‘Will be working at very big club in a year’
“Edwin is just a damn good guy,” sighs Theo van Duivenbode by phone at Langs de Lijn En Omstreken on Radio 1. “It’s all emotion, emotion, emotion. All those journalists and talk shows wanted him gone a long time ago. Just look at the reports of the last few months. And then heads must roll…”
Van Duivenbode knows how hares run in soccer. He was one of the early building blocks of Rinus Michels’ golden Ajax in the 1960s, but won the European Cup I with Feyenoord in 1970.
In 2012, he returned to the old nest on the waves of the Cruijff revolution as a soccer technical man on Ajax’s supervisory board. “In 2012 we already wanted him as general director, but then he himself thought it was a bit too early. He then became commercial director first. Keep in mind that Ajax then had an equity of 46 million euros. Look how that club has grown. Then you can’t say he hasn’t done well.”
In 2016, Van der Sar slid into the chair of general manager after all. Together, Van der Sar and Van Duivenbode enjoyed Peter Bosz’s Ajax, which made the Arena churn again on its way to the Europa League final against Manchester United.
Not much later, however, Van Duivenbode stepped down. According to the commissioner, the appointment of Marcel Keizer as successor to the departed Peter Bosz was not the right choice.
Under Keizer, the losing finalist already stranded in the preliminary round of the Europa League against Rosenborg, and after the cup elimination against FC Twente, the former defender was proven right. Keizer was fired, Erik ten Hag came and successes returned to Amsterdam.
“Ajax became champions seven times, they won the cup ten times and almost reached the final of the Champions League,” Van Duivenbode lists. “Edwin was nota bene vice president of the biggest eight clubs in Europe.”
But there was also the slow handling of the Nouri case and a deafening silence following the forced departure of technical man Marc Overmars after cross-border behavior on the shop floor. And there were the poor results inside the chalk lines last season.
“Overmars was not fired by Van der Sar, but by the supervisory board,” Van Duivenbode stressed. “Maybe the rvc said: keep a low profile for a while. And that the results were not good, you can’t blame the general manager for that.”
“I personally think it’s a damn shame, but I understand it. And I firmly believe that he will return to a very big club in a year’s time. Edwin is a damn good guy.”
Supporters’ association surprised by decision ‘club icon’
Fabian Nagtzaam, chairman of Ajax’s supporters’ association, was also surprised by Van der Sar’s decision. “To be honest, I didn’t see it coming. I spoke to him just a week ago along the training pitch. Then he was very combative. Last weekend something apparently snapped. It hasn’t been an easy season either.”
When things are not going as well at Ajax, the supporters make themselves heard. For example, Van der Sar was whistled at his own stadium when he expressed his thanks on the pitch to departing assistant coach Michael Reiziger and retiring backup goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg.
“Of course it’s never nice when you get flamed out,” Nagtzaam knows. “We spoke before the whistle concert and he knew it was coming. As a soccer player, Edwin has already been through so much, I don’t think that would throw him off. And of course he was ultimately responsible, just as he was for all the successes.”
“Some supporters react from the underbelly and say, ‘Good that he’s gone.’ Last year was just not good. And the laws of top sport are such that you are as good as your last game.”
“We have always enjoyed working with him,” Nagtzaam concludes. “Edwin has spent eleven years working to get the club back on track. He is a true Ajacied. A club icon.”
Watch Edwin van der Sar’s own comments on his departure, interpretation from reporter Jeroen Stekelenburg and reactions from supporters below.