Like every other football club manager Sir Alex Ferguson has made his share of mistakes during his 25 years at Old Trafford but admits that his biggest one was accepting an offer from Lazio for Jaap Stam at the start of the 2001-02 season. Fergie has since made his peace with the central defender who was sold against the backdrop of dressing room revelations in his autobiography and doesn’t mind admitting that he is still troubled by selling the big Dutchman.
“At the time he had just come back from an achilles injury and we thought he had just lost a little bit. We got the £16.5m offer from Lazio for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, but in playing terms it was a mistake.”
Stam himself still has vivid memories of that episode “It all happened very quickly, Lazio needed to register me as their player before the Champions League deadline” he remembers “It wasn’t an easy moment but that’s what happens in football, players come and go and unfortunately it was me who had to go then. I had a great time at United, I met some great people and I had a good relationship with everybody at the club, the boss, players, staff and fans.
Speaking to Inside United magazine’s Gemma Thompson recently, the Treble team member who also won a Premiership medal in each of his three seasons at Old Trafford recalled some of the many memories he has from those glory days.
When you think of United what immediately springs to mind? – Just all the great memories and the fantastic people I met. My time at the club was very special, we won a lot of trophies as a team and I grew as a player and a person. It’s difficult to pick out a favourite moment, but winning the league in the three seasons I was here was unbelievable and the days when we were presented with the trophy in front of the fans definitely stand out.
You called time on your career in October 2007 but you still play in Holland and have been coaching in the Dutch second tier – Yes, I play for a local side in Holland, but the level is very low, I play more for the beers after games than the football. The coaching is going well and I sometimes join in with mini games in training. We’ve done quite well in the league and it’s something I’m really enjoying.
You were part of the greatest season in United’s history. Is that the best team you played in? – I’ve been lucky enough to play in some great sides. The AC Milan team I was part of after I left United was a brilliant one but you play a different kind of football in Italy, it’s more like a chess game over there. In England every time you have the ball you want to play attacking football. I think there was a great balance to our team here and the spirit amongst the lads was fantastic, we all believed in each other. So, yes, I’d say the Treble team is the best I’ve been involved with.
The team spirit in the dressing room seemed unbreakable – Each player knew what the other could do and everyone had a contribution to make so we had a lot of confidence in each other. We never ever gave up either. That’s why we scored so many goals in the last five or ten minutes of games because we always kept going and believed in ourselves.
Do you have a favourite game from that momentous campaign? – Wow, that’s a difficult one. The FA Cup semi final replay against Arsenal which we won 2-1 was a big one. There was this huge rivalry between the two sides and it was a very tense occasion. That match had everything and it was definitely an important one to win, it gave us a good feeling for the rest of the season.
What do you miss most about Manchester? – I made a lot of good friends and although you try and stay in contact with them you obviously don’t see them as often as you’d like. I miss Old Trafford of course and the great feeling you used to get when you played there.
If you were still playing, how would you have gone about marking Wayne Rooney? – He is a player whose only intent is heading towards goal so it’s important you don’t give him too much time and space to get a shot away. He’s very quick with and without the ball and as a defender I think you have to stick very close to him and not give him room to turn and go forward. He had a fantastic season last term and although I didn’t see every game you have to say he’s up there with the best in the world.
In a total of 127 games for United Stam only managed to find the net on one occasion but the number of times he stopped his opponents from doing the same at the other end can never be calculated. Manchester United has never been short of outstanding central defenders over the years, from big Bill Foulkes in the fifties to Nemanja Vidic today. Stam undoubtedly ranks with the very best of them.
How do you rate Stam at his peak compared to Nemanja Vidic?