Thanks to a 2-1 success on the lawn of Den Bosch on Friday evening, the Volendam club are back in the Dutch elite. After their relegation from the Eredivisie in 2009, the club experienced several disappointments before being lulled into a new project three years ago, under the aegis of the disciples of Johan Cruyff, all of whom had proven themselves within the center of Ajax training.
While strolling along the Volendam seawall, you will have the opportunity to eat one of the best fish and chips of your life, unless you are tempted by a smoked eel sandwich. Renowned for its fishing, which concentrates a good part of its economic activity, the port of Volendam sees thousands of tourists strolling each year in search of authenticity. This long, beautiful cobbled path takes you from traditional shops (where you can buy the famous clogs and local costumes) to tasting places, cafes, restaurants, fishmongers and cheese shops. A peaceful and pleasant place that hides a passion for football.
This Friday evening, there were dozens of them on the dike in front of the “Bar de Molen” to celebrate the return to the elite of their club, FC Volendam. After a successful 2021/2022 season, the local club formalized its rise after the victory in ‘s-Hertogenbosch. She arrived a little later than imagined, the fault of a series of six games without a win between the beginning of March and the beginning of April, melting her comfortable lead in the standings and causing her to lose her first place in favor of FC Emmen. Whatever the wait, there was intoxication.
They were also hundreds massed in the parking lot of Kras Stadion, shortly after midnight, to wait for the players back in town. In a cloud of smoke, the new heroes were warmly welcomed by supporters with renewed pride, thanks to the project launched in 2019.
At its head, Jasper van Leeuwen for the sports management, Ruben Jongkind, first as an adviser then as director of the Academy, and Wim Jonk, coach of the team. These three men have a CV as long as your arm and have become masters in the development of young footballers, thanks in particular to their experience at Ajax, around another master, Johan Cruyff.
The fundamentals of Johan Cruyff applied
Heavily marked by Johan Cruyff, the three men took part in a crucial moment for Ajax in the early 2010s. , taking him to the courts in order to make them waver and be able to impose his methodology, condensed in the famous “Cruyff Plan”. This project was responsible for putting the Academy back on the right track. The De Ligt, Van de Beek, Mazraoui generation was the first to benefit from the changes within “De Toekomst”, the Amsterdam training centre. These are the same men who went to find Jürrien Timber and Noah Lang at rival Feyenoord, convincing them that their future would be brighter in Amsterdam, through very specific individual development plans.
After deep disagreement, Jonk (then Academy director), Jongkind and Van Leeuwen left Ajax in 2015 to form their own organization. They took advantage of a few years to preach the good word to clubs and federations, in order to present their development principles inherited from Johan Cruyff. And then the unexpected happened. A foot call impossible to refuse. Volendam. Birthplace of Wim Jonk. Volendam, place of the first football seasons of this same Jonk, before he went to show his talent at Ajax, Inter, PSV and Sheffield. Intense reflection, a hint of feeling, a real opportunity and here are the three men on board in this charming fishing town of 22,000 inhabitants, often presented as a village and not as a city.
The project is initially over three years: laying solid foundations, revolutionizing the way of thinking, developing training, forging a strong partnership with the main amateur club in the city, turning recruitment upside down and setting up the retail culture if dear to Cruyff. A gigantic job. The methodology was always ready, all that remained was to install it. The culture of results in youth teams was quickly dismantled. According to these disciples of Cruyff, the result paralyzes players and trainers. The first forget the pleasure of playing and are imbued with a final obligation more than the path to achieve it and the second want to win to keep their place. By putting the game, the means before the end and risk-taking at the heart of youth teams, Volendam has chosen to focus on individual development – the essential link of the Cruyff Plan – more than on the dynamics of results. With some success, even if “the expected results will be seen in five to ten years”, recalls Ruben Jongkind.
Wim Jonk, for his part, injected his idea of play into his team: technique in all lines, individual and collective intelligence, ground play, an ability to press and recover the ball quickly, players on the move and a desire to win the balance of power through the qualities of his group. Clearly, a proactive team much more than reactive. Knowledge of your environment is also a plus. To convince people to go to the stadium, Wim Jonk, who knows these lands well, nevertheless reminds us that you need a certain quality of football. The aesthetics deployed on the ground therefore plays a role in attracting those who are not accustomed to wearing their pants in the stands of the Kras Stadion.
Arriving at the end of the 2018-2019 season for the last matches, the Batavian coach was able to see rapid progress from the following season, stopped due to Covid and “finished” in third place, normally synonymous with a dam for the climb. The club had just beaten Jong Ajax, the reserve of the Amsterdam club, 4-0. Quite a symbol for these former employees of the Amsterdam club and for a certain Belgian midfielder, Franco Antonucci, author of a double that evening and passed by “De Toekomst”.
The following season is more complicated, the club loses several major elements at the start or in the middle of the season (Fadiga, Smal, Doodeman, Vlak) and finishes sixth. He was knocked out in the first round of the climb against Breda and seemed to lack the experience to aim for a return to the top flight. So, in the summer of 2021, while continuing to focus on the development of young people (Dean James, Josh Flint, Denso Kasius, Ibrahim El Kadiri, Derry Murkin), the club decided to bring in three experienced players: Damon Mirani , central defender, Daryl van Mieghem (right winger) and Robert Mühren (center forward). They must supervise the bottle class of the club. The first, formed in Volendam in the mid-2010s, is a supporter of the club before having been a player. He is named captain. The other two become major starters and carry the club’s attack.
Inter let themselves be seduced
The work of Jonk, Jongkind and Van Leeuwen at Ajax did not go unnoticed and was brought up to date on the occasion of the superb 2018/2019 season of the Amsterdam club, with the beautiful European epic, completed in Champions League semi-final against Tottenham. Several major players came from Johan Cruyff’s velvet revolution in the early 2010s. Their ability to train young players, develop them and allow them to change their status is well noted by all connoisseurs.
Passed by Inter as a player, Wim Jonk left a beautiful image in Milan. A great specialist in heavy shots at the entrance to the area, he notably won the UEFA Cup 94, scoring in the final return against Salzburg, after having already scored a goal in the semi-final against Cagliari and a double in quarter against Dortmund. The interior club welcomed a few months ago Wim Jonk and Jasper van Leeuwen to the Pinetina, the training center. From this meeting was born an unofficial partnership, more verbal than written. In the 2020/2021 season, the Nerazzuri sent their young Primavera striker Samuele Mulattieri on loan to Volendam. He finished as the club’s top scorer with 18 goals in 30 matches.
This season, Inter have sent two new players on loan: goalkeeper Filip Stankovic (son of Dejan), who has become indisputable in goal and midfielder Gaetano Cristiano, the fourth most used player in the squad with 33 matches played over 36 contested days. Both young players progressed at a faster level than if they had stayed with the Primavera. In Dutch D2, the fact of facing professional teams, and no longer U19s, increases the level of adversity. Furthermore, at Volendam, the youth development plan is sufficiently credible and anchored in the sporting strategy that a youngster knows he will have playing time, which is always uncertain in Serie B – another possibility for youngsters from great Italian clubs – where the experience can quickly come under the Stations of the Cross.
A football city
Located about twenty kilometers from Amsterdam, this fishing town is passionate about football. It must be said that the successes of local players are not lacking: Wim Jonk, of course, but also the Mühren brothers, Gerrie and Arnold, who played the great hours of Ajax in the 1970s, Joey Veerman, current midfielder of PSV Eindhoven or Keje Molenaar, double champion with Ajax in the early 80s.
Very attached to their land, the inhabitants of Volendam would not leave their city for anything in the world. Young local players even sometimes have a little trouble getting off the ground. The example of Joey Veerman (23) is a perfect representation of this attachment. The midfielder of PSV preferred to stay in the Netherlands after his good performances in Heerenveen rather than going abroad and he is said to be very close to his city of Volendam, even today. He was also in the stands of ‘s-Hertogenbosch on Friday evening to witness the rise of his training club in the Eredivisie.
At his side, Henk Veerman (31), striker from Utrecht, whose Dutch media have explained in recent days that he could well return to FC Volendam next season to form a duo of experienced attackers with Robert Mühren (32 year). He too grew up in the fishing village and ended up returning there last summer, when he had greatly contributed to the promotion of Cambuur-Leeuwarden in the Eredivisie with his 38 goals in 37 days. This is what calls out: prefer to stay in D2 to help his favorite club to go up to D1 rather than going to take advantage of this same so desired D1 and for which he has fought all season. Last example and not least, Damon Mirani, also returned to Volendam last summer. He struggled to hide his emotion on Friday night on ESPN NL when he spoke of a dream come true to bring his club to the Eredivisie, after being a child in the stands supporting this team.
The Volendammers will have the opportunity next year to show this attachment to their team in the Eredivisie, because the hardest part begins: to show that this development model is mature enough in Volendam to remain in the top flight for several seasons. With new financial receipts linked to this change of category, Volendam can hope to accelerate on its methodology. But don’t count on Jonk, Jongkind and Van Leeuwen to renege on their principles because adversity increases, or worse still, to throw money away and carry out incoherent recruitment, because as Johan Cruyff said: “I have no never seen a bag full of money score a goal.”