Destined for Ponypark Slagharen, now extremely successful at Sparta Rotterdam

Destined for Ponypark Slagharen, now extremely successful at Sparta Rotterdam
Gerard Nijkamp

NOS Football

  • Oscar van der Horst

    editor of NOS Sports

  • Oscar van der Horst

    editor of NOS Sports

With Gerard Nijkamp (53), feeling wins out over logic. Perhaps that is the secret of the technical director who turned relegation candidate Sparta into a Dutch sub-topper within a year.

For he seemed destined to succeed his father. Also a technical manager, but in the then Pony Park Slagharen.

“I did have my first side job there. My brothers Ben and Hein also worked there. Of whom the oldest, Hein, is still active at Pony Park City,” Nijkamp says. “My father would have liked me to have studied mechanical engineering. To learn a real trade, with which I would choose security. But most of all, as a child, I was completely obsessed with soccer.”

And they didn’t like that at home, where Nijkamp was the youngest in a family of eight children.

Lessons from Foppe de Haan and Hans Westerhof

“My father was always working, I saw him very little. My sisters watched over me, but I was also already often on my own. I eventually moved to rooms early in Heerenveen, where I studied at CIOS. There I was taught by Foppe de Haan and Hans Westerhof and I was captivated by soccer. I owe a lot to those two.”

Foppe de Haan and Hans Westerhof, Gerard Nijkamp’s mentors

Sparta is enjoying one of the best seasons in club history. “We are definitely on the right track,” it sounds sober. “It’s a warm club with nice colleagues and I feel appreciated here. That is the most important thing for me to be able to do my job well.”

Rotterdam is a long way from his childhood home, deep in Overijssel. And it also feels like a different world. Yet his job in soccer has many similarities to what he inherited from home.

“If you look at all those people who come to the stadium every week, whom we want to give an afternoon of joy. Then again, that has similarities to how visitors to an amusement park are presented with a fun day. From the entertainment we provide to the tent that has to stay up and running.”

Nijkamp took his first steps in the professional world as a trainer with the Zwolle youth. Building an organization is a thread that runs through his career.

Great successes in Zwolle

Under his reign as technical man, PEC Zwolle won the KNVB Cup and the Johan Cruijff Bowl, resulting in unforgettable European matches. At FC Cincinnati he was able to help build a big club from the foundation up, and last year he was drawn by the potential of Sparta.

“I actually would have liked to stay in America a little longer, but I also wanted to get back to my wife and kids. It’s been a great period where I actually got confirmation of what I always thought. The focus there is that everything you can do well, you must do well.”

Led by Ron Jans, PEC Zwolle wins the KNVB Cup in 2014

And that also offered Sparta footing in a turbulent time. “The first six months we miraculously managed to survive, with a coach (Henk Fraser, ed.) who had already indicated he was leaving at the end of the season.”

“We actually immediately started looking for someone who fits well with what we want to project as a club and that turned out to be Maurice Steijn. And with real Sparta players we want to show again what the club stands for.”

So the fields are being scoured, looking for the ultimate Sparta player.

“Say the physical street soccer player,” Nijkamp explains. “Someone with ambition, guts and daring. Look at the actions of Vito van Crooij and Koki Saito against FC Emmen recently, that is perhaps the best example.”

‘Physical street soccer players’ Saito and Van Crooij shine against FC Emmen:

‘Physical street soccer players’ Saito and Van Crooij shine against FC Emmen

Sporting success also has a downside. In the middle of the season, AZ plucked midfielder Sven Mijnans away from Rotterdam.

No sellout

“Again, that has a positive side. To get a solid base, we will also have to get income from transfers. AZ paid us an amount we are more than satisfied with. This also immediately takes the pressure off for the upcoming transfer summer. We are not going to have a sale here.”

Also, the sale of Mijnans emphasizes the unprecedented status of the youth academy. With internationals who have flown out throughout Europe. From Memphis Depay to Georginio Wijnaldum. And from Marten de Roon to Kevin Strootman.

Now that Sparta is flourishing again, the club is also offering those boys in the future a nice stage to return there one day. Perhaps for another year in the premier league, but certainly also for the first steps in a career after soccer. Nourdin Boukhari, for example, contributes to the current successes of the first team as an assistant.

Sunday’s Rotterdam derby will be between two teams in form. “I actually just try to enjoy such a match,” said Nijkamp.

And with Sparta exceeding all expectations, Nijkamp is also drawing attention to himself. Not only at opponent Feyenoord, but also at Ajax they are in need of an experienced technical man due to the imminent departure of his former fellow student Gerry Hamstra.

A short silence falls. “I have just re-signed for four years. There has to be something really nice in return for them to entice me to do something else.”

Assistant Nourdin Boukhari gives instructions to trainer Maurice Steijn

Even his siblings regularly visit Sparta. They don’t like to talk about themselves within the family. But Nijkamp feels they now appreciate their youngest brother for the path he has taken against all advice.

His father unfortunately did not live to see it.

He often thinks back to his younger years. The conviviality, but also the strict hierarchy within the large family. “When the pan of pork chops went around at the table in the evening, only the bones remained for me. And in the end, I may have had it the best.”

Now that he is a little older, he sees himself again in all the young colleagues who are entering the soccer business uninhibited. And at Sparta, Nijkamp still watches over his own, large soccer family a bit in his father’s footsteps.

Watch below a report on the “physical street soccer player” Vito van Crooij, Sparta’s top scorer, thanks in part to the advice of assistant coach Nourdin Boukhari:

Assistant coach Boukhari against top scorer Van Crooij: ‘High time for indoor soccer actions’

Kayleigh Williams