Jaap Stam's Sudden ExitAdded by Philip Meese on 23 Mar 2018 17:51
Earlier this week, former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam was sacked from his first managerial role at Reading. Whatever he achieves in the future, it’s unlikely any departure will be as controversial as his exit from Old Trafford.
By Philip Meese, Chief Editor
It is coming up to 20 years since United confirmed the signing of Dutch defender Stam. After three years at Old Trafford, he was unexpectedly transferred to Italian side Lazio in 2001.There were a plethora of explanations given by both the club and the media. A closer look at the overall situation, however, might indicate a different reason for him being suddenly jettisoned.
Stam made his debut in 1992 for FC Zwolle. Subsequent spells at SC Combur and Willem II attracted the attention of PSV Eindhoven in 1996, the same year he made his international debut. In his first season at PSV, the club wrested the title away from Louis van Gaal’s previously invincible Ajax side. Stam’s performances were so impressive that he won Dutch Footballer of the Year.
By this time he was a fully established international, and United manager Alex Ferguson acted quickly. He arranged a deal with PSV to sign the defender for £10.75 million before the 1998 World Cup, knowing full well that his price would go up if he should have a good tournament. This proved to be a smart move, as the Netherlands ended up missing the Final only by virtue of losing a penalty shootout to Brazil. Stam was impressive throughout, and United fans could not wait to see their new defender in action.
Stam initially struggled to justify the huge fee, at that time a record transfer for a defender. The first few months of the 1998-99 season saw United involved in some very high-scoring games, and conceding a lot of goals even when they were winning. In the second half of the season, United went back to basics and shored up the defence. By this time, Stam had started to acclimatise to his new surroundings. One of the most iconic images from that season was Inter Milan striker Iván Zamorano, a big man in his own right, backing into Stam and bouncing straight off him, so powerful was the defender.
Stam won the Treble of Premier League, F.A. Cup and Champions League in his first season, and followed it up with another two league triumphs to make it three in a row. During the last of these seasons, 2000-01, Stam spent a considerable amount of time on the side-lines with an achilles injury. In spite of this, he made more than enough appearances to qualify for a title winners’ medal.
Stam’s presence, along with his ability to organise a defence, seemed to make him a perfect candidate for the captaincy if Roy Keane should ever be absent.
Transfer to Lazio
Stam’s departure from Old Trafford came as a big shock to the world of football, not just fans of United. Following the release of the Dutchman’s autobiography, Head to Head, there was a rumour that allegations that Ferguson had tapped up Stam during his time at PSV had gone down like a lead balloon with his manager. In what seemed like a whirlwind situation, Stam was put up for sale and Lazio secured his services with a £16 million bid, making United a tidy profit on their investment three years earlier.
Stam found out while he was at the petrol station fuelling up his car that he was being sold. It was a big shock for the defender, who had no desire to leave the club. Ferguson didn’t give him a choice in the matter and apparently told him that if he stayed to see out his contract, he wouldn’t be picked for the first team.
Stam had no choice but to accept the move, as Ferguson had lined up a £2.5 million move for Inter’s Laurent Blanc, the legendary French defender who he had tried to sign numerous times before, as his replacement.
Stam headed for Lazio, and went straight into the team. Less than three months into his time in Rome, however, more controversy surrounded the Dutchman. In November 2001, Jaap Stam tested positive for the banned substance Nandrolone, and in the following January he received a five month ban (which was later reduced to four on appeal). This effectively ruled him out for the rest of the season. Once he served his ban, Stam became an integral part of the Lazio team, winning the Coppa Italia in 2004. His form was so impressive that then-champions AC Milan bought him to strengthen their defence, despite being 32 years of age.
In his two years at the San Siro, Stam played another Champions League Final in 2005, which Milan lost to Liverpool. In 2006, he returned to his native Holland to play one final season, for Ajax, before hanging up his boots. Since retiring, Stam has had coaching roles at FC Zwolle, as well as Ajax.
He was appointed in his first managerial role at Reading in 2016, and originally made a decent fist of it. His side finished 3rd, narrowly missing out on Promotion to the Premier League after losing the Play-Off Final to Huddersfield Town on penalties. This season saw the Berkshire club struggling at the bottom end of the table. With the club just three points above the relegation zone, Stam was sacked earlier this week.
Departure from Old Trafford
The initial theory regarding the circumstances of Stam’s exit from Old Trafford was it was to do with remarks made in his autobiography. Despite the fact that Ferguson had insisted it was nothing to do with this, for many fans it seemed to convenient to be anything else. The book was published less than a month his transfer, and had UEFA or FIFA taken more notice of the content, it could have brought a major headache for the United manager.
While it is a convenient theory, it also has to be said that Ferguson was entering what was meant to be his final season before retirement, a decision he later reversed. By the time football’s governing bodies would have finished their investigations, judging by how long they usually take, Ferguson would most likely have left the club. Maybe he wouldn’t have reconsidered his decision to retire if that had been hanging over his head.
The official line from Ferguson was that he believed Stam had lost a bit of pace following his injury the previous season. Nobody else seemed to notice this, however but he reiterated this several years later, although he did acknowledge that it was a mistake to sell him, given the longevity of his career since leaving United.
The Theory of Nandrolone
There is another possibility as to why he left Old Trafford somewhat prematurely, and nobody seems to have picked up on this. Stam tested positive for a banned substance less than three months after leaving United. It seems a massive coincidence.
You would imagine that the players would be tested by the club upon returning for pre-season training, however, Stam played in United’s first two games of the season. Maybe the test was performed after that, as you cannot imagine Ferguson allowing a player to take the field if he knew that he would fail any random drugs test.
It’s also possible that the club tested him after getting wind of it. Earlier that year, Stam’s international colleague Edgar Davids was banned for testing positive for the same substance, and Frank De Boer later did the same. Maybe it was something that was being passed around the Dutch national squad.
Another possibility is that it was something exclusive to Serie A as, apart from De Boer, all of the other major stars who were banned in 2001 played in Italy. In addition to Stam and Davids, who played for Juventus, Pep Guardiola (Brescia) and Fernando Couto (also Lazio) plied their trade in Italy.
Nobody will know for certain if any of these two possible scenarios happened. Indeed, there is nothing to say that Stam’s departure had anything to do with his failed drugs test later that year. If it did, the truth will most likely never be revealed. It just seems very odd that someone who had been a key member of the squad for three years, and had started the season as a first pick, was suddenly ushered out of the Old Trafford exit door, and within three months he failed a drugs test.
The hurried manner of Jaap Stam’s departure from Manchester United is still shrouded in mystery. The explanation given by Sir Alex Ferguson, making more than £5 million profit on a player approaching 30 years old being too good to refuse is perfectly believable. Surely he could have got a better replacement than the elegant, but past his best, Laurent Blanc though?
The theory that Ferguson was angered by the content of Stam’s autobiography is also perfectly plausible, He wouldn’t have been the first person to find his Old Trafford career cut short after incurring the Scot’s wrath, and certainly not the last. David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy can testify to that, and Wayne Rooney probably would have left in 2013 if Ferguson hadn’t retired.
The third possibility is that United were fully aware of the possibility of Stam being tested, and subsequently banned. If they did, you would have to say it was a smart move getting £16 million for a player that might not be available much longer. This is also to say nothing of the bad publicity the club would have received had he tested positive while playing for the Red Devils. They later got a taste of that when Rio Ferdinand missed a test in 2003.
Despite the explanation that Sir Alex Ferguson gave at the time about Stam’s powers being on the wane, he started in both the 2001 Charity Shield and in United’s first Premier League game of the season. He didn’t seem to be surplus to requirements before his sudden exit.
Many fans believed there was more to it than met the eye. If there is, the truth will probably never come out.