Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Jip Jaap Stam calls it a day and leaves United fans with fond memories...
Former United great, Jaap Stam, now of Ajax, called a press conference on Monday and announced his retirement from football at the age of 35. The big Dutchman says his lack of commitment and physical problems have led to the decision.
Those who witnessed his United career will find that hard to believe.
Jaap Stam signed for United in 1998 from PSV Eindhoven for a record fee for a defender, €17 Million (£11 Million) after we had surrendered the previous title to a late season surge by Arsenal.
For those who didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Stam play in a United shirt, let me use an analogy. Imagine a combination of our two current centre-backs, Ferdinand and Vidic. The undoubted skills and flair of Rio, the willingness to play your way out of trouble along with the toughness and mettle of Nemanja. The no-nonsense approach and readiness to hoof the ball into Row-Z if the need arises, but most of all, the enthusiasm of which both show in abundance (especially, this season). Jaap Stam was all these plus much, much more.
His first season with the Reds was the unforgettable Treble Season, of which he more than played his part and became a firm favourite with the fans. Stam played 49 games that season – 30 in the league – 6 in the FA Cup (he also came on as a substitute in the final) and all 13 European games. Incredibly, he only ever scored one goal for United (for those anoraks amongst us, Jamie Carragher has scored more goals for the Red Devils).
He played two more full seasons for United when, after playing in the Charity Shield and the first league game of the season, he was sensationally dropped by Sir Alex Ferguson. Then, a few days later, came the bombshell, quite out of the blue, we learned he’d been sold to Lazio.
Of course, the rumour mill sprang into action. The official version, was that it made good business sense to receive over £15 Million for a 29-year-old who had started to suffer with regular injuries. This appears to “add up” as United had just forked-out an astonishing £28 Million for the services of Juan Sebastian Veron.
Others, including myself, suggest that, for reasons best known to himself, Stam had criticised the Neville brothers in his autobiography and suggested that Fergie had encouraged players to dive, and possibly the final straw that Fergie had “tapped him up” before signing. As with the Whiteside/McGrath affair early on in Ferguson’s Old Trafford reign, the boss will not stand for anyone causing friction and disharmony in the dressing room.
Whatever the reason, he was history - the King is dead, Long Live the King - we signed Lauren Blanc – the football equivalent of selling a Ferrari and replacing it with an old Ford Capri (once stylish but now with poor bodywork and a knackered engine).
United had a poor season in the league, losing nine games and finishing third, 10 points behind champions Arsenal (although, had we won our penultimate game against them, we would have won the league had we won the last game versus Charlton). That season we also we succumbed to losing on away goals to Bayer Levekusen (the Middlesbrough of German football) in the Champions League Semi-finals, missing out on a Hampden Park final against Real Madrid (a game that I’ve dreamed of since being a schoolboy).
Of course United had to shell out a fortune to acquire Ferdinand to plug the gap left by Stam. We went on to reclaim the Championship.
Stam eventually left Lazio, after serving a five month ban after testing positive for the banned drug Nadrolone, and signed for AC Milan. He was part of the team that ended United’s Champions League hopes in the San Siro a few years ago. In January 2006 he signed for Ajax on a two year contract. He was immediately named as captain.
During his international career, he played 67 games for Holland scoring 3 goals (why only one for us?).
Most United fans will remember Jaap Stam as one of the greatest centre-backs the club has ever had. He was never sent-off for us and his intelligent defending allowed others to develop their game. Personally, I will always remember him for his gargantuan display against Inter Milan, both at home and away during our European campaign in 1999.
Whatever the true reasons behind his hasty and bizarre exit from Old Trafford, I’m certain all Red’s will wish Jaap all the best and thank him for his contribution to United’s cause in his, all too brief, United career.
Posted by James Ryddel - Editor at 12:00 pm