Why AZ Alkmaar?

I chose AZ Alkmaar for a few reasons, the first being that the “regular” European saves were becoming stale. I chose Holland because they have a reputation of developing young talent and giving them a chance in the first team, something I aspired to do in my next journey. When browsing through the clubs, AZ Alkmaar instantly stood out to me, not just because of their cool logo, awesome kits and colour scheme, but because more importantly I noticed they had superb youth and training facilities, something I’d not paid attention to in previous FM’s, nor real life. AZ are the perfect match for me.

AZ Good As It Gets

My goal with AZ Alkmaar is just as my blog title reads, I want them to become the best team in the world, I want AZ to be “AZ Good As It Gets”. En route to becoming the best team in the world, I want to stick to the clubs philosophy, which currently follows Ajax’s model to promote within. AZ Alkmaar have one of the best youth academies in the world, and they like to show it off on the field, as will I look to do. My aim is to promote one to two academy players to the first team every season.

A Brief Club History

Alkmaar Zaanstreek, better known as AZ Alkmaar or simply AZ, are a Dutch professional football club from Alkmaar and the Zaanstreek. The club’s nickname is “Cheeseheads” and they play in the Eredivisie, the highest professional football league in the Netherlands. AZ Alkmaar were founded on the 10th May 1967, as AZ ’67, the result of a merger of Alkmaar ’54 and FC Zaanstreek. Alkmaar ’54 were founded in April 1954 and FC Zaanstreek had been playing since 1910 as the Kooger Football Club (KFC). KFC had nearly become National Champion in 1934 through a narrow loss to Ajax in the finals. The team became professional in 1955 and in 1964 the professional part of KFC was renamed FC Zaanstreek, while the amateurs played on as KFC. AZ Alkmaar have spent all but 9 years playing in the Eredivisie, with the club having low period during 1988-1998, where they played in the Eerste Divisie for 9 of those 10 seasons, winning the Eerste Divisie title in both 1996 & 1998. AZ won their first Eredivisie title in 1981 and added a second title in 2009, 11 years ago. Talking of 1981, AZ won a famous double, winning both the Eredivisie and their second KNVB Cup (first cup was won 3 years earlier in 1978), they also finished runners-up in the 1981 UEFA Cup. AZ have won 4 KNVB Cups in total, with the other two coming in 1982 and more recently 2013.

Honours

Eredivisie: 🏆🏆
KNVB Cup: 🏆🏆🏆🏆
Johan Cruyff Shield: 🏆
Eerste Divisie: 🏆🏆🏆
Tweede Divisie: 🏆

Rivalries

Noord-Hollandse Derby:
AZ Alkmaar contest the Noord-Hollandse derby against AFC Ajax. Jong AZ (AZ’s academy side) contest their derby in the Eerste Divisie against FC Volendam, this is also called the Noord-Hollandse Derby.

Stadium

AZ Alkmaar play their home games at the AFAS Stadion, which holds a capacity of 17,023. AFAS Stadion opened on 4th August 2006. Due to UEFA’s sponsorship regulations, the stadium is named AZ Stadion for European matches. The first Eredivisie game at the stadium was against NAC Breda, it finished 8–1 to AZ Alkmaar, with German midfielder Simon Cziommer scoring a hat-trick. The main stand is called Victorie Tribune, the stand with the fanatic supporters is called Van der Ben Tribune (Ben-Side), the stand behind the other goal is called the Alkmaarderhouttribune, in honour of the former stadium, and the stand opposite to the main stand is called Molenaar Tribune after the brothers Cees and Klaas Molenaar, founders of AZ. Some supporters call the stadium “Victorie Stadion”, a name that alludes to the turning point victory over Spanish troops besieging Alkmaar during the Eighty Years’ War. On 10th August 2019, the roof of the stadium partially collapsed, luckily no people were injured during the incident.

Youth Academy & Development

AZ Alkmaar & Jong AZ train at the AFAS Training Centre, a centre with superb training and youth facilities, excellent academy coaching and exceptional youth recruitment.

The AZ Youth Academy has been hugely developed in recent years and constantly strives for further progression. Innovative is a word that fits the Alkmaar breeding pond, which won the prestigious Rinus Michels Award for the best youth academy in the Netherlands in 2015 and 2016. Also, the AZ Academy has received the highest possible status according to the Quality & Performance Program of the Dutch FA.

AZ play to win, and to please the crowd at the same time. Preferably this is done with several players from the AZ Youth Academy. The aim is to let fifty percent of the squad consist of youth exponents of the club. Currently AZ have 6 first team starters having graduated from the academy; Calvin Stengs, Myron Boadu, Teun Koopmeiners, Owen Wijndal, Thomas Ouwejan & Ferdy Druijf. The AZ Academy is an important pillar of the club.

Head Coach

I’m 29-year-old fictional head coach Joshua Brady and I was born in Sussex, England. I moved to Holland in 2009 at the age of 18 to pursue a career in football coaching. I made a lot of football connections in Holland during my near 10-year stay in the country, one of those connections was the Head of the Youth development at AZ Alkmaar, Paul Brandenburg. I admire Paul, and Paul told me that he respects me as a young and upcoming football coach. Paul and I share something in common, our passion and philosophy on youth development. I developed a lot of young players in the semi-professional scene, many of whom went on to become professional players.

Following John van den Brom’s 5 year stint as Manager of AZ Alkmaar, he decided the time was right to leave, taking the vacant Utrecht job. Luckily I was the first name Paul Brandenburg threw into Chairman’ Robert Eenhoorn’s hat, so to speak. Robert Eenhoorn offered me a provisional one year contract, which I gladly accepted.

Staff

At first glace it appeared AZ Alkmaar were in safe hands in the staff department, however, following a thorough overview some changes were made. Max Huiberts was our DoF on my first day at the club, however he was lacking in some important role areas, such as having very poor adaptability and determination, Huiberts was replaced by our new Director of Football Stan Valckx. Stan left his role as VVV-Venlo DoF to join us. Valckx has very strong adaptability, determination and knowledge of judging players current and potential ability. Assistant Manager Pascal Jansen is rated highly for his adaptability and tactical knowledge, as well as his ability to work with youngsters and correctly judge players on their current and potential abilities. Head of Youth Development Paul Brandenburg is extremely gifted when it comes to working with youngsters, but is severely underrated in his ability to judge players current and potential abilities. Head Physio Rob Tamminga was another casualty upon my arrival in Alkmaar, he was replaced by Marc van den Ingh, who left Helmond Sport to join us. van den Ingh is about as good as it gets in terms of a physiotherapist, with the highest possible rating in physiotherapy. Chief Scout Carlos Aalbers was already here when I arrived and is the best available on the market, however I will likely look to improve in this area in due course.

Update

As many of you are aware, the 2019/20 season has already been and gone. I am currently writing this blog halfway through our 2020/21 campaign. So, lets get you all up to speed shall we?

Summer Transfer Market

This was my first transfer market as manager of AZ, and I had a plan, my plan was to try and keep the first team squad together, as I wanted to give mostly everyone a tryout before making any rash decisions. Our only sale during the summer window was that of 32-year-old 5th choice Dutch CB Ramon Leeuwin, who joined ADO Den Haag for £1.5M.

Now onto our incoming transfers. I had a meeting with Chief Scout’ Carlos Aalbers and he provided me with a list of players that AZ had been keeping tabs on. These were players that Head of Youth Development’ Paul Brandenburg felt would fit into the AZ culture.

Our first signing of the summer window was 17-year-old Spanish midfielder Aimar Oroz, who cost £400K upfront with £1.5M in instalments from CA Osasuna. Oroz reported to Jong AZ, where he sadly missed the entire season due to injury.

Our second signing of the summer window was 17-year-old Argentine attacking midfielder Matías Palacios, who cost £1.5M upfront with £2.5M in instalments from San Lorenzo de Almagro. The transfer will go through on the 1st July 2020.

Our third signing of the window was 18-year-old German CB Kevin Ehlers, who cost £500K upfront with £1.5M in instalments from Dynamo Dresden. Ehlers was initially used for cover, but eventually overtook Stijn Wuytens in defence during his first season with the club.

Our fourth signing of the window was another Spaniard, 16-year-old defender Rodri from Leonésa. We met his £2.2M minimum release fee. Rodri, like Oroz reported to Jong AZ for the 2019/20 campaign.

Following our pattern of signing young Spaniards, we added yet another during the summer transfer window, signing 18-year-old winger Róber from Real Betis after matching his minimum release clause of £800K. Róber joined his compatriots at Jong AZ for the 2019/20 season.

Our final signing of the transfer window was 23-year-old Slovenian full-back Petar Stojanovic from GNK Dinamo Zagreb for £1M. Stojanovic was transfer listed and we were without a backup at RB, the deal was a no-brainer.

Tactics

Looking at the players we had at our disposal, I felt a 4-1-2-2-1 was the best formation to set. AZ’s philosophy from academy adolescence onwards is to play attractive attacking football, so we will be playing positive, expressive, direct, and attacking football when in possession of the ball. In transition we will look to distribute the ball quickly, preferably to the full backs who will look to overlap and go forward, countering at every given opportunity. Defensively we will play with a very high line and mark tightly. We’ll look to close the ball down and run non-stop to retrieve possession back, as well as making use of the offside trap.

Winter Transfer Market

Our winter market was busy, with no less than 3 first team players leaving the club. The first was 34-year-old Dutch CB Ron Vlaar, who joined NYCFC for £500K. The second outgoing transfer was one I did not intend to see happen, with Chinese club Shandong coming in with a £25M bid for our first choice GK Marco Bizot, the offer was one that the board accepted without even consulting me, sadly it was out of my hands. Our final sale was that of 26-year-old Norwegian midfielder Fredrik Midtsjø, who had spent the first half of the season complaining about not starting over Jordy Clasie, Midtsjø fetched us £12M from LA Galaxy.

Our only incoming transfer during the January transfer window was of 17-year-old Dutch GK Robin Roefs from N.E.C. Nijmegen for £350K. We signed a pre-contract agreement with 21-year-old Belgian CB Hannes Delcroix from RSC Anderlecht, he will join up with the squad on 1st July 2020.

KNVB Beker Cup

Our domestic cup campaign started in the 1st round away to MVV Maastricht, the game was frustrating as we absolutely dominated for 90 minutes, but it finished 0-0, we ended up winning in ET thanks to a goal from Calvin Stengs. In the 2nd round we faced Eerste Divisie side TOP Oss, we defeated them 5-1 away from home, with goals coming from Albert Guðmundsson, Dani de Wit, Teun Koopmeiners & a brace from Zakaria Aboukhlal. The 3rd round was more competitive as we were drawn yet again away from home, this time against fellow Eredivisie side Utrecht, the game was close and finished 2-1 to us thanks to goals from Myron Boadu & Oussama Idrissi. Onto the Quarter Final and we were finally drawn at home, however, we would play AFC Ajax. In a shocking performance (in a good way) we defeated Ajax 3-0, with the first goal coming from Dani de Wit & later a brace from Oussama Idrissi. In the Semi Final we were away to Vitesse, the game finished 4-0 to us, with goals from Ferdy Druijf, Jordy Clasie and two from the MOTM Calvin Stengs. We’re off to Rotterdam for our first Final!

Feyenoord were the favourites coming into the KNVB Beker Cup Final, perhaps it was due to them playing on home soil, as the Final was played at the De Kuip stadium in Rotterdam, Feyenoord’s home arena. We took the lead early on through Myron Boadu, Feyenoord then caught us on the break and equalised just before half time. In the second half Feyenoord opted to close up shop, which worked but made for a very dull second half of football. We pushed on and attacked over and over, but Feyenoord sat back and soaked it up, that was until the 89th minute… when Feyenoord hit us on the counter and Nicolai Jørgensen fired home the winner. Our first cup final may have ended in disappointment, but we were proud of what we had achieved by making it to the final game.

UEFA Europa League

Before our UEFA Europa League campaign could begin, we first had to qualify, and as many of you already know, this can be very tedious. We would have to go through 3 round of play, against 3 teams, and play 6 fixtures before even qualifying for the Group Stages. Luckily qualifying was a breeze, as we defeated Polish side Lechia Gdańsk 10-0 on aggregate in the 2nd round, Cypriot side AE Limassol 5-0 on aggregate in the 3rd round and Turkish side Trabzonspor A.Ş. 5-2 on aggregate.

Now for the draw, we were drawn in Group D alongside Czech side Sparta Prague, English side Wolverhampton Wanderers and German side VFL Wolfsburg. We were made 3rd favourites for the group, however, we managed to top the group without taking a single loss, taking 14/18 available points.

Onto the 1st Knockout Round and we were drawn against Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk, who were the obvious favourites. The first leg was played in Donetsk at the Donbass Arena, where we were defeated 5-0, the huge scoreline was likely due to Dani de Wit being sent off in the first 20 minutes. We didn’t have much hope in the return leg, especially when Thomas Ouwejan copied de Wit and got himself sent off in the 7th minute of play. To my surprise, we played bravely with 10-men and managed to defeat Shakhtar Donetsk 1-0 at the AFAS Stadion thanks to a goal from Ferdy Druijf.

Jong AZ

I set myself a goal at the beginning of this journey, that goal was to promote within, ideally one or two homegrown players per season. For the 2019/20 season I promoted two homegrown academy players; 19-year-old Dutch GK Jasper Schendelaar and 18-year-old Dutch GK Mees Bakker, Bakker was promoted after Marco Bizot was sold to Shandong in January 2020.

Our academy side’ Jong AZ currently play their football in the Eerste Divisie, which is the 2nd tier of the Dutch football league system. This gives us a huge advantage as our academy players get to test themselves out in a competitive professional league.

As you can see below, Jong AZ had a spectacular campaign, winning the Eerste Divisie and becoming invincible while doing so!

19-year-old Thijs Oosting lead the league in scoring with 15 goals and an impressive 7.80 player rating for the season. The standout player for me however, was 18-year-old Dutch winger Mohamed Taabouni who had 13 goals, an average player rating of 7.71 and a league leading 21 assists. We cannot forget Peer Koopmeiners, the CDM who chipped in with 4 goals, 3 assists and averaged a player rating of 7.64 on the season, he finished 3rd in the Eerste Divisie Player of the Year 2019/20 Award, which was won by Oosting and followed up by Taabouni.

16-year-old Spanish CB Rodri played just 2 games for Jong AZ, averaging a player rating of 6.70 in his first season. Rodri has improved greatly in his first season and will likely be a starting CB for Jong AZ in the 2020/21 season.

17-year-old Spanish RW Róber had an impressive first season at Jong AZ, starting 31 games, scoring 12 goals, assisting 5 and averaging a player rating of 7.47. He also picked up 6 Eerste Divisie POTM awards.

18-year-old Dutch CDM Kenzo Goudmijn impressed during his 3rd campaign with Jong AZ, he played in 19 games, mostly off the bench, where he scored 1 goal and had an average player rating of 7.27. It is likely he will replace 20-year-old Peer Koopmeiners as the starting CDM in the 2020/21 campaign.

Our 2020 youth intake looks very promising, with 15-year-old Dutch CB Rody Vink leading the pack. 16-year-old Dutch RW Jeffrey Goes is another youngster who looks to be something special, excelling in dribbling, pace and acceleration. Paul Brandenburg also pointed out that Goes is a natural leader, with exceptional determination and work rate.

As you can see below, Rody Vink excels at tackling, marking, balance, stamina, concentration & teamwork, he also appears to be a very determined individual.

Eredivisie

We started the season off with a bang, winning our first three games without conceding a single goal. Then reality check hit us as we drew 1-1 away to PSV, 1-1 at home to Vitesse, then lost our first game of the season 1-0 away to FC Groningen, before drawing yet another game away from home to Willem II, 0-0. Following our poor form we then bounced back, beating Sparta Rotterdam 3-0, Ajax 4-0, and Feyenoord 4-3 at the De Kuip.

However, our form did not last, with us losing our second game of the season (first at home) 1-0 to PEC Zwolle, followed by a 0-0 draw with FC Twente. Then November came and with that we were off, losing just 1 game (away to Ajax) and drawing only 3 of the next 22 league games.

In the end, record holders AFC Ajax retained their title; winning a 35th Championship, and in some style, losing just 1 game along the way. We finished 8 points behind Ajax in 2nd place, thus giving us a chance to qualify for the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League next season.

Myron Boadu claimed the Eredivisie Golden Boot Award with 21 league goals in 30 appearances.

Statistics

Our best eleven in 2019/20 by player average rating was as follows:
GK: Bizot – 6.88
RB: Stojanovic – 6.79
CB: Wuytens – 7.17
CB: Koopmeiners – 7.32
LB: Wijndal – 6.95
RM: Sugawara – 7.12
CDM: Clasie – 7.86
LM: Idrissi – 7.21
CAM: Stengs – 7.46
CAM: de Wit – 7.04
CF: Boadu – 7.15

Goals:
1. Myron Boadu: 27
2. Oussama Idrissi: 19
3. Calvin Stengs: 13
4. Yukinari Sugawara: 11
5. Thomas Ouwejan: 8

Assists:
1. Calvin Stengs: 18
2. Jordy Clasie: 12
3. Yukinari Sugawara: 10
4. Oussama Idrissi: 10
5. Thomas Ouwejan: 8

Club Vision

Club Culture:
Play entertaining football. ✔️
Play attacking football. ✔️

5 Year Plan:
Ongoing: Work within our wage budget at all times. ✔️
Year 1: Eredivisie – Qualify for the UEFA Europa League.
✔️
Year 1: UEFA Europa League – Reach the Second Knockout Round.
Year 2: Become recognised as the “best of the rest”.
Year 2: Earn a new AZ Alkmaar contract.
Year 3: Eredivisie – Qualify for the UEFA Champions League.
Year 4: Eredivisie – Challenge for the title.
Year 5: Eredivisie – Maintain an Eredivisie title challenge.

This is my first blog of the new series and as always all feedback is welcomed and appreciated. The next blog will be an end of season review for 2020/21. I would like to thank @ilpadrinofm for the graphical edits throughout.

Next up – AZ Good As It Gets: Jaar Twee (Year Two)