Valkanis takes the reins
From Melbourne to Amsterdam: Aussie Michael Valkanis on the touchline in his role as Ajax manager. Image by EPA PHOTO
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Aussie Valkanis oversees Euro giants Ajax for a day

Ian Chadband December 18, 2023

Former Socceroo Michael Valkanis has taken the reins of European football aristocrats Ajax for the briefest of spells – because the Dutch giants’ manager is in Australia for his son’s wedding.

Valkanis stepped into the breach on Sunday to oversee the four-time European champions’ Eredivisie clash with Zwolle – and ended up with a point after a 2-2 draw at Amsterdam’s Johan Cruyff Arena.

But though it wasn’t the perfect result for the one-time Australia defender, who saw a two-goal lead slip away, it proved an emotional afternoon as fans paid a fond tribute to manager John van’t Schip following the death of his wife.

Dutchman van’t Schip, once the boss at Melbourne City where Valkanis was his assistant, had decided to take a brief break from Ajax to attend his son Davey’s nuptials in Australia after a traumatic time for the family.

“It doesn’t hurt, there are priorities in life,” van’t Schip had said of his trip to Australia, where Davey plays for Essendon Royals in Melbourne, after wife Danielle lost her battle with cancer in October.

So he left his working partner and great friend Valkanis to run the show for two games while he was away.

“It’s amazing – the Dutchman’s gone to Australia and the Australian’s in Holland – John will be laughing at that too, but we’ll make sure we’ll do the job for him,” 49-year-old Valkanis had promised after being thrust into the limelight at the 36-times champions.

In the 55th minute of Sunday’s match, the crowd of 53,853 in Amsterdam paid a special tribute to their absent manager and to honour Danielle, who had died at the age of 55.

“I started working with John at Melbourne City, we bonded immediately over football philosophy and we’ve become really good friends,” said Valkanis, who managed City briefly after van’t Schip resigned in 2017.

Van't Schip
 Dutchman John van’t Schip in his days as Melbourne City manager in 2016. Image by Tracey Nearmy/AAP PHOTOS 

“He’s a special person to me – we’ve worked together for six, seven years, at Zwolle and the Greek national team, and now at Ajax.

“We speak every day, it’s pretty special for him to be going back to his son’s wedding but he’s gone through some tough times. Even while he’s away, though, he’ll be thinking of Ajax.”  

The pair have done a fine job rejuvenating Ajax after a rocky start to the season during which they dropped to the bottom of the table. 

Remarkably, Valkanis is the sixth man to take the reins at the storied club in 2023.

Former Ajax and Netherlands winger van’t Schip, aided by Valkanis, a central defender who won his lone cap for Australia back in 2006, has pushed Ajax back up to fifth in the table.

Valkanis will also be in charge for a Dutch Cup match against USV Hercules on Thursday before van’t Schip returns to take the reins.