AZ again with ‘a Meerdink’ semifinalist in Europe: ‘Showing own game’
The UEFA Cup in 1981 and 2005 and now the Conference League. AZ from Alkmaar is once again among the four best clubs in a European tournament this season. On their way to the final in Prague, coach Pascal Jansen’s team faces West Ham United.
The first match in the semifinals of the second edition of the Conference League is Thursday night in England. As far as Martijn Meerdink is concerned, AZ will then “just play” the way it usually plays: with courage and guts. “Their own game, they have to show that in London as well.”
Then a Meerdink, now a Meerdink
Meerdink is one of the players who made it to the semifinals of the UEFA Cup with AZ in 2005. There, deep into the extension against Sporting CP (without the injured Meerdink) things went dramatically wrong, after a memorable campaign had preceded it.
“We also played forward at the time. With our own thinking. 4-3-3, high pressure,” Meerdink recalled. “Many foreign clubs are not used to that. We had Co Adriaanse as coach, who wanted to grab every opponent by the throat. In the final we would have made it, I’m convinced of that.”
And there is, besides the enthusiastic playing style, another similarity between the AZ of eighteen years ago and that of today: in the selection there is once again a ‘Meerdink’.
Nineteen-year-old Mexx is Meerdink’s eldest son. The talented striker recently achieved success with AZ’s top youth team, winning the Youth League, and in recent months experienced his breakthrough in the first team.
Father Martijn: “He is making nice steps. Until recently we didn’t think it could go so fast either. Mexx initially had Yusuf Barasi ahead of him, but eventually that tilted. Now he falls in every time and then he also shows it.”
Spider in the web
“How many will be sitting there Thursday? 60,000?”, Meerdink firmly anticipates his son’s possible appearance at the London Stadium. “What you normally do at Wijdewormer (AZ’s youth complex, ed.), you have to dare to do there in such a stadium. But he is cool in that.”
Whereas Meerdink Sr. in 2005 had players like Denny Landzaat, Kenneth Perez and Barry van Galen around him, the current AZ houses less experience. Captain Jordy Clasie is the player with the most European baggage.
“Surely he is the spider in the web,” analyzes Meerdink. “I was at Ajax-AZ last weekend in the Johan Cruijff Arena and when you see him play…. His ability to speed up or not speed up the game at the right moment, that’s beautiful.”
“Clasie also knows what is asked. All in all, AZ’s axis in itself is fine. Also up front, with Pavlidis. That’s a dangerous player.”
According to Meerdink, the greatest strength of this AZ is in its stability. “The contours and the lines are clear everywhere. That says something about AZ’s philosophy, which is the same even with the youth teams. There have been quite a few players injured this season. Then they don’t shift, they just fit those young guys in.”
‘Pascal, I’ll take it’
So did Mexx Meerdink, who as a substitute played an important role in eliminating Anderlecht in the quarter-finals. He signed for the decision in the penalty kick series by firing in AZ’s fourth penalty in powerful fashion.
“Of course that penalty kick was very beautiful, but the best thing I found was that before that he said to the coach right away, ‘Pascal, I’ll take it.’ I don’t know if I would have done the same in my situation. But he dared. Then you do have confidence,” said Dad Meerdink.
Spanish media already reported that Barcelona is keeping an eye on his son’s development. “That, too, is going fast. Maybe because they won twice against a Spanish team in the Youth League. How it continues now, you don’t know. But he’s at a fantastic club.”