THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Dutch giants Ajax Tuesday accepted full responsibility for the fate of young midfielder Abdelhak Nouri, left with permanent, debilitating brain damage after collapsing at a friendly last year.
"Following new information, we have reached a new conclusion, which is that the treatment of Abdelhak on the field in Austria was not adequate," said the club's chief executive, Edwin van der Sar. "We therefore accept responsibility for the consequences of what happened," the former Manchester United star told a press conference, becoming emotional as he offered his deepest apologies to the 21-year-old's family.
Nouri, dubbed Appie by his fans and the club, collapsed suddenly with a heart problem during the pre-match warmup before Ajax played German club Werder Bremen, in Austria in July last year. He was hospitalised in intensive care in Innsbruck, Austria, before being transferred to a hospital in Amsterdam. But the player, who joined Ajax at aged seven and had been one of its soaring young hopes, suffered permanent and serious brain damage.
Van der Sar said the club had initially believed that Nouri had been given the best help possible on the field, but recently asked for a third opinion after his family sued Ajax for compensation to pay for life-long care. The findings by the new cardiologists came as a "huge shock" when they revealed that "not enough attention was paid to measuring his heartbeat" as the medics focused instead on clearing Nouri's airways, Van der Sar said.
They also showed the "defibrillator should have been used earlier in order to get a better picture of the situation". Ajax now aims to make good on its responsibility to the young player "as people, colleagues and friends of Appie", Van der Sar said, choking up.
He also announced that Ajax planned to launch an initiative to train people such as club doctors in amateur clubs on how to respond when a player collapses on the field. "We feel we have that duty towards Abdelhak, his family, our team and eventually all footballers in the Netherlands."
Earlier this month, Nouri's family filed a case with the arbitration committee of the Dutch Football Federation (KNVB) seeking "substantial damages", according to their lawyer. Nouri "will never be able to live as normal again, and will be dependant on care and therapy", his lawyer John Beer said on June 4, quoted by the Dutch news agency ANP. "He will never be able to work again."