It’s a familiar sight in Austria. After each training session, Jaap Stam (40) takes a group of defenders aside for extra individual coaching. Ajax.nl asked three young defenders about their experiences with Stam. “He knows what’s required at the top.”
During the 1998 World Cup in France, the former defensive duo of the Dutch team trained on a field next to a gigantic rock. At the training complex of AS Monaco in Monte Carlo, Jaap Stam and Frank de Boer worked on their World Cup form with the rest of the Dutch team. Exactly fifteen years later, they are together again on a training field nestled among high mountains. Now, in Neusift, Austria, they are in the roles of head coach and ‘defense specialist’ for Ajax.
Just as it was in 1998, each person’s role is crystal clear. One-time defender De Boer is unquestionably the end responsible, while Stam, at his side, observes and takes action or steers as needed. This is to the pleasure of the defenders on the training field, who study Stam’s lessons eagerly. “Jaap Stam brings an incredible amount of experience at the highest level. And he’s trying to share that experience with us as much as possible”, says 20 year old Stefano Denswil. “He’s teaching us to be merciless when you’re face to face with a centre forward. You used to see that on television. He always radiated that the ball was his, or that the ball was going to be his. As a defender, you need to show that you’re there and be convinced that nobody’s going to get past you.”
Dico Koppers (21) has learned several things from the 67 time international this week in Austria. Just like two seasons ago – when Stam was also linked to Ajax in the capacity of an individual coach – Koppers grabs a chance to attend the former Manchester United and AC Milan defender’s master class. “He knows what’s required at the top. From this experience, he’s pointed out a few very important things for a defender to me during the trainings. A few days ago, we dove into turning and pivoting. Those are really ‘football things’ that he’ll go into with you. He’s good at explaining it all and keeps giving you pointers on how to improve. It’s great to have him here”, says the left back who was loaned out to ADO Den Haag last season.
“He grabs us defenders and he knows precisely what he needs to do”, says Joël Veltman (21) about Stam. “When he played for Ajax for one season in 2006-2007, I experienced that very clearly as a youth player. It was great to watch in him action from a distance back then. Now he’s walking around here every day. You could constantly bombard him with questions if you wanted to. I learn the best when I hear during trainings what’s going well and what’s not. Imagine that Danny Hoesen passes me during training; it’s nice that Stam tells me right away what I should have done differently. The next time, I can put that into practice.”
Denswil adds: “He gives us valuable tips about how you can stop a forward. But he also tells you things like how you can use your arms, or how a defender should stand during a corner kick. It’s a great feeling when you can actually do it the following time. I’ve been speaking to Jaap Stam a lot during this training week about defending. The great thing is that it’s coming from two sides. We can always go to him with questions, but he also seeks us out to tell us what’s going well and where we can improve. As a former top defender, he knows that like nobody else.”