There’s a Dutch flavour to everything around Manchester United at the moment. Erik ten Hag’s been at the hot seat for a little over a month with Frenkie de Jong and Tyrell Malacia likely to join him and Donny van de Beek.
Old Trafford’s been home to many a great Dutchman, from the flying figures of Edwin van der Saar and Robin van Persie to the fierce like Jaap Stam and Ruud van Nistelrooy. The Busby Babe staff felt that it was only right that we celebrate some of the club’s greatest Dutch Reds by coming up with short essays on them.
The essays will be part of a series that also serves as a little game to see who ranks as the greatest Dutch Red of them all. We decided to take inspiration from The Ringer’s Shea Sarrano, who came up with his own quirky metrics to rank different seasons and players in his book Basketball (and Other Things): A Collection of Questions Asked, Answered, Illustrated and gave it our own little spin.
We’ll be using the following metrics to rate each Dutchman:
We will provide a score out of 5 for each metric. The score assigned for the player by the writer tasked with the essay will either be revealed at the end or form the basis of the piece. Since we’ve got 5 metrics and each metric is scored out of 5, the player will get a score out of 25.
We’ve also got 4 players to write about and each writer will provide a score out of 25 for these players. These scores will be revealed in a separate piece, once all the essays are done. Do the math and you’ll realise that each player will be ultimately marked out of 100.
We’ll also do a poll for the final piece and hope to come up with at least one more series of essays before the season 2022/23 Premier League season starts.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here’s a short essay on Jaap Stam from Suwaid.
“Jaap, I want you to play for Manchester United. I want you to command our back line and help us to win the Champions League.”
It’s not often that the words that lead you through a door are the very same that might lead you on your way out. This excerpt was one of the many startling revelations from Jaap Stam’s autobiography, Head to Head; one that alluded that the then Alex Ferguson was tapping up a player. The grounds for Jaap Stam’s departure – the autobiography, the injury in his final season, a misreading of underlying stats – remain varying and contested to this day, but what can’t be contested is that Jaap Stam was one of United’s greatest servants during his three-year spell at Old Trafford.
“You’re a big, casual sod,” declared Sir Alex to Rio Ferdinand when the Englishman joined for a world record fee from Leeds United in the 2002 summer window. The same couldn’t be said for Jaap Stam, who was big but far from casual.
He was the first of the great Dutchman to be great at Old Trafford. He mixed brutish strength – possibly derived from his time serving in the army — with the cerebral predisposition of the Dutch. More recently, he was a figure of admiration from two of the Premier League’s other great centre backs, Rio Ferdinand and Virgil van Dijk.
With dichotomies like cats and dogs increasingly common to classify centre backs, the bulk of Ferdinand and Van Dijk’s recent conversation was about centre backs who could play in any era and were the complete package. Stam was the only centre-back from the Premier League era that the two were certain fit the criteria other than themselves. Unlike the Pallister-Bruce era and Ferdinand-Vidic era, 1998-2001 was simply the Stam era. This was crystallized by winning UEFA’s Defender of the Year award in 1999 and 2000.
United have had their fair share of great centre backs under Sir Alex from Paul McGrath to the individuals that comprised these great partnerships but rack them up against each other and Stam probably comes out as the most complete and was someone whose time at the club was only ever synonymous with success and the greatest of expectations.
Stam’s even suggested recently that he did more 1v1 defending than modern centre backs. I suppose that’s a bit contentious with full backs expected to bomb on a lot more today but with goalkeepers more comfortable coming off their line, a specialist defensive midfielder expected to sit in front of the backline and coordinated pressing systems prevalent in the best teams today, he might have a point.
He was also one of the senior players in the side during his time and had his share of memorable performances, including the ‘99 final. He also found success at other clubs. Yet, there’s this overriding feeling that he’s been a bit underrated throughout his career and I could only boil that down to – strangely enough – a lack of goals. Centre backs aren’t expected to score a lot of goals but he only scored one during his three-year spell at Manchester United.
He was never really a talismanic figure like Tony Adams or John Terry either. Like many a Dutch side, he was part of one that came close to glory with the national team in ’98 and was among an incredible defensive quartet that shared the praise at AC Milan.
It has, perhaps, diminished his value as a player; but like all the heroes from ‘99, Yip Jaap Stam’s value among the United faithful will never diminish.
· Silverware: 5/5
· Stats: 4/5
· Transformative: 5/5
· Longevity: 3/5
· Charisma: 4/5