An interview with Maurice Steijn, by Callum McFadden for WFi.
You are currently the manager of Sparta Rotterdam having been appointed in 2022. How do you reflect on your time at the club so far?
“I am pleased with how my time at the club has gone so far.
“My move here happened earlier than expected in 2022 because I was due to take over as manager of the team in the summer on the 1st of July.
“However, I actually ended up taking charge in April 2022 due to the club changing manager due to going bottom of the Eredivisie table and as such. they wanted me to start earlier.
“I joined four games before the end of the season and were in a position that we looked doomed to relegation due to the fact that the bottom two sides go down automatically in the Eredivisie.
“Despite such a daunting league position, in my four games in charge, we managed to take ten points to end up finishing 14th which meant we could stay in the league automatically.
“That was an amazing success for us given our starting position at the bottom of the table.
“Then, in the summer of 2022, I was given time by the club to recruit the players that I wanted and now we are sitting 6th in the Eredivisie and pushing for European football.
“We have only lost games so far to the teams above us such as Ajax and PSV Eindhoven who have much bigger budgets than we do.
“It has been an unbelievable turnaround at the club and I am very proud of what we have achieved together so far but we will work as hard as we can until the season end to even further improve.”
Given that you are highly regarded such as the job you are currently doing at Sparta Rotterdam, how would you describe your managerial philosophy?
”I want my team to entertain the fans that come to see us.
“I demand maximum effort from all of my players. Working to your optimum level is the minimum requirement that I place on my players.
”I also want my players to understand the systems that we set the team up in so that they can attack the opposition and create as many chances as possible within a game. Attacking football is at the forefront of what I want from my team as a coach.
“Developing young players is another key principle of mine. An example of this is working successfully is Sven Mijnans.
“He was an academy product of Sparta Rotterdam who was not playing when I joined the club.
“Even though he was only 20 years of age, I trusted him with a big role in the team since my arrival. He progressed so well that he attracted a lot of interest and we sold him to AZ Alkmaar in January 2023 for a substantial fee of €2.5 million.”
You worked under Henk ten Cate as a player and spent a week with Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid as part of your learning journey as a coach. What did you learn from both of those managers?
”I learned so much from working under Henk ten Cate as a player. He was a coach who always wanted to attack and you could see why he worked at clubs such as Barcelona and Ajax. He was a top coach.
“Then, with Jose Mourinho, I was fortunate to spend a week with him over in Madrid when I was studying for the highest coaching diploma here in the Netherlands.
“It was amazing to see how he worked during that week. He had so many world-class stars in his team yet he was clearly the leader of the team who had respect from everyone around him.
“In addition to those two, Dick Advocaat is another coach who I admire. He is from the same area as me in the Netherlands.
“He was not a great player – neither was I – but went on to have a top career as a coach and that is what I also aspire to do in my career.”
How would you describe the standard of the Eredivisie?
“It is a strong league and every year, we develop players who go on to play at the highest levels of football across the world.
“Recently, Cody Gakpo and Lisandro Martinez have moved to Liverpool and Manchester United and are doing well which shows you the standard of players that are developed in the league.
“The Netherlands is a small country but we always punch above our weight and the Eredivisie does as a league too.
“Every team in the league looks to attack which makes it an exciting league for players, managers and fans alike.”
You played at ADO Den Hag and started your managerial career at the club. First of all, how do you reflect on your time as a player?
”I played there from the age of eight and I was a boyhood fan of the club so it was amazing to represent ADO Den Haag as a player.
“I played in the youth system right up to the first team and I was fortunate to become captain of the first team too.
“I left the club at 25 years of age before returning at the age of 33 to begin my journey in coaching with the youth sides of the club.”
Before becoming first team manager you served as youth team manager and assistant manager. How did those roles prepare you for the top job?
“It was a great learning experience for me because as well as coaching the younger players at the club, I was also looking to learn from the other coaches inside the club.
“The environment was a good place for me to learn and I needed to gain experience as a coach before looking to become a manager.
“I did that at youth level then moving up to become assistant manager which gave me good experience of working in the first team environment as part of the staff.
“I then progressed to manage the first team of ADO Den Haag which was a huge honour for me at the age of 39.”
How do you reflect on your time in charge of ADO Den Hag?
”I was in charge for four seasons and the first two years were amazing. We played European football in each of them as well as developing players at the club.
”Unfortunately, we then sold many of our best young players to the biggest clubs in the Netherlands and did not invest in players of the same level.
“That made things difficult and in my last season, I parted company with the club. That is a normal process when results are not the best but I learned that I needed to become more forthright in what I asked for from my directors.
”I should have pushed harder for more players but I was also trying to think of what was best for the club.
“Crucially, I would also say that am a much better coach now than I was back then due to the experience that I have gained in management over the years.”
Your next club in management was VVV Venlo where you were in charge for five years and led the club to promotion to the Eredivisie on a modest budget. What are your highlights from your time there?
“My time at VVV Venlo was remarkable.
“I worked at the club for five years and in my first season, we finished 7th in the Eerste Divisie – the division before the Eredivisie.
“Then, in my second year at the club, we finished second in the league before going on to win the Eerste Divisie as champions in year three.
“It was a continual progression year on year at the club which is what you want as a coach.
“Upon arriving in the Eredivisie, we stayed in the league for two seasons without a problem while making a profit due to selling some of our best players for the good of the club.
”Overall, I am very proud of the success that I had at VVV Venlo. I also made friends for life during my time there. It was a highlight in my career to date, for sure.”
You spent time at Al Wahda FC and NAC Breda prior to arriving at Sparta. What were those experiences like?
“Moving to the Emirates was a new opportunity for myself and for my family. The financial aspect of moving there was rewarding too. It made sense for us at that time.
“On the other hand, it was the first time that I had the opportunity to work abroad and I wanted to experience that.
”I enjoyed my time there before returning home to manage NAC Breda.
“My time there was a difficult experience, to be honest. I was in a dispute with some former players of the national team who were very critical of me. They also happened to be former NAC players, which was difficult.
“We played the playoff final to reach the Eredivisie while I was at the club but lost out to a last-minute goal.
“That led to things being difficult towards me from the fans due to the former players heavily criticising me in the local and national media.
“I had another two years left on my contract but it made sense for me to leave the club and I resigned from the club without compensation.
”It was a big decision to take and not one that many coaches would do because not many coaches resign from a job in the modern game.
“However, it has worked out really well for me. I joined Sparta and we are now competing at the top of the Eredivisie while NAC Breda remain in mid-table in the Eerste Divisie.”
Finally, Maurice, what do you hope to achieve as a manager in the future? Would you like to work aboard again one day?
“I would like to work abroad again in the future because I would like the opportunity to learn a new language and experience another footballing culture.
“However, my full focus is on the job that I am doing at Sparta Rotterdam. We are progressing well as a team and I am loving my time here.”
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