The cameras are rolling, we have clapped to sync the sound with our microphone, and Edwin van der Sar lets us know he is ready to go by flicking out his hand in a sideways V and saying, “Yo”.

Even though he is chief executive of Ajax and vice-chairman of the European Club Association, he retains a playful side.

His serious streak emerges when we raise the issues around the Qatar World Cup and how the country was awarded the competition. He says it is “not fair” that the 22 men on FIFA’s executive committee made the decision in 2010 and then the rest of football had to work out how to accommodate it. 

He gives insight into how Ajax approach recruitment and the club’s place in football’s food chain. He touches on modern goalkeeping, David de Gea, his successor at Manchester United 11 years ago, and penalty shootouts, as well as the potential of Antony and Lisandro Martinez, who moved from Ajax to Old Trafford last summer for a combined £132million ($156m).

Our conversation takes place before Ajax against PSV Eindhoven in Van der Sar’s office at the Johan Cruyff Arena, with the 52-year-old making time in his diary to see us as we travel across Europe and the Middle East on our way to Doha.

The room we are in breathes history. There are large photographs of famous Ajax moments from the 1970s, and on a ledge in a glass case are Van der Sar’s goalkeeper jersey and gloves from the victorious 1995 Champions League final. Various trophies line the windowsills and propped up on a wall is a gift: Van der Sar’s cards for the FIFA computer game, his rating of 91 a modern nod to the standards he once hit as a player.

His job now is to guard Ajax. He started as marketing director in 2012 and was appointed chief executive in 2016. Under his stewardship, Ajax, managed by Erik ten Hag, reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2019 and thrilled in winning all six group games last season. Ajax have won the last three Eredivisie titles, too.

Van der Sar’s status in the global game has also grown, to the extent he was seen as a contender to assume the role of chairman of the ECA, which represents more than 200 clubs from 55 UEFA member associations, when Andrea Agnelli of Juventus resigned in attempting to launch the Super League in April 2021.