Peter Bosz left Ajax for Borussia Dortmund and Ajax signed youth coach Marcel Keizer for the top job. Who the F is Marcel Keizer?
Wilco van Schaik saw it all happen. The general manager of FC Utrecht (next season at NEC Nijmegen) was responsible for technical affairs at amateur club VV Nijenrodes when they had to appoint a coach back in 2002.
“Marcel sent a letter and was one of the three remaining candidates. He made a good impression from the start. Driven, knew what he wanted and a clear vision of how to play and train. He was confident and didn’t fear taking on a group of experienced ex pro footballers. He was convinced he was our man. And in the three seasons he was here, he delivered.”
Van Schaik explains Keizer’s strength. “He made the group into a team. Young and old. He was very people oriented but tough if he had to. He was patient, he was creative using the limited resources we had and he took the time to make players better. And he could inspire them to work harder.”
Keizer left after three years to coach UVS Leiden, another top amateur club. “We still think highly of him at the club. He’s accessible, open and has that Amsterdam bravado. He is an independent thinker too but always open for other opinions. The key thing with him: he’s always close to the group, to the players. Players adore him, for his know-how and commitment but also because he’s a really empathic human being.”
Despite all this, Van Schaik also sees challenges: “He will have to battle the perception out there. He’s seen as a nobody. And he still needs to convince at that level and deal with the senior top players. Every coach can have a bad spell. Look at Cocu this season, Gio van Bronckhorst last season. And Ajax didn’t win anything this last season so the pressure will be on. But success is makeable and I think Marcel will have to work hard. But he’s good at that.”
His first job in pro football was with Telstar. “We followed him since his promotion to the top amateur league with Argon. When we met, he had this laptop to show his vision and ideas. He was very driven and quite confident. He’s a real crafstman and breathes football. And he has humor too. Marcel is constantly looking to improve, the team but also himself. And it showed at Young Ajax. He really made a difference there.”
Ajax 1988 under Kurt Linder. Marcek Keizer is at the back, second from the right (next to Frank de Boer). Other big names: Jan Wouters, John van ‘t Schip, Bryan Roy, Rob Witschge and Danny Blind.
Telstar goalie Varkevisser: “He was clear in what he wanted and direct and tough. He didn’t care whether you were a junior or an experienced veteran. If you slacked, he’d be in your face. Everyone knew the drill. I think Marcel will have it easier at Ajax to be honest. At our level, he lacked options to work with the team or change things. At Ajax, he’ll have more resources.”
Keizer had a step aside from coaching in 2014, when he became technical director at Cambuur, the club where he played most of his pro football. But that stint only took 12 months. “He missed the grass. He needed to work with a team every day.”
FC Emmen was his next station. Still Jupiler League level. Chairman Ronald Lubbers: “We wanted a coach who thought in ball possession and positioning. He would drill the team day in day out, passing, kicking, moving. But he was also a pragmatist. FC Emmen is not Barcelona. I think he did very well here but when Cambuur – his club – was in trouble he simply couldn’t resist.”
Keizer in the Cambuur jersey
His first and only adventure in the Eredivisie. He took over from the assistants who had taken over from Henk de Jong, who was fired due to bad results. Cambuur manager Van der Vegt: “It was a simple solution. We knew him, he knew us, the players… He would be the only man capable of taking the team for the last games and squeeze everything out of them.”
But it wasn’t to be. Keizer signed for 2,5 seasons but got relegated with Cambuur. In 11 games, Cambuur only won 5 points and Keizer and Cambuur parted ways. Player Martijn Barto: “I look back at this period with a positive feeling. It was simply too little too late. The squad was mentally broken already. We needed more time with him, but we simply didn’t have the time.”
Ajax, his first club and big love (legend Piet Keizer is his uncle) called and Keizer went. Edwin van der Sar: “He had everything we were looking for. Right age, good experience at different levels and Ajax DNA. We want the coach of Young Ajax to be instrumental in prepping the lads for the big game. We think Marcel is the man for the job.”
Keizer played a handful games in Ajax 1
And he delivered. Young Ajax was a swinging football machine. His predecessor Jaap Stam thought and coached as a defender. Result driven. Keizer wanted his team to play the forward press, with aggression and dynamic interplay. This led to a number of gala productions, last season and many goals. The only downside for the team that finished second (!) in the Jupiler league: too many players would go in front of the ball resulting in 54 goals conceded in 38 matches…
One of the key issues a coach of Young Ajax (or Feyenoord, PSV, etc) has: it’s like a pigeon nest. Players would have to leave to go with the first team. Or injured first team players needed to play to get match fitness. But A junior players were also supposed to be given minutes in the team so consistency is a challenge. Keizer never complained about this and when Bosz needed 33 year old Westermann to play in Young Ajax, Keizer would comply. Ajax’ management liked that aspect in him.
Keizer coaching Young Ajax
Of course, with Keizer Ajax does not have a lone wolf like Peter Bosz, who’d go his own way with assistant Hendrie Kruzen. Marcel will play the game within Ajax and pay respect to the different power centres within the club.
Keizer is also supposed to guide young talents like Kluivert, Nouri, Van de Beek, Eiting, De Jong, Cerny and De Ligt into the Ajax 1 team. Players he worked extensively with.
He has his work cut out for him and the following to-do items will be on his list:
– Keep Klaas Jan Huntelaar happy
When the Hunter was signed to return to Ajax, Marc Overmars was quite clear: “Dolberg is our first striker and Huntelaar his replacement.” But Huntelaar said: “My role is clear, but I didn’t come to retire!” This quote can be explained in different ways. Huntelaar will know Dolberg built up a lot of credit. We do know however, from his time at Oranje, that Huntelaar is not a very happy bench-warmer. A good job for Marcel Keizer: keeping Huntelaar happy!
Winston Bogarde and Michael Reiziger will take on Young Ajax now
– Pick a new captain
Davy Klaassen was the undisputed captain of the team. But, he’s off to Everton and Keizer will need to select a new skipper. Lasse Schone? Or will he lose his spot this season? Joel Veltman? He might be on his way out, to Crystal Palace. Nick Viergever? Well, his position is not a certainty either. So maybe Hakim Ziyech will be crowned Ajax’ new leader after playing there only for one season.
– Bring the youngsters in
The Ajax fans are drooling about the sheer possibility of seeing Nouri, Van de Beek and De Jong in the first team. Yes, they impressed in the Jupiler league but this is a big step up. It’s up to Keizer to guide the process properly.
– Be yourself, but set the tone
The first weeks are key for Keizer, as with any job. The stories about his (lack of) status are known by now (see above) but within Ajax, people are convinced. He will have to make an impression from day 1, working for the most successful club of the country. And be clear: to players, media, staff, management and the different “forces” within the club (ex-players, sponsors, amateur section, youth system).
– Keep the Bosz game going but win something
This might be a tough one. Bosz left due to clashes with Bergkamp and Carlo L’Ami but he did play adventurous and got far in Europe. But…didn’t win silverware. Keizer will be expected to improve on Bosz’ game and to win something. A tough task…