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FC Cincinnati's new coach says he's nicer than his aggressive reputation lets on

Posted at 3:33 PM, May 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-22 15:33:28-04

Jaap Stam knows he carries a stigma with him from his playing days, when he was known as an aggressive and somewhat intimidating defender. FC Cincinnati’s new head coach said that isn’t who he is on the sidelines.

FC Cincinnati on Thursday announced the former Manchester United centerback as its new head coach — its third in 13 months. The team formally introduced him Friday during a Zoom news conference.

Stam, 47, won three Premier League titles after joining Manchester United in 1998 and is considered one of the greatest Dutch defenders of all time. As a manager, Stam is 54-47-32 (W-L-D) since 2016 with stints at English side Reading and Dutch clubs PEC Zwolle and Feyenoord, from which he resigned in October.

“When they see me physically, everybody is thinking, 'OK, you must be angry all the time,' but that's not the case,” said Stam, who stands 6 feet, 3 inches tall. “I can have a laugh with everybody. I played in a certain way, with a certain aggression like everybody knows. That's my mentality, that's my way how I approach the game (as a player). You try to win your games. You go up (emotionally) in your games as well.

“As a manager, you have to learn how to manage that as well, your own feelings, how you approach the team, what you want to give to your team as a manager as well. Of course, you want to give that winning mentality to your team because players, I think, need to do everything in their ability to win games and do their best and work hard. That's the least you can expect from your players.”

Stam added that he doesn’t necessarily take the “tough guy” approach as a manager. He said he addresses some players more directly than others and takes a more “feeling” or personal approach with others, depending on what they respond to best.

Style-wise, he talks about being dominant but not necessarily physically.

“By being a defender and sometimes tackling players and looking like a tough guy, that's not in how I approach the game in terms of playing,” he said. “The team needs to be decisive in what they are doing, but that's in a way defensively and that's also attacking wise. If you go forward, you need to be very decisive in your attacking movement and making your runs. In how I want to play, that's by playing in an attractive way, going forward, being dominant, keeping possession and hopefully finding the patience to create openings in the opposition to score goals. By being dominant, I mean it's always nice to have the ball as a team than to chase it every time. That's why you want to play in a certain way.”

Stam is often portrayed in photos with a scowl or being physical with opponents, but he showed a softer side Friday. Asked about the club accidentally using a mislabeled Getty Images photo of Jong Ajax coach Tinus van Teunenbroek when announcing Stam’s hire on social media, Stam made light of the situation.

Opposing teams even jumped in on Twitter with their own photos of bald white men who could have been mistaken for Stam, and Stam said FC Cincinnati will get the last laugh if they beat those teams on the pitch.

“Yesterday was a busy day,” Stam said. “It was a hard day, a lot of talking, a lot of meetings eventually, so we used the doppelganger to do pictures for me.”

The club gave him a warm welcome, Stam said, and he looks forward to working with the roster he has been dealt. For now, that will be done from afar until his work visa is complete and FC Cincinnati gets permission to fly him, new assistant Said Bakkati and general manager Gerard Nijkamp in from The Netherlands.

Stam said he was interested in the club because it’s a project where he can grow as a manager and help shape a young club’s future. Though he brings a prior connection with Nijkamp, who hired him at PEC Zwolle in December 2018, both Stam and Nijkamp said their “friendship” had little to do with the decision to work together again.

“There are living 17 million people in the Netherlands and every time we talk about a Dutch candidate, the media is talking about, 'It's a friend of Gerard's, and he's coming to FC Cincinnati,'” Nijkamp said. “Yes, I like Jaap a lot as how he is as a professional in his job and what he will bring for our club because I was working very pleasant with him in PEC Zwolle.

“We know each other, yes. We like each other in the way we work,” Nijkamp added. “I think we also will have a good fit, but I also believe based on our conversations ... there are more connections than just people thinking we are friends.”