Ajax conflict deepens as Kroes and Van Praag head for showdown

Suspended CEO Alex Kroes enjoys Ajax's 2-1 win over FC Twente on Sunday. Photo: ANP/Olaf Kraak

The chair of Ajax’s supervisory board, Michael van Praag, is coming under pressure to quit amid deepening divisions over the suspension of new CEO Alex Kroes.

Three of the six board members stood down at the weekend after concluding that the question of who should be running the club was overshadowing more pressing issues.

In a statement, Ajax said Annette Mosman, Georgette Schlick and Cees van Oevelen would transfer their duties as soon as replacements have been found. “We find this decision particularly regrettable, but we have to respect it,” Van Praag said.

Fans waved banners at Sunday’s home match against FC Twente in support of Kroes and calling for Van Praag to be ousted.

Kroes was suspended two weeks ago after it emerged he had bought 17,500 shares in Ajax the week before his appointment was announced. Van Praag released a statement saying Kroes’s actions were “highly detrimental to the club.”

Van Praag said the club had been advised by lawyers that the timing of the purchase “indicated insider trading”, which is a criminal offence. The supervisory board has called a shareholders’ meeting for May 21 when it plans to formalise Kroes’s dismissal.

Directors back Kroes

However, Kroes has the support of the board of directors, who hold 73% of shares in Ajax and have the power to dismiss the supervisory board, leading to speculation that Van Praag’s own position could be challenged at the EGM.

In a letter to Ajax’s 700 members, the board said: “The board of directors is certainly very aware of the administrative rules and the complexity in view of the fact that Ajax is a company listed on the stock exchange.

“Nevertheless, the board believes that it is possible to review the decision to ensure that Alex Kroes can return to Ajax in whatever form and under whatever conditions are appropriate.”

Ajax are currently fifth in the Eredivisie, 33 points behind leaders PSV, and will probably have to contest the end-of-season play-offs for the sole UEFA Conference League spot.

Sponsorship questions

The club needs to find a permanent replacement for John van ‘t Schip, who was appointed as interim head coach until the end of the season. Kroes’s favoured candidate, former Chelsea manager Graham Potter, is understood to have turned down an offer of the role.

The turbulence at the club has also put its long-standing shirt sponsorship with telecoms firm Ziggo in jeopardy, NOS sports reporter Arno Vermeulen said on Sunday.

Ziggo’s 10-year contract is up for renewal next year and the company is said to warned Van Praag that it is considering its position in an informal meeting last week.

“They are paying €9 million a year with bonuses that can amount to €2 million, so it comes out at up to €11 million a year. That’s far more than other clubs in the Netherlands,” Vermeulen said.

“Ziggo have said: we don’t really know. It might be that we’re not so keen if you don’t sort your lives out.”

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