Gerard Nijkamp closed his office door and pointed toward his desk for us to sit. Framed PEC Zwolle jerseys and paintings of cows – a common sighting in the farmland outside Zwolle – hung from the walls.
Last July, I visited Nijkamp at PEC Zwolle two days before he left his role as technical director. Already the general manger at FC Cincinnati, he had spent days working for both clubs, which sat in different time zones on different continents. Zwolle in the morning, Cincinnati in the afternoon.
My trip to the eastern Dutch city was to see the club Nijkamp was leaving behind, hear what others thought of his legacy and to talk with him about the FCC head coaching vacancy.
At the time, Nijkamp had mentioned the possibility of hiring a coach for the short term: someone to finish 2019 and coach through 2020. If the role went well, maybe that coach would lead the Orange and Blue into West End Stadium in 2021.
While this was something new for FCC, Nijkamp had already made a hire like this just six months prior – and succeeded.
With Zwolle flirting with relegation from the Eredivisie, Jaap Stam was hired with one goal: prevent relegation. Having done that, Dutch giants Feyenoord paid PEC Zwolle a transfer fee to literally buy Stam as their next coach.
Whomever Nijkamp would appoint at FC Cincinnati wouldn’t have to worry about relegation, but the hiring circumstances were similar. If someone could come in to fix a short-term solution, could they be a long-term answer?
So, I asked Nijkamp if the Cincinnati hire would be similar to the role Stam just completed at Zwolle. I wanted background to eventually help explain the role the new FCC coach would have. (Ron Jans was hired the following month.)
Nijkamp and I had no idea he was discussing the Orange and Blue’s future head coach 10 months before Stam was appointed.
This is a look back at what FCC’s general manager said then, and what he said last Friday in Stam’s introductory press conference.
What Nijkamp said in 2019
Nijkamp, Stam, assistant coach Said Bakkati and PEC Zwolle chairman Adriaan Visser. Photo by @rtvoostsport.
“There are some (similarities) in the same appointment like we have to do now (in Cincinnati) in choosing for the short term a leader and a proven coach who did the job already several times,” he said last July. “Jaap was a person from the club as a player in the past, but also worldwide an international player starting his coaching career.”
Stam coaching PEC Zwolle to keep them in the first division made sense. His playing career began at the club (back when they were FC Zwolle) and he was even the team’s caretaker manager briefly in 2009.
The comments above about a “short-term” and “proven” leader weren’t about Stam, who had just moved to Feyenoord. But when FC Cincinnati began the last coaching search in February, these were undoubtably characteristics Nijkamp wanted in the next coach – and some of Stam’s attributes.
“He succeeded, everyone is happy and then came Feyenoord,” Nijkamp said about Zwolle losing their coach. “We wanted to extend the contract with one, two, three more years.”
Although the duo’s partnership at PEC Zwolle was cut brief, it was a success.
“Now, (FCC) have the same situation,” Nijkamp said. “We stay in MLS, but we want to win more games that we are doing now.”
No one could’ve predicted it, but the time Nijkamp initially wanted to tack on as a contract extension at Zwolle is the time Stam will now spend in Cincinnati.
What Nijkamp said in 2020
The Dutch duo reuniting in the Queen City doesn’t represent two friends getting back together.
During Stam’s introductory video press conference last Friday, Nijkamp said that while 17 million people live in the Netherlands, any Dutchman linked to the FCC vacancy – in the media’s eyes – is therefore a “friend of Gerard’s.”
“I was working very pleasant with him in PEC Zwolle when he kept our club at the time in the Eredivisie,” Nijkamp said during the virtual press conference. “It was really a great job he did with (new assistant coach Said Bakkati). But the most important thing is about quality.
“I presented him (to FCC club leaders) not to convince me that he was the right fit, but especially to convince the other people in our club. He did.”
FC Cincinnati hired Nijkamp as the team’s general manager a year ago because the club wanted someone who could improve the roster, solidify the club’s playing identity and establish a thriving youth academy.
Stam’s appointment as head coach is a continuation of Nijkamp’s work. While there’s an obvious need to improve results in the short term – whenever the 2020 MLS regular season resumes – there’s also the bigger picture of developing a young club and making it thrive.
This kind of opportunity doesn’t come along often – especially when some clubs in Europe date back into the nineteenth century. The attractiveness of building the FCC “project” is unsurprisingly discussed every time the club hires someone from Europe – player, coach, staff member, etc.
On Wednesday afternoon, the club posted a picture of Stam and Nijkamp together with a blue and orange FC Cincinnati scarf. It was their first photo together since their time at PEC Zwolle.
While they’re both still in the Netherlands awaiting an opportunity to come to the U.S., they’ll be here soon. There’s work to be done, and the duo have proven their success in achieving goals together.
Now, they just need to replicate that in Cincinnati.