‘Heerenveen in the hands of such an oil sheik’
editor of NOS Sports
editor of NOS Sports
Two glasses of whiskey before bed (well ahead, sometimes three) and a win by his sc Heerenveen. That’s all Riemer van der Velde needs to feel like a happy person. “I am satisfied with little,” he says.
At the spacious kitchen table at home in Langweer, it is still often about soccer. On Friday, Guus Hiddink joined us for a bite to eat and to go over the latest developments in soccer in the Netherlands, as Van der Velde regularly does with his friend Foppe de Haan.
An opinion on everything
Van der Velde may be 82 by now, but he still has an opinion on everything. To name a few: Heerenveen’s policy and the imminent appointment of the new general manager. But he does not name names and numbers, he says prior to the interview.
From September 1983 to October 2006, Van der Velde led Heerenveen as chairman. For nineteen seasons he worked closely with De Haan, the former coach with whom he still forms a tandem. In 1990 the two of them were the first Frisian club to lead Heerenveen to the premier league.
The world of soccer is changing, Van der Velde also sees. Colorful directors no longer exist in today’s soccer. Presidents like Ajax’s Michael van Praag, Feyenoord icon Jorien van den Herik (“The Great Bald Leader, remember?”), Heracles boss Jan Smit and himself live on only in the memories of soccer fans with a hankering for nostalgia.
At the administrative level, let Van der Velde say, a different world has simply emerged. Heerenveen is no exception to that rule.
Van der Velde: “The club is led, on average, by fine people. I just wonder if they always strike the right tone. And I don’t know if they know enough about soccer. Moreover, they are people who often lack that typical Heerenveen DNA. Those people have no connection with the region. I sometimes wonder about that.”
Whether he thinks Heerenveen has become too businesslike? No, he doesn’t. “After all, it only shows business acumen when you run an organization that makes a profit. That is no longer the case at Heerenveen, and a lot of other clubs.”
“Heerenveen has an operational loss of six million euros and is therefore not financially healthy. That means you can only survive by selling the best players, the crown jewels, every season.”
“That money is not invested in new players, but used to balance the budget. As a result, fewer people come to the stadium, the club becomes less interesting for sponsors, revenues lag behind and you end up in a vicious circle. And that has to be broken. Because the patient is sick.”
Heerenveen is not financially healthy, the patient must be helped.
Make a thorough plan of action, says Van der Velde. Why, he wonders, does Heerenveen, for example, not make use of the knowledge available among former coaches and players?
The list of candidates who can lend a helping hand is seemingly endless. Without faltering, Van der Velde spoons out the names. “Gertjan Verbeek, Jan de Jonge, Maarten de Jong, Gerald Sibon, Pieter Bijl, René Groen, Eddy Bosman, Jeffrey Talan. And I could list more like that.”
Such a gentleman from Qatar
Intervention is needed. “After all, if revenues don’t exceed expenses in the short term, you are ultimately left with two options. Either you end up in the first division where a Veendam scenario hangs over your head. Or you enter the world of odd money.”
It is Van der Velde’s biggest fear. “I shouldn’t think about Heerenveen falling into the hands of some oil sheik. One of those gentlemen from Qatar who snaps his fingers once and then everything and everyone in the organization is replaced.”
At SC Cambuur, 6,000 supporters whipped up their club for the Frisian derby against sc Heerenveen.
Supporters warm up Cambuur for Frisian derby ‘Can cause turnaround’
Heerenveen, he wants to say, must stay from the Frisians. “You already see at some other clubs in Holland that the supporters are no longer listened to, but outsiders just do what they think is right. Vitesse, Fortuna and you name them, all these so-called people’s clubs have long since ceased to belong to the people.”
Sunday, in the Frisian derby against Cambuur, Heerenveen meets another club where things are anything but easy. Scoring goals has proven to be an impossible task for the team from Leeuwarden this season, resulting in a place in the tail end of the premier league.
In addition, the construction of the new stadium is running into major delays, making the scenario lurking that Cambuur will move into the new accommodation in early 2024 as a first divisionist.
DKV (Thirty Kilometers Further Away, as Heerenveen is affectionately called by fanatical Cambuur supporters) can further trouble the arch-rival from Leeuwarden on Sunday. It is the sporting duty to show no compassion, Van der Velde judges. He takes Cambuur’s malaise for granted.
Soccer is side issue, what Henk de Jong is struggling with is main issue. Literally and figuratively.
Van der Velde: “Although of course I hope Cambuur does not get relegated. Because the Frisian derby is and remains for us the highlight of the season.”
“There is one thing that does concern me a lot at Cambuur and that is the health of Henk de Jong. After all, he has been a player and trainer for Heerenveen. This week I read somewhere that he will soon undergo surgery. It is my great wish that as a result he will soon be his old self again and can return to work at Cambuur. Soccer is side issue, what Henk is struggling with is main issue. Literally and figuratively.”
Van der Velde catches himself putting soccer in perspective more and more often lately. “If you see what’s happening all over the world at the moment. We look at it, turn around and go play soccer. I have trouble with that sometimes.”