Making the transition from one side of the white line to the other is one that not all players take to easily. Coaching does not always feel like a natural calling. This occurs at all levels of the game, be it among semi-professionals or UEFA Champions League winners.
Like every player, Jaap Stam eventually had to confront that telling question: what next? “A lot of players when they stop playing football, and I was one of them, think 'I don't want to go into coaching',” the former Netherlands central defender told FIFA.com.
However, the towering ex-Manchester United and Lazio man soon realised, after getting a taste of directing the training sessions that he was more suited to coaching than he first thought, with him now taking up his first managerial role with Jong Ajax - the Dutch giants' youth team.
“At the end, when you stop playing football, people ask you to help them out on the pitch,” said Stam. “When you get out there it gives you a good feeling and when you see the players doing well it gives you a sense of satisfaction too.”
After four months in his first leading role, Stam reflected: “Up until now I'm liking it. It's so nice to be working with young players, being able to pass on my experience and knowledge - which hopefully they learn from, of course. The only thing that is quite hard is that you don't win every game! That's the life of a coach.”
The 42-year-old may be judged on results as well as the first-team successes of his young charges, but is it fair to assess him on league position when call-ups to the senior squad continually affect his starting XI? “Of course you want to get as high as you can in the league!” Stam exclaimed. “But it's not always easy.
"Every week there's a different team with different players. Our main focus is individual development, but we want to win our games and get as high as we can in a good league, against good teams.”
And, perhaps paradoxically from a coach's perspective, the best thing Stam can do if one of the front-runners returns to his team is to get him back in the first team again. “It's hard for every player, even for a top player, to maintain your level for a whole season, so it is normal if they drop back a bit.
“So as long as they still have their self-belief, and the coaches show they trust them when they are on the pitch, allowing them to play with their own style, they'll get back up again and show the quality that they have done before.”
The class of 1998
Stam, who more than proved his quality as a player, is now part of a wave of new Dutch coaching talent, sprouting out from the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ side that produced some memorable moments on the way to fourth place. Frank de Boer – captain of that side and the team that reached UEFA EURO semi-finals four years later – is in charge of Ajax, with Dennis Bergkamp amongst his coaching staff. Philip Cocu, who led a team to the EURO 2004 semis, coaches PSV, while Patrick Kluivert played assistant to national coach Louis van Gaal for two years.
“At some point, all the names that you mentioned had this feeling [of satisfaction] when they were on the pitch, and eventually they started coaching. Then, like Frank de Boer, they've taken over big teams in Holland and then maybe Europe,” Stam explained.
It's so nice to be working with young players, being able to pass on my experience and knowledge - which hopefully they learn from.
“It's good that players from our team at that time have become coaches as they can teach a lot to the younger players. You never know how it will go, but there is a lot of experience and the players from that team all played for big clubs, so hopefully the future is going to be very bright [for Dutch football].”
When reflecting on his side's triumph at Brazil 2014, Germany boss Joachim Low humbly stated his belief that “youth coaches create world champions”, but Stam was quick to play down the role he could be playing in a maiden triumph the Oranje. “I wouldn't say youth coaches create world champions; players do it themselves.
“But I think, as a club, if you have good coaches who are working with very talented players and you give them the right tools to become a better player, then of course it can help them towards their future.”
The current crop
For the Netherlands’ latest assault on the global finals, Stam and his colleagues would have been able to take very little credit had they gone one better than their runners-up finish in 2010. Ajax's imprint was, after all, their lowest-ever for a World Cup squad, with just four players having passed through the club's doors at any stage.
This is not a cause for concern in Stam's eyes though. “Ultimately it is down to the choice of the national team coach and who he wants to have there. As Ajax, we want to have as many players as we can from our academy playing for the national team, but it's the choice of the coach. Of course it is nice to have our players in there, but it's not our main focus.”
There is plenty of burgeoning talent within his ranks now though, with the likes of Ricardo Kishna, Jairo Riedewald and Kenny Tete all bridging the gap between his side and De Boer's seniors. Another to have impressed is Anwar El Ghazi, who has just made the step up after impressing under Stam in pre-season, with his recent goal in the Champions League against Barcelona earning plenty of exposure.
“Of course he's got the talent and skills to become a good player, but it's at an early stage. He's already done very well for himself now, but he needs to concentrate on his work and keep the level up. When a player steps up to the first team, not always but sometimes, we see them drop back a bit. But hopefully he won't.”