Earlier this month the football world was saddened by the death at the age of 73 of Piet Keizer, one of the stars of Ajax’s 1970s European Cup winning teams. Keizer was also a key component in the ‘Clockwork Orange’, the name given to the outstanding Dutch national team of the era, and as such he’s regarded as a pioneering footballer without whom the demanding total football style would have been so much harder to execute.
To commemorate Piet Keizer’s life we partnered up with Joshua Winter, Ajax fan and creative editor at FootballPredictions.com to share his thoughts on one of the best wingers the game has seen.
Piet Keizer made 490 appearances for Ajax between 1961 and 1974 and most notably won three consecutive European Cup trophies – the equivalent of today’s Champions League – with the Amsterdammers between 1971 and 1973. In each of the finals – against Panathinaikos, Inter and Juventus – Keizer was considered one of the more influential of Ajax performers on the night along with Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens. The record books show that only Sjaak Swart and Wim Suurbier played more games for the Amsterdam outfit, whilst just Johan Cruyff and Piet van Reenen scored more goals for the Eredivisie giants than Keizer.
Most football experts believe that Johan Cruyff was Ajax’s key player in their 70s golden generation, but Dutch journalist Nico Scheepmaker begged to differ: “Cruyff is the best, but Keizer is the better one,” the writer once said. Like Cruyff, Piet Keizer was a skilled and predominantly left-sided, left-footed player; an archetype of the classic Dutch winger and undoubtedly a great influence on the career of his younger and more celebrated teammate.
Keizer and his fellow Ajax players performed within an innovative system that pushed at the technical boundaries of the game. The Amsterdammers played in a bold 4-3-3 formation and inspired many other European teams, both then and now, to adopt the formation with its adventurous three-man front line. Ajax remains synonymous with attack-orientated football and Pep Guardiola’s 2008-2012 Barcelona side is just one of many great teams to draw comparisons with them from the intervening four decades.
Keizer scored 189 Ajax goals and a further 11 for the national team from his 34 international appearances. His national team highlight came helping the Oranje make it all the way to the final of the 1974 World Cup in West Germany, a run that was to end in disappointment with a 2-1 defeat to the hosts. The Ajax icon may have failed to win the World Cup title but success at club level brought ample compensation – those European Cups along with the six Eredivisie titles he helped secure for the Amsterdam club.
With the peerless wide man’s death on February 10th 2017, the onerous passage of time has severed another link to Ajax’s storied past. Keizer’s memory and influence will endure however, serving as a role model that all future Ajax players will be expected to at least try to aspire towards matching.