Frank de Boer’s hiring may have taken some Atlanta United followers by surprise. But as the club’s long term goals become more apparent, the appointment begins to make perfect sense.
The Dutchman is an Ajax legend, one of their most iconic players and is their most successful manager (in terms of trophies) in club history. He managed the senior team for five and a half seasons, bringing in four league titles. He coached in their youth ranks for several years before that. He is the epitome of the Ajax system.
Like it or not, Atlanta United is striving to become the Ajax of MLS and not the Barcelona or Real Madrid. Yes, it’s true that they bring in the top players of their league like the giants of world soccer, but their ultimate goal is to facilitate the majority of their top talent — whether it’s developed or bought — on to bigger and better clubs for a tidy profit, much like what Ajax has been known to do for the last few decades.
de Boer’s managerial track record has been the big sticking point for pessimistic viewpoints of the hiring. His stints at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace were nothing short of dreadful, there’s no denying it. But, it’s what he did at Ajax and in the Eredivisie that has drawn the Atlanta technical staff to him.
“We see Ajax as a club we want to model ourselves after,” Technical Director Carlos Bocanegra said on a conference call following de Boer’s hiring. “We feel like we relate very well to that club and what they’ve been able to do over the years. Obviously Frank coming through there, playing there 11 years, coaching in the youth system, coaching the first team, just that DNA he has from that club matches up very well with us.”
During their first two years, Atlanta United’s growing process has featured a lot of incoming talent and less of the facilitation to the bigger leagues. Many expect that pipeline to start flowing this winter with Miguel Almiron drawing tons of interest from Europe. However, the club doesn’t just want their top stars to move on, they want to go the Alphonso Davies/Tyler Adams route as well. The goal has always been to bring players through every level of the club and eventually move the best players on. The technical staff feels that de Boer will bring the type of pedigree and understanding of that model to accomplish that.
“Frank and his proven track record at Ajax, and the several players that went on to the top leagues like the Premier League, was something that was really important,” Darren Eales said. “He’s been through the youth coaching ranks so he has that perspective of the importance of developing that talent pipeline from the Academy to ATL UTD 2 and into the first team.
“We felt that he was a real match from a cultural perspective. I see some similarities between ourselves and what he had at Ajax. In terms of the support network and the talent on the pitch that’s really going to play to his strengths.”
A soccer club is a constant flow of moving parts with transfers, trades, and other factors always coming and going. Implementing a network of acquiring outside talent and developing your own while also moving those players along will be vital for the years and decades to come.
de Boer’s hiring will obviously be important for the short-term, but by bringing in a manager with Ajax roots to try and replicate that model, Atlanta is showing their commitment to a long-term vision.