The eventful year of Johnny van 't Schip

For John van ''t Schip, 2002 may well have been the most eventful year in his life. As manager at FC Twente, he bore the full brunt of the media from February onwards. In July he'd had enough and resigned from the Enschede-based club. After three summery months spent sitting in the sun in his back garden, Ajax called. They offered him the job of coaching the second team. Van 't Schip didn't take long to accept the offer. He and his family will soon be moving back to the west of Holland.

,,It has been a year I won’t forget in a hurry’’, says Van ’t Schip. ,,And I don’t mean that as a negative thing, it’s been an educational year and a positive year. Of course, in January I couldn’t have expected to be working for Ajax again in December. That I would be coaching Ajax 2 and be buying a house in the west. But I had considered the possibility that I would not be managing FC Twente anymore.’’

The former winger had a difficult start at Twente. ,,In hindsight, it was a mistake to think that Twente should get into Europe that season. The year before, the club had only come eleventh in the league, but they had won the cup. And I came in at a time when that euphoric atmosphere was still there. The supporters were eager for more. Historically, Twente is the fourth biggest club in the Netherlands, so when I started out I couldn’t just say ‘we want to finish in the top half’, that just wasn’t good enough. I hyped it up by stating that FC Twente would be playing in Europe again, when in all fairness finishing seventh or eighth would have been a good result.’’

Points were hard to come by and in the second half of the season, tension mounted between Van ’t Schip and the players. At least, that’s what the papers said. ,,Highly overexaggerated’’, says Van ’t Schip. ,,At the end of any season, the question is asked who can stay, and who has to go. That decision is taken halfway through the season. We had decided not to offer new contracts to players over 30, whose contracts expired. And we had a lot of older players. After an evaluation like that, you have to get results with the team, otherwise that kind of decision will start working against you. If doubts about managerial decisions rise up anywhere in the organisation, players will notice, they’ll sense it. And that is what went wrong.’’

How then did the alleged ‘breach of confidence’ between him and the players get into the papers? ,,One journalist had written that the players had lost faith in me. I asked him, man to man, where he got that story. He said: Ít’s something I heard’. It wasn’t true, but after he had written about it three times, everybody started to believe it. The press targeted an individual. Me, in this case. And I didn’t have the strength to counter that. In interviews, players are now saying that it wasn’t true as well, but that doesn’t do much for me anymore. At that time, I found it hard to combat something like that on my own.’’

Van ’t Schip still continued to work at FC Twente, and in July resumed training for the new season. ,,I had expected a different group of players in the new season. Mostly younger players, with a couple of new recruits. But those new ones never came, because there was no money.’’

,,Over the summer holiday, I had tried to evaluate my situation. I had decided to resign, as soon as I got the feeling that nothing had changed. But that first training went great. They were working hard, training well. It was just… I didn’t have a good feeling about it. I couldn’t do the job I wanted to do. That is why I went to the board on that Thursday and said it would be best for the club and for myself if I should quit.’’

,,Once I had reached that decision, on the one hand it was a relief, but on the other hand it was a disappointment as well. My expectations hadn’t come true. But I never felt as though I had failed. And I’m not saying that I never want to manage a club again, either. Just not for a while yet. Before I became the manager there, I felt this sort of restlessness I simply had to be a manager, a head coach. That restlessness, that uneasyness has gone. Because now I know what it’s like. You’re free game, to some people. And I don’t want to be a journeyman-coach, working here this season, there the next. That’s why my family and I have agreed to stay in the vicinity of Amsterdam for the next few years. My son Davy is now twelve years old, my daughter Estelle is nine. For them, it would be a nuisance to have to move again. We had sort of agreed to stay in the east until the end of the schoolyear, to be honest. But I don’t like traveling all that distance to work in Amsterdam. Three days a week, I stay with my parents in Amstelveen and on Friday I head back east. That’s not ideal. In January we move back west, and the children can start in school there.’’

Van ’t Schip may one day lead a team again, as manager. ,,Because in the dressing-room, on the pitch, at the games, it is a great job. Everything else, though, isn’t as much fun. I see it happening to Ronald here at Ajax. And also, it is pretty important at what point in time you start working for a club. At Twente, there were a lot of new people starting out in important jobs, and no clear objective.’’

Van ’t Schip is back at Ajax, where he celebrated his biggest achievements as a player. ,,I was very positive about returning here from the start. Ajax is my club, after all. And the offer came at the right time. I had spent three months at home, doing bits and pieces, but that was quickly getting old.’’

Is that pressure he disliked less at Young Ajax than it was at Twente? ,,There’s always pressure at Ajax. And I played professional football for twenty years. When I was a youth player at Ajax, I experienced pressure. You need it to do well.’’

The fact that Ajax 2 impressed last season by winning the title and reaching the semifinal in the cup, doesn’t add to the pressure, as far as Van ’t Schip is concerned. ,,The second team has always had a lot of mutations in the past. Now we have a core group of about seven, eight players – if they’re all fit. It is a good thing that occasionally we combine Ajax 2 with the first-team players that didn’t play in the last match. We can practice some match types eight or nine-a-side.’’

Apart from coaching, Van ’t Schip has more jobs at Ajax. ,,I watch the other group match in the Champions League. I didn’t go to see Arsenal play Valencia, because the next game is still two months away. But it is fun to watch a game like that, and to be involved in this way. And I work together with Blind and Koeman, and now and again Van Basten is on the training pitch. Isn’t that just fantastic?!’’