Could Stam have joined United sooner?
Jaap Stam will go down in history as one of Manchester United’s greatest-ever defenders.
In three full seasons with the Reds, the Dutchman never failed to win the league title and he was also a key member of the side that completed an unprecedented Treble in 1999.
Stam’s high-profile exit from Old Trafford in August 2001 has been much-discussed over the years, but fewer people know that Jaap could have joined us from PSV Eindhoven a season earlier than he actually did.
Jaap was a highly regarded 25-year-old centre-back with the Dutch champions in the summer of 1997 when Sir Alex Ferguson and the club initially came calling and he recalls the chase for his signature in the latest episode of the UTD Podcast, which is available to listen to exclusively on the United App now.
“I found out the year before that they were interested and everyone read it [in the papers] probably,” said Jaap in part one of his podcast, out today. The second instalment will be available next Monday.
“Sir Alex phoned my agent a couple of times and I spoke to him as well. They were showing interest in me to join. That season, the season before I joined, I said ‘I’m not ready yet. I want to stay. I’m in the national team and the World Cup’s coming.’
“So I wanted to stay in Holland first and hope that next season there would be another opportunity and hopefully I would be ready for it.
“I also signed a new deal in the last year because the club knew there was interest in the UK, from Italy and from Spain so I needed to renew my contract so they could ask for more money from the transfer.”
After starring for PSV in the Champions League, Stam had attracted the likes of Internazionale, Real Madrid and Newcastle United, who were all competing with the Reds to sign the centre-back, who had made his Netherlands debut just before Euro '96.
Sir Alex would keep up regular dialogue with Jaap, even phoning him on the day of a game, but the defender was adamant that he still needed time to hone his craft.
“Six months after, because I started to develop and started doing well, United came again. They called and I needed to talk to Sir Alex on the phone, which was quite hard [when I was tired] after the game with his Scottish accent.
“He called quite often on Sunday evenings after we had played. I used to make my wife Alice answer!
“The first season [they tried to sign me] I said I wasn’t ready for it yet, so they had time to follow me and to see every game.”
Stam acknowledges it was risky to initially turn down a move, not knowing if he’d ever get another opportunity to play for United.
Future international team-mate Ruud van Nistelrooy, for example, almost missed his chance to move from PSV to Manchester, although that was due to an unfortunate knee injury.
By 1998, Stam was a shoo-in for the Netherlands' World Cup squad, having been named his country’s Footballer of the Year.
The time was now ripe for a move with veteran centre-back Gary Pallister leaving United for Middlesbrough and the rest, as they say, is history.
“I’ve done everything [made every decision] on my feelings,” added the now 49-year-old. “At that time I didn’t feel ready to make that step.
“United was and is one of the biggest clubs in the world and you’re joining a big team with great players. It was important to do well over in Holland and show myself I was ready to take that step.
“You need to know yourself as a person as well and know what you can do to make that next step. There’s always the possibility you get injured [in the meantime], but you don’t think about that, or at least I didn’t. Six months after, I said to PSV, ‘I’m ready and I want to leave.’”
Another season of Jaap? We’d have loved to have seen that and, with United missing out on the title to Arsenal by just one point in 1997/98, it could well have been four out of four for Stam.