While we're all waiting for MLS action to return, FC Cincinnati have filled the club's vacant head coaching job, hiring former Manchester United defender Jaap Stam Thursday.
Stam, the erstwhile Feyenoord manager, is largely famous in the States from a glorious playing career over in Europe. The details of his still slim managerial portfolio may escape many fans, both in Cincinnati and around the league, which is why we're here to fill in the blanks.
Any good story opens at the beginning, so that's where our Stam tale starts. The physically imposing center back came up through the youth ranks with his local club in Kampen, which sits about a 70-minute drive east of Amsterdam. He was snapped up by second-flight Zwolle in 1992 and immediately stepped into the starting lineup.
The following summer, Stam moved to Eredivisie side Cambuur, where he continued to impress despite the club's relegation. In 1995, he returned to the top division with Willem II, where he was a teammate of US national team ace Earnie Stewart. It was a short stay, with Dutch powers PSV Eindhoven acquiring the defender at season's end, and right on the heels of his Netherlands debut.
Stam's rep as a highly-skilled bad cop in the heart of defense grew large at PSV. After helping the Farmers claim the 1997 Eredivisie title, he won both of the country's major Footballer of the Year awards. He would spend one more season in Eindhoven, and help the Dutch to a thrilling fourth place finish at World Cup 1998, before joining Manchester United on a then-world record transfer for a defender.
At Old Trafford, Stam become a key member of the Red Devils, celebrating three Premier League titles, an FA Cup win and the club's first Champions League triumph in 31 years. From an individual standpoint, he made PFA Team of the Year three straight times and was named UEFA Defender of the Year twice in a row.
During his time in Manchester, he also helped the Netherlands reach the Euro 2000 semifinal, which ended in penalty heartbreak for the hosts. In a move Man United boss Alex Ferguson would later publicly regret, Stam was controversially sold to Lazio early in the 2001-02 season.
During the first his three seasons in Rome, the burly defender served a four-month ban after testing positive for the steroid nandrolone. After the Dutch were again bounced in the semis of Euro 2004, Stam called time on his international career and made a move to AC Milan. He was a starter on the Rossoneri side that suffered the famous collapse against Liverpool in the 2005 Champions League final.
After two years at San Siro, Stam returned home to play a little over a season at Ajax, where he became a KNVB Cup champion for the second time.
Walking the sideline
The Oranje legend did not originally plan on going into management, but was steered in that direction after Zwolle asked him to come help out at training for a few days. "Eventually, you go for your badges and before you know it, six years down the road, you're coaching a team," Stam would tell reporters while in charge of the club's Under-21 team in 2012.
Stam also had a pair of stints in Frank de Boer's Ajax staff, a year as the No. 2 at Zwolle and a season in charge of the Ajax U-21's under his belt by the time he was handed his first top-flight managing assignment with English Championship side Reading in 2016.
He took over a squad that was expected to struggle in the bottom half of the table, but engineered a shock third place finish. The Royals then edged Tim Ream's Fulham in the promotion semifinals before dropping a heartbreaking final to Danny Williams and Huddersfield Town on spot kicks. Stam's second year at the Reading helm was far more difficult, and he was let go in March with the team hanging just over the drop zone.
Six months later, he took over at Zwolle near midseason of the the 2018-19 campaign. He guided the club on a 7-3-7 run that sealed their Eredivisie survival. Stam did not see out his contract there, though, as he was tabbed to succeed former Oranje teammate Giovanni van Bronckhorst at Feyenoord.
The Rotterdam crew started the 2019-20 campaign with a nine-game unbeaten run across all competitions that included qualification to the Europa League group stage. However, their next nine matches saw five losses, and Stam was axed after a 4-0 October humbling at arch rivals Ajax that dropped the club to mid-table.
It will come as no surprise to anyone Stam tends to favor a slightly defensive version of the famed Total Football 4-3-3 system that is synonymous with Dutch soccer. He generally wants his teams to control play through possession — even when Reading were in the throes of a slump that ultimately ended his Madejski Stadium tenure, they were hogging over 58% of the ball.
It's also quite predictable Stam credits Ferguson and former Netherlands manager Guus Hiddink for molding his coaching style. The latter taught him how to massage the individual personalities in a squad, while his old Manchester United boss inspired his method of crafting rosters and individual lineups.
"Hiddink gives the whole squad a good feeling and what they need to do to perform together," Stam once told the Guardian. "As a manager, you need to have your own vision and what you want to do with the team. You need to have certain players with certain qualities in your team, to create your own style of play and I think Fergie was very good at that."
In a trait likely instilled by his Dutch soccer upbringing, Stam certainly does not shy away from bringing young talent into the first team rotation. The list of players he has helped groom for success includes, but is not limited to LAFC netminder Kenneth Vermeer, Inter Milan ace Christian Eriksen, Werder Bremen midfielder Davy Klaasen, Feyenoord's Colombia attack prodigy Luis Sinisterra and the current Ajax leaders at the back, Daley Blind and Andre Onana.