Jose Mourinho's path to the Barcelona manager's job was last night dramatically cleared as club legend, and the biggest opponent to his appointment, Johan Cruyff, agreed to join Ajax at the end of the season.
Cruyff, it seems, will not be at the Nou Camp this summer to veto any possible move for the former Chelsea manager, who departed Stamford Bridge last September. It is expected that Cruyff will appoint the current Netherlands coach Marco van Basten as the new man in charge of Ajax. That would remove the most powerful opposition to Mourinho's appointment and his biggest rival for the coach's position, currently held by Frank Rijkaard, in one fell swoop.
An Ajax statement said the current board would all leave at the end of the season and Cruyff would be appointed as general manager to "oversee the formation of a new technical and sporting structure".
Only this week Cruyff was hinting at having reservations about Mourinho moving to the Nou Camp and was also seen to be pushing the credentials of Van Basten. He told Catalan television: "Before a new coach is appointed you have to assess whether he fits with the project of the club. He [Van Basten] loves football the same way that the current Barcelona coach does and he brings together good results and good football."
Mourinho upset Cruyff when he responded to criticism from the Dutchman of Chelsea's style of play, saying: "I don't want him to teach me how to lose 4-0 in a Champions League final because I don't want to learn that." The comeback was a reference to the 1994 European Cup final when Cruyff's Barcelona were beaten by Milan.
Ajax will hope that Cruyff, who helped them win three European Cups in the Seventies, will lift them out of a crisis which intensified when they were knocked out of the Uefa Cup before Christmas.
Cruyff's return to the Netherlands would appear to leave Mourinho in pole position to replace Rijkaard at the end of the season should the Dutch coach move on.
The club's president, Joan Laporta, is proud of his record of having just one coach since coming to power in 2003 but despite still being in three competitions Barcelona are five points adrift in La Liga and discipline and fitness have been questioned as they have lost ground to rivals Real Madrid.
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