European Football Thoughts: Loyalty, Greatness and Potential

The January blues are over and more importantly the first Premier League winter break has come and gone. The idea of a winter break was well received until the FA decided to schedule FA Cup replays during the time off. Does it make sense to you? Moving on, the respective winter breaks around Europe went on as usual but the biggest leagues in Europe are back in full flow. Following on from Football Thoughts: Heading into the New Year there are a couple of issues that have been in and out of the news recently and I am going to give my two pence worth - if you are interested. 

Lack of Loyalty - Ajax's superstar team is falling apart 

Ajax were a force to be reckoned with last season

I can remember it all so clearly. That is probably a good sign as it was only last season, but Ajax quietly went under the radar until the knockout stages of the Champions League. After losing the first leg at home in their last 16 tie with Real Madrid, the writing was on the wall for elimination. The following game will live long in the memory as Ajax's directors saw multimillion dollar signs flash before their eyes as Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club in the world, were taken apart on their home ground. The journey didn't stop there; Juventus were beaten on their own patch in the next round as the media began to take note of the special side that was developing at Ajax. The run ended in the semi finals by a last minute Tottenham Hotspur goal but that didn't stop Europe's biggest clubs from circling. Ajax lost just six games out of 58 in all competitions last season. Forever known as a feeder club, Ajax could not resist multi-million euro offers for De Ligt from Juventus, Frenkie De Jong from Barcelona and more recently for Hakim Ziyech from Chelsea. The likes of Onana in goal seems destined to move while Tagliafico is in my opinion one of the best left backs in the world and will likely jump ship if given the opportunity. I know that players have ambitions and money is a large motivating factor but for once would it not be enlightening to just see a special team like this outside of the top five leagues stay together and break the Champions League or even Europa League dominance? Ajax won the UEFA cup in 1992 and the Champions League in 1995 - this team had the capability of matching those legendary sides. 

Neymar - Is he Underappreciated or Overrated? 

Neymar after defeat at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League

Would you believe it if I told you that PSG's Neymar is now 28 years old? It doesn't seem too long ago he was breaking through at Santos and grabbing the headlines as the next big thing. Two protracted transfer sagas and over 250 million euro later and Neymar is now playing his trade in Ligue 1. No matter how hard you try, few can doubt his ability. In Brazil, Spain or even now in France when he is on his game he is far away the best behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. His numbers reflect that. The number of goals from the left wing position is second to none among the mortal football players out there. He has lifted nearly every trophy in the club game but it is his antics on the pitch and his perceived persona of throwing his toys out of the pram when the going gets tough is what he is nearly almost judged on. The top division in France is largely criticized for its lack of top sides and it's hard to argue, considering PSG's failings in the Champions League. The problem for Neymar is that with such a valuable contract and transfer fee on his head he may just have to live with decision to move for a little while longer yet. 

Could it be that if he is to be recognized as one of the great Brazilian players he may have to play a key role in a major International tournament victory? Neymar has over 100 caps and 60 goals for his country and has been the main man for a number of years. A Neymar led Brazilian World Cup victory will be the aim for Qatar 2022 - in his search for greatness. 

Serie A slowly making its way back to the top 

Will we see a Champions League finalist from Italy this season?

Typically known for tactical stalemates, the Italian Serie A has been a breath of fresh air this season. I briefly touched on this earlier, but the title race is going down to the wire. Lazio recently defeated Inter Milan and we now must consider them the main contenders. Ajax just needs to take a quick look at what can be achieved by sticking together. The seven time Italian Cup winners have fended off interest for the likes of Ciro Immobile, Milinkovic-Savic and Luis Alberto in recent times and it is paying dividends in vast sums with their Serie A form this season. Despite an early Europa League exit the squad is thriving under Simone Inzaghi. Throw in two ex-Chelsea bosses in Antonio Conte and Maurizio Sarri and you have a real battle on and off the pitch to look forward to. The goals have flown more easily in Italy this season thanks to Immobile, Lukaku and of course Cristiano Ronaldo himself. The tactical stalemates are still there every now and then but not without some cracking effort from Atalanta. They are the league's highest scorers and progressed from their Champions' League group in their first ever season with the big boys. Throw in a Zlatan Ibrahimovic led AC Milan revival and Italy is the league to watch coming to the end of this season. 

Can Ajax build another top class side in the near future? Are you ready to call Neymar a Brazilian great? Is Italian football back to where it used to be? 

Let me know what you think either in the comments below or via any of the social media platforms listed below. It's crunch time for Europe's biggest clubs so it is time to fasten the seatbelt and enjoy the ride.