In spring of 2019 Ajax was the talk of the European football community. Many people were left wondering why wealthy clubs such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Juventus had to work so hard to beat them. The answer: digital transformation and smart technology.
For those who have ever visited Ajax’s HQ – De Toekomst – it is immediately apparent that technology plays a huge role in operations. The Ajax academy is in full digital transition, allowing trainers to improve player performance from a very early age, and can be seen leading training sessions in the fields while linked continuously up to their tablets. After all, the fine-tuning of self-taught players is what leads to sporting success which, in addition to selling talent to more wealthy clubs, ensures financial prosperity.
The digitisation of future proceeds at a rapid pace, says Matthijs Verdam, business manager at HPE. HPE has assisted Ajax in its digitalisation by making sure that the platform works optimally during the transition: the platform that runs, stores and analyses quick and easy. Because Ajax is dependent on data for developing the performance of players and teams, and all information has to be available for trainers and staff on the field in real-time.
The data comes from various sources. Firstly, there are 4K cameras everywhere throughout the complex which follow the players during training sessions and matches. For example, running patterns and the speed of players is analysed and, where necessary, improved. Also, players wear vests with sensors that collect biometric data such as heart rates and temperature.
“This information is essential when it comes to helping players become physically stronger. At the same time reducing the injury risk as a result,” says Verdam, who often spends time at the complex.
But this data also yields much more, he continues. He spoke to John Heitinga – former player and current member of the Ajax training staff – about this:
“You can see by analysing the data that on a certain day everything dips with a player. Heitinga told me that 20 years ago you could still hide behind fellow players if you’d secretly had a night out. That is no longer possible. The data betrays you.”
Honesty and discipline from players is a requirement in providing information via tablets about, for example, how they slept and what they ate to combine that data with the measured data.
The network and storage solutions of Aruba and 3PAR, together with existing infrastructure, are combined with a hybrid solution together with Microsoft Azure cloud. On-premise equipment processes and analyses “hot data”, information which must be immediately available to the staff and medical staff. Storage in the cloud is intended for “cold data”, information which has already been used and may be of future value.
After storage, the “hot data” is processed in the “analytics room”. The analysed data, if necessary, is sent to the staff tablets on the field. Access to the data is restricted, and the connections are secure.
Digital transformation at Ajax is far more advanced than many other European clubs. For example, Paris Saint Germain and Barcelona have been very curious about how Ajax is dealing with the digital transformation and want to visit De Toekomst. PSG is working on a new training complex and is looking for inspiration, says Verdam.
“Ajax has a young and successful team, and everyone wonders how they got so good. So everyone looks at Ajax. ”
And that will only increase in the future, he predicts. The club wants to set up a new stadium at De Toekomst, for the matches of Young Ajax.
“We want to turn it into a technology hub,” says Verdam. “We also want to analyse data from fans. For example, what they order, where they go, and so on. Also, Ajax is busy building a data centre to serve Ajax’s 150 office staff, which we support. They had everything in the cloud, but now they collect so much data they opt for a hybrid solution.
” And when will the Johan Cruijff Arena – the Netherlands largest – be digitised? “It is not owned by Ajax. So, unfortunately, we can’t do much with that.”