Amsterdamsche Football Club Ajax (Dutch pronunciation: [ˈaːjɑks]), also AFC Ajax or Ajax Amsterdam, is a Dutch professional football club based in Amsterdam. Historically, Ajax (named after the legendary Greek hero) is the most successful club in the Netherlands, with 33 Eredivisie titles and 18 KNVB Cups. It has continuously played in the Eredivisie, the Dutch football top division, since its inception in 1956 and, along with Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, it is one of the country's "big three" clubs that have dominated that competition.
Ajax is historically one of the most successful clubs in the world; according to the IFFHS, Ajax were the seventh-most successful European club of the 20th century. The club is one of the five teams that has earned the right to keep the European Cup and to wear a multiple-winner badge; they won consecutively in 1971–1973. In 1972, they completed the continental treble by winning the Eredivisie, KNVB Cup, and the European Cup. Ajax's last international trophies were the 1995 Intercontinental Cup and the 1995 Champions League, where they defeated Milan in the final; they lost the 1996 Champions League final on penalties to Juventus.
Ajax is also one of three teams to win the continental treble and the Intercontinental Cup in the same season/calendar year; This was achieved in the 1971–72 season. Ajax, Juventus, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea are the four clubs to have won all three major UEFA club competitions. They have also won the Intercontinental Cup twice, the 1991–92 UEFA Cup, as well as the Karl Rappan Cup, a predecessor of the UEFA Intertoto Cup in 1962. Ajax plays at the Amsterdam Arena, which opened in 1996. They previously played at De Meer Stadion and the Amsterdam Olympic Stadium (for international matches).
Ajax was founded in Amsterdam on 18 March 1900. The club achieved promotion to the highest level of Dutch football in 1911 and had its first major success in 1917, winning the KNVB Beker, the Netherlands' national cup. The following season, Ajax became national champion for the first time. The club defended its title in 1918–19,becoming the only team to achieve an unbeaten season in the Netherlands Football League Championship.
Throughout the 1920s, Ajax was a strong regional power, winning the Eerste Klasse West division in 1921, 1927 and 1928, but could not maintain its success at national level. This changed in the 1930s, with the club winning five national championships (1931, 1932, 1934, 1937, 1939), making it the most successful Dutch team of the decade. Ajax won its second KNVB Cup in 1942–43, and an eighth Dutch title in 1946–47, the last season the club was managed by Englishman Jack Reynolds, who, up to this point, had overseen all of its national championship successes as well as its 1917 KNVB Cup win.
In 1956, the first season of the Netherlands' new professional league, the Eredivisie, was played with Ajax participating as a founding member. The Amsterdam club became the first national champions under the new format and made its debut in the European Champion Clubs' Cup the following year, losing to Hungarian champions Vasas SC 6–2 on aggregate at the quarter-final stage. The team were again Eredivisie champions in 1960 and won a third KNVB Cup in 1961.
In 1965, Rinus Michels, who had played for the club between 1946 and 1958, was appointed manager of Ajax, implementing his philosophy of Total Football which was to become synonymous with both Ajax and the Netherlands national football team. A year earlier, Johan Cruijff, who would go on to become the greatest Dutch footballer of all time, made his debut. Between them, Michels and Cruijff led Ajax through the most successful period in its history, winning seven Eredivisie titles, four KNVB Cups and three European Cups.
The club is also particularly famous for its renowned youth program that has produced many Dutch talents over the years – Johan Cruijff, Edwin van der Sar, Dennis Bergkamp, former national team top scorer Patrick Kluivert, and former national team coach Marco van Basten. Dutch national first-team players Rafael van der Vaart, Ryan Babel, Wesley Sneijder, Maarten Stekelenburg, Eljero Elia, André Ooijer, John Heitinga and Nigel de Jong had also came through the ranks at Ajax and all are now playing for top-flight clubs. Ajax also regularly supplies the Dutch national youth teams with local talent. First team regulars Siem de Jong, Urby Emanuelson and Gregory van der Wiel are former youth internationals who made the successful step up to the senior side.
Due to mutual agreements with foreign clubs, the youth academy has also signed foreign players as teenagers before making first team debuts, such as Belgian defensive trio Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Thomas Vermaelen along with winger Tom de Mul, all of whom are full internationals as well as Dutch international Vurnon Anita as well as Javier Martina from Curaçao.
Ajax has also expanded its talent searching program to South Africa with Ajax Cape Town. Ajax Cape Town was set up with the help of Rob Moore. Ajax has also had a satellite club in the United States under the name Ajax America, until it filed for bankruptcy. There are some youth players from Ajax Cape Town that have been drafted into the Eredivisie squad, such as South African internationals Steven Pienaar, Thulani Serero and Cameroonian international Eyong Enoh.
In 1995, the year Ajax won the Champions League, the Dutch national team was almost entirely composed of Ajax players, with Edwin van der Sar in goal; players such as Michael Reiziger, Frank de Boer, and Danny Blind in defense; Ronald de Boer, Edgar Davids, and Clarence Seedorf in midfield; and Patrick Kluivert and Marc Overmars in attack.
In 2011 AFC Ajax opened its first youth academies outside the Netherlands, when the club partnered up with George Kazianis and All Star Consultancy in Greece to open the Ajax Hellas Youth Academy. The offices are based in Nea Smyrni, Attica, with the main training facility located on the island of Corfu, hosting a total of 15 football youth academies throughout Greece and Cyprus. Eddie van Schaik heads the organization as coach and consultant, introducing the Ajax football philosophy at the various Greek football training camps.