Ajax Amsterdam’s first home game of the season against French club Nice in Champions League qualifying on Wednesday is a sell-out but the mood will be sombre in the stadium as players and supporters pay tribute to midfielder Abdelhak Nouri.
The 20-year-old collapsed on the field during a pre-season warm-up game in Austria on July 8 and has been left with permanent brain damage.
It has led to an outpouring of support for his family, with Ajax fans congregating outside Nouri’s home in the days after the incident, and further expressions of sympathy at the team’s matches since.
Poignantly, Nouri’s best friend Donny van de Beek scored for Ajax last week in the first leg in Nice which ended in a 1-1 draw.
“The goal was for Appie and his family,” said Van de Beek in reference to Nouri’s nickname.
Nice players showed their sympathy too, warming up before the first leg in tee-shirts inscribed with “Stay Strong Appie”.
Ajax have also trimmed activities at their traditional Open Day this Friday when supporters attend a training session and meet the players face-to-face.
“We feel a more sober character to the day is appropriate at this time,” a statement at the weekend said.
Nouri was discharged from intensive care last week but his situation has remained unchanged, a club statement said.
Ajax confirmed that although his heart is working normally, he has lost function in parts of his brain.
“The chances of recovery of these crucial brain functions is nil. This was probably due to a lack of oxygen supply to his brain,” the club said.
The incident has had a deep impact at the club.
“It’s really difficult, at times we all have our weak moments. Luckily, thanks to the football, we can dull those senses a bit,” said new coach Marcel Keizer.
“But I was not surprised by the mental character of the players against Nice. I can see how strong a squad they are.”
Nouri, a Dutch youth international born in Amsterdam to parents of Moroccan descent, made 15 appearances for the Dutch club last season, including three in the Europa League to help Ajax reach the final.