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  Euro Stars    Jaap Stam


Stam the man at the heart of Dutch defence
Jaap Stam
There is a lot of responsibility resting on the broad back of Jaap Stam, the only naturally-born defender in the Dutch squad.

With his long-time defensive partner Frank de Boer now in the twilight of his career and struggling with his form, much of the Netherlands's defensive prowess will come down to how the 31-year-old Stam performs at the European Championship next month.

If he plays to his best -- which at times is nothing less than a master class in how to defend, the Dutch will benefit enormously. But if he is anything less than at his peak, they could struggle.

Still, that kind of pressure is nothing new for the distinctive, bald-headed Stam whose career has had its ups and downs, but who has never given less full commitment.

He started his professional career at Dutch second division side Zwolle before moving a year later to Cambuur Leeuwarden, newly promoted to the first division.

Two years there and he was progressing again to Willem II Tilburg for around 600,000 euros. Six months later and PSV Eindhoven were convinced he was the man they needed for their backline.

In January 1996 he made his international debut against Germany.

Although he was initially left out of the squad for the Euro 96 finals in England, coach Guus Hiddink added him to his roster after Frank de Boer was sidelined with an injury.

For Stam, then 23, it was largely a learning experience as he stayed on the bench as the Dutch were eliminated in the quarter-finals by France.

At PSV Stam worked for the first time in his career with the present Dutch national coach Dick Advocaat.

In a team with Ronaldo, Luc Nillis, Philip Cocu, Boudewijn Zenden, Wim Jonk and Arthur Numan, Stam celebrated his first trophy as they won the Dutch cup in 1996, while the title was conquered a year later.

By this time, Europe was beginning to take notice and in the spring of 1998 Manchester United showed serious interest in him, eventually signing him for almost 11 million pounds.

A good World Cup in 1998 preceded a difficult start at United where he took time to settle into the pace of the English game, but all that was forgotten on a memorable night in Barcelona in May 1999 as United completed a treble of European Cup, English League and FA Cup with their 2-1 win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League final.

His United career closed after three successful seasons when United boss Ferguson took exception to various chapters in a ghosted biography and sold him to Lazio. Life was not always easy in Italy either with Stam serving a ban for a doping offence he has consistently denied.

Last week, Italian champions AC Milan signed Stam from Lazio on a two-year deal worth 10.5 million euros.
- Theo Ruizenaar




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