For a couple of weeks now Maarten Stekelenburg has been a notable figure on Ajax’ technical staff. As a result of his enrolment in the training course Coach in Professional Football, the 41 year-old trainer will do his internship with Ajax’ first team for two to three days a week. He also recently began working as manager of the national squad for Under 17s.
Stekelenburg is a busy man. But more than that, he is an old friend of Ajax, as he previously worked here as youth trainer for almost a decade. Interestingly he coached many young lads during that period who later made it onto Ajax’ first team. ,,Siem de Jong, Toby Alderweireld, Stefano Denswil, Joël Veltman, Daley Blind and Davy Klaassen were all on my teams", he lists.
The youngest squad Stekelenburg led between 1999 and 2008 was the Under 12s, which at that time included Daley Blind. This past means the former player for Argon, Huizen and AFC does not feel like an outsider in Amsterdam. ,,On the contrary; it feels like coming home. It is great that I got to play a part – however small – in their careers. I once visited Toby Alderweireld at home in Belgium in order to convince him to come to Ajax. To have a shared history is great."
Stekelenburg is no stranger to the technical staff either. ,,Even though much has changed at Ajax over the past years, their first team is still pretty much the same. Those people have been with the club for a long time. I worked with Frank de Boer and Dennis Bergkamp at Ajax for example and with Hennie Spijkerman in Cape Town."
Stekelenburg was in South Africa from 2009 to 2012. He started out as general manager of the Ajax Cape Town Academy and then moved on to become manager of the first squad there. ,,Because I have already had experience in managing a first team, my current internship is not entirely new to me. However, the level of play at Ajax is much higher and that is what makes it interesting for me to be a part of that. It is the highest level you can achieve in the Netherlands."
Stekelenburg believes his current internship will be a good learning curve. ,,There is still room for improvement for me in the details, in particular. When Bergkamp is working with the attackers and Jaap Stam is working with the defenders, it is all about the details. De Boer and Spijkerman also adopt that vision in the way they approach the players group. I try to broaden and expand my own vision. I have a lot to gain there."
That leaves the question: What type of trainer is Stekelenburg? ,,I think I am pretty much all-round. That ties in with the current general manager, as he is the same. Although he has much more experience as a player, of course. As a trainer he stands both in among and above the group and that’s the kind of style I like."
Despite Stekelenburg being sacked in South Africa he speaks of a wonderful experience. ,,I learned a lot in Cape Town, but I did make mistakes in how I approached the players. I have learned from that. In that sense I grow a little every day. I may also have underestimated the fact that I believe in a process with the people around me. On a first team, you must perform, but there as well, I believe in a process. It does mean you need to have the quality it takes to achieve those performances within your group. The policy makers must also give you enough time. I am glad that I stuck to my own course as a manager and didn’t sway."
Thanks to his time in South Africa Stekelenburg is quite good a gaging talent at Ajax’ satellite club. ,,They’re on their way", he says decisively. ,,It’s always tricky though, to predict whether someone will make it or not. Thulani Serero was truly a top player in Africa, but you can see what a hard time he has had of it here so far. There is plenty of talent; the question is what do you do with it? Should they take one extra step in between, or not? All these things were up for discussion. You see an increasing number of players come up through the own Academy now. That is a good development."
Besides taking the training course Coach in Professional Football and doing his internship with Ajax, Stekelenburg also became general manager for the Dutch national Under 17s team a few weeks ago. ,,And that is a fulltime job with the Dutch FA." It meant he had to cut his term as head coach for first division club AFC short and that worried him for a while. ,,I explained to AFC that the Dutch FA held a challenge for me. Luckily they understood."