As their sensational performance inside the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday sinks in, so too does the realisation that we only have a couple of months to enjoy this wonderful Ajax side.
Such is the club model in Amsterdam, stars are born...and then sold. It's all part of the club philosophy—they take as much pride in seeing their homegrown talent flourish elsewhere as they do when they break into the Ajax first team.
That 4-1 UEFA Champions League round-of-16 second-leg victory over Real Madrid will go down in the history books. Even for a club that has won the European Cup/Champions League on four occasions, it was extremely special.
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But the simple truth is that the team is going to be broken up over the summer. Midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who was mightily impressive in Madrid and left 2018 Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric on his backside, was the first to be sold and others will follow.
De Jong agreed a move to Barcelona in January, and now we wait to see how many others follow him through the exit door.
"Ajax fans have come to expect their players to leave and they are prepared for several key players going this summer," explains Michael Bell, founder of Dutch football website Football-Oranje. "There is a sense of pride around the De Jong move to Barcelona, and the same will be felt when Matthijs de Ligt goes.
"The realism is that Ajax can't continually compete with the money they can receive abroad, and fans know this. As long as they stay for a few years and give their all, then fans are happy for them."
So which players are most likely to leave?
Matthijs de Ligt
Barcelona lead the race for Ajax's brilliant central defender and captain, and the fact that he could team up with De Jong makes it all the more enticing. According to sources in Holland, the player has his heart set on a switch to the Camp Nou but is trying not to become distracted by the dream. If it doesn't work out, Liverpool are keen—but there are doubts about whether they will pay the £75 million required for a 19-year-old defender.
He is being watched by many clubs, and Real Madrid have been linked with the 26-year-old Argentinian left-back—but Bleacher Report understands that Arsenal scouts have also made checks on him in recent months, as there are some fears that Nacho Monreal may depart. Tagliafico is almost certain to leave.
Donny van de Beek
Donny van de Beek shines almost every week in his midfield role, yet he does not get the same headlines that some around him do. He has caught the eye of Everton, who shelled out £23.6 million on Ajax midfielder Davy Klaassen in 2017. Klaassen was a disappointment and was sold a year later to Werder Bremen after making just seven Premier League appearances for the Toffees, but they do not appear to be put off by that.
There is interest from Serie A too, which may be a better fit. All the top clubs from Italy have dispatched scouts to watch him, but AC Milan have seemed most serious about their intent.
He's been watched by Leicester City, who saw him as a Riyad Mahrez replacement thanks to his wand of a left foot, but now bigger clubs are wondering whether to take a punt. Morocco international Hakim Ziyech joined from FC Twente in 2016 and has proved himself as a consistent creator of goals. B/R sources at Liverpool suggested he is on their watch list, while Borussia Dortmund and AS Roma have both made serious enquiries.
There are going to be transfer rumours around Dusan Tadic too, who was the star player in Madrid. He is being monitored by Bayern Munich, but the player seems happy in Amsterdam and has indicated to club officials he would like to stay for next season.
"Ajax actively encourage their young players to play and develop in the first team, which leads to them being aware of their responsibilities on the pitch at a very young age, and that in turn stands them in good stead for the remainder of their careers," explains Dutch football expert James Rowe.
"It is realistic that the club could reject potential bids for other players in the summer. In recent seasons, they turned down a bid from AS Monaco for Kasper Dolberg, and Hakim Ziyech was targeted by Dortmund in January 2018. The club always try to hold out for the best possible fee. Selling is part of the model but they also realise that they have a duty to remain competitive both at home and abroad hence why the current crop of players have remained together."
With such talent and unity in the team, it seems strange from the outside that any player would want to go anywhere else right now—even if it is expected of them.
There is also the high-profile case of 19-year-old Justin Kluivert to serve as a warning siren. He left to join Roma last summer in a bid to push himself forward but has seen his progress stunted after starting just 12 games.
"There is an argument that some should stay, and they only have to look at what's happening with Kluivert at Roma for sure," said Bell. "But there is only so much these players can learn playing teams like ADO or Emmen each week, teams that sit back and defend in their own half.
"The quality of the Eredivisie means they need to leave in order to progress fully. The Champions League ties are a bonus and they offer a great incentive for players to join the club, but until the Eredivisie improves, young talents will always be looking abroad."
Never fear, though: Ajax will not stand still. They have already begun to look at up-and-coming stars who would slot into their format. One of those on the radar is Martin Odegaard, according to B/R sources.
Odegaard, 20, is on loan at Vitesse Arnhem in the Eredivisie from Real Madrid, and though he will return to the La Liga side in the summer, his head may be turned by the prospect of a big stage to play regular first-team football.
There is more young talent ready to come through from the Ajax academy too.
"In terms of young players who are looking good ahead of next season, I would say Perr Schuurs is one to look out for—he's a central defender who was signed from Fortuna Sittard in 2018," says Rowe. "He also captained Fortuna at the age of 17 before arriving at Ajax, and I believe that he would further his development in being promoted to the Ajax first-team squad.
"He is similar to Matthijs de Ligt in terms of poise and composure in defence.
"Also, Dani de Wit is one to look out for—he is a very quick midfielder who often makes surging runs forward to open up an opposition's defence."
That incredible night in Madrid may prove to be the undoing of this wonderful side, but there will always be new talent to replace them—that's just the Ajax way.