AJAX chief executive, Edwin van der Sar, has revealed that he is working behind the scenes with his Celtic counterpart, Peter Lawwell, to stop their clubs being cut out of the picture by European football’s wealthy elite.

The Dutchman has watched with pride as Ajax have flown the flag for the continent’s smaller countries this season by reaching the Champions League quarter-finals this season, by knocking out holders Real Madrid last week.
 


Ajax will get the prize for that remarkable feat when the draw for the last eight is made today in Switzerland. Along with Porto of Portugal, they are the rank outsiders with Barcelona, Juventus and the English Premier League quartet – Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United.

These days, Van der Sar, 48, is on the board of the Amsterdam club – having also won the trophy as Ajax goalkeeper in 1995 – but insists that former European champions, like Ajax and Celtic, need their past achievements to count in helping to protect their chances of even getting an invite to the top table.

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Ajax negotiated three qualifying rounds in the Champions League, and ended up getting AEK Athens in their group after the Greeks knocked out Celtic, eventually coming second behind Bayern Munich.

However, van der Sar admits it has become incredibly tough for teams from outside Europe’s top five leagues to even get into the Champions League group stage.

“That is the difficulty for the smaller countries, and mid-sized countries. Celtic and Ajax are great names in history,” said van der Sar “They both have great followings, all over the world, not just in Holland and Scotland.

“They are historic clubs, they have both won the European Cup, but that is why it is difficult not to be involved. We see the Champions League running away a little bit.”

Lawwell and van der Sar have a shared vision from their roles on the European Club Association, an independent body representing 232 clubs from 54 countries.

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Senior club executives from across the continent have met several times in February to try to shape Uefa policy about the Champions League and Europa League, and especially entry to the group stages.

I have been talking to Peter Lawwell for some time,” said van der Sar. “The ECA is talking to Uefa, trying to make sure there is more participation and more possibilities for clubs from medium and smaller-sized countries, so we can develop and play football at this level.

“Many of us are looking at a different way of how teams are set up and how the competition is set up. Maybe to look at the co-efficient of the club see at what the club has done in Europe, than only looking at the national co-efficient. And not just recent years.”