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Van Basten to return to Ajax after stepping down as Netherlands coach

Marco van Basten will take over as Ajax coach next season. The former Netherlands striker has agreed to a four-year contract and will start on 1 July, the Amsterdam club announced yesterday. The former Ajax and Milan striker had already said he would step down as Netherlands coach after the European Championship in June.

Van Basten had been tipped as a possible coach for Barcelona, as Frank Rijkaard has come under pressure following an inconsistent season that sees his side trail rivals Real Madrid by five points in the race for La Liga. Van Basten's move now increases the possibility of the former Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho taking over at Barcelona should Rijkaard move on.

Van Basten emerged this week as the favourite to take over from Adrie Koster at Ajax after Johan Cruyff, a close friend of Van Basten, agreed to help overhaul the ailing club.

Van Basten, a former star player and youth coach at Ajax, will be backed up by his Netherlands assistants, John van't Schip and Rob Witschge. The Netherlands has yet to name a new coaching staff.

"We are very happy," said Ajax technical director Martin van Geel. "They are three ambitious coaches with an Ajax background who all have had international soccer careers and have built up experience as trainers."

Van Basten's business manager Perry Overeem said he and Ajax club officials had been working for weeks on the contract. "Both sides are very satisfied with the progress [of the talks] and the results," he said. "The length of time we were in talks shows the amount of care put into the process."