It can be no easy task to follow in the footsteps of a goalkeeper in Edwin van der Sar’s class. The Manchester United custodian picked up 130 caps in his international career and made 226 appearances for Ajax, but despite the pitfalls involved in picking up the baton, current Ajax No1 Stekelenburg intends to show that the Dutch tradition of uncovering fine goalkeeping talent remains strong.
Originally from Haarlem, Stekelenburg made his first career switch at the age of 15, leaving Schoten to join the Ajax academy. His reputation then begin to rise when he helped the Amsterdam club’s reserve team reach the semi-finals of the Dutch Cup in 2001/02.
An imposing presence at 1m94 tall, his first-team debut came on 24 February 2002, when the then 19-year-old featured in a 1-0 win over Breda. Over the next few seasons he made sporadic appearances without ever convincing the coaching staff that he deserved a regular starting berth, but that all changed in 2005/06, even if a series of injuries have interrupted his progress since.
Stekelenburg’s career has so far brought him a pair of Dutch Cup titles and he hopes to soon be adding a FIFA World Cup™ winner’s medal to his list of honours, having earned the trust of Oranje coach Bert van Marwijk since Van der Sar’s international retirement. “We’ve already overcome an important hurdle by qualifying for the finals,” he said recently. “Now, we have to continue our progress. We want to do great things during this World Cup and leave South Africa with the Trophy.”