Confidential recordings and notes: The day when Cruijff’s revolution at Ajax derailed

Confidential recordings and notes: The day when Cruijff’s revolution at Ajax derailed

Johan Cruijff would turn 75 this week on April 25. Other Times Sport return to this important step in their podcast ‘The Unknown Cruijff’. Today: The day the ‘velvet revolution’ derailed at Ajax.

Today is Thursday 24 March 2011. Johan Cruijff looks at the buildings along the A10 ring road around Amsterdam in the afternoon when he passes by. He sits in the passenger seat and is quiet. At the wheel is business and financial advisor Rutger Koopmans. They are on their way to the arena.

“When I look at Johan, the best definition is: tense competition. Now we are playing a final. I’d say he was ready to face off,” Koopmans recalls. “I saw tension. Then he rubbed his nose with his hand.”

Koopmans and Cruijff set out for the meeting that will go down in history as the turning point of the velvet revolution. In the months before that, attempts had been made to smoothly replace the club, which had not won a league title since 2004 and was no longer a European pottery maker. Cruijff wanted action that was comprehensive, fast and hard. Ajax board and management did not want this. And that day, the two “sides” would convince each other in their own way.


Ready to face Johan Cruijff, how do you deal with this as a driver? Will you fight or persevere? Do you really want to compete with the biggest icon of your club? If so, how do you prepare? How do you arm yourself against a Cruijff with the wind in your sails?

Such questions play on the Ajax board table in the days leading up to Thursday March 24, 2011, the days before the bombing.

One way or another, the board members already feel this: a serious conflict is starting at Cruijff. Because there are two things that the board understands: They will not hand over the keys to the Arena on Thursday March 24, 2011. Cruijff, including his band of former football friends and journalists, did not let this pass unnoticed. In fact, there will be war.

In the days before March 24, Ajax is looking for outside help to prepare properly. Henri van der Aat, commercial director of Ajax at the time: “We had an indescribable feeling. You knew it could go wrong, but it wasn’t certain. We really wondered: what does Cruijff want from us?”


De Telegraaf is hostile to the Ajax board. Johan Derksen (VI) is also unfit to rule Ajax. AD, Parool, Volkskrant, NRC, NU Sport are more positive.

Note to the board of Ajax, March 23, 2011

Prepare for anything, that’s the plan. And the person who has to help with this is Kees Boef, now director at Schiphol but then a crisis communication specialist at the PR agency Burson-Marsteller. One day he receives a phone call from Van der Aat.

Boef: “Henri said: We are going to talk to Cruijff and maybe we will come to a solution together. But things can explode. We need help, can you prepare for three different scenarios?”

On March 23, 2011, the day before the bomb went off, Boef wrote a memo for the board. This note, like many internal documents and castings, came into the hands of Andere Tijden Sport.

See below parts of the crisis strategy of the board of Ajax. Date: March 23, 2011:

The communication plan is ready the day before the meeting with Cruijff. The main purpose is to indicate that carefully selected ‘influence groups’ (newspapers, sponsors and specific fans) Ajax management are ‘autonomously responsible’ for club policy. There is not a single Johan Cruijff and his “solistic approach”.

In addition, a press release is prepared in three variants.

Variant 3 is the most striking. “Cruijff gets angry and resigns. We deeply regret that this has caused a dispute with Johan Cruijff. We hope people understand that a football company (equity fund?) cannot be run by a stranger.”

secret recording

It’s not just about crisis communication. Even more decisions are taken at the council table in preparation for a confrontation with Cruijff. The Ajax leader decided at the meeting of March 24 to secretly accept Cruijff.

This is happening with an old black phone call now in the hands of the NOS. Cruijff’s original audio recording has since been deleted – and cannot be recovered – but confidential and personal communications are still on it. Screensaver: an Ajax logo. ring ? Ajax national anthem.

Johan Cruijff especially wanted to thoroughly reform Ajax’s youth academy


Former Ajax manager Henri van der Aat can still see the black phone call from Cruijff. He knows exactly where the mobile phone was at the meeting in question, but he doesn’t want to say much about it.

“Yeah, I remember that, but it’s okay. We – the Executive Board and the Supervisory Board – decided together that we should do this. We just wanted to be well protected so we could understand what was going on. He’s right about that, because there was so much emotion around him.”

Van der Aat admits that the black mobile phone is tangible evidence of mistrust of Cruijff.

The former football director said: “He is a great Johan Cruijff, so it is quite a step forward. It wasn’t like that: we’re only doing this for a while. You do something when it’s necessary,” he says. “You don’t have to do that in a normal, healthy relationship. It comes from a sense of crisis or tension.”

Source: NOS