We sat down with Technical Director - Youth, Kelly Cross to discuss our partnership with famed European powerhouse AFC Ajax, and how it's benefiting the Sky Blues' Academy.
- How did the partnership with Ajax come about?
Our Technical Board Member, Han Berger, initiated discussions from his base in Holland. Han knows very well what the Ajax Academy stands for and was keen to develop a relationship in order to help us achieve our goal to be recognised as Australia’s premier youth development club.
- Did it take long for Ajax to agree with the partnership? What was their knowledge of Sydney FC?
Ajax were very interested from the start, as they were already partnering with other clubs around the world. Ajax are internationally renowned for setting high standards, so it is pleasing to know we meet those standards. They were already well aware of Sydney FC’s standing as the top performing club in Australia.
- Ajax are famed for their youth development, how exciting is it to be in partnership with a massive European club like them?
As we continue to strive for excellence, it is fantastic to be able to learn from Ajax; we are looking to pick up all we can from a club who are arguably the best club on the planet in terms of bringing young players to an international level.
- How have we benefited from this partnership already?
In 2018, we were invited to participate in the Future Cup, a world-class U17 tournament held at Ajax. We finished fifth in the tournament, with six U16s in our squad, and notched up victories against Sporting Lisbon and a J-League Select XI. For some context, PSG and Sevilla finished below us in the rankings. Last year, we took 50 players to the Ajax Academy, De Toekomst, and as well as playing games against their teams, the boys were also given a full tour of the facilities. Ajax tested all our players and we had a training session in their impressive full-size indoor field. Our staff have had several education days with Ajax Academy staff, and some of our medical staff have also visited to study the practices employed there. In addition, Ajax invite outstanding Sydney FC prospects for trials, which of course will recommence when travel restrictions are eased. Ajax also conduct their own camps and trials in other Australian cities and selected players come to Sydney FC for evaluation.
- What are our plans in the long term regarding this partnership?
We aim to continue to share knowledge and experience, as well as building the relationship in terms of exposing our players to the Ajax coaches.
- Lastly, Ajax have seen the benefits in investing in their youth and promoting them to the first team, what are we doing to mirror this approach?
It is a central part of the Ajax strategy to develop players and give them first-team exposure, and we aim to adopt the same philosophy; this project is evolving now as the Academy reaches its fifth anniversary and we start to see our most talented youngsters progress to the A-League squad. Like Ajax, we are also beginning to see our players attract interest from overseas clubs, such as Ryan Teague to Famalicao and Cameron Peupion to Brighton.