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Date Posted: 5/16/2023 10:04:00 PM
In The Hague they are busy with ADO every day. In the US, shareholders have more on their minds. That pinches.
text: Fabian van der Poll
Players are guessing about their future, staffers don’t know if they’ll still have a job next season. Points of contact? There are none. “You can’t control a football club from a distance.”
Agent Joost Ebergen dares to say it best. “ADO Den Haag sometimes looks like a rudderless ship. If I have questions about my player, I wouldn’t even know who to turn to. Just tell me who to call.”
Ebergen is Luuk Koopmans’ intermediary. The goalkeeper is in his fourth season in The Hague. They were pretty good years, but things happened during that time that Ebergen questioned. Koopmans was able to make a transfer three times. Blackburn Rovers, SC Heerenveen and Go Ahead Eagles wanted him. The party was canceled three times. “Take that transfer to Go Ahead. A week after the transfer window we heard that the club had to cut salary and that he could leave on a free transfer. That is crucial for a player’s career.”
“The same with the arrival of Advocaat. He took his own keeper with him, after which Luuk ended up on the bench while he was just keeping well before that. Then you understand that a player sometimes becomes despondent.”
Koopmans is one of fifteen players from ADO whose contract expires. For many of them it is unclear what their future will look like. Should they look for another club or will there still be an offer from ADO? Usually technical managers can give options. But: ADO has no technical manager. Request information from the trainer? Pointless. Dick Advocaat is also leaving. A call to general manager Edwin Reijntjes? No use. That too goes away.
Trainer Dick Advocaat already said it last week after the lost away match at Jong Ajax. “As a player you want to know: will I get a contract, will I not get a contract? (…) Three, four weeks have passed in which we have not heard anything. I think that is a shame.”
For some people involved, it feels like déjà vu. Around this time last year, a number of players were in a similar situation with their contracts. Defender Jamal Amofa was told by fellow players that the club would really make him an offer when his contract expired. That didn’t happen. He heard nothing. In the service of Go Ahead Eagles, he will soon play his 29th match in the Eredivisie. “Management must be here every day,” says Dick Advocaat. “You can’t control a football club from a distance.”
The latter does happen. And even if that sometimes causes friction, according to general director Edwin Reijntjes, it is the reality. “Our owners don’t feel the priority that ADO has for us every day. They still have 35 clubs in their portfolio that they are working on. Football clubs, but also basketball and baseball teams. Sometimes we have to follow up.”
It’s his answer to the question of how it actually works, being run by investors behind spreadsheets more than three thousand miles away? And do the Americans care about the criticism in the Bingoal Stadium? What should ADO do now that the club will play another season in the Kitchen Champion Division?
Skepticism and haste
Although the sporting achievements and the unrest among players have led to skepticism among the supporters, Reijntjes still wants to say: “ADO is really important to our owners.” According to him, the investors behind Bolt Football Holdings mirror the performance of, for example, Crystal Palace and Augsburg, clubs that also own them. “They are fairly stable in the Premier League and Bundesliga. They also want to make ADO a healthy, structural Eredivisie club. That takes time, and unlike here in The Hague, they have that time. They have an investment horizon of ten years “We are in a hurry. They are not.”
Reijntjes experienced the entire process up close. Two years ago he was appointed on an interim basis to prepare the club for sale. “ADO was technically bankrupt.” Above all, costs had to be reduced. He trimmed the workforce and eventually became the only remaining member of the ADO board of directors – still, by the way. Subsequently, several parties showed interest in taking over the club from the then Chinese owners. International groups, but also local financiers.
Reijntjes is still blamed for the fact that those last parties didn’t make it. How could someone like Martin Jol be shown the door? Simple, says Reijntjes. The former ADO captain and his intended partners came up with unfeasible demands. Buy the stadium? For that they really had to be with the owner, said Reijntjes, referring to the municipality. They never materialized, he said. Other parties do. The Manchester City Group and Bolt Football Holdings, the football vehicle of American billionaire David Blitzer, who previously invested in the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils ice hockey team. The final choice: Bolt. According to Reijntjes, this party immediately guaranteed financial security so that the ailing club could recover at that time.
In principle, Reijntje’s job was done with that. Or so he thought. When Bolt asked him to stay on because of his file knowledge and relationship with stakeholders (municipality, police), he agreed to another year. He would commit to ADO until the summer of 2023. “ADO is also my club,” he says. Later, Reijntjes will emphasize that he does not consider himself indispensable in The Hague, as in his view also applies to the divorcing trainer Advocaat. “My expertise is different than structurally leading the club.”
If we fast forward time, it can be concluded that a difficult year followed. The goal was not achieved. Contrary to hopes, ADO did not graduate. They didn’t even make the playoffs. Reijntjes: “The idea was to set up a structure step by step, until suddenly opportunities arose with Dirk Kuijt, Chris van der Weerden and John Metgod. We decided to go for promotion. And invested heavily. That plan failed quite a bit.”
The Americans went along with the plan and pulled out the wallet. After the purchase of ADO, they guaranteed a budget deficit that now amounts to approximately eight million euros. “They won’t just earn that money back,” says Reijntjes. “That also shows their commitment. We will not be profitable next season either.” The investors have now stepped on the brakes, the director knows. “They say: ‘You had your chance last season. Now we go back to scenario one’.” In other words: patiently building up the club.
And who will implement the policy imposed by America? General manager, technical director, head coach: all top positions are currently vacant
To the extent that the supporters and club employees can follow the intentions of the shareholders – interviews do not give them – they agree on one thing: things are not going fast. And who will implement the policy imposed by America? General manager, technical director, head coach: all top positions are currently vacant. When will the club come up with names?
Unanswered phone calls
The consequences of the understaffing are noticeable. Especially for the players. Just as goalkeeper Luuk Koopmans is guessing about his future, the same applies to other players. They usually get to hear something at this stage of the season. Something like, “Be patient, we’ll probably extend.” Or: “You’re doing well, but we’re short on money, so maybe you should look further ahead.” Less than two months ago, they were instructed to focus mainly on the play-offs, after which they would talk. But now that mission has failed and the season is drawing to a close, players want clarity. Some have pains. Soon it will get worse and they will have to look for another club injured. Then who wants them?
They have no idea who to turn to with their questions. No one around the team has a say. They can go to Reijntjes and office staff with practical questions, for example about their car, but not with sporting issues. Reijntjes says it himself: “I’m not a football man.” The trainer can’t help them either.
At the beginning of this season, ADO still had a technical point of contact: former player Daryl Janmaat. He was appointed technical manager, and in his new role would work with Ignacio Beristain, the football advisor to the shareholders. On paper it made sense. Not in practice. Janmaat already left in November. He was swimming in his role. Afterwards, players and staff members were completely dependent on Beristain. Disadvantage: Beristain had to advise even more clubs. The Portuguese low-flyer Estoril, for example. Sometimes he was busy with ADO, often not.
“It was quite easy to talk to Ignacio,” said Joost Ebergen, agent of Luuk Koopmans. “But when I needed him, he didn’t pick up his phone again.”
According to Reijntjes, Beristain is now much less concerned with the sporting side of ADO. “That created a vacuum.” However, the shareholders have put forward another employee. Briton Scott McLachlan, Global Head of Football. He led Chelsea’s international scouts for eleven years for this job. He would also be working with ADO. Yet players have not seen him for ages.
Lawyer emphasizes that the uncertainty is gnawing at players and staff members. “You’re talking about people with families, aren’t you”
Trainer Lawyer has no contact with either of them. Neither with Beristain nor with McLachlan. “I spoke to them once and that was a long time ago. They all go their own way. I don’t know what kind of courses they are.” Lawyer emphasizes that the uncertainty is gnawing at players and staff members. “You’re talking about people with families, aren’t you.”
Interim director Reijntjes knows all too well that Advocaat’s remarks are not so much directed at him, but at the Americans. He sometimes experiences this ambiguity himself. That was also evident last week. Reijntjes was then under the assumption that he would be succeeded by the Dutch Briton Marcus Keane. This was also reported by the AD on Wednesday 10 May. The newspaper had to rectify the message not much later, because Bolt had opted for a different one in the meantime. Who it concerns is not communicated.
This also has to do with cultural differences. ADO’s supporters are used to information coming to them quickly. Is it not through interviews, or employees who talk past their mouths. The Americans don’t care about this. Why should they let themselves be looked into by curious football supporters from The Hague? When it’s round, they’ll hear it.
Reijntjes: “I have also worked with Americans for this. If they say that you will hear something at the end of the month, then that is also the end of the month. We are not used to that. We now want clarity. TV, they don’t like it, but they also think: He’s leaving anyway.”
Reijntjes himself also has to choose his words carefully when he communicates with the shareholders. Pushing through doesn’t work. “You have to be able to deal with those cultural differences. You have to navigate between your own culture and their management style.”
The director has been told that it will only be known after the season who the new leaders will be in the Bingoal Stadium. Not before. “I really put it down with the owners that the group of players is getting restless. Sometimes I can’t do more. We are not on the agenda in America every day.”