Andre Onana acknowledged his "time is over in Ajax" as he seems set to move to Inter but insisted he would step in for Erik ten Hag's men this season if needed.

Onana, 25, is expected to join reigning Serie A champions Inter next season, with his current contract set to expire at the end of the current campaign.

Reports in Italy suggested the Cameroon goalkeeper underwent a medical at Simone Inzaghi's side in January ahead of a potential move.

Onana has come under scrutiny for his decision to turn down new terms with Eredivisie champions Ajax, who he joined from Barcelona in 2015.

"I did my best for this club, so I think it's important for me to look for a new challenge," he told Dutch broadcaster NOS. "I believe it is my right to sign or not to sign a new contract.

"In the end, life revolves around making choices. I believe I have done a great job for this club for many years, and now I think my time at Ajax is over."

Onana returned to the team for Sunday's 2-1 defeat to Go Ahead Eagles after Remko Pasveer sustained a finger injury that could keep him out for eight weeks.

Jay Gorter, another of Ten Hag's options in goal, is also out for two weeks as Ajax prepare to face AZ in the semi-final of the KNVB Beker on Thursday.

Onana's appearance against Go Ahead Eagles was his first league outing since January 2021, but he assured he will be available whenever required for his current side.

"I'm used to playing big games; for me, it's nothing new," he added. "If I have to play, I will play; if I don't have to play, I will support the team as I always do. 

"I'm just here to help the team, and if the team needs me, I will be available – because at the end of the day, I still have a contract with Ajax."

Ajax and Abdelhak Nouri's family have agreed a €7.85million (£6.54m) settlement as compensation for "inadequate" medical treatment that left the midfielder with brain damage.

Nouri suffered a cardiac arrest during a pre-season friendly against Werder Bremen in July 2017 that resulted in serious permanent damage to the brain.

Ajax have paid for his treatment and care ever since, and will continue to do so, after accepting responsibility that the medical attention provided to Nouri was "inadequate".

The reigning Eredivisie champions announced on Monday that they had reached an amicable agreement, instead of going to the KNVB Arbitration Committee, after Nouri's family sued the club.

Edwin van der Sar general manager AFC Ajax said on the settlement: "It is good that an agreement has been reached, so that we can conclude this. 

"We all realise that the suffering for Abdelhak and his loved ones is not over. It remains a very sad situation, that's how we feel here at Ajax too.

"We greatly appreciate the way the family takes care of Abdelhak day and night with a lot of love and attention. When I visit him, I am always welcomed with open arms by the family. 

"That also applies to other Ajax colleagues and we appreciate that enormously. The bond between Ajax and the Nouri family will always remain. 

"Not only because of the Abdelhak Nouri Trophy, which the family hands out annually to the greatest talent of our education. 

"Also because we have decided to give the number 34 to the Nouri family. At Ajax, the number 34 will never be played again, unless the Nouri family and Ajax want to make an exception together. 

"The dressing room furniture of Abdelhak will also be placed in the Ajax fan shoo, next to the main entrance of the ArenA [Ajax's stadium]. 

"We have carefully preserved that in the stadium in recent years and we are now going to give a beautiful place that is accessible to everyone."

Cristiano Ronaldo ended a run of six matches without scoring in Tuesday's win over Brighton and Hove Albion, but the Manchester United forward's future remains uncertain.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner's second spell at Old Trafford has not gone quite to plan and a number of European clubs are said to be circling should he depart.

If reports are accurate, it may well be that a reunion with former boss Jose Mourinho is on the cards for Ronaldo in the coming months.


TOP STORY – ROMA IN FOR RONALDO

Roma are one of three clubs currently in the running to sign Ronaldo should he depart United in the next transfer window, according to The Sun.

Giallorossi boss Mourinho previously managed Ronaldo at Real Madrid and is eager to bolster his squad with a superstar signing.

However, it is not known if the 37-year-old would welcome a return to Serie A, where he previously spent three seasons playing for Juventus ahead of rejoining United.

European heavyweights Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain are reported to be the other two sides to have expressed an interest in Ronaldo.


ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano claims Chelsea are now solely focused on signing Jules Kounde from Sevilla after being told that top defensive target Marquinhos will not be sold by PSG.

- According to The Sun, Armando Broja's form on loan with Southampton has seen the Chelsea youngster's name added to Bayern and Borussia Dortmund's list of targets.

- Manchester City have bid £5.5million (€6.5m) for Atletico Mineiro's teenage winger Savio, suggests The Guardian, with the intention of then loaning him out to PSV.

- Juan Mata will depart United as a free agent at the end of the campaign, claims Nicolo Schira. The midfielder may look to see out his career in his Spanish homeland.

- Ralf Rangnick is eager for United to bring in Christopher Nkunku from RB Leipzig, according to ESPN. Madrid, Liverpool, Man City and Arsenal have also been linked.

Manchester United remain on the lookout for a full-time manager, three months on from sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ralf Rangnick has taken interim charge until at least the end of the campaign, but some mixed results have hampered his hopes of landing the job permanently.

A number of names have been linked with one of football's most prestigious positions, though one candidate is seemingly favoured by the players.

 

 

TOP STORY – UNITED STARS FAVOUR POCH APPOINTMENT

Mauricio Pochettino remains the favourite to succeed Solskjaer as United's next permanent boss and, according to The Express, that is an appointment that will go down well.

The Red Devils' first-team stars are said to have made clear that Pochettino, who is under pressure a year into his time with Paris Saint-Germain, is their preferred option.

Ajax boss Erik Ten Hag is another candidate to lead United forward from next season, but there are concerns over his lack of experience in English football.

 

ROUND-UP

- While there is uncertainty over who will be in charge at United next season, the Premier League heavyweights are pushing ahead with transfer plans. Sport1 reports that Borussia Dortmund defender Manuel Akanji is one of those being targeted.

- Memphis Depay could be on his way out of Barcelona less than a year after arriving at Camp Nou. Sport claims that Barca have other attacking options in mind, with Dortmund superstar Erling Haaland still on their radar.

- Inter remain in talks with Ivan Perisic over a new contract at San Siro. According to Nicolo Schira, the Croatia international is close to putting pen to paper on an extension that will run through until July 2024.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan are planning talks with the representatives of Lille centre-back Sven Botman. The highly rated defender has been touted as a target for numerous clubs across Europe, most notably Newcastle United.

- Chelsea have not given up hope of tying Antonio Rudiger down to a new deal, according to Goal. It is claimed that the Germany international has been offered close to £200,000 a week to turn down interest from Real Madrid and PSG.

Borussia Dortmund striker Erling Haaland and Paris Saint-Germain superstar Kylian Mbappe remain arguably the two most sought-after players in world football.

The pair, who boast 43 goals in 50 games between them this season, have inevitably been linked with an array of Europe's top clubs ahead of the next transfer window.

And it may well be that one replaces the other at PSG in the coming months.


TOP STORY – HAALAND AMONG PSG TARGETS

L'Equipe reports that Haaland is one of a handful of players being eyed up by PSG, who are growing increasingly concerned that Mbappe will join Real Madrid on a free transfer.

However, the Ligue 1 giants are said to have made tying down Mbappe to fresh terms their main priority between now and the end of the season.

Should the World Cup winner depart, PSG would then have to see off competition from the likes of Madrid, Barcelona and several Premier League teams for Haaland's signature.

ROUND-UP

- Harry Kane failed in his attempt to force through a move from Tottenham last year, but Fabrizio Romano claims the striker is now happy to stay under Antonio Conte.

- After further enhancing his reputation by firing Senegal to Africa Cup of Nations glory, Goal reports that Sadio Mane is open to leaving Liverpool ahead of next season.

- According to Fabrizio Romano, Madrid are eager to finalise terms with Luka Modric over a new deal that will run through for an additional season until the end of 2022-23.

- Ajax are prepared to tempt Barcelona into allowing Sergino Dest to return to the club by offering Nicolas Tagliafico in exchange. That is according to reports from Spain.

- Calciomercato reports that Milan are close to agreeing a four-year extension for full-back Theo Hernandez, who is currently due to be out of contract in July 2024.

Marc Overmars has left his position as Ajax's director of football affairs after it was revealed he had sent a series of "inappropriate messages to several female colleagues".

The Eredivisie giants confirmed on Sunday that Overmars had departed after discussions with the club's supervisory board and CEO Edwin van der Sar.

The former Ajax, Arsenal and Barcelona winger had been in the post since 2012 and in December signed a new contract that would have kept him at the club until 2026. 

A statement on the official Ajax website said "a series of inappropriate messages sent to several female colleagues over an extended period of time underlies his decision to leave the club".

Overmars said: "I am ashamed. Last week I was confronted with reports about my behaviour. And how this has come across to others. Unfortunately, I didn't realise that I was crossing the line with this, but that was made clear to me in recent days. I suddenly felt enormous pressure. I apologise.

"Certainly for someone in my position, this behaviour is unacceptable. I now see that too. But it is too late. I see no other option but to leave Ajax. This also has a major impact on my private situation. That is why I ask everyone to leave me and my family alone."

Supervisory board chairman Leen Meijaard said: "This is a dramatic situation for everyone who is involved in any way. It is devastating for the women who have had to deal with the behaviour. When we heard news of this, we immediately acted, carefully deliberating and weighing what was the best thing to do, all in consultation with CEO Edwin van der Sar and assisted by an external expert.

"Marc is probably the best football director that Ajax has had. We upgraded and extended his contract for a reason. But, unfortunately, he has really gone over the line, so continuing as director was not an option, as he recognised himself. It is extremely painful for everyone. I want to express the wish that everyone involved is given the peace and privacy to process this."

Van der Sar said: "I find the situation appalling for everyone and I agree with Leen Meijaard's words. In my role, I also feel responsible to help colleagues. A safe sport and working climate is very important. We will pay even more attention to this in the near future.

"Marc and I have been playing together since the early 1990s, first at Ajax and then with the national team and we have been colleagues in the management of Ajax for almost 10 years now. That has now come to a very abrupt end. We are working on something very wonderful here at Ajax, so this news will also be a blow to everyone who cares about Ajax."

Feyenoord great Wim Jansen has died at the age of 75.

The Eredivisie club, where he spent 15 years as a player before taking up a variety of off-field roles, confirmed he had passed away on Tuesday. He had been suffering from dementia.

"It is with great sadness that Feyenoord has learned of the death of club icon Wim Jansen," the club said.

"Wim Jansen is one of the greatest footballers ever to play for Feyenoord. He served the club as a youth player, youth coach, assistant and head coach, technical director and advisor and was part of the most successful Feyenoord team of all time."

Jansen won four league titles with Feyenoord from 1965 to 1974 and lifted the European Cup in 1970, when they won the final 2-1 against Celtic - a team he would later manage. He also captained the side to 1974 UEFA Cup glory before winning a further league title with Ajax in 1982.

He won 65 caps for the Netherlands in a 13-year international career, and was part of the sides that reached the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals and finished third at the 1976 European Championship. Jansen was once described by the great Johan Cruyff as "one of only four men in the world it's worth listening to when they talk about football", according to NOS.

In a varied post-playing career, Jansen would win two KNVB Beker trophies as Feyenoord boss before becoming technical director for the 1993 league title win, helping to restore the club following financial problems.

He enjoyed perhaps his best moment as a coach with Celtic in 1997-98, when they won the double of league title and Scottish League Cup.

Stopping arch-rivals Rangers from winning a 10th successive title, Jansen also secured the signing of Henrik Larsson from Feyenoord, who became one of the club's greatest modern players.

Current Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou said: "He's a massive name in Dutch football, both as a player and a manager.

"I've often said that, for all of us, we get the privilege of coming through these clubs and our ultimate ambition is to leave some sort of mark or some sort of legacy and he did that in 12 months.

"The impact he had in just one year at this football club is fantastic."

Former Arsenal and Manchester United star Robin van Persie, who began his professional career at Feyenoord and had guidance from Jansen as a youngster, wrote on Twitter: "We spoke the same language, the language of football.

"Cruyff had his own language, Wim too. He wrote it down in notebooks, which Wim only shared with, in his eyes, real enthusiasts.

"Wim, I am grateful for our hours of conversations and the many wise lessons. Rest in peace."

The race for Erling Haaland's signature will be a huge story in 2022.

The 21-year-old sensation has interest from some of Europe's biggest clubs.

Haaland has netted 63 goals in the past 18 months for Borussia Dortmund.

 

TOP STORY – MAN UTD GIVE UP ON HAALAND

Manchester United have pulled out of the race to sign Dortmund's Haaland, according to ESPN.

The Red Devils will focus on alternative attacking options with uncertainty around Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo's futures at the club while Haaland is favouring a move to Real Madrid.

United have had a long-standing interest in the Norwegian, who has a €75 million (£62m) release clause on his Dortmund contract.

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester City are closing in on a deal for River Plate's 21-year-old Argentina international Julian Alvarez, claims The Telegraph. As part of the imminent deal, Alvarez – who has interest from Milan, Inter and Juventus – will remain with River until June. The fee is expected to be no less than £20m.

- Liverpool have joined the race to sign Borussia Monchengladbach's Denis Zakaria, according to ESPN. The Reds will rival Dortmund and Bayern Munich who are both keen on the Swiss midfielder.

- Ajax's Mexico international Edson Alvarez is attracting interest from Premier League trio Chelsea, Leicester City and Crystal Palace, reports Football Insider.

- Leeds United have opened contract talks with Brazilian superstar Raphinha,  according to the Daily Star, amid interest from Chelsea and Liverpool .

- French club Nice are set to offer Tottenham's Bryan Gil a loan deal, according to L'Equipe. The Spaniard has struggled for impact since his move to England.

- Diario AS claims that Valencia are working on a January deal for Athletic Bilbao defender Unai Nunez .

Mikel Arteta may be confident that his side can still recruit any player in the world, but Arsenal may have to wait if they are to sign Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina.

The in-demand Serbia international is the joint-fourth highest scorer in Europe's top five leagues this term and is wanted by an array of clubs across the continent.

While a January move has been touted, however, Fiorentina appear to be playing hardball when it comes to the future of the 21-year-old striker.


TOP STORY – FIORENTINA DEMANDS PREVENTING ARSENAL'S VLAHOVIC PURSUIT

Arsenal are reportedly willing to match Fiorentina's €75million (£62.62m) asking price for Vlahovic, which would make him the second-most expensive player in their history.

However, The Independent reports that the Serie A side want the majority of that money paid upfront, whereas Arsenal intend to spread the cost over the next four years.

The Gunners may therefore have to wait until the end of the campaign, at which point Vlahovic will have a year to run on his contract, before renegotiating with Fiorentina.

 


ROUND-UP

– It is shaping up to be a busy conclusion to the January window for Arsenal as Goal reports that the Premier League side have made contact with Juventus over a loan move for midfielder Arthur Melo, while Leicester City's Youri Tielemans is another potential target.

– L'Equipe claims that Paul Pogba remains a target for Paris Saint-Germain as he nears the end of his Manchester United contract. The midfielder has not featured since November due to injury and is not expected to return until next month.

– According to The Mail, Man Utd are eyeing a move for Brighton and Hove Albion's Tariq Lamptey as an upgrade on Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Diogo Dalot. Interim boss Ralf Rangnick is said to be a big fan of the right-sided player's versatility.

– Sticking with Rangnick and United, the German coach has put Ajax boss Erik ten Hag's name forward as the best option to replace him when his interim spell at Old Trafford ends in June. That is according to Le Parisien, with the French outlet also suggesting PSG's Mauricio Pochettino still remains in the frame.

– Ambitious Newcastle United have already brought in Kieran Trippier this month and more players look set to follow. Tuttomercato suggests that Roma's Chris Smalling could be lured to St James' Park as the Magpies desperately attempt to strengthen at centre-back.

Freiburg's Nico Schlotterbeck is attracting plenty of interest this month, with Bayern Munich and Real Madrid among those being linked. Bayern appear to be leading that particular race if reports from Spain are anything to go by, with the defender supposedly keen to stay in the Bundesliga.

Romelu Lukaku cast his Chelsea future in doubt with a recent interview – and the unsettled striker may now be offered a route out of Stamford Bridge by Paris Saint-Germain.

The 28-year-old revealed his regret at leaving Inter for Chelsea and questioned boss Thomas Tuchel's tactics, leading to him being dropped for the 2-2 draw with Liverpool.

Lukaku has returned for the Blues' two matches since, but doubts remain over whether he will still be a Chelsea player come the start of next season.

TOP STORY – LUKAKU LINED UP AS MBAPPE REPLACEMENT?

PSG look certain to lose Kylian Mbappe at the end of the campaign as the Real Madrid target fast approaches the end of his contract at the Parc des Princes.

The Ligue 1 giants are on the lookout for possible replacements and, according to El Nacional, Lukaku is one of those being considered by the club's wealthy backers.

The report suggests PSG are willing to pay €90million (£75.1m) to persuade Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich to part ways with the club's all-time record signing.

Lukaku, who apologised for giving the explosive interview in December, has scored eight goals in 20 appearances since returning to west London five months ago.

ROUND-UP

– Tottenham have decided to sell Steven Bergwijn this month amid interest from several clubs, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ajax are said to be among the sides to have already made an offer for the Netherlands international.

– Anthony Martial wants to leave Manchester United and has been touted as a possible target for Barcelona. But Spanish outlet Sport claims that, while Barca are eager to strengthen in the final third, Martial is not on their radar in this window.

– Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger is wanted by a number of Europe's heavyweight clubs. According to Foot Mercato, PSG are prepared to pay more than the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid, but the latter remains the Germany international's preferred choice.

– A rumoured target for Chelsea and Bayern, Sergino Dest's Barcelona future may become clearer in the coming days. El Nacional claims the defender's representatives are set to hold talks with the Catalan giants.

– After being jeered off the pitch by his own supporters in Tottenham's 3-1 FA Cup win over Morecambe on Sunday, The Athletic reports that club-record signing Tanguy Ndombele is hopeful of ending his tumultuous spell in north London this month.

– The Athletic also reports Aston Villa are now the favourites to sign Everton full-back Lucas Digne, despite previous interest from Chelsea. Newcastle United have also been linked, but Digne is apparently not considering a move to the relegation-threatened side.

Edwin van der Sar says he and Marc Overmars are "not ready yet" to leave their roles at Ajax and believe they can help take the club to the next level.

Van der Sar has been Ajax's chief executive since 2016, while Overmars took on the role of director of football in 2012.

The Dutch giants have claimed two Eredivisie titles and two KNVB Cup triumphs in the five years since the former goalkeeper was appointed, also appearing in a Champions League semi-final.

However, the 51-year-old claimed he is not satisfied with his achievements at the club he started his professional career with, as he expressed his desire to achieve even more success.

"I think Marc and myself are enjoying it very much here at Ajax," Van der Sar told Stats Perform. "The freedom and rewards, the level of the club is still growing. That brings joy to yourself and gives you a lot of confidence. We're easy in that way.

"For the moment I'm really happy in Amsterdam. I think we're not ready [to leave] yet. We can make a step higher and that's something we're aiming for. To be really, really successful on the pitch. It's not easy, but we're going [to give it a] go."

Van der Sar explained that players and coaches often feel they outgrow Ajax and look to move on, but he is determined to delay the departure of head coach Erik ten Hag for as long as possible.

"You see it also with players, sometimes they think they're finished at Ajax and want to take the next step," Van der Sar said continued.

"I've seen it myself when I went from Ajax to Juventus – it wasn't a natural fit. The level of football, the family, the expectations, it can be difficult abroad.

"But someone with the quality of Erik and the way he lets Ajax play and tick for the last four years, it's obvious there's a lot of interest in him. He is named among the big clubs in Europe.

"Eventually, he will take the next step, but we will try to delay it as long as possible but of course, at a certain point it's up to him. But we have to challenge him and make sure he maybe sees will there be a next level – can we be even better?

"That's what we're working hard for to make sure the players are staying, the scouting brings new talents and the structure around him are ready for a successful period."

Ten Hag will be hoping for another deep run into the latter stages of the Champions League after being drawn against Benfica in the round of 16.

For football enthusiasts, watching Ajax dazzle on the international stage soothes the soul.

At a time when the world game has been taken over by the mega rich, Ajax represent football's pure and glorious past.

Ajax's most famous name – Johan Cruyff – made the club what it is, imposing the style that would become so successful for years, helping the Dutch giants to win the Champions League in 1995.

That DNA continues to flow through the veins of players and staff – Cruyff's unforgettable legacy not lost on those in Amsterdam, where Erik ten Hag's history-makers have dazzled in the Eredivisie and Champions League in 2021-22.

Continuing to stay true to Cruyff's values five years after his death, Ajax have swept all before them in Europe this season.

Ajax became the first Dutch team to win all six of their games in a single Champions League group-stage campaign, while they also celebrated six successive victories in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time in their illustrious history.

"I think he would be proud of the level of football and type of football Erik ten Hag is playing with the team," Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar – who was part of that triumphant 1995 team – told Stats Perform.

A world-renowned philosophy, the manner in which Ajax teams are built remains largely in the image of their favourite son. Cruyff's influence on the club's academy is still so ingrained.

After all these years, Ajax still seem so happily married to the romantic notions of how the game should be played thanks to Cruyff, but is there a need to adapt or modify when it comes to being faithful to his masterplan?

"Football adapts and evolves all the time," Van der Sar said. "I got a call from Johan Cruyff 10 years ago when I was still playing at Manchester United. He wanted to have players into the board of directors. He asked me the question if I was open to that. I had to think about it and speak to some guys like former United CEO David Gill – what it involves etc. I took up the job in 2012.

"Of course the philosophy of the club is quite similar. We changed some things in the youth setup and making sure to bring Ajax back to European level. Not buying players for big money and not delivering. We had to refocus on bringing our players into the team. Four or five years ago, we took a new step with the reserves we had, the scouting department. A lot of things are connected with Cruyff."

While not around to witness Ajax's reclamation, Cruyff would approve of Ten Hag and his men.

Possession and pressing have been paramount under Ten Hag's watchful eye since he moved to Amsterdam in 2017 and, heading into a Champions League last-16 date with Benfica, Ajax lead the way this term for shots after high turnover (16) and passes allowed per defensive action (PPDA – 7.9).

Title-holders Chelsea, meanwhile, are the only team to have managed more high turnovers and possession won in the final third than Dutch champions Ajax.

It is a similar story in the Eredivisie, with Ten Hag's men – a point behind leaders PSV – leading the way for high turnovers (210), possession won in the final third (126) and PPDA (8.9). De Godenzonen have scored a whopping 49 goals in 16 games, while conceding only four.

"It's always a challenge being a respectable, big club from a small country to make an impact in the football world," said former Ajax, Juventus, Manchester United and Netherlands goalkeeper Van der Sar said. "We've done that over several decades of football. To the level we're playing at the moment, in the Champions League playing six and winning six. It's great encouragement for the coach and compliment for the players and the way they're playing. It's fantastic to be the director of Ajax."

Ten Hag guided Ajax to a remarkable Champions League semi-final in 2018-19 before that team was dismantled – Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt were lured away by Barcelona and Juventus respectively. Hakim Ziyech made the move to Chelsea, while Donny van de Beek eventually joined United last year.

But the highly rated Dutchman and two-time Eredivisie winner is leading a new mini-era of success with a mix of youth and experience – spearheaded by the likes of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, Antony and Sebastien Haller, who this term became the quickest player to reach 10 goals in a Champions League career, eclipsing Erling Haaland.

Haller also became the first player to score in each of his opening six games in the competition, while the former West Ham forward is only the second Ajax player to score 10-plus goals in a single season of the premier club competition following Soren Lerby in 1979-80.

"It's fantastic if you say the 18-19 team – De Ligt or De Jong they left us after the year – and if you see now, we have Ryan Gravenberch in midfield and Jurrien Timber, both coming from our academy and slotting into those places that those two big-name players, replacing them and reaching a similar level," added Van der Sar. "Compared to the experience of Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind and Antony coming in as a young Brazilian striker. The team is gelling fantastically together but of course we know in the last 16, quarter-finals, there are massive teams coming up. We're confident."

Van der Sar also underlined the club's faith in the next generation.

He said: "Promoting youth is in our DNA. We will always do that. That combination – four or five years ago we changed the approach a little bit to make sure if we want to compete or be in the Champions League, you also have to have experienced players. The desire and mentality, so in that way we changed the approach a bit. We combine it with the young players here who are getting opportunities to make their first steps on the international podium. That approach works fantastically for us."

Ten Hag's exploits have not gone unnoticed amid growing links to Premier League giants United, who are on the hunt for a new long-term manager following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season.

Since Ten Hag was named coach four years ago, Ajax this term boast their best figures in terms of high turnovers (13.0) and possession won in final third (8.0) across all competitions, highlighting their continued improvement on the 51-year-old's watch.

"You see it also with players, sometimes they think they're finished at Ajax and want to take the next step," Van der Sar said when discussing Ten Hag's future and whether the environment was key to his next club. "I've seen it myself when I went from Ajax to Juventus – it wasn't a natural fit. The level of football, the family, the expectations, it can be difficult abroad.

"But someone with the quality of Erik and the way he lets Ajax play and tick for the last four years, it's obvious there's a lot of interest in him. He is named among the big clubs in Europe. Eventually he will take the next step, but we will try to delay it as long as possible but of course, at a certain point it's up to him. But we have to challenge him and make sure he maybe sees will there be a next level – can we be even better? That's what we're working hard for to make sure the players are staying, the scouting brings new talents and the structure around him are ready for a successful period."

Recalling Ten Hag's arrival, Van der Sar added: "I remember speaking with him at Marc Overmars' house. Marc lives in the east of Holland, not as big as Australia but for Holland, it's still a drive. Came very well prepared. Knew what to expect. Talked about philosophies and things that needed to change. Taking the next step, putting the bar even higher every time. The last four years, every year he has taken the bar higher and higher.

"You also need the organisation to come up with that and that's been provided – the scouting, youth set up, commercial guys and media guys. Not only on the pitch we want to play in the Champions League, also the office. I live in two worlds – the training ground and the office I'm looking to the stadium. In both worlds, we want to play Champions League football. Being at the highest level."

Rio Ferdinand has been vocal previously regarding player signings and managerial appointments at Old Trafford. So, has Van der Sar been approached by his former team-mate when it comes to Ten Hag?

"Rio is quite vocal on his own media channels and the DMs [direct messages]," said the 51-year-old. "He is a great character and fantastic player, and pundit and business also. I respect him a lot. I texted him stop hassling me about players, coaches and directors to come over to England [smiling]."

The return of club legends Van der Sar and Marc Overmars, as CEO and director football respectively, have been key in maintaining Ajax's legacy and position among Europe's elite, despite contrasting budgets.

Van der Sar won four Eredivisie titles, the Champions League, UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup among his 14 honours at Ajax in the 1990s before leaving in 1999, while former team-mate Overmars was also part of that conquering European outfit 26 years ago.

Now, the Dutch duo are embracing their Ajax roles off the pitch.

"We've had success and the money we've earned in our career, but it all started here at Ajax. We're happy to give something back to the club that gave us our first opportunity and a lot of things," Van der Sar said, having returned to the club in 2012 as marketing director before becoming CEO four years later.

The pair's work has not gone unnoticed. Overmars – who first became the director of football in 2012 – was sought after by Newcastle United before re-signing a week ago.

Van der Sar's future is now in the spotlight, linked with a return to Manchester United, where he enjoyed Premier League and Champions League success between 2005 and 2011.

However, Van der Sar is in no rush to leave his beloved Ajax.

"The last sentence was a good one – once your work at Ajax is done," Van der Sar replied when asked if he had a desire and interest to make his back way to United once his work with Ajax was done. "I think Marc and myself are enjoying it very much here at Ajax. The freedom and rewards, the level of the club is still growing. That brings joy to yourself and gives you a lot of confidence. We're easy in that way.

"For the moment I'm really happy in Amsterdam. I think we're not ready yet. We can make a step higher and that's something we're aiming for. To be really, really successful on the pitch. It's not easy, but we're going [to give it a] go."

Van der Sar and Overmars have established a successful structure at Ajax and it is something United are believed to be prepared to mirror by bringing in their former goalkeeper as Ed Woodward prepares to vacate his role as CEO.

Having not won the Premier League since 2013, United – up until this point – have been reluctant to appoint a director of football.

That reluctance and lack of a clear and unified vision in Manchester has seen the style of play and philosophy chop and change – David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have come and gone, and with them, the need for the club to constantly tailor to the needs of the next manager.

Ajax on the other hand, their philosophy remains the same and it will continue to be the case with Ten Hag and beyond.

"That is one of the things we changed 10 years ago that the structure is good for the club," Van der Sar said. "There's experience and quality, there's a desire to perform at the highest level and then the coach or maybe with assistant coach, one-two persons must fit into our system at the club. That's completely different in England. If you get a new manager, seven, eight, nine, 10 people, video, scouting, data, physios, doctors and everything.

"I don't think that is the right approach. I want to make sure the heart of the club and the knowledge of the club is there, that we know about the young players coming through, they know the young players need to adjust, what kind of sessions and training they need and then they're ready to be in the first team. That's why the assistant coaches are the guys who have been at the club – Michael Reizeger, Winston Bogarde, Richard Witschge, John Heitinga being the coach of the second team. We need that experience to make sure and aware to the coach that these players are coming through. That we don't have to buy a player, give this guy a chance and he will perform for you."

While popular in the Netherlands, Germany and Italy, the director of football model is a topic that generates debate, particularly in England. Is it more helpful than obstructive for a coach in football?

"A coach is very important for the team," said 130-time Netherlands international Van der Sar. "He has a short-term future and for Marc and myself, we have to think long term about what's good for the club. But yeah, it can be difficult, difficult part of conversation with coach and director football.

"But I think at Ajax, we find an ideal solution at the moment. Marc and Erik have a fantastic working relationship together. Let's see what the future brings us for the club. First focus on the league and then look forward to the Champions League games in March. Hopefully a great team comes here to Amsterdam and hopefully we can entertain fans across the world."

Manchester United's search for a permanent new manager continues to roll on.

Ralf Rangnick has taken over on an interim basis following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's axing.

Several big names have been linked with the vacant post.

 

TOP STORY – TEN HAG TOP OF MAN UTD'S LIST

Ajax head coach Erik ten Hag has moved to the head of the queue to be Manchester United's new manager, claims The Mirror.

Ten Hag guided Ajax through a record-breaking Champions League group campaign where they won all six games.

United have now made appointing him their priority as he ticks all the boxes for the 20-time English champions.

 

ROUND-UP

- Newcastle United have reached out to Manchester United about the prospect of a January move for Jesse Lingard, claims The Sun.

- Tottenham are tracking Chelsea's Andreas Christensen, joining Manchester City and Manchester United in pursuit of him, reports the Daily Star.

- Liverpool have set a £10million asking price for West Ham target Nat Phillips, according to The Sun.

- The Reds are also interested in signing Real Madrid winger Rodrygo and are willing to pay £68m (€80m), reports El Nacional.

- La Gazzetta dello Sport claims that Inter have not held any talks with Stefan dr Vrij amid links with Tottenham and Newcastle United.

- Brazilian powerhouse Corinthians have enquired about Manchester United's veteran Uruguayan forward Edinson Cavani, claims Globo Esporte.

Marc Overmars is staying at Ajax after extending his contract with the Eredivisie champions until June 2026.

Ajax's director of football has been linked with Newcastle United, Barcelona and Arsenal.

But the former Netherlands winger has ended speculation over his future by putting pen to paper on a new deal with the Amsterdam club, who tweeted "stop calling Marc" when they announced his new deal.

Overmars, who played for the club between 1992 and 1997 before leaving for Arsenal, said: "I still feel very excited by my work and get a lot of satisfaction out of it.

"The cooperation with my fellow board members is very good, as well as with the people at the Toekomst [the Ajax sports complex] with whom I work together in the fields of scouting, youth, transfers, and the like.

"I have a feeling that my work at Ajax is not done yet, so I would like to continue here."

Ajax president-commissioner Leen Meijaard: "The Supervisory board is very pleased with Marc Overmars as director of football affairs.

"Of course, the performance of the first team under his leadership is most notable. The team, led by Erik ten Hag [head coach], who was appointed by Marc, is exciting and successful, both nationally and internationally.

"Furthermore, we also see the good development in other technical football matters. With Marc in the management team, we think that the upward trend that our ambitious club has been on for a few years can be continued."

Ajax are a point clear of Feyenoord at the top of the Eredivisie and cruised into the last 16 of the Champions League, winning all six Group C matches.

Ajax CEO Edwin van der Sar welcomed Manchester United's rumoured interest in head coach Erik ten Hag, while he hinted at a return to the Red Devils.

Ten Hag has been linked with Premier League giants United, who are eyeing a long-term manager following the interim appointment of Ralf Rangnick until the end of the season.

Ajax's Ten Hag has impressed in his time in Amsterdam, where the 51-year-old has delivered two Eredivisie titles and embarked on a memorable run to the 2018-19 Champions League semi-finals.

Ten Hag's men have been the entertainers of Europe this term, dazzling their way into the Champions League round of 16, becoming the first Dutch side in history to win all six of their group-stage games in a campaign following Tuesday's 4-2 victory over Sporting CP.

Ajax have also won six consecutive matches in the European Cup/Champions League for the first time in their illustrious history.

Van der Sar was asked about the speculation regarding Ten Hag prior to the Group C fixture in Amsterdam.

"This means that we are doing something well," Van der Sar told RTL7 pre-game. "It's the same with the players. When we perform well, the interest comes.

"If there is interest in our players or coach… we've all been blown away in the past. So be it, we have to make sure we're ready by then, that the lists are filled in."

Former United goalkeeper Van der Sar has also been linked with a move to Old Trafford, where the 51-year-old won four Premier League titles and the Champions League among other honours between 2005 and 2011.

Van der Sar has held the role of Ajax CEO since 2016 and he responded to the rumours by saying: "I am enjoying myself so much at Ajax, I still have two years left here.

"I want to keep achieving things here with the club. But I am sure that one day the moment will arrive."

Van der Sar added: "I think it's really cool to be part of the club like this, because you don't do this alone and not just this year, but in the past 10 years.

"I still have two years to go. I don't think we're done at the club here yet. I think we can still grow in the Netherlands, but especially internationally. That's the challenge. And that seems even more cool for now."

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