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The Invincible Kings of Europe: Remembering Ajax's 1994-95 season

On the 25-year anniversary of Ajax's 1995 Champions League triumph, Sports Mole takes a look back at Louis van Gaal's era-defining team.

When compiling a list of the greatest club sides in football history, some familiar names will always be in the discussion.

The Real Madrid side that won five European Cups in a row from 1955 to 1960, featuring Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas and Paco Gento; the Liverpool team that dominated England and Europe from 1977 to 1984; Pep Guardiola's Barcelona team with Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta.

The Bayern Munich team that won three European Cups in a row and - with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and Gerd Muller - provided the base for West Germany's World Cup win in 1974 are also worthy of a mention.

An Ajax squad led by the legendary Johan Cruyff preceded Bayern as Kings of Europe in the 70s, and those 'Total Football' trailblazers who also won three successive European Cups are another to have carved their names into the pantheon of legendary teams.

It took the Dutch outfit another 22 years to scale those heights again, although there are many who would consider the class of 1994-95, who lifted the Champions League title on this day 25 years ago, to be even better than the team of Cruyff, Johan Neeskens and Piet Keizer.

Certainly, reeling off the names now it was a squad full of world-class players at various stages of their careers; many were only just beginning to establish themselves as the household names they would become, some were a little further along in their careers and others - such as Frank Rijkaard - provided valuable experience to the prodigious group of youngsters alongside him.

Ajax celebrate with the Champions League trophy in 1995© Reuters

It was a once-in-a-generation team, and one which, if Ajax had managed to keep them together, would have surely gone on to enjoy even more success than the four league titles and two Champions League finals they managed.

Only a penalty shootout defeat to Juventus in the 1996 Champions League final prevented them from becoming just the ninth team to retain the trophy, but by that stage their legacy had already been secured.

While Arsenal's Invincibles are justifiably lauded in English football history, Ajax kept an unbeaten run going both domestically and abroad as they pulled off the unprecedented - and as yet unmatched - achievement of winning both the league and the Champions League without losing a single game.

The Amsterdam outfit finished seven points clear of Roda JC at the top of the Eredivisie standings having dropped only 14 points all season, winning 27, drawing seven and losing precisely none of their 34 outings.

It was the style with which they blew teams away which was most impressive, plundering 106 goals at an average of more than three per game - they netted four or more goals on 12 separate occasions in the league, including eight in one game and seven in another.

They won 5-0 away to bitter rivals Feyenoord, whom they beat by a 9-1 aggregate scoreline over the two legs, and also swatted away PSV Eindhoven with a 4-1 triumph in enemy territory.

Ajax did not necessarily need to score all of those goals either as their defensive record was the joint-best in the division, shipping only 28 goals all season.

While there is no doubting just how special Ajax's domestic form was throughout the campaign, truly great teams must also succeed beyond that and it was their barnstorming run to Champions League glory in 1995 - elements of which were emulated on their way to the semi-finals in 2018-19 - which cemented their endearing and enduring legacy.

The potential was evident early on; Louis van Gaal's side were drawn against defending champions AC Milan in Group D and opened their campaign against the Italian giants, who just months earlier had embarrassed a Barcelona side managed by Ajax's favourite son Cruyff in the 1994 Champions League final.

The Dutch outfit ran out 2-0 winners, though, and proved that was no fluke when they triumphed by the same scoreline in the reverse fixture at San Siro en route to topping the group.

The reward was a quarter-final against Hajduk Split, which Ajax won 3-0 on aggregate, and Bayern Munich were then swept aside with a 5-2 win in Amsterdam - three of those goals coming in a blistering five-minute spell either side of half time.

A third showdown with Milan was the reward in the Vienna final, and Ajax completed their hat-trick of victories over the defending champions, who boasted the likes of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Marcel Desailly, courtesy of Patrick Kluivert's 85th-minute strike.

A fourth European title was the crowning achievement of a remarkably prolonged spell of success, with Ajax remaining unbeaten throughout the whole of 1995 - a run of 48 matches in the league and Champions League - and overall going 52 domestic matches and 19 Champions League outings without losing between 1994 and 1996.

No other team in Dutch football history has gone an entire league season unbeaten, while no club anywhere has managed an invincible campaign en route to success in both their domestic league and the Champions League.

It was not all straightforward in the buildup to the campaign, though; Ajax had won the league title the previous season, but a number of Van Gaal's decisions in the transfer market had proven controversial.

Louis van Gaal celebrates with the 1995 Champions League trophy after Ajax's success© Reuters

Jan Wouters was named Dutch Footballer of the Year in 1990 but was sold two years later, and Dennis Bergkamp picked up the same award in 1991 and 1992 before being shipped out in 1993.

Offloading a player of Bergkamp's quality can rarely be seen as good business, but Van Gaal was soon vindicated for his decisions.

Jari Litmanen arrived in 1992 and succeeded Bergkamp as Dutch Footballer of the Year at the end of a prolific first season which saw him net 36 times in just 39 outings. Ronald de Boer also returned to the club in 1993 and was the next winner of the most prestigious individual prize in Dutch football before winning it again in 1996.

Van Gaal was a relatively divisive figure in terms of Ajax's history too, becoming embroiled in a public and bitter dispute with Cruyff, a man whose influence at the club was still towering despite having left for Barcelona in 1988.

The Dutchman, who followed Cruyff again by taking over at Barcelona once his Ajax spell was at an end, was in his first managerial job and, in addition to his shrewd moves in the market, was blessed with an era-defining group of youngsters - every bit a match for Manchester United's 'Class of 92' or Barcelona's La Masia graduates.

An 18-year-old Kluivert was Ajax's top scorer in the league with 18 goals, Clarence Seedorf was the same age and made 48 appearances across all competitions, while Nwankwo Kanu also played his part at the age of 17.

Other players aged 21 or under in the squad included Edgar Davids, Marc Overmars and Michael Reiziger, while the likes of Edwin van der Sar, Frank de Boer, Ronald de Boer, Litmanen and Finidi George were 24 or younger.

The majority of the players listed above went on to provide the backbone of the Dutch national team as they reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1998, and all of them enjoyed huge success throughout their club careers with the likes of Barcelona, Manchester United, Juventus, Arsenal, AC Milan and Real Madrid.

Indeed, the landscape of European football may have been very different had it not been for the Ajax team of 1994-95, and in that respect they deserve to be mentioned not only in the discussion of the greatest ever teams, but also the most important and influential in football history.

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rhs 2.0
Tables
TeamPWDLFAGDPTS
1Ajax25182568234556
2AZAZ25182554173756
3Feyenoord25148350351550
4PSV EindhovenPSV26147554282649
5Willem II2613583734344
6FC UtrechtUtrecht25125850341641
7Vitesse26125945351041
8Heracles26106104034636
9Groningen26105112726135
10Heerenveen268994141033
11Sparta RotterdamSparta2696114145-433
12EmmenEmmen2695123245-1332
13VVV-VenloVVV-Venlo2684142451-2728
14FC Twente2676133446-1227
15PEC Zwolle2675143755-1826
16Fortuna SittardSittard2668122952-2326
17ADO Den HaagADO Den Haag2647152554-2919
18RKC WaalwijkRKC Waalwijk2643192760-3315

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