‘Born in The Hague, no Ajax DNA and mediocre player’

‘Born in The Hague, no Ajax DNA and mediocre player’
Maurice Steijn signs his contract with Ajax

NOS Football

Even Maurice Steijn was initially surprised when he was approached by Ajax. The Sparta coach’s appointment led to many indignant reactions among supporters this week.

On Wednesday afternoon, during his first press conference at the Johan Cruijff Arena, the 49-year-old trainer said he understood that skepticism. “I was born in The Hague, have no Ajax DNA and was a very mediocre footballer,” he said.

Still, the former coach of ADO, VVV-Venlo, Al Wahda, NAC Breda and Sparta believes he can be successful. “I cling to examples like Erik ten Hag,” he referred to the coach who was plucked from FC Utrecht by Ajax and now works at Manchester United in the absolute top.

That top is also Steijn’s goal at Ajax. “I want to become champion and join the European top,” he said. “And at Ajax that has to be with a combination of winning and good soccer.”

Fourth choice?

Steijn’s name was first mentioned in the media only Sunday night in the long search for a successor to John Heitinga. But Steijn’s first conversation with technical director Sven Mislintat dates back five weeks. Within Ajax, hardly anyone knew anything about it, and Steijn only told his wife and children.

The names of Kjetil Knutsen (Bodø/Glimt), Kasper Hjulmand (national coach Denmark) and Peter Bosz (new coach PSV) were regularly associated with Ajax, though. Yet Steijn was not a fourth choice, Mislintat claimed. “He clearly won the race. I won’t mention the names of the runners-up.”

Sven Mislintat (l) together with Maurice Steijn

“We first made a longlist and reduced it to a shortlist of four trainers, that included John Heitinga,” the German director told me. “With those four I spoke and we made an extensive analysis. And Maurice was our main candidate.”

Early last week, Steijn and Ajax reached an agreement. This was only brought out after the coach had played the final duels with Sparta in the playoffs for European soccer.


Mislintat called his new coach an “overperformer” several times at the press conference. “With all his clubs he has done better than you would expect based on the budget.”

That Steijn has no experience at a big club is not a problem for Mislintat. “Ten Hag didn’t have that when he joined Ajax either. I myself also experienced that with Jürgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel at Dortmund. Two trainers who stood out at a smaller club.” Both Klopp (Liverpool) and Tuchel (PSG, Chelsea, Bayern Munich) ended up at the top via Dortmund.

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Steijn is not known as a trainer who gives youth a chance. Last season at Sparta, he gave only two playing minutes to teenagers, by far the lowest number of any premier league club.

Steijn knows that statistic and has an explanation for it. “Both at Jong Sparta and Jong NAC we unfortunately did not have any talents running around that were good enough. Earlier at VVV, I did let boys of seventeen make their debuts.”

“At Ajax the youth training is of a very high level. For example, Jorrel Hato is already so good, I would be crazy not to draft him.”

Bonding with public

In addition to Steijn, Ajax also captured assistant coach Said Bakkati. It is planned that former international Hedwiges Maduro will also come in the near future. The Amsterdammers are in negotiations with Almere City about the assistant.

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“I think we have a very nice staff then,” Steijn said. “Bakkati and Maduro are young and very ambitious. They complement me well. And Hedwiges has the Ajax DNA, which I lack.”

The new coach realizes that because of his background he will have little credit with the supporters. “But I will mainly remain myself. Of course there is more pressure here. Just look around you at this press conference. So many cameras is new to me.”

“There will be disappointments, we won’t always win. But I hope there will be a bond with the audience. And that they see that if there is a setback, that we did everything we could.”

Kayleigh Williams