Football began over 150 years ago. For myself, personally, it began in 1990. At the age of ten, I fell in love with the sport and of course Manchester United. Watching the FA Cup Final with my father and his mates, followed by Italia ’90. It really did capture my imagination, which got me thinking, what or rather who would be my dream Manchester United eleven? Over the coming weeks, I shall be selecting my one to eleven.
4. Jaap Stam – Centre Back
Yip Jaap Stam, the big dutch man, a song belted out around Old Trafford for nearly three seasons. A giant of a centre back, Stam was signed for a then Dutch record for a defender, of just over £10 million.
Arriving from PSV in the summer of 1998, Stam was brought in to replace the hole created by the absence of Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce, a mainstay of the early Premier League years. Bruce had gone a season earlier and in came Ronny Johnsen and Henning Berg. Pallister soon followed and the Dutchman was enlisted to fill the void. Ronny Johnsen and Stam would go on to forge a formidable partnership.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. On his debut, during the Charity Shield, Nicolas Anelka, then of Arsenal, absolutely tore Stam to shreds on the big Wembley pitch. United would go on to lose 3-0 against the team that had just won the double. Some United fans, myself included, feared that maybe Sir Alex had been gazumped into signing a bit of a donkey. We needn’t had worried. With each game, Stam grew more and more into his role. Strikers with pace had no match for Stam, for a man over 6 feet tall, he was lighting off the mark.
United had made an indifferent start to the season. No one would ever have said in the autumn of that season that United would go on to achieve legendary status at the end of the campaign. From early December ’98 till the end of the season, United would not lose another match, in any competition. Stam was a massive part of that. A Dutch defensive wall, sat in front of the worlds greatest goalkeeper, Stam was certainly no gentle giant. No opposition players would intimidate United, as Patrick Viera would find out.
Jaap Stam’s honours during his time with the Red Devils would include Three Premier Leagues, FA Cup, Intercontinental Cup and the Champions League. Stam made over 80 appearances but only managed a single goal.
Stam would be shipped off to Lazio, just one week into the new season of 2001. Reports in the media and comments in Stam’s autobiography ‘Head to Head’ had accused Ferguson of tapping the centre back up behind PSV’s back. Ferguson would claim that the deal to send Stam to Italy was based on football reasons alone.
Ferguson in 2007 said, “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 offer from Lazio, £16.5m for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But in playing terms it was a mistake. He is still playing for Ajax at a really good level”.
Stam cements his place in my starting eleven due to the fact that in just three seasons he won the treble, followed by two more league titles. Had Ferguson not been so hasty, I am pretty sure that Stam would of stayed at United for a very long time. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be.
Don’t worry Jaap, you made this Manchester United team.