Newly hired FC Cincinnati general manager Gerard Nijkamp sees similarities in his former home -- Zwolle in the Netherlands -- and his new one in Cincinnati.
Both are cities, but have an intimate, friendly feel. He's noticed as much on his first impression going around the city, feeling at home along the Ohio River. Zwolle's name refers to the four rivers surrounding the city -- IJssel, Vecht, Aa and Zwarte Water.
There are similarities between his old and new job, too, which he believes sets him up for success in MLS.
“I think I showed in the last seven years that I can build a club to a high level," Nijkamp said on a media conference call Thursday. "To get stability in the league, winning cups and to also implement, development a youth academy structure, scouting and recruitment system and the value of the first team. That’s a competence of mine. That’s the challenge I’m facing in Cincinnati, to build together to take FC Cincinnati to the next level.”
With his former club, Nijkamp guided PEC Zwolle to a few cup runs -- including winning the Dutch Cup in 2014 -- while cultivating the academy and establishing a style of play. The team regularly finished in the top half of the Eredivisie under Nijkamp's reign.
“We were very impressed with Gerard, we think it’s a great fit," FC Cincy president Jeff Berding said. "His on-field football expertise and his experience building a successful club at PEC Zwolle. Using forward-thinking systems and analytics to sort players, guide the club to successful performance, all are a terrific fit for FC Cincinnati.”
Nijkamp is no stranger to MLS. He has monitored the league from a distance and watched what he could while it was broadcast back in the Netherlands.
“In the Netherlands, MLS is visible," Nijkamp said. "Every week we have a live match and highlights from the other matches. Plus, I’m a long time in football and I see the process of building MLS in USA. The line is going up, and it’s going fast. The attraction of the competition and the players.”
Of course, there are many differences between MLS and the Eredivisie. The salary cap and other roster rules make it difficult on outsiders at the beginning, but Nijkamp isn't worried.
“Football is universal, the only difference is the rules," Nijkamp said. "Most other countries they are generally the same but in MLS they’re a little different. I studied to prepare for my job in a good way, but in this moment I’m not an expert in understanding the rules. But I’m very lucky in this club that there are people who have that experience and expertise. Of course, I’m also a quick learner. I’ll get a better understanding when I’m here 24/7 in Cincinnati.”
In the meantime, there's work to be done.
The club have an interim manager, 29-year-old Yoann Damet, who has been in place since the club parted ways with Alan Koch. There's the question of what style of play the club will aim for, something that Nijkamp said is to be determined. Cincy sit bottom of the Eastern Conference, though not too far away from the playoff line.
“It’s a challenging environment to work in the US and to work in a club building their legacy to be part of MLS," Nijkamp said. "It’s all positive feelings for me."