It seems we are doing nicely now, developing defenders and defensive minded players…. Some while back, it seemed we were great at developing wingers, strikers and playmakers… We always complained about the defensive strength of Oranje. Since the 1970s (Israel, Laseroms, Suurbier, Krol, Rijsbergen, Mansveld, Drost, Hulshof) we were never able to develop world class defenders. Frank de Boer, Danny Blind, Reiziger, Wijnstekers…all former attackers. The only real defender with world class capabilities was Jaap Stam. Now, with all that focus from the past decade on “better defenders”, we seem to have a list of potential world class players, from Van Dijk and De Vrij to Strootman and De Roon. From Rick Karsdorp to Riedewald, from Tete to Kongolo and Nathan Ake.
A player who escaped the spying eyes of most big club scouts but who is regularly touted as the coming man for Oranje by analysts in Holland, is called Ridgeciano Haps. Which I will call Ridge Haps from now on :-).
He’s the 23 year old left back of AZ Alkmaar, playing under the guidance of experienced defenders like Ron Vlaar and Stijn Wuytens and part of the weekly core group of players discussing football and tactics with coach John van den Brom.
“I was born in Utrecht, like my sister. My parents are from Suriname, but they studied in Holland. My dad used to play football in Suriname but not at a high level. My mom was a very good basketball player. She did play high up, as a playmaker. Fierce and quick. I’m probably more like her, to be honest. She’s a very industrious type. Worked for Abn Amro for 40 years and always giving me advice.”
“I didn’t play at a club or anything. My parents didn’t want me to. But I played school football and after one game a guy walked up to my parents and asked where I played. He was gobsmacked I didn’t play for a club. So my parents decided to give me a go, with the Zwaluwen in Utrecht (Swallows). After three weeks, Feyenoord came! I did a six week period there, with Karim Rekik and Annas Achahbar. They were allowed to stay, I wasn’t. I didn’t care, I think I was too young to really care. I went back to the Zwaluwen, I liked it there.”
“A year later, Ajax and PSV wanted me. I was delighted! I picked Ajax, as it’s closer to Utrecht. Every day, my dad drove me to Amsterdam and my first season was great. But I think my second season disappointed as Ajax let me go. This time, I was shattered. I felt like a failure. I thought my future as a pro player was gone. My parents helped me a lot. They said “stick the course, keep believing…” They were convinced there were other avenues to the top. That helped.”
“With my Ajax background, Elinkwijk wanted me. That is one of the best amateur clubs in Utrecht, with good youth development. I went there and the funny thing was that I was playing in a competition with AZ and Ajax as opponents. AZ immediately asked me for a test period. They had this tournament and I went along and played that with AZ. I was voted as player of the tournament and made a move to Alkmaar. By then, my parents decided to relocate to Amsterdam to support my life as a player. I played left winger and I was really good at that age. But after a couple of years, they moved me back, first to midfield, then to left full back. I was pissed off! I didn’t wanna play defender! I was a winger. Everyone started to explain it to me and all that, but I would not listen. Were they crazy ? I would not play in defence. I was horrified. Insulted. I needed to force myself to go to practice and decided to leave.”
“When I left, I got several calls from pro clubs but I had had it with them. I wanted to regain the fun of playing football. AFC called and I decided to go there. A top amateur club, playing against pro club youth teams. Still a good level. But I said: I will come, only if I am allowed to play left winger! And they said: sure. So I did and had great fun there. And at the end of that season, we played a friendly, against… AZ. It ended 4-4. I scored three goals and had one assist. The next day, the AZ Academy director calls me up. “Do you want to come back?”. And I did… I missed the pressure of a pro club. I wanted to reach for the top. So I went back and 7 months later I was offered my first real contract. I made it. I was a pro player. I played for Young AZ as a left winger which means you train with the full senior squad.”
Gert Jan Verbeek
“After half a season, first team coach Verbeek wants a meeting. He said: “I like how you are developing, but I think there is a wonderful future for you as left back!”. Bam! No, not again… I had to process this. But Verbeek explained why he saw it like that. How left wing backs are the new wingers. How modern wingers play on their wrong foot and move inside. How I would have the ability to go for glory 10 times per 45 minutes. Running, crossing, dribbling… I took some time, and learned from games, focusing on Alba, Lahm, Zabaleta, that sort of players… Dani Alvez… And I saw that Verbeek was right. I realised that position allowed me to do what I want. I have a lot of energy that I need to get out of my system. You can do that on the back spot. I was 19 years old when I made my debut for AZ 1, versus PSV Eindhoven. I knew it then and there: I am a left back!”
“I’m a lucky guy. I have a good friendship with Max Huiberts (technical director of AZ) as he was my youth coach, years ago. And he was a creative left winger of course. He has a good relationship with my manager as well, I’m with Raiola’s cousin. And the plan is to make a move when the time is right. I’m ambitious. My contract runs till 2019 and I think by then I’d like to move to a Dutch top club, if they want me. And after that, when I prove myself there, maybe something in a bigger competition… But if the top 3 isn’t interested, well… I might make the move away earlier. Money is not my motivator. I want to reach as high as possible. But, the Championship in England these days is also interesting. I do think my game fits a bigger competition. And who knows where my ceiling is…”
“Am I the left back for the future in Oranje? Well, I don’t know but I sure hope so, hahaha. Oranje is one of my personal goals. I haven’t progressed past Oranje under 20. But, I think it’s realistic to think I’m close. Playing for AZ means you are on the radar, I’m sure. Schaars of Heerenveen, Vlaar who’s with me at AZ… I think I’m playing well this season, but as a team it’s not consistent enough. That doesn’t help of course. A step up will help me with my chances in Oranje as well of course. I think I’m close but not good enough yet. Btw, I’m happy Terence Kongolo is in the squad. He’s a good friend, we played together in the U20s and I think he’s doing really well. I told him, you’re doing so well. And he’s a lovely guy. He said: so are you hahaha. I really like it for him and wish him all the best. But, I’m ambitious and I will go for the left back spot in Oranje!”