Since its formation in 1956, the Dutch Eredivisie has never concluded without a winner, but there will be no champions this season after it became the first top European football competition to officially fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Dutch Football Federation (KNVB) made the gut-wrenching decision to void the current campaign on Friday night, after the country’s government decided to extend a ban on mass gatherings until Sept 1, making it impossible to even consider holding games behind closed doors.
It said: “Public health always comes first. It’s not just a football problem here given what the coronavirus is doing to society. Nonetheless, the professional football committee is aware that today’s decisions are going to cause great disappointment for some.”
Leaders Ajax are level with AZ Alkmaar on points (56) but ahead on goal difference with nine games remaining.
Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech slammed the decision. The Morocco forward, who leaves in the summer to join Chelsea in a £33.3 million (S$58.7 million) deal, was livid after being denied the perfect swansong to his four-season spell at the Amsterdam club.
“What nonsense I have heard? We are at the top anyway. So the goal difference doesn’t count now?” Ziyech, who won the domestic treble, including the Dutch Cup and the Dutch Super Cup, last term with Ajax told local daily AD.
“How did PSV become champion in 2007? Exactly on one goal. If you have to choose one club as champion, that is Ajax to me.”
Ajax chief executive Edwin van der Sar also expressed his unhappiness but conceded the factors were beyond the club’s control.
“As a player and as a club, you naturally want to become champion,” he said. “You want to show it on the field and we have been at the top all year round.
“It is a pity… but in this situation, that may be understandable.”
The axing of the league is unlikely to affect Ajax’s qualification for next season’s Champions League, although KNVB will await a firm verdict from Uefa on May 25.
AZ will likely enter the competition’s preliminary rounds, with PSV, Feyenoord and Willem II set to compete in the Europa League based on the final standings despite the cancellation.
There will also be no relegation, which in turn means no team will be promoted from the Eerste Divisie this campaign.
While bottom team RKC Waalwijk were relieved to escape the drop, the top-two clubs in the second tier, SC Cambuur and De Graafschap, were outraged, with the KNVB set to face legal action.
Cambuur manager Henk de Jong did not mince his words, calling the decision “the biggest disgrace in the history of Dutch sports”.
– AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS