With great changes on the horizon, some big ideas are being talked about around Arsenal. The imminence of Arsene Wenger’s departure, whether this year or later, and their ongoing hunt for Premier League and European success has reportedly prompted the board to explore options for their first ever director of football.
Arsenal fans have been stirred by suggestions Marc Overmars is top of that list. The north London side may be more intent on appointing from within, but the prospect of hiring a club legend who has experience in the role at Ajax may seem worth exploring.
Overmars himself responded to the speculation, and although he did not rule a future move out, he is not taking the links seriously.
"I think there is a list with some names and I might be on it, but it is not so exciting yet", he told Fox Sports. "I know the club pretty well and I always kept a reasonable contact with Arsenal.
"That's not surprising because I had some very good years there. But we're focused on Ajax and I just signed for four years, so we'll see what happens.”
Respected by Wenger and a Premier League winner with the Gunners, Overmars is an easy target for the media to identify, but he is one Arsenal should be looking to avoid.
Though Overmars has overseen part of a successful period at Ajax, poor decisions in the transfer market and inefficient scouting have seen them regress in recent years and prompted criticism of the technical director.
The 86-time Netherlands international was put in charge of directing football affairs in July 2012 by Ajax’s supervisory board. The appointment was a key part of Johan Cruyff’s ‘velvet revolution’, which prompted major changes within the structure. It was an attempt to see Ajax led by those who understood and believed in the philosophy and would act on sporting interests.
Overmars teamed up with coach Frank de Boer, his assistant Dennis Bergkamp and youth academy leader Wim Jonk and Edwin van der Sar completed the technical heart when he became marketing director a few months later. He is now general director.
“A football framework with De Boer, Jonk, Bergkamp and Overmars, with all their qualities and experience, as a club you have very little to complain about,” Cruyff told Voetbal International.
There were good reasons for Ajax wanting the former Arsenal star. He had overseen technical matters at Go Ahead Eagles before. Also, known for his penchant for money, he has been involved in various businesses and has made a fortune outside of football.
Overmars, De Boer and Jonk shared belief in Ajax’s need to make good use of the youth system and scouting network and ensure they stayed true to the trademark style of play.
Though the success carried on in Overmars’ first two years with league titles, big problems began after his first year in the job.
The loss of Christian Eriksen to Tottenham is one that Ajax are only getting over now. They handled his replacement poorly, causing lasting problems in the team. Before his £11 million move to Tottenham, Under 21 international Lerin Duarte had been identified as the main successor. A central midfielder at Heracles, Duarte was viewed as a bright prospect but nothing of the calibre or even style of Eriksen.
Despite concerns from some, including Jonk, that it was the wrong one, Duarte was signed and featured 18 times in the league for the capital club, and had loan spells at Heerenveen and NAC Breda before Heracles signed him back.
Although Ajax passed up on signing Virgil van Dijk from Groningen in order to promote from the youth academy, they soon went back on their word and opted for Utrecht’s Mike van der Hoorn.
That move raised eyebrows too, again with Jonk advising against it. Van der Hoorn had a bright future, but the move was too early for a raw defender. Although he did not blossom into a star, he had his use at Ajax, often being pushed up front to offer an aerial threat when Ajax were struggling. He was sold to Swansea last summer at a loss.
The ineptitude of Overmars and Ajax’s technical heart was exposed after Jonk was forced out. A voice of reason and a guardian of Cruyff’s vision, he was sacked despite protests from those within the youth system.
An investigation on the technical heart followed from advisory board member and former striker Tscheu La Ling. It was discovered that the structure at the top was unclear among Overmars, Jonk, De Boer and Bergkamp, and their decision making was unprofessional.
When it came to discussing targets, decisions were made by text messages, players such as the largely useless Niki Zimling and famous failure Yaya Sanogo were signed without being scouted. Nemanja Gudelj was brought in after three reports from separate scouts – one stating he was not good enough and two merely stating he should be followed. Incredibly, his dad was given a job as a scout and his brother was signed to the youth academy as part of the deal. Gudelj fell out of favour this season and became a burden before being sold to Tianjin TEDA in China at a loss.
Such an arrogant approach affected Ajax severely. They became ineffective and slow in the final years of De Boer’s era and the coach failed to develop the team and himself, seeing PSV win the last two league titles.
Things started off well with De Boer after Cruyff's revolution, but things have derailed immensely and he Overmars played a key role in that.
Overmars has made good decisions of late, to his credit. He recouped a great price for Arkadiusz Milik, who joined Napoli for £30m, while Jasper Cillessen brought in a fair fee for his move to Barcelona.
Hakim Ziyech is finally a reasonable replacement for Eriksen, but they left it late to sign the best player in the country from Twente, and it may make the difference in the title race. Colombian defender Davinson Sanchez is a fantastic signing and is already attracting Barcelona, while David Neres, now the second most expensive buy in their history, was acquired in January and looks like a good find.
A Europa League quarter-final and a strong challenge for the league title mark a good season for Ajax under new coach Peter Bosz and suggest Ajax are making progress, however they are recovering from unnecessary issues.
In such a big club, Overmars is not entirely to blame for Ajax’s decline and decisions. He has brought a lot of money into Ajax with the turnover of young players, but his role meant he had the responsibility to ensure they acted on better information and with more professionalism.
While Overmars may grow into his role from here on in, Arsenal should avoid him for the time being.