Champions League double agents – five men who played for European giants Liverpool and Ajax

Liverpool and Ajax face off in the Group Stage of this season’s Champions League.

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Despite having only ever met competitively for one two-legged tie in 1966, Liverpool and Ajax share a bit of history in terms of some of the big-name players to have been employed by both clubs.

They can both be described as bona-fide European royalty. Liverpool’s victory in Madrid in the summer of 2019 was their sixth European Cup success, further cementing their status as the most successful English side in continental competition.

Ajax have won the competition four times themselves, including three in a row during a particularly dominant period between 1971 and 1973 when they were spearheaded by the legendary Johan Cruyff. They would have faced off against the Reds for that 2019 title at the Wanda Metropolitano had they not been denied by a cruel last-gasp winner from Tottenham’s Lucas Moura in the semi-final.


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The past successes of these two great clubs have meant that some great names have been under their employment at one time or another, including some who were lucky enough to represent both Liverpool and Ajax at some point during their playing careers.

Luis Suárez

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Probably the best player on this list, and certainly the one who made the biggest impact at Anfield. Suárez signed for Liverpool directly from the Amsterdam club for a £22.8m fee at the end of the transfer window in January 2011.

The infamous Uruguayan was the direct replacement for Fernando Torres, who broke supporters’ hearts when he left for Chelsea in the same month. Because of the fallout from the Spaniard’s defection to a Premier League rival, Suárez’s arrival went slightly more under the radar than it should have.

But the fanfare which should have accompanied his unveiling as a Liverpool player didn’t take long to appear, as he proved himself as one of the best goal-scorers in Europe. A remarkable 2013/14 season was the pinnacle of his time at Anfield, when he struck up a devastating partnership with Daniel Sturridge which very nearly fired the Reds to the title.

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His outrageous ability was, of course, tempered by his less-than-savoury antics. Liverpool cannot say they saw no warning signs. A deliberate handball in the 2010 World Cup which saw Ghana eliminated from the competition was a high-profile incident, while Ajax were said to be much more willing to let go of their prized asset after he bit PSV Eindhoven’s Ottman Bakkal on the pitch.

More incidents followed on Merseyside, including when he was found guilty of directing racial abuse at Patrice Evra and another biting incident involving Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic.

The final straw came in the 2014 World Cup when he received a four month ban from FIFA for biting Giorgio Chiellini. Liverpool swiftly agreed a £65m fee with Barcelona and Suárez’s rollercoaster affiliation with the Anfield club came to an end.

Jari Litmanen

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The Finn was one of Europe’s highest-profile forwards at the back end of the 1990s, cementing his reputation as a goal machine in his seven years at Ajax after signing from MyPa 47 in 1992.

Liverpool tried to sign him in 1998 and again a year later, but to no avail. Instead, Litmanen moved to Barcelona but the Reds eventually got their man at the third attempt when he was signed by Gérard Houllier in 2001.

He scored important goals for the club both in the Premier League and in Europe, but recurring ankle problems hindered his progress and playing time on Merseyside, leaving him unable to string a run of games together regularly enough.

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More puzzling was that, even when he was fit and ready to play, there were times when Houllier left the Finn out, which the player found strange.

Even more confusing was the manager’s rationale behind the decision to sell him back to Ajax in 2002. “I let Jari go because I have always believed he had great potential which could benefit other teams,” he said.

Sadly by this point he was in his 30s and was declining as a player. He never managed to recapture his form from that first golden spell in Amsterdam, but is still remembered as one of the better strikers of his generation – even after that spell at Fulham in 2008.

Ryan Babel

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Never a world-beater, but Babel is fondly remembered by Liverpool fans – though in all honesty this is more for his continued vocal support of the Reds on social media than for his exploits on the pitch during his time at Anfield.

When he arrived he was the third most expensive player in the club’s history, and had a burgeoning reputation after breaking through at Ajax and being selected for Marco van Basten’s 2006 World Cup squad as a teenager.

All this meant there was a high level of expectation for the Dutchman, which he looked like he might be able to fulfil after a promising return of 10 goals from the left flank in his first season on Merseyside.

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But fewer opportunities were afforded to him from his second season, and when he was selected he rarely did enough to convince fans and coaches that he was a player capable of leading Liverpool to success domestically and in Europe.

He left Anfield in the same January window as Suárez joined, moving to Germany with Hoffenheim for 18 months before Ajax took him back for another season. Like with Litmanen, his second stay in Amsterdam was less successful and spells in Turkey, Spain and the United Arab Emirates followed.

Jan Mølby

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Signed directly from Ajax in 1984, the Dane spent 12 years under the employment of the Reds and became a fans’ favourite at Anfield for his passing, vision and knack for shooting from distance.

Having honed his talents at Ajax, his outstanding technical ability made him a favourite of Kenny Dalglish. “Jan had unbelievable feet and I defied anybody to state categorically which was the stronger, because either foot could propel the ball at unbelievable speed towards goal,” the King later said.

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His prowess from the 12 yards also made him very useful to the club. He scored 42 out of 45 spot kicks – if a Liverpool player took a tumble in the area, then Mølby would almost certainly be there to put away the resulting penalty.

It was a shame that there were issues for the Dane during his time at Anfield which hampered his prospects of prolonging his stay. A leg break in 1988 was followed by a spell in prison after initially giving police the slip in a high-speed car chase. All this while his inability to keep his weight in check saw him miss out in several games.

He was released in 1996 after managing just 42 games in his last four years at Liverpool, but there is no doubt that Mølby was a real hero for the club during the 1980s and ’90s.

Christian Poulsen

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After building a big reputation with Schalke, Sevilla and Juventus, Liverpool were confident that they had secured a bargain in Poulsen when they parted with less than £5m to sign him in August 2010.

Alas, this was not the case. Perhaps he was a victim of the times, as he joined the Reds at a particularly dark moment for the club, but after seeing Javier Mascherano provide steel in midfield, the Dane was a mere shadow of what was expected from a deep-lying central player.

He was far too weak to cope with the high-tempo and combative nature of the Premier League, and was hastily sold to Evian in France after a difficult year on Merseyside.

After a decent season across the Channel, Poulsen moved to Ajax where he won back-to-back Eredivisie titles and looked to be getting a career which had once promised so much back on track.

But after a short spell in Copenhagen he failed to find a club for 18 months before retiring from professional football in 2016. What had once threatened to be a successful career at the highest level had derailed at the time of his move to Liverpool – and he was unable to get back on the right track.


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