Eredivisie: Can Feyenoord become champions again?

FEYENOORD and PSV Eindhoven meet this weekend in the Eredivisie, a game that could strengthen the home side’s position at the top of the table or revive PSV’s title bid. At the same time, Ajax, who are one point behind PSV, could still have a say in the race for the top, although the reigning champions are in a state of flux at the moment.

Ajax sacked manager Alfred Schreuder a week ago after a run of seven games without a win, handing the job until the end of the season to John Heitinga, who moved across from Jong Ajax to take charge. His first game, away at Excelsior, ended in a 4-1 victory.

It was always going to be difficult for Schreuder to take over from Erik ten Hag, especially as Ajax lost Antony (€95m) and Lisandro Martinez (€57.4m) to Manchester United, Ryan Gravenberch to Bayern Munich (€ 18.5m) and Sébastien Haller to Borussia Dortmund (€31m). Ajax’s chief executive, Edwin van der Sar, said the sacking was “painful but necessary”.

  PWDLFAPts
1Feyenoord191261431642
2AZ Alkmaar191243402440
3PSV Eindhoven191225472338
4Ajax191072512137

It’s still too early to concede the title, but Ajax cannot afford any more slip-ups. They have drawn far too many games and also lost to PSV and AZ Alkmaar. Their Champions League campaign also ended in the group stage after they lost four of their six games in a group with Liverpool, Napoli and Rangers. They will resume their interest in Europe in the Europa League.

Feyenoord, meanwhile, have lost just once (against PSV) and are two points ahead of AZ. They have been boosted by the goals of Danilo Pereira da Silva, a 23 year-old Brazilian striker signed from Ajax, and their young Turkish skipper, Orkun Köksü, both of whom have eight goals in the Eredivisie. In defence, goalkeeper Justin Bijlow has kept nine clean sheets in his 19 league appearances. Feyenoord’s last Eredivisie success was in 2017 when they pushed Ajax into second place by one point.

Feyenoord’s president has spoken out about the gap between the Eredivisie and the Premier League, who regularly raid the Dutch league for reasonably-priced talent. Three of their stars, Tyrell Malacia, Luis Sinisterra and Marcos Senesi joined Manchester United, Leeds United and Bournemouth for fees totalling € 55 million. While losing top players creates problems, the money is hard to resist for Dutch clubs. It has almost become a way of life and a crucial part of the Dutch football business model. Feyenoord are not as proficient as the other big two clubs in the Netherlands in making profits from player trading.

Interestingly, Dennis te Kloese’s comment in the media came as leading French journalist Julian Lauren was talking about the massive imbalance in European football, created by the Premier’s wealth, the inability of other leagues to keep pace and the threat of the Premier’s counterparts becoming feeder leagues.

Feyenoord, with an average gate of 47,500 at their iconic De Kuip stadium, generated € 87.2 million in the 2021-22 season, of which only € 8 million was attributable to domestic broadcasting. The Eredivisie made the mistake of agreeing a 12-year deal back in 2013, which really puts Dutch clubs at a disadvantage. Feyenoord’s income is over € 100 million less than Ajax’s combined revenues and just slightly less than PSV’s earnings of € 93 million. Although Feyenoord have a lot of ground to make up, they are currently in a much better places than they were a decade ago when their financial situation almost tipped them into oblivion.

PSV, currently in third place, lost a few players in the transfer window, notably World Cup stand-out Cody Gakpo, who moved to Liverpool for €42 million and Noni Madueke to Chelsea for € 35m. Gakpo will be very difficult to replace, but PSV have secured three loan signings to reinforce their squad: Fabio Silva (Wolves), Patrick van Aanholt (Galatasaray) and Thorgan Hazard (Borussia Dortmund). 

AZ Alkmaar are currently in second place but nobody really expects them to win the title. They are coached by London-born Pascal Jansen,  the son of a pop singing duo from the early 1970s. Their recent 5-5 draw with  Utrecht showed they know how to score – and concede – goals and they have one of the Eredivisie’s top scorers at the moment in 24 year-old Greek striker Vangelis Pavlidis.

Games to come
Feb 5 2023: Feyenoord v PSV
Feb 19 2023: Feyenoord v AZ
Mar 19 2023: Ajax v Feyenoord
Apr 16 2023: PSV v Ajax
Apr 23 2023: Ajax v AZ
May 28 2023: AZ v PSV

Ajax loss hits € 30 million, despite revenue increase

AJAX were beaten 6-1 at home by Napoli on UEFA Champions League matchday three, a disastrous result for a club that needs to be part of Europe’s top club competition. The Dutch champions’ latest financials reveal that income from Europe remains a vital component of their business model, but the Napoli game suggested Ajax will be exiting at the group stage this season, and therefore in a year’s time, the effect will be felt.

In 2021-22, Ajax made a pre-tax loss of € 31.7 million, a 171% rise on the previous campaign’s loss of € 11.7 million. Given all main revenue streams increased, the increased deficit can be partly attributed to higher expenses which included an € 8 million settlement with the family of Appie Nouri, the young player who has been left paralysed after a cardiac arrhythmia attack in a pre-season game in Austria in 2017. Ajax, who are hugely dependent on player trading, also saw their profit on sales drop by 56% to € 37.8 million.

In 2021-22, the most notable sale was David Neres to Shakhtar Donetsk, which yielded a fee of € 12 million. The previous campaign had seen Ajax receive over € 100 million from the sale of, among others Hakim Ziyech, Quincy Promes, Donny van der Beek and Sergiño Dest. In 2022-23, Ajax received more than € 200 million in transfer fees, including a total of € 152 million from the sale of Antony and Lisandro Martínez to Manchester United. This should ensure Ajax return to profit for the first time since 2020.

At a glance

€m2021-222020-212019-202018-192017-18
Revenues18912516219993
P&L pre-tax(32)(12)27693
Wages10995929253
Net Debt126129128(62)(12)
Source: Swiss Ramble

Ajax’s total revenues for the season were € 189.2 million, a 51% increase on the covid-affected 2020-21. The two main sources of the rise from € 125.2 million were matchday and broadcasting. Given the heavy impact that near-negligible matchday earnings had on Ajax in 2021, it was no surprise that a return towards normal operating conditions resulted in a 1674% rise in matchday monies from € 1.9 million to € 34.2 million.

Although Ajax’s main rivals, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord have yet to publish 2021-22 figures, they will be some way behind. Ajax’s total of € 34.2 million would have been higher if the league did not have a capacity restriction. They averaged 35,000 at the Cruyff arena when under normal circumstances, they would attract 50,000-plus.

The club’s broadcasting monies were also up, by 34% to € 73.8 million. Almost 86% of this total was received from UEFA after Ajax reached the last 16 of the Champions League in 2021-22 – the Dutch league has been tied to a 12-year deal with Fox, signed in 2013, a move they probably regret today.

The importance of UEFA money is such that it contributes a third of the club’s overall turnover. In the past five years, the club has earned well over € 200 million from UEFA, giving them a huge competitive advantage over their domestic rivals. It is little wonder that Ajax are dominating Dutch football once more, with four consecutive league titles and a revitalised player development programme that has seen them sell top talent to clubs like Barcelona, Juventus, Chelsea and Manchester United.

Ajax are also the leading commercial business among football clubs in the Netherlands, a very identifiable brand with strong partnerships. Most of their Eredivisie stablemates only earn a fraction of the € 81.2 million generated in 2021-22. Indeed, this figure is a record for the club and 19% up on 2020-21. Their current shirt sponsor, Ziggo, and kit provider, Adidas, have deals running to 2025. Despite being the biggest draw in the Eredivisie, Ajax’s commercial stream is dwarfed by the top clubs in Europe.

Equally, Ajax are able to pay the highest wages in the Eredivisie, their 2021-22 bill coming to € 109 million, which equates to 58% of income. In 2020-21, the ratio went up to 76%.

Ajax remain one of the clubs who operate on the fringe of the elite but their track record in Europe (four European Cup/Champions League titles) and their reputation for nurturing talent rightly earns them a place at the table. They will forever be a big fish in a small pond, which will always make them extremely successful at home, but they will forever be running to stand still in Europe.