Edwin van der Sar has signed a new contract as CEO of Ajax Amsterdam, effectively ruling him out of further consideration for the Manchester United Director of Football role he has been heavily linked with over the past few months.
Reports have swirled for some time now that Manchester United is hoping to find someone to create the new role for, taking recruitment and roster duties off the shoulders of chief executive Ed Woodward, and van der Sar seemed an ideal candidate given his history with the club and rise to prominence at Ajax.
However, van der Sar signed a new four-year deal at the Dutch club on Friday, he announced on social media, tying him to Ajax through 2023.
Van der Sar had previously expressed interest in the role, saying “of course, I’d be interested in a position” at the club he won three Premier League titles with, but also later clarified that he would only accept a chief executive role, not a specific Director of Football role to which he was linked.
“I am a chief executive – and that is a very different role to director of football,” van der Sar said. He has little experience on the player recruitment side of things at Ajax, instead mostly focused on the business aspect of the club. The same logic has Manchester United fans frustrated with Woodward, who is a more business-focused individual thrust into the role of player recruitment at Old Trafford, a job which he has struggled with over the past half-decade as the Red Devils look to return to the prominence they sustained under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Edwin van der Sar spent six hugely successful seasons at Manchester United (four Premier League titles, one Champions League title and one League Cup) during his illustrious playing career, and the big Dutch goalkeeper-turned-club-executive says in no uncertain terms that he’s open to returning to Old Trafford as the director of football.
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“Of course I’d be interested in a position,” Van der Sar said this weekend when asked about rumors of the 48-year-old potentially becoming the chief decision maker at Man United.
Van der Sar, who’s currently the CEO of his first professional club, Ajax, comes across as a true football romantic in speaking about the two clubs with which he’s most commonly associated. While it sounds like Ajax is something of a dream job for him, a job the size of Man United sounds like the real end goal — quotes from Sports Illustrated:
“Besides my family, my wife and kids and everything I have two loves in my life. That’s Ajax, who gave me the opportunity to develop, they scouted me, they gave me the chance to shine in the world of football.
“And the last club of my career (Manchester United) also gave me a lot of attention, recognition and everything, developed at a later stage. And of course, I’d be interested in a position.”
“I need to learn a little more here [at Ajax], develop myself further and eventually let’s see what the future brings. United is a fantastic club, there’s a great following all over the world. Everybody wants to play for them and eventually, work for them.”
United have reportedly been on the hunt for a director of football since the summer of 2018, when chief executive Ed Woodward was said to have conceded some of his power as the club continued to struggle in the years since Sir Alex Ferguson‘s departure. With a squad in desperate need of a top-down rebuild, would United appeal to Van der Sar’s interests in the short-term, or would he rather wait for someone else to clean up the current mess and take over decision-making duties once the club is on more stable footing?
According to a number of tabloid reports across England, first broken by The Mirror, Manchester United is highly interested in bringing Edwin van der Sar back to Old Trafford as Director of Football.
The former Manchester United goalkeeper has led Ajax in a similar role since 2016, and has gained enormous respect in the business for his successful construction of last year’s Ajax squad that reached the Champions League semifinal with a wealth of young talent. Ajax won the Eredivisie title and took the Champions League by storm, and also netted an enormous windfall with the sale of valuable talent like Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong.
That has turned the head of Ed Woodward who has reportedly been searching high and far for a Director of Football to take on responsibilities of building a squad, hoping to find someone with a stronger connection to the game to be charged with identifying transfer targets and acquiring talent. While Marc Overmars holds the Director of Football role at Ajax, van der Sar holds the role of CEO and has led the setup successfully in Amsterdam.
The Mirror report states that there are roadblocks to a deal with van der Sar, including convincing him to turn his back on Ajax at a critical juncture, as well as convincing his wife to move abroad amid health issues over the past decade.
Woodward is clearly targeting someone who has history with the club, including reports of conversations with former players Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, and Darren Fletcher, neither of whom has any experience as an executive. United is one of just three Premier League clubs without a Director of Football.
Finally, someone has a good time with past comments on social media, as the medium was intended.
Ajax signed 19-year-old goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen on a four-year deal from fellow Eredivisie club FC Emmen, and had a little fun with it. With rumors of Scherpen’s signing for the past few months, Ajax fans dug up old tweets from 2011 when the teen was just 11 years old and rooting for Feyenoord, one of Ajax’s biggest rivals.
While a number of Ajax fans COULDN’T BELIEVE that their potential new goalkeeper would have DARED to root for a team when he was in sixth grade, the club itself decided to instead poke fun at the situation while officially announcing the signing. In the video, Scherpen is seen being made to write “Ajax is de mooiste club van Nederland” over and over again, which translates to “Ajax is the finest club in the Netherlands.”
Ajax is a club that has recently built itself on developing and then selling young talent, and they weren’t going to be stopped from adding a bright young star just because he rooted for a rival club as a boy. Any professional athlete will tell you all that goes out the window when you’re employed by a team, and your career always comes first.
“Kjell is a very big talent and it is great that he has opted for Ajax,” said technical director Marc Overmars in the official team release. “We are very satisfied with [current first-team starting goalkeeper] Andre Onana’s recent contract extension, but we are of course also looking to the future. Kjell will be 1 of the 4 keepers in the A-selection and will therefore be on the training field with the first team on a daily basis. He is also young enough to be able to keep matches in the Kitchen Champion Division at Young Ajax.”
If anybody knows young goalkeeping talent, it’s Edwin van der Sar, former Manchester United legend between the sticks and current Ajax CEO. In the video, van der Sar and Overmars can be seen presiding over Scherpen’s “homework,” telling him sternly to pen his chosen phrase 100 times.
If there’s ever a way for a club’s PR team to drop a mic, this is most certainly it. Now the fans who campaigned to keep Scherpen out of the club should have no more gripe.
After cleaning house last week, Dutch giants Ajax has chosen FC Utrecht boss Erik ten Hag as its next manager, replacing Marcel Keizer who lasted just half a league season.
Just days before Christmas, Ajax completely wiped the slate clean on the pitch, removing Keizer and his entire staff, including assistants Hennie Spijkerman and Dennis Bergkamp. The decision was made by general manager and former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar, and technical director and former Arsenal winger Marc Overmars.
Ajax sits second in the Eredivisie table, five points behind PSV Eindhoven and with just one loss since September. However, outside the domestic league, they were eliminated from Champions League play in the preliminary stages by French side Nice, and then subsequently dumped out of Europa League play by Norweigan side Rosenborg all by mid-August. The last straw appeared to be a loss in the KNVB-Bekker (Dutch cup competition) to FC Twente on penalties last week the day before Keizer and his staff was dismissed.
Van der Sar said at the time of the change that he “did not have the confidence that we will reach the levels we seek in the manner in which we have been proceeding” and admitted “there is also a difference of opinion about the technical policy to be implemented.”
The 47-year-old Ten Hag was handed his first managerial job by Overmars back in 2012 when he was appointed boss of the Go Ahead Eagles, leading them to Eredivisie promotion via the Erste Divisie playoffs. He was then hired as manager of Bayern Munich II before leading FC Utrecht in 2015. Last season, the club finished fourth in the Eredivisie, and currently sit 6th midway through this season. They marched through a pair of Europa League qualifying rounds before falling to a strong Zenit St. Petersburg side before reaching the group stage.
The club announced Ten Hag has signed a two-year deal and begins his tenure on Monday. He will debut on January 21st against Feyenoord, and then will return to FC Utrecht a week later. Ajax does not meet PSV Eindhoven again until April.