Jaap Stam has lifted the lid on his disappointing spell in charge at Feyenoord, admitting he would never have made the move to De Kuip had he known what was going to happen behind the scenes.
The Manchester United legend was just a few months into a spell in charge of PEC Zwolle when Feyenoord came calling in March 2019, offering him the chance to succeed Giovanni van Bronckhorst as coach that summer.
It was an opportunity he took having been impressed by the vision spelt out by sporting director Martin van Geel and general manager Jan de Jong, but it was a decision he soon began to regret.
“I’d made agreements with Martin and Jan in terms of what we were going to do with the squad, players who might be leaving, that sort of thing,” Stam exclusively tells Goal.
“But then, in my last week with Zwolle, Martin left and then, a week before the new season started, Jan left as well and I was there basically by myself.
“Other people came in who had never been in these positions before and they told me there was no money to spend, they’d sold a couple of my players and that the money they’d brought in I couldn’t invest.”
Despite the problems behind the scenes, Stam guided Feyenoord to a nine-game unbeaten run in all competitions at the start of the season – a run which ended with a 1-0 defeat at Rangers in the Europa League.
Things then started to go wrong, with the Dutch giants losing four of their next eight games, including three in the league – one of which was a 4-0 mauling against Ajax.
It was after that defeat in late October that Stam decided that the job wasn’t for him. He resigned with Feyenoord 12th in the Eredivisie and after just 18 games in charge.
“I brought players in who hadn’t really been playing and I also had to work with youngsters,” Stam said. “For me, that wasn’t a problem, but I said that they had to know that results might be different from what Feyenoord had been used to. That we would need time to grow.
“They said that wasn’t a problem, but the first four or five months I needed to get players up to game fitness and people were still expecting results; you know how it goes in football.
“Eventually, I said that this wasn’t what I’d signed up for and that maybe it was better if they took someone else for the job because the agreements I’d made with the club weren’t like this.”
When asked whether he now believes he would have been better off continuing the project he was building with Zwolle, the 47-year-old admits: "Yes, but afterwards it’s easy to say that.
“And it was more to do with the people leaving and everything that happened before the season started. Sometimes, I was more like a man in an office rather than a manager working with his squad because there was a lot going on and I needed to do a lot of things.
“So, maybe it would have been better to stay [with Zwolle] and if I’d known what was going on and the problems Feyenoord had, then I would have made a different choice. But that wasn’t the case and that’s not how it always goes in football.
“When a club like Feyenoord comes in and wants to sign you, you are thinking ‘OK, that sounds good.' That’s why you make that step but it turned out it wasn’t the right fit.”
Since leaving Feyenoord in October, Stam has remained out of work – although he has been in talks over the head coach role with MLS side FC Cincinnati.
Those negotiations have been put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic but the Dutchman admits that a move to the United States is an appealing option.
In Netherlands, meanwhile, professional football has been suspended until at least September due to Covid-19, with the 2019-20 season having been cancelled – with no champions crowned, and promotion and relegation scrapped.
It’s a decision which has generated huge controversy, with second-tier leaders Cambuur – who were 11 points clear of third-placed FC Volendam and, thus, considered near-certainties to take one of the two promotion spots – left feeling particularly aggrieved.getty
Both Cambuur and second-placed De Graafschap plan to take the Dutch FA to court over the decision and Stam says that he can understand why some clubs have been left disappointed.
“I think it’s correct that they haven’t appointed a league winner,” the former Netherlands defender reveals. "But it would have been good had they brought up the two top teams from the second division so there would be 20 teams within the league next season. I think the two teams deserved it.
“Cambuur were 11 points clear of third place, it was likely that they were going to be winning the league. But now there are no guarantees that next season will be the same. They are building a new ground as well.
“I played for Cambuur, I enjoyed my time there. They’ve been fighting so long to get back in this league and so I can imagine it’s very frustrating not to go up.”
Stam adds: “There is also a lot of frustration from Utrecht. They had a game in hand on Willem II, but Willem II got the Europa League spot. If Utrecht had played their game in hand and won, they could have played European football.
“They were in the cup final as well and now they are not allowed to play this game, so they haven’t got a chance to go into Europe by winning that either. For them it’s been a very bad decision.
“In Holland, you have the Super Cup at the beginning of the season played between the champions and the cup winners. That’s not going to happen now, so I think they could have played the cup final in that spot at the beginning of the next season.
“What they said over here is that all clubs could have a vote over what they thought was the best idea, but it seems like the Dutch FA didn’t listen and made their own decision. It was surprising and there was a lot of anger about it, which I can understand.”