Edgar Davids: From Ajax Starlet to Barnet Legend

Edgar Davids was an enigma as a player and a coach. At times he seemed to perfectly embody the stereotypical Dutch footballing genius of perceived arrogance and self-confidence, and yet at others, he was capable of showing great foresight and awareness both on and off the field.

Born in Suriname in 1973, Davids enjoyed a twenty-two-year career throughout Europe at some of its most famous clubs. These included; Ajax, Milan, Inter, Barcelona, Juventus, Tottenham and the mighty Barnet.

Known for wearing distinctive eye-protectors as a result of contracting glaucoma, Edgars cut a dashing figure as he strutted through more than 500 matches at club level and almost three-quarters of a century of international appearances at the heart of midfield.

An energetic playmaker with a fierce tackle, Davids played throughout the majority of his career as a defensive midfielder who specialized in breaking up opponents’ attacks with both his direct tackling and his astute reading of the game.

Coming through the famed youth system at Ajax, Davids made his debut for the famous Dutch side as an eighteen-year-old in 1991. In five full seasons at Ajax, he made his name and his major breakthrough onto the footballing scene with both domestic and European honours.

Working under Louis Van Gaal, Ajax and Davids won three Eredivisie league titles. Better was to come in Europe as the 1992 UEFA cup was won, and the final of the Champions League reached in successive seasons.

In 1995 a late Patrick Kluivert goal was sufficient to defeat their fancied Milan opponents, while the following season saw the tables turned as Ajax went down on penalties to Juventus after a 1-1 draw with Davids, unfortunately, missing in the shoot-out.

This match signalled the end of Davids’ time at Ajax, as he left for Milan that summer. The move to the San Siro was surprising in as much as Davids struggled to make much of an impact and was unable to establish himself in the team to any great degree.

At this point, Davids might have been forgiven for seeking a return to the Eredivisie and home comforts, but instead, he showed a determination to succeed in Italy by transferring to Juventus.

So began the next golden stage of Edgar Davids career.

Spending a large amount of his Juventus career playing alongside Zinedine Zidane, the trophies once more flowed. Another three league titles were won to be added to the trio procured at Ajax, along with Italian cup success.

Two more Champions League Finals were reached, in 1998 and 2003, but unfortunately for Davids and his teammates, both ended in defeat with Real Madrid and Milan triumphing respectively.

In January of 2004, Davids moved to Barcelona on loan until the end of the season. Although his spell at the Nou Camp was short-lived, he was reunited with ex-Ajax teammate, Frank Rijkaard, who was now Barca manager, and a strong second-half to the season meant that a second-place finish was secured.

A permanent transfer to Inter Milan took place that summer of 2004, but his second spell at the San Siro was little more successful than his first, and a year later he was on the move again – this time to England and to Tottenham Hotspur.

Davids quickly became a fans’ favourite at White Hart Lane as Spurs looked to make the step-up to becoming an established Champions League club. In his two seasons in North London, he was able to help Spurs to the brink of qualification for Europe’s major tournament, but two fifth-placed finishes were ultimately the limit of success achieved.

Heading now into his twilight years as a player, Davids left Spurs to return to Ajax in early 2007. Welcomed back with open arms, Davids helped Ajax to within a single goal of securing another title and also enjoyed a KNVB cup success.

A return to London came next with Crystal Palace signing the Dutch maestro on a pay-as-you-play basis. However, Davids only managed half-a-dozen appearances before departing in autumn 2010.

If his decision to play Championship football at Selhurst Park was surprising, what happened next was truly amazing. Having seemingly retired from football, Davids was living quietly in North London, when League Two outfit, Barnet, approached him with a view to becoming joint player-coach alongside Mark Robson.

In December 2012, Davids was appointed sole player-manager.

In 2012-13, Davids played almost 30 times for Barnet as they struggled to avoid the drop back into non-league football. That they were ultimately unsuccessful and lost their league status on the last day of the season, seemed to signal the end of Davids time at Barnet. Yet, to most people’s surprise, he announced he would be staying at the club and continuing in his role as player-manager.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the move into Conference Premier football did not go smoothly. Bookings in each of his first eight matches at this level were accompanied by three sending offs, and in January 2014 Davids finally called time on his spell at Barnet.

During his time there he was famous for certain quirks and controversies. Giving himself the squad number of 1 was almost certainly a unique occurrence for an outfield player-manager, as was a refusal to travel to any away games that required an overnight stay.

One particular memory that probably shines brightly for Barnet supporters, however, is the time he ordered the team bus to pick up a group of supporters whose transport had broken down on the way home from a defeat at Accrington Stanley.

As well as his club career, Davids also enjoyed a stellar if somewhat controversial and perhaps ever so slightly underwhelming international career.

Making his debut in 1994, Davids represented Holland 74 times in total, and although no major finals were reached, the last four of both the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championships in 2000 and 2004.

In 1996, a young Davids was sent home from the European Championships in England after a very public falling-out with the manager, Guus Hiddink, and in 2001 he was found guilty of taking a banned substance, the steroid nandrolone, and subsequently banned.

Five years after his last game as a player, Davids has reached legendary status and is remembered fondly for both his style and grace as a player as well as his distinctive appearance.

It is perhaps no surprise that someone with one eye on style now owns a street soccer fashion label.

About the author


David Nesbit

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