By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Sympathy was in short supply from Ajax Amsterdam manager Erik ten Hag for injury-hit Tottenham Hotspur ahead of their Champions League semi-final first leg clash on Tuesday.
Hosts Tottenham are without a string of key players, including strikers Harry Kane and Son Heung-min, for the game in north London and were also involved in a derby against West Ham United on Saturday while Ajax rested.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has said Ajax have an unfair advantage because the whole of the Dutch league programme was postponed to help Ten Hag’s side prepare.
The straight-talking Dutchman was unimpressed, however, playing down suggestions his side were favourites.
“We get 10 million (euros) for playing in (Dutch first division) Eredivisire and they get many more millions for being in the Premier League. Is that not unfair on us?” the 49-year-old coach told reporters.
“There are always differing circumstances. Everybody has different circumstances. You just have to deal with them. That’s what we do.”
Midfielder Donny van der Beek, one of a crop of homegrown youngsters who have propelled four-times winners Ajax to their first Champions League semi-final since 1997, also made the point that their journey began last summer.
Ajax were actually playing in a second qualifying round tie against Austrians Sturm Graz in July, then beat Standard Liege to reach the playoffs where they overcame Dynamo Kiev.
That put them in a group containing Bayern Munich, but they emerged undefeated before beating Real Madrid in the last 16 and Juventus in the quarter-finals.
Now they are in sight of the final as well as being neck-and -neck with PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch title race.
“It’s all going quite fast,” Van der Beek said, before a training session in Tottenham’s new stadium which was open for the public to attend for the full duration.
“Spurs are a great team with great players and we will have to be at the same level or better than we were against Real and Juventus in the last two rounds.”
Ajax might never have a better chance to reclaim the trophy before the so-called European heavyweights close in to pick off their best talent – as has happened in the case of midfielder Frenkie de Jong who will join Barcelona this summer.
But while it is young Dutch talent that has spearheaded Ajax’s march, Ten Hag said it was a couple of former Premier League players who have provided the winning mentality.
Serbian Dusan Tadic joined from Southampton while Daley Blind has thrived since returning to the Netherlands after a spell with Manchester United.
“We had a good young team but a lack of experience,” Ten Hag said. “It was a deliberate policy to sign players from the Premier League, with the knowledge and experience they bring.”
Ajax are looking for their first win over Tottenham, having lost both legs of their European Cup Winners’ Cup tie in 1981.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)