Van der Sar on Juventus & his experience with Italians

Van der Sar on Juventus & his experience with Italians

Edwin van der Sar is telling his story of the Champions League final from 1996, when he turns around.  The former keeper points to a picture on the wall in his office.  It’s a picture from the spring of 1995, and it speaks for itself.  It shows the Ajacieds sailing through the Amsterdam canals, cheered on by hugs crowds.  “You know how great and amazing it had been a year earlier.  We would have liked to experience that again.”

But it wasn’t meant to be, as Ajax lost its final match in the biggest European club tournament to Juventus after penalty kicks.  It was difficult to accept 2nd place.  “When you’ve won the tournament the year before, a loss in the finals doesn’t count”, says Van der Sar.

Came out stronger
Upon returning, Ajax’s current General Manager didn’t leave his house for a few days.  The outcome in Rome just hurt too much.  But in the end, he was able to process it, and even drew strength and motivation from it.  “The fact that we lost in penalty kicks was really bitter.  Especially since, on the penalty kicks they scored, I had been in the right corner.  But they were all so sharp, going into the corner.”

Revenge in 2008
“But in the end, it shaped me.  I didn’t want to feel that kind of pain again.  Yes, it did haunt me somewhat in Moscow in 2008, when United met Chelsea in the finals, and it ended up in penalty kicks.”  Van der Sar was the hero in that game, stopping Nicolas Anelka’s deciding penalty kick.  The Juventus trauma had been partially wiped away.  “Was I able to do more because of that?  Who knows?  I hope so, of course.”

Now that Ajax and Juventus will cross daggers in the Champions League quarter-finals, old memories are rehashed.  Van der Sar is the subject of a lot of international media attention.  Not just because of the lost final and his background as a Juventus player, but especially because he’s the only former top football player in a CEO role among all 8 teams remaining in the Champions League.

 ‘The sons of Zidane and Van der Sar played against each other during a tournament in Spain. That was great, of course.’

Van der Sar is unequivocal about his period in Turin.  It didn’t meet his expectations.  “In the two years, we finished in second place both times.  And I wasn’t able to reach the level that I wanted to, for myself.  And for the team.  That’s why my time in Turin was, in my eyes, disheartening.”

Totally not in his element
In Italy, Van der Sar was criticized for his sober playing style.  Somewhat unjustly, he feels.  “I’m not a spectacular keeper, never have been.  I was someone who filled the gaps, and at Ajax, we played far away from the goal.  It was also promised that this would bet he way that we’d play at Juve.  Building up and opening up from left to right.  Only, there wasn’t any room for that.  The defense was often very close to me and it was often said: ‘just shoot it long’.  I was totally unable to come into my element of how I could, and wanted to, play.”

Although it wasn’t a very successful time athletically, Van der Sar is able to put his Juve time into perspective.  “Turin is a nice city.  And it was our first adventure abroad as a family.  My son went to school there and learned Italian.  Of course it’s a shame how it went, but every football player has a club of period of time in his career where things didn’t work out.  For me, that was Juventus.”

Enjoying Zidane
For him, there’s no doubt about who his best team mate was at Juve: Zinédine Zidane.  “The way he played was phenomenal.  So effortless.  The passes, his technique.  Amazing.  And on top of that, he’s just a regular guy.  He was always in jeans, white Levi’s shirt and a pair of adidas Stan Smiths.  We also lived relatively near to each other.  In each area of town, there were one or two restaurants where we gathered as a team.  Then we’d be with our families or friends visiting from the Netherlands, and he’d be with his family from France.  That was always lots of fun.”

“Our sons played together a lot during that time.  Coincidentally, they met again when they were older, playing in tournaments.  His son was – as still is – at Real, and my son is at Juventus.  They played against each other at a tournament in Spain, the sons of Zidane and Van der Sar.  Both keepers.  That’s really nice, of course.”

Sjaak Wolfs of Juventus
Van der Sar considers both Ajax and Juventus to be family clubs.  “Juventus belongs to the Agnellis, who are also the owners of Fiat, Lancia and Ferrari.  But within the club, everyone is close and there is a familiar atmosphere.  A bit like: we’re going to do this together.  Create comfort in order to perform as well as possible.  It’s the same at Ajax.”

“At Ajax, we had Sjakie Wolfs.  We had someone like that at Juventus too.  Everyone was crazy about him, but you also teased him sometimes.  Pulled his pants down if he was standing on the sidelines.  It was so much fun.  A few people from when I was at Juventus are still there today.”

Nedved, Del Piero and Zidane
But Ajax and Juventus aren’t comparable in terms of their size.  “Juventus is a much bigger club than Ajax.  Just look at the global stars who play there on a regular basis.  Of course, we had Johan Cruijff, on of the greatest players of all time.  And many players have reached the international top via Ajax.  When they leave, we need to fill the gap with up-and-comers.  Juventus buys players to make the team better.  They now have Ronaldo and, in the past, have had the Nedveds, De Pieros and Zidanes of the world on their roster.”

‘After that, there was clapping and applause when we came out of the store.  And I’m not exactly a Ronaldo or Buffon.”

“Of course, Italy is a bigger country, and there are many more Italians living all over the world.  When we travelled to Naples or Brescia with Juventus, thousands of Juve fans would show up a the hotel.  That doesn’t happen in the Netherlands when, for example, Ajax travels to Limburg.  It also has to do with the nature of the people.  An Italian is much more emotional, and wants to touch you more.  That’s something I like about the Netherlands, that you can move around freely.”

Fascination with football players
Van der Sar experienced first-hand how big the fascination with football players can be.  “I went shopping in Milan with my wife once.  At one point, she said: ‘look outside’.  There were 40 people in front of the window trying to see what I was trying on.  And after that, there was clapping and applause when we came out of the store. And I’m not exactly a Ronaldo or Buffon.  The level of worship is high in Italy.  But there’s a flip side as well.  When you lose, the criticism is much harsher.”

In the Juventus locker room, the final game of 96 was seldom discussed with his team mates.  This summarizes who Van der Sar is, as a person.  “I prefer to look ahead.”  He’s never watched the entire finals of 1995 and 1996.  “I’ve zapped through it, of course, but no more than that.  I once bought a DVD about 1995 in a DVD store.  It was on sale.  But I never watched it, never got around to it.”

Team weaker than previous year
He describes the final in the following year as ‘disappointing’.  “Especially the goal against.  Frank (de Boer) tried to graze the ball, but he kicked it a bit too hard.  I was already on  my way and I thought: either I am going to get the ball, or I at least have to force him (Ravanelli) to the outside.  And from an impossible angle, Ravanelli shot the ball into the goal.  In the end, we just had too  many injuries.  It had been a gruelling year and the selection wasn’t big enough to handle so many games.  The level of the team wasn’t as good as it had been in 95.”

Family guy Ronaldo
The current star of Juventus, Cristiano Ronaldo, knows Van der Sar from his time as a player.  They played at Manchester United together.  “Back then, he was at the beginning of his ambition to become the best football player in the world.  It was nice that he also expressed this, too.  Many people say that, of course, but he really invested the time and energy into it.  Those abs don’t come from nowhere.  He also did a lot of strength training, he had his own chef, and got enough rest.  Going out was never really his thing.”

“He’s genuinely a nice guy.  A real family guy.  If there were kids with us, my son or Paul Scholes’ son, he was always playing around with them.  Back then, he wasn’t as big as he is now.  You could still reach him in the field, with certain things.  You could tell him off, and he’d listen.  Now, he’s so much bigger.  He’s less dynamic in the field, and he waits for his opportunities instead of running the distances himself.  If he plays on Wednesday, I’m going to go say hi to him afterwards.”