Cruyff: “AZ the best team in Holland”
Leader Gertjan Verbeek on the right….
And Johan knows these things .
But apart from JC, it’s clear that we need to pay respect to AZ Alkmaar. Despite their horrible loss in Valencia (what the hell happened there???) they deserve this spot in the limelight. The Verbeek managed team plays Dutch School football, battle for the top spot for the third time in the last 5 years and reached the quarters in the EL. And with good football to boot!
They might lose out for the title this year, after having led quite some time but it’s clear that AZ is doing something right.
The rise of AZ started many years back of course, when self-made billionaire Dirk Scheringa started to take over the club and used his financial wizardry to build AZ into a strong contender. When he crashlanded with his businesses and financial shenanigans, AZ was struggling for quite some time and was even without a jersey sponsor for a spell. Some people felt AZ would fall deep, as they did in the 1980s when the sugardaddy Molenaar bros left the club.
But, Scheringa and his staff had done something right. They made sure the foundations were all in place. The choice of coaches of the past 10 years made it clear, that AZ was all about the football and the structured solutions. If you work with coaches like Co Adriaanse, Willem van Hanegem and Louis van Gaal, it does mean you take your football serious.
And despite losing marquee players over the last seasons ( De Zeeuw, El Hamdaoui, Dembele, Schaars, Kew Jaliens, David Menses Da Silva, Lens, Ryan Donk) AZ managed to stay true to it’s football vision and the Dutch School.
After success coach Louis van Gaal left, AZ decided to bring in Ronald Koeman (who despite his current successes at Feyenoord couldn’t be named “success coach”) who was asked to leave before the season was over. Not sure what happened there, but Dick Advocaat finished the season before Gertjan Verbeek was presented.
Ironically, Gertjan Verbeek failed to weave his magic at Feyenoord and was pushed out of the city with tar and feathers….
Foppe is teaching, Gertjan listens…
The hard task master and former amateur boxing champ was groomed for success at Heerenveen by mentor Foppe de Haan ( although Foppe is a totally different coach/person than Gertjan) and after a good spell at Heracles and Heerenveen, Verbeek was ready for the top. Feyenoord didn’t respond well to his antics but at AZ they’re really happy with the wild man. He recently signed on for another two years at the helm in Alkmaar.
Verbeek plays 4-3-3 with the center midfielder being the defensive one. An analysis of AZ’s results learns that they actually create the least scoring opportunities and they also score a relatively low number of goals. The results AZ gets are based significantly on setpieces and distance strikes. The Swedish midfielder Rasmus Elm makes the difference. The set piece specialist scored 10 goals in the Eredivisie and gave 8 assists. Truely, the most valuable player…
AZ finished fourth last season, the best of the rest ( behind Ajax, Twente and PSV). With Mr AZ Stijn Schaars and goalgetter Sightorsson on their way out, the experts believed Verbeek would not be able to repeat that fantastic result. But despite the limited funds, AZ managed to create a winning team yet again. AZ has a balanced team, in which players know exactly what is asked from them and actually are willing and able to execute this. Under Verbeek, the key players are still improving. Holman, 27 years old, is still developing and makes a big jump to the EPL. Left back Simon Poulsen plays like a winger while central back Nick Viergever and Niklas Moisander are amongst the best in the country. One implication of the limited budget is a smaller squad. This resulted in loss of points in December when Verbeek was confronted with injuries.
Rasmus Elm is definitely the most valuable player but Adam Maher is the revelation of the season. Maher got his chance when Martens copped a serious injury and the lightfooted and gifted player demonstrated wonderful composure and vision and has had his first call up for the Dutch squad.
The biggest disappointment this season is Jozy Altidore. The 17 year old American international was once a big prospect and got signed by Villareal in 2008, but he kept on being loaned out as he wasn’t able to stake his claim at the Spanish club. Technical director Stewart signed his fellow countryman as the replacement for Sigthorsson but the American has issues with the pass and move game AZ plays and is not strong playing with his back to the goal, playing others in.
AZ’s perspectives are not too bad, as they do seem to have a creative and shrewd scouting team, but unlike Twente, PSV and Ajax, it does seem AZ is willing to let players go for the right price to keep the club going. Wernbloom was allowed to move in January ( 3 Mio Euros) and it seems that Elm is free to go whenever an Italian or English club shows AZ the money. Every player is for sale, it seems. AZ has a small squad and has played EL for a long spell, which will most likely ask too much from the players. It’s quite likely that Ajax, PSV and Twente will leapfrog the sympathetic club from Alkmaar in the last weeks of the competition.
Questions for Verbeek:
You only wanted to sign for AZ if they demonstrated to have potential for growth. You clearly see that potential than?
“I work really well with management, board, staff and the players. We have a similar vision re: football and what we need to do to improve our game. I am really enjoying what I do here and the top sport culture at AZ is of high quality.”
You did say recently you only wanted to be a coach for another couple of years?
“Well, what else can I do really? Bricklaying… building… I can’t see myself working much longer in Holland though. There are not many clubs left where I’ll fit. And that’s why I love staying here. It feels as my club. If I’ve finished my deal here I’m 53 years old. I think I’ll either go abroad or stay longer at AZ. There are no other options.”
So, there is no “Dutch team manager” or “big European club” clause in the contract?
“No, I don’t have that. I gave my word to AZ. I won’t leave. Clubs can call but they need to wait till 2014. That is how I work. Clubs will need to get permission from AZ to talk to me.”
In 2010 you said you didn’t want to stay if general manager Toon Gerbrands would leave. How is that now?
“The same. Both Gerbrands and Earnest Stewart ( Technical Director) have pledged their ongoing commitment. I believe in loyalty and partnership. We work well together. This club is open. My first meeting here was with Marcel Brands. He told me honestly that he was on his way to PSV and that they wanted me to come up with ideas for the new technical director too. That gave me a lot of confidence in the club culture.”
It seems you’ll be busy this summer. It seems like a number of big name players are on their way out. Brett Holman and Rasmus Elm for sure. There is interest in Poulsen, Maher’s name is on everyone’s lips…
“I look at the team photos of the last 5 seasons and see so many different faces. 16 players have left from the squad Ronald Koeman started with in 2009. And this is what it will be like next season. I can’t influence that side of it. Our scouting is top, our youth development is increasingly improving and we know what we want in terms of playing philosophy. With all due respect, the players are the least of my worries. If one goes, we’ll find another one. We are looking at cheaper options, younger players, more homegrown.”
Your ambition at the start of the second seasonhalf was: beating Ajax in the cup, finishing top 4 in the competition and beating Anderlecht in Europe.
“Our initial goal was to survive the winter in Europe. And we did. Then you need to create new goals. Anderlecht is a much bigger club than AZ, with much more cash to spend. But you do win games on the pitch, not in the board room”
AZ won the cup tie against Ajax in Amsterdam 2-3 but wasn’t able to reach the finals ( this Easter weekend, it was PSV beating Heracles 3-0 and securing the trophy). AZ did beat Anderlecht of course and more than that… They made Valencia work in the second leg of the quarter finals and AZ is still in the race for the title.
One of AZ’s issues this season is the lack of a killer in the box. After El Hamdaoui and Sighthorsson, American international Jozy Altidore is not that kind of player. Striker trainer Piet Keur ( of former Haarlem fame) works hard with Altidore and sub Benschop to get more clinical finishes. Verbeek: “Altidore started here with a lot of credit. He came late so he missed our preparations but now I need him to perform. The benchmark is high here and if he doesn’t deliver his spot will go to Benschop.”
Adam Maher (right)….
Charlie Benschop has the physique of a real athlete and could well be AZ’s new striker. Verbeek: “Charlie came into professional football relatively late. He missed the normal development of most players, and although he looks and runs like a sprinter, he will be prone to hamstring and other muscle issues. He was groomed at RKC in a 4-4-2 system while we play 4-3-3 which is a big difference for him.”
Benschop: “The difference between RKC and AZ is huge. At RKC it was ok to lose games. Here, it’s a sin. I feel like I’m still daydreaming too much. I have to moments where I need a little break. But Verbeek doesn’t allow you those. At least, not in the game…..”
With Pontius Wernbloom off to CSKA Moscow, Maarten Martens was finally ready to come back as the AZ Playmaker. The former Anderlecht prospect was out with injuries for a long spell. When Martens made his return against Ajax, he tricked Theo Janssen for all the world to see. Janssen didn’t respond frustrated, as you would expect from any player, but actually gave Martens the thumbs up. Janssen the football fan instead of Janssen the ego-tripper.
Verbeek: “Wernbloom and Martens are different players. Wernbloom is more like Gerrard. Pushing and working and running…. Martens is more the stylish director, the elegant playmaker. He won’t need a lot of time to have the love-affair with the ball back. Probably one of the most gifted players in Holland. But I needed to give Maarten ample time to return. He needs to be able to play without pain. Pontus is different. Is like a tank. I needed to take him off. Most players will play with a knock but Martens is the type that will take those in to his head, you know…. With Martens it’s not his tenacity or work rate but his sensitivity to injuries.”
Erik Falkenburg was signed from Sparta to give the AZ midfield body but Verbeek picked 18 year old Adam Maher to play next to Wernbloom (now Martens) and Elm. The multifunctional Maher looks frail but is strong and ruthless in the duels. Verbeek: “In the AZ youth, Adam played hanging on the right a lot. He can play on all positions in midfield. He can score, he can direct the play and he can play defensive mid too. Like Elm and Martens, Adam can perform all the tasks asked from him. Ideal to work with players like him.”
Despite Maher’s important goals, Verbeek feels the youngster is a defensive midfielder. “I don’t want to call it that, though. For me, he’s the starting point of our build up. Martens is more the false striker, playing in the hole, waiting for balls to come in. Maher is supposed to direct the play.”
Verbeek playes with three lightfooted midfielders. Isn’t that a problem? “It’s not for Barcelona, is it? Or for Arsenal? I think you can play with these types of lads if you make sure you see a lot of the ball. I don’t want to compare us with Barca but we do share the same playing philosophy and for now, it works.”
23 year old left-footed Viergever is a regular starter now for AZ
Comments are closed
MORE EUROPE BLOGS
1,026 articles | 12,643 comments
201 articles | 1,850 comments
196 articles | 325 comments
1,035 articles | 5,228 comments
687 articles | 5,278 comments
1,063 articles | 32,761 comments
2,566 articles | 6,727 comments
489 articles | 956 comments
562 articles | 9,667 comments
208 articles | 1,511 comments
347 articles | 3,327 comments
227 articles | 386 comments
272 articles | 452 comments
119 articles | 65,084 comments
237 articles | 217 comments
139 articles | 1,370 comments
129 articles | 124 comments
112 articles | 166 comments
16 articles | 8 comments
49 articles | 314 comments
78 articles | 281 comments
111 articles | 122 comments
72 articles | 149 comments
4 articles | 8 comments
49 articles | 59 comments
62 articles | 17 comments
52 articles | 112 comments
33 articles | 28 comments
18 articles | 20 comments
43 articles | 133 comments