Ajax manager Erik ten Hag has ensured there won’t much of a touchy-feeling atmosphere on Tuesday night after making critical comments of Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg.
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Last week the Spurs chief complained that Ajax had been given an unfair advantage after the Dutch FA agreed to postpone their league fixture against De Graafschap on Sunday afternoon in order to ensure they arrived fresh in London.
Spurs, in contrast, had to play West Ham on Saturday, a match they lost to undermine their morale just three days before the biggest of their season. In addition, Spurs must make do tonight without the injured Harry Kane and the suspended Son Heung-min, an absence that severely weakens their strike-power.
But Ten Hag gave short shrift to the suggestion that he should feel sorry for Spurs. “We get 10 million [euros] for playing in [Dutch first division] Eredivisie and they get many more millions for being in the Premier League,” he retorted to a question from a reporter. “Is that not unfair on us?”
The 49-year-old also intimated that Pochettino should stop whining and get on with it. “There are always differing circumstances, everybody has different circumstances,” said ten Hag. “You just have to deal with them. That’s what we do.”
Although much has been made of the youthfulness of this Ajax side, Ten Hag explained that it was a couple of more experienced players who have imbued the squad with an iron resolve this season.
Serbian Dusan Tadic, 30, joined from Southampton last June while 29-year-old Daley Blind has been hugely influential after his return to Holland in July from a spell with Manchester United.
“We had a good young team but a lack of experience,” said Ten Hag. “It was a deliberate policy to sign players from the Premier League, with the knowledge and experience they bring.”
Nonetheless it’s the youngsters who have caught the eye and made the headlines throughout Ajax’s remarkable run to the Champions League semis, a stage they lasted reached in 1997.
One of the young guns is 22-year-old midfielder Donny van der Beek, who along with Frenkie De Jong has formed a formidable partnership in the centre of the park.
As a consequence, Ajax have averaged more than 58% possession and an 84% pass completion rate during their Champions League odyssey.
“It’s all going quite fast,” admitted Van der Beek, when asked about the preparations for Tuesday’s encounter. “Spurs are a great team with great players and we will have to be at the same level or better than we were against Real and Juventus in the last two rounds.”
Ten Hag paid tribute to his young squad and expressed his satisfaction with the way they have evolved in the last season or two.
“They have really matured, certainly in the last couple of years thanks to the number of matches they’ve played,” he said.
“We want to continue this curve. It’s amazing that we are in the Champions League semi-finals, nobody could have predicted at the beginning of the season that a Dutch team would end up in the Champions League semi-finals.
“I think this is really the motto of our team: we have achieved something, but we want to do more. We don’t want to rest on our laurels.”