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.

Losers can be heroes, too

HOW often do you hear today, that somebody declares they deserve success because they want it so badly? Wanting something doesn’t mean you deserve to be rewarded, “want” is often a symptom of greed, of entitlement and more than a touch of arrogance. Success has to be earned and the problem for the aggressively-driven folk in society, they are up against similarly-minded people that also feel they “deserve” accolades because they crave the recognition. In a world where instant gratification, impatience and the need to win attention seems to dominate so many people’s lives, life has become a competition. It may have always been like that, but now we have the means to command and control that attention.

The Great Uncrowned can be bought here

Football is such a game of narrow margins that success balances on a tightrope. I always recall somebody, when referring to a club stalwart of an under-achieving club as a “born winner”. My response was, “how can he be, he’s played for this single club all his career and won nothing of significance. Don’t you mean, he wants to be a winner?”. Everyone in football wants to be a winner, from the humblest club to the behemoth that needs to win something every single season. It cannot be done, because one goal can change a match, a final, a season, a career. Simple fact: not everyone can be a winner, even if by making cup competitions more and more like leagues (a la Champions League) removes some of the uncertainty.

In recent times, we have seen two incredibly talented teams, Manchester City and Liverpool, slug it out at the top of the Premier League, thrashing minnows, winning game after game. It is Liverpool’s misfortune that City are that little bit better, hence denying them what would normally be a period of dominance. Although Liverpool haven’t won the Premier League more than once, their current team will be remembered forever as Champions League winners, but also as the team that ran City close.

It is getting harder and harder for “nearly men” to get the plaudits they deserve because the focus is on winning those prizes we deserve because we want them so much. This intense belief that only the word “success” will do extends beyond sport, where ludicrous expressions like “deferred success” are used to pacify and appease those that cannot reach the level they need. In corporate life, so often the real issues are kicked down the road because people just don’t want to tell someone they are not up to the task, they are underperforming or simply the wrong person for the job.

Somewhere we have lost the ability to see near-success as anything other than failure, the team that reached the final but ran out of steam or the over-performing side that just wasn’t good enough. Does losing the league title by one point or goal difference make the team that came top so much better? It’s true that league tables rarely lie, but they can also illustrate there is more than one very decent team.

Knockout competitions and World Cups are different, even if by making cup competitions more and more like leagues (a la Champions League) removes some of the uncertainty.

While leagues invariably deliver silverware to the best teams, cup competitions are exposed to the luck of the draw, the misfortune of the goalkeeper with oily gloves or the defender who slips up at a vital moment. A game of 90 minutes can change history – how would football have developed, for example, if teams like Austria 1934, Hungary 1954, Netherlands 1974 and 1978 and Brazil 1982 had triumphed instead of losing in heartbreaking fashion? The world wept with these losing sides, for they epitomised the beautiful game.

At Queens Park Rangers and Ipswich Town, clubs that have never had bulging trophy cabinets, their most revered teams are those that didn’t win the prize they coveted. Rightly so, for these teams played wonderful football that excited neutrals up and down the country.

Do we focus too much on winning and allow just a tiny fraction of teams onto the podium? Consider that there are 92 Premier/Football League clubs, a huge number. How many of these can be successful in any given season, and by that we mean, trophies and promotion?

If you count qualifying for Europe as a prize, and it should be, then 18 clubs of the 92 (20%) can look upon the 2021-22 season as a year of success. Others will consider staying in a division due to their circumstances as an achievement. Do we need more “winners” or does creating a community where, to quote the 1970s band Hot Chocolate, “everyone’s a winner, baby”, merely dilutes the essence of success?

The Great Uncrowned (ISBN: 9781801501774), published by Pitch Publishing, is the story of some of these footballing bridesmaids. It’s not meant to be definitive, although readers will recognise some of the very fine sides featured, but it is most definitely meant to be a tribute to the players and teams that should have been more decorated. To buy the book, click here