Van Basten quits as Ajax coach
© AFP

Marco van Basten has stood down as coach of Ajax after failing to guide the Dutch giants into next year's UEFA Champions League, the club has announced. The former striker "had reached the conclusion that he had failed to achieve the goals he had set at the start of the season and that he would be unable to do any better next season," a club statement read.

The 44-year-old took over at his former club last July after leading the Netherlands for four years, notably at the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™ and UEFA EURO 2008. Ajax are currently lying third in the Dutch Eredivisie behind unfashionable AZ and Twente, and with just one game to go cannot grab one of the two spots available for next season's Champions League.

The final straw was a 4-0 defeat away at lowly Sparta Rotterdam last weekend. Assistant coach John van't Schip will take charge of the side on an interim basis for their last game of the season, against FC Twente on Sunday.

Having guided the Dutch to the quarter-finals of EURO 2008 and overseen eye-catching victories over world champions Italy and France in the group stage, Van Basten struggled with the transition to club management. The arrival of the three-time European Footballer of the Year in Amsterdam last summer sparked expectation of an imminent revival in the club's fortunes, but his debut season quickly turned into a disaster. Ajax were knocked out of the Dutch Cup in the third round by Volendam, and have suffered heavy league defeats at the hands of Heerenveen (5-2), Vitesse Arnhem (4-1), PSV (6-2) and Sparta Rotterdam.

Despite his legendary status at the club where he made his name, Van Basten has frequently been the target of protests from the very supporters who used to idolise him. On Sunday, the club's general director, Rik van den Boog, spoke out in support of his beleaguered coach, saying "Ajax needs stability", while Van Basten admitted that he "was partly responsible" for the team's results but asked for "a second chance" to remain at the helm.

However, his resolve weakened and in the face of continued criticism from both supporters and the media, he chose to walk away from a contract that still had three years left to run. Ajax have yet to name Van Basten's successor, but Van't Schip, former Ajax coach Co Adriaanse and Frank Rijkaard have all been linked with the position.