Treble Icons: Jaap Stam
Jaap Stam was the final piece of the jigsaw when Alex Ferguson was assembling his squad for the 1998/99 season, adding his world-class defensive ability to a group that went on to make football history by winning a unique Treble of trophies.
The summer signing from PSV Eindhoven will answer the call of his old manager once again next month, by returning to Old Trafford for the Treble Reunion match against Bayern Munich on 26 May. Tickets for the epic showdown are still available to buy, with all proceeds going to the Manchester United Foundation.
LET'S HEAR FROM THE MAN HIMSELF
“For that team, I think everything fell right at the same time. We had a great manager, the right manager, and we had the players as well,” Jaap told us earlier this season.
“Everybody was always kept on their toes by the standards around them. Standards were always the highest possible and everybody was determining to give everything they could. Everybody knew their job, and what to do in certain situations. By the end of the season, we wanted to win all three trophies!”
THE STORY OF STAM IN 1998/99
Twenty years ago, £10.5 million was a hefty fee to fork out on a centre-back, but spending that figure on the colossal Dutchman was a shrewd bit of business. Our record transfer signing was announced during the 1998 World Cup, a tournament in which he played a pivotal role as the Netherlands made it to the semi-finals.
While he impressed on his debut, in the 2-0 win against LKS Lodz, Stam’s early performances suggested he was struggling to adapt to the English game. “In the beginning, it was quite hard," he once reflected. "You need to have your time to get adjusted to everything in the UK.
“I’d gone from one country to another, quite young, starting a family, I needed to get used to the English mentality, the country, speaking English all the time rather than just occasionally."
Jaap quickly overcame his early difficulties and developed into one of our most reliable performers. This was never more evident than in the Champions League, a competition in which he was the only outfield player to play every single minute of the successful European campaign.
In the midst of the silky, free-flowing football, Stam was so often a warrior at the back. He was a man mountain and, during our game-laden run-in, Stam embraced the need to fight for every result. In total, he played 51 games, including 30 in the league and seven of our eight FA Cup matches.
The defender did net his only goal in a Red shirt in the 1998/99 season, during a 6-2 rout against Leicester City in January. But it was at the other end of the pitch where he truly stood out and his performances in the Champions League were among his very best for United. He was even voted the best defender in Europe’s premier competition that season.
Against Inter Milan, the Dutchman kept Ivan Zamorano quiet in both legs and famously stood when firm when the striker tried to back into him. He also silenced the great Ronaldo at the San Siro, when the Brazilian was clearly in his prime.
Later, in the semi-final, Stam produced an outstanding goal-line clearance to deny Filippo Inzaghi's looping shot when Juventus were 2-1 up. Without that, our iconic comeback might not have happened.
EXPERT INSIGHT AND OPINION
“There was the pressure of a new club, a new country, new team-mates - and the fee. But Jaap coasted through it all. He was brilliant.”
“He was very quiet off the pitch, very quiet in the dressing room - but once he got on the pitch you knew he meant business. He wasn't somebody you wanted to cross, he was a real animal on the pitch.”
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THE NOU CAMP?
Jaap spent another two years at Old Trafford and claimed a Premier League winners’ medal in all of his three seasons at the club.
In 2001, Stam joined Lazio, where he won the Coppa Italia in 2004. The same year he moved to AC Milan and after two seasons returned to his native Netherlands, with Ajax. Later, after 16 years as a professional Jaap retired in 2008.
He soon turned to coaching and enjoyed spells at PEC Zwolle and Ajax, before taking his first managerial role with Reading in 2016. During his time with the Royals, Stam even visited Old Trafford as an away manager in an FA Cup third-round tie. The 46-year-old is now managing PEC Zwolle. However, it was announced recently that he will take up the reigns at former European champions Feyenoord this summer, ahead of the 2019/2020 season.
In the meantime, he is readying himself for our upcoming Treble Reunion match on 26 May. Tickets are still available to buy.