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How Spurs stars Vertonghen, Alderweireld and Eriksen went from Ajax kids to world beaters

Rasmus Lindgren won the league with Ajax. Credit: PA

Like Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen, Swedish international Rasmus Lindgren was educated at the famous Ajax academy.

The defender started his career in Amsterdam after moving from his native Sweden as a teenager, where he honed his skills under the tutelage of the Ajax coaches, learning the ways that have made them so successful.

Their approach involves all academy youngsters playing the same system as the first team and aim to play in the same style that has seen the club reach the Champions League semi-finals this season, where they will face Spurs, with a young and vibrant squad who have mainly graduated from what Lindgren calls "the best school in the world".

Jan Vertonghen went on to captain Ajax. Credit: PA

When the two sides line up on Tuesday night there will be no shortage of Ajax graduates on either side. Spurs can boast Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Eriksen and Davinson Sanchez, players who are very familiar to Lindgren.

A teenage Eriksen was a catalyst for Ajax's return to the top, helping bring them out of the doldrums to challenge again for titles and play the way the legendary Johan Cruyff intended.

"I think when Frank de Boer took over as a coach in December 2010, he brought back the Ajax style and the team started to play better and better, then he went on to win four titles in a row and that was the turning point when the club got back to the traditions. There were always good players but he brought the real Ajax style back.

Toby Alderweireld began as a professional at Ajax. Credit: PA

“He [Eriksen] was one of the big reasons. I remember when he came on the training camp with us in Portugal. That was the first time he’d trained with the first team and you could immediately see he was a very big talent, a very smart player.

"He was always making good decisions in training and in the games, so he was definitely one of the reasons for the success. He was one of the players trusted the most by Frank de Boer, he would always play despite being so young. He was a big reason why the team won so many championships."

The early training sessons allow Eriksen to show what he could do when the pressure is off but Eriksen was the same on the pitch, soon making his league debut as a 17-year-old, immediately impressing his coaches and teammates, including Lindgren.

"We played NAC Breda away and in that game, it what was his first game, I saw that even on that level it was easy for him to play as he was such a smart player; he doesn’t have the pace or strength of others but with his smartness and split vision and view of the game it was really easy for him to play."

Christian Eriksen impressed at Ajax from the start. Credit: PA

Lindgren also knows the importance of Vertonghen and Alderweireld during that time as they formed the rock at the back of the side which won the 2010/11 Eredivise.

"I played with both of them. Jan was already a proven player when I came back, he was already in the starting XI, and Toby came one or two years later. He came up from the youth and quickly got into the starting team.

“I knew when I arrived that they also had Thomas Vermaelan, he Jan and Toby, meant there were three really really good Belgian defenders, so when you played a midfielder you had very good players behind you."

Vertonghen and Eriksen have helped take Spurs to the Champions League semi-finals. Credit: PA

The Ajax traditions are still evident in the three Spurs players, according to Lindgren, who thinks Mauricio Pochettino is making the most of their attributes thanks to the team's style.

"The way Tottenham is playing; they want to play football, in a good way they want to create and be creative with the ball, so you can see they come from the Ajax school - the way they pass, the way they see the game, you can definitely see it.

“They [Alderweield and Vertonghen) are two great defenders who are good with the ball, quite quick, quite big and strong but what makes them really good is their feet, they can pass, they see the game well and they have played together a long time, so they make the perfect couple."

Despite all the quality coming through the club, Ajax had not made much of an impact in Europe for a long time until reaching the 2016-17 Europa League final, which they lost to Manchester United, a run which has helped inspire the current squad.

Lindgren, right, played alongside some great Ajax players at the start of their careers including Luis Suarez. Credit: PA

The mix of experience and youth, as well as the work of head coach Erik ten Hag, has taken the club back to the higher echelon's of European football, which has seen them knock both Real Madrid and Juventus out of the Champions League.

“I think a lot of it has to do with how the coach approached the games. This seems to be a coach that no matter what he wants to play attacking football with ball possession; in defence he wants to press high, even at Real Madrid and Juventus away, he wants to press the ball and they don’t go backwards.

"They have such a good mix of young players, who just play and have fun, alongside the more experienced players of [Dusan] Tadic and [Daley] Blind. This year they have such a good mix and everything is going the right way. You can really see they have a system that everybody knows what to do. "This is the way Ajax want to play but the years before they didn’t have the team to do. They had the team to do it in Holland but not on the bigger stage like the Champions League. Now they have such quality players everything fits into place."

Ajax have knocked out some big names on their way to the semi-finals. Credit: PA

Their success comes at a cost, as it has given a greater platform for their young stars, with Frenkie de Jong already agreeing a move to Barcelona and others set to follow him out of the club in the summer for huge fees, but this the system which Ajax have always operated with and will allow a new batch of youngsters to come through next season.

"It is sad of course as the coach says in the press conference, he would like this team for a couple of years but we know this is now how it works in Holland, especially Ajax. "They produce such great players, you know they are going to go away and that’s a good thing, it proves Ajax is a developing club and it makes the best players. I think the success this year will open it up to get good, experienced players to come to Ajax, too, and that mixed with bringing through youth players will be a positive for a club.

"It’s sad they cannot have this team for a couple of years, as then they would really be one of the top 10 teams in the coming years."

Before the squad is broken up they will want one last hurrah and they, and Lindgren, are hoping it's in Madrid.