It’s 2011. A new year in which Ajax can show themselves to the world. The league title would be very welcome as it’s already six years ago. 2004 was the last time the club from Amsterdam won the title. It was the last ‘succesful’ generation who has won the league twice (2002 & 2004) an reached the quarter final in the Champions League. The team has four players from the own academy who were part of the line up that season most of the time. What’s the story of John Heitinga, Wesley Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Rafael van der Vaart from the moment the latter lifted the shield on May 9, 2004.

Let’s start with the one who left Ajax as last and will probably return the first. John Heitinga. After his debut in 2001 Heitinga has actually always been a first team player for Ajax. A strong defender who was and still is very popular under the Ajax supporters. When Jaap Stam joined Ajax in 2006, both him and Heitinga were a strong pair. ‘Johnny’ has learned a lot of the former AC Milan player. In his last season Heitinga was very proud to wear the captain armband for his beloved club. After  playing 17 years for Ajax, he left the club in 2007 for Atletico Madrid. He made it into the first team after his arrival in Madrid, but his second season wasn’t successful with only  3 appearances. A move to Everton followed in 2009. He played 35 games in his first season. This season he has only played three games for the Blues from Liverpool due to injuries and not being a first choice anymore. A few weeks ago, Heitinga said he thinks he’ll return to Amsterdam in five years. If so, his return will be supported by the fans.

Of these four, Rafael van der Vaart was the first one to join the first team. His season after the last league title was a disappointing one. Injuries and being out of form were the reasons he had only 23 appearances in his last season. At the end of it he decided to leave the club after 12 years. Hamburg was his new destiny and he wanted to find back his form and joy for the game in Germany. That’s exactly what he did. Soon he turned into one of the key players and in his second season he was very honoured to be named as the captain of the club. It’s never been a secret that it was Rafa’s wish to play in Spain. A flirt and posing with a Valencia shirt in the summer of 2007 made him unpopular for a while in Hamburg. A season later, his dream came true. A move to Real Madrid, playing in Spain. Unfortunately for him, he never really made it into the first team. A good start and end of his period in Madrid, but a disappointing midway. He knew where he stood last summer but wanted to fight back into the first team, just like the season before. A call on the last day of the transfer window from Tottenham Hotspur changed his mind. A choice that turns out to be the best one. Since his arrival he’s been a relevation.

Nigel de Jong made his debut in 2002. Just as in 2003/04 he regularly found himself in the line-up as season later in both defence and midfield. In his last season he was more warming the bench than being on the pitch. That made him decide not to extend his contract and leaving Ajax at the end of the season.  Hamburg was his next stop, joining former team mate Rafael van der Vaart. Where he starts as a creative midfielder or playing on the wing at Ajax, he turned here into a defensive midfielder. He never really got into the first team apart from 2007-08. It must be said he has had a few injuries though. In January 2009, De Jong joined Manchester City. Ever since he’s a first team player, popular among the fans.

Last but not least, Wesley Sneijder. The one who was the last to make his debut. With Van der Vaart being injured or out of form, 2004-05 was the season Sneijder got the playmaker role in Ajax 1. In his last season for Ajax, the club missed out the league title by one goal. He was on form that season and it wasn’t a surprise the top clubs came for him that summer. Even though he said he’d stay, when Real Madrid came he just couldn’t say no. His period in the Spanish capital wasn’t a bad one. Especially his first season when he made a lot of first team appearances. Despite playing good, he was told to leave in the summer of 2009 after a lot of new buys. Inter Milan came and the rest of last season is history. It’s been the most successful year for the born Utrechter so far and it probably will be the most successful year he’ll ever have. Winning the Italian league, the Italian cup and the Champions League and playing the World Cup final. This season has started a bit disappointing for ‘Wes’ which doesn’t surprise anyone. After such a long season, it’s not a shame to be fatigued.

Three of the four products from the Ajax academy play and important role for their current club. They are all established names in football. Besides being Dutch they’ve all their love for Ajax in common. It would be great to see them all reunited one day in Amsterdam. Wearing the same red and white shirt in which they start their career and at the end of it and make this picture once again:

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