Former Ajax Cape Town coach Versleijen open to China return

Jan Versleijen has returned to Abu Dhabi with Al-Jazira via Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and China, the latter of which he won’t close the door on.
By Peter Davis

Jan Versleijen hopes to coach in China again following a disappointing spell with Henan Construction but is fully focused on his return to Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates where he is now responsible for the Academy and development of their best talents, seven of whom are playing in the under-19 national side.

57-year-old Dutch coach Versleijen has coached De Graafschap, Go Ahead Eagles, Henan Construction as well as the Dutch and Australian youth sides and numerous clubs in the Middle East.

Starting his new role at Al-Jazira he told Goal of his wish to one day return to China.

“I’d love to coach in China again,” he said.

“I think there is huge potential [in China] but football has to win back the trust of the supporters, the players have to be more professional and give the feeling that they want to win games, China should be number one in Asia,” he said.

Versleijen managed Henan Construction at the start of the 2012 season but was dismissed as the club attempted to avoid relegation, a move that eventually failed.

“I believe if they [Henan] would have given me the chance to finish my contract they wouldn't have been relegated, many young players would have become starting players and the club would have seen the benefit for many years,” he explained.

The appointment of Turkish coach Muhsin Ertugral as Technical Director at his previous assignment ultimately resulted in another sour ending for Versleijen.

“Ajax Cape Town appointed a new Technical Director without my knowledge; I had to hear it from the media, knowing this person it would be impossible to work together,” he said of Ertugral.
“Ajax Amsterdam were not aware of the appointed of this new Technical Director and they are 51% owners of Ajax Cape Town, this was one more reason to resign, I lost trust in the other owners.”

With all this in mind, it is no surprise Versleijen names roles elsewhere as his favorites thus far, as he added: “With JEF United I worked at a very professional club with professional players and staff, that was a career highlight and in Holland I provided the path to success for many young players like Marc Overmars who reached the Dutch national side.”

The Dutchman still looks back at Henan Construction with mixed feelings though and highlights the likes of goalkeeper Zeng Cheng and striker Chris Katongo as key performers in his time at the club.

“It’s frustrating [to look back at his time at Henan] because I know things could have been better in the long term if the club would have given me more time," he bemoaned.

"Zeng Cheng (now at Guangzhou Evergrande) was a really professional goalkeeper with very good qualities and I think he has the quality to play in Europe.  Chris Katongo was an absolute pleasure to work with, hard working, always positive and a real leader on and off the field”.

On the back of an already diverse career, Versleijen is now tasked with organising all the youth teams at Al Jazira and the education of their coaches in the hope of guiding more future stars onto bigger stages.

Beijing-based Peter Davis watched Liaoning Whowin play Chengdu Blades in 2008 and has been hooked on Chinese football ever since. He is a regular contributor to Wild East Football and can be found on Twitter at @peteydavis