There was a time when Dutch football followers discussing De Klassieker would have simply been citing the rivalry between Ajax and Feyenoord, the illustrious clubs of the country's biggest cities, Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Those two old foes have been locking horns since 1921, but since the creation of the Eredivisie in 1956, there has been a third great claimant to the title of the Netherlands' leading team. Highly successful in the last few decades, PSV have become a serious thorn in Ajax's side.
While older Ajax fans may always view Feyenoord as their arch-rivals, younger supporters have just as much deep-seated rivalry with PSV, who represent not just thoroughbred sporting adversaries but advocates of another philosophy of how the game should be played. True heavyweights of the Dutch footballing landscape, PSV have fully earned the right to be considered Klassieker opponents.
In 1931, Ajax emerged triumphant over PSV in the final of the old Dutch championship. Two years before that, PSV had collected their very first national title, sparking a nascent rivalry between the Boeren (farmers) of the Brabant and the sophisticated artists of Amsterdam, centre of the country's economic and cultural wealth.
In 1965, the transfer of goalkeeper Gert Bals from PSV to Ajax added spice to a competitive relationship which became impassioned ten years later when PSV were again crowned champions. That confirmed them as the principal foes of an Ajax side steeped in success and renowned worldwide as the apostles of 'total football', all of which contrasted with PSV's reputation as a workmanlike outfit shunning the typically seductive Dutch approach to the game. The two clubs battled on a fundamental level and the cultural divide only fed into the growing sense of competition on both sides.
Facts and figures
Since the start of the Eredivisie in 1956, the record books tell of 106 games between the two sides, with 46 wins for PSV, 40 for Ajax, and 20 draws. While Ajax have celebrated heavy 5-0 victories on two occasions, during the 1957/58 and 1964/65 seasons, and also triumphed 5-1 at the Philips Stadion in 2007, PSV have managed a pair of 6-2 successes, in 1975/76 and last term. They can also point to three 4-0 wins over Ajax, in 1982/83, 1984/85 and 1999/2000.
For the most part, of course, matches between the clubs have tended to be far tighter affairs. In Eindhoven, the most common scoreline down the years has been 1-1, a result posted ten times, while in Amsterdam, 1-0 to the Godenzonen (Sons of the Gods) has been the final score on seven occasions. Last season, Ajax swept aside their foes 4-1 at home before suffering that humbling 6-2 defeat away, meaning both will be eager for revenge in the current campaign.
Tales of derbies past
"Beating Feyenoord is a question of honour but beating PSV is about demonstrating our sporting superiority over the rest of the championship," explained the Amsterdam Arena groundsman when FIFA.com went to interview Klaas-Jan Huntelaar two years ago, underlining how everyone involved with Ajax takes the rivalry extremely seriously. "Losing to them leaves a feeling of humiliation."
A year later, Marseille's visit to the Dutch capital in the UEFA Cup allowed two former PSV stalwarts, Eric Gerets and Boudewijn Zenden, to put their own spin on the relationship between the two teams. "Ajax has always been a rival club," explained Belgian trainer Gerets, who represented PSV as a player from 1985 to 1992 before taking over coaching duties between 1999 and 2002. "I'm not popular with them because when I arrived at PSV, we broke Ajax's hegemony. I don't think I'm liked very much over there, but I don't like them very much either."
"I played for eight years with PSV – four years in the youth ranks and four years in the first team," added Zenden, whose PSV heyday came between 1994 and 1998. "The rivalry with Ajax has always been there. I wanted to win at whatever cost, just because we were playing Ajax."
In July 2007, during the protracted transfer of Danish forward Kenneth Perez from Ajax to PSV, the latter's sporting director, Jan Reker, launched a memorable tirade after growing impatient with the fee demanded by the capital outfit. "I'm not stupid and I'm not going to let myself be fooled by Ajax," he said. "If they block this transfer, I'll be able to tell you things about the way they work that they'll definitely not appreciate."
Meanwhile, older Godenzonen supporters cherish one particular memory from matches between the two clubs. Injured at the start of the 1970/71 season, a certain Johan Cruyff marked his return to action against PSV on 3 October 1970, but when he came on as a substitute he was wearing the No14 on his back, his favourite No9 shirt having been taken by starting forward Gerrie Muhren. Ajax prevailed 1-0 and Cruyff decided to adopt the now-legendary No14 shirt for the rest of his career.
The rivalry today
The recent transfer to Ajax of PSV prodigy Ismail Aissati has left both camps desperate to make a point during their first meeting this season. Meanwhile, new Ajax coach Martin Jol has one overriding ambition for his first campaign in charge: to reclaim the national crown that Ajax last clinched in 2004.
Since 2000, PSV have won the league on seven occasions, putting together a run of four consecutive titles between 2005 and 2008, including a 2007 triumph that went down to the final moments in the last round of games. That run of success has not gone down particularly well at the Arena, where a series of coaches have come and gone without being able to shift the spotlight back on to Ajax. Instead, their arch-rivals have taken over as the team most successful at defending Dutch colours in Europe, having reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 2005.