Once in a while your thoughts go back in time. Back to your club’s historic moments. Back to the successes, back to the moments that will live on forever, back to the fantastic players your club had. You lie if you say you never do.

Thinking about Ajax leads to thinking about the great names: Johan Cruijff, Piet Keizer, Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard, Frank and Ronald de Boer, Edwin van der Sar. All Dutch players but before many of them, I think of Jari Litmanen. The man of the goals, the assists, the threats, the brains and the lungs. Everyone knows who he is..

Born in the Land of Thousand Lakes, where ice hockey is the biggest sport, Jari saw the light on the 20st of February 1971. Torn between his two passions ice hockey and football, he chose the latter. The smell of grass above the sound of ice hockey skates scraping over the ice. I’m forever grateful he did. He first played for Reipas Lahti and moved to Mypa later. Trials at PSV, Leeds United and FC Barcelona among others followed before he knocked on Ajax’s door. Before Louis van Gaal was convinced the Fin was an addition and signed the Fin for just one million Dutch guldens, he almost send him back toFinland. Top scout Ton Pronk was the one who discovered Litmanen and brought him toAmsterdam. After his first trial, Louis van Gaal wanted to say goodbye. Assistant coach Gerard van der Lem (who liked Jari) told him: “It’s harsh to send him back, he’s only here for a few days in a totally new environment”. Van Gaal agreed and after a friendly against FC Den Bosch he told Pronk that Jari was staying in Amsterdam. Because of Dennis Bergkamp, Litmanen only played 12 games in his first season. When Dennis Bergkamp left for Internazionale, Van Gaal decided on Dan Peterson as Dennis’ successor. He did well but got injured, Litmanen took his place and never gave it back.

In the 93/94 season Ajax and Litmanen grabbed the title. Litmanen grew out to be Ajax’ new hero. He was the topscorer that year with 26 goals. And the fans rediscovered the song “Volare” and changed it in “Litmanen, oh ooh…Litmanen..ohohooooh”. He became Finnish and Dutch player of the year.
The 94/95 season was the most successful one that Jari Litmanen experienced atAjax. It was his best season at the club.Ajax grabbed the title again and the Champions League Cup. Litmanen would become the Sporter of the Year inFinland, the first time a football player won, instead of a hockey player.  The end of that season would also mean Ajax sliding south. They won the Eredivisie title in ’96 and lost the Champions League title against Juventus but it was the end of an era. Top players like Davids, Reiziger, Kanu and Kluivert left. De Boer Bros left a tad later. Jari didn’t. Jari stayed. “The atmosphere at Ajax is more important than the money in Italy”. “I don’t think I’ll ever have a better life somewhere else than at Ajax, so I’m staying. I owe everything to Ajax, this is my way of letting them know”. Something that made him even a bigger hero.

His strengths are analyzed at length. He is cool in the box, nerves stay home when Jari plays. He’s got a nose for the right position and has all the skills and techniques for scoring. He can head a ball, chip, shoot hard, use curves, whatever… He is king of the assist, works hard for the team and can play on many positions. Litmanen had perfect ball control. Chest, head, thigh, feet – left or right – he could do it all. Wonderful technique but only deployed in service of the team. No Richard Witschge like gallery play, but functional. Jari also knew when to come and when to stay. Litmanen was midfielder, but knew exactly when to pick his moment to join the striker in the box. The Fin is the best no. 10 Ajax ever had. A perfect team player and a wonderful human being. Despite all the challenges on his feet, he never would retaliate and in his post-games analysis he always praised the team and thanked the fans.

In 1999, Jari Litmanen’s life at Ajax ended (before coming back in 2002) when he left the club for FC Barcelona after an emotional farewell. Unfortunately he would never be as good at the clubs that followed as he was at Ajax in the nineties. Injuries kept haunting him at Barcelona,Liverpool, Eintracht Frankfurt, Fulham etc. and the nickname ‘Man of Glass’ was born. Despite all the injuries, nothing can stop him from playing football. Nowadays, at the age of 40, he’s still a professional footballer playing for HJK Helsinki in Finland. The word ‘to retire’ can’t be found in his vocabulary.

He is one of the best players that has ever played for Ajax. The fans still love him to bits and he’ll forever live on in our memories. What a legend.

  

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