorf was the same age and made 48 appearances across all competitions, while Nwankwo Kanu also played his part at the age of 17. Other players aged 21 or under in the squad included Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and Michael Reiziger, while the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer, Litmanen and Finidi George were 24 or younger. The majority of the players listed above went on to provide the backbone of the Dutch national team as they reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1998, and all of them enjoyed huge success throughout their club careers with the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, Arsenal, AC Milan and Real Madrid. May 25 FILE PHOTO: Ajax Amsterdam striker Patrick Kluivert holds up the European Cup as thousands of supporters gather along the canals of Amsterdam to celebrate the club's victory over AC Milan in the final a day earlier SOCCER - Ajax Amsterdam striker Patrick Kluivert holds up the European Cup as thousands of supporters gather along the canals of Amsterdam to celebrate the club's victory over AC Milan in the final a day earlier. Teenage substitute Kluivert scored with five minutes left to crown Ajax champions for the first time in 22 years with a 1-0 win over holders Milan in a largely disappointing final. Ajax's victory was also special for veteran Frank Rijkaard, who became the fifth man in the competition's history to win the trophy with two different teams and the first to win against a former club. Batistuta scored his fifth international goal in three games as Argentina finished their World Cup preparations with a win over fellow finalists South Africa. SOCCER - Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski and team mates celebrate winning the German Cup following a 3-0 victory over RB Leipzig in the final.