Guillaume Maebe, Chef Sport Online at Het Nieuwsblad, sees the approaching collaboration between Ajax and Alfred Schreuder as a logical match. Over the past six months, the trainer has been active as trainer of Club Brugge and although the results were historically good, he did not leave a crushing impression on the southern neighbors. The Belgian journalist talks about it in conversation with Ajax Showtime†
Schreuder took the helm in Bruges in January 2022, where he took over from Philippe Clement. The Belgian in turn left for AS Monaco. Schreuder had to make up for a large deficit against the outstanding Royale Union and partly succeeded in this during the regular season. He finished five points behind Union, but as usual in Belgium, the points were cut in half when the switch to the championship play-offs was made. During the play-offs, Schreuder managed to eventually lead by four points. A reason for fame, you might say, but the reality is somewhat different.
‘It’s a bit of a double. He has made Club Brugge champion, but it is not the case that a large group of people now say: his departure is an insane loss for Club Brugge. There is no feeling that the house of cards will collapse towards next season’, explains Maebe. “That’s not to say he’s a bad coach, far from it, but he hasn’t left the impression that he’s taken the club to the next level. He was sort of a perfect interim pope after the departure of Philippe Clement. He kept the engine running, but there was never really good football played. You can count on one hand the number of matches under Schreuder in which Club Brugge managed to convince. That is ironic, because there is a good chance that he will go down in history as the man who has done the best in terms of win percentage at Club Brugge. He has taken a total of 46 out of 57. It’s a huge number.’
The result is often referred to as leading in football, but in practice this turns out to be slightly different. People in Belgium are extremely grateful to Schreuder for his services, but he did not win the hearts of the fans. ‘It’s the way of playing. Little has been left of Club Brugge. The beginning was a bit difficult,” said the Belgian football reporter. “There was a clear idea. They wanted to play attacking football with occupation on the flanks. So a three-man defence, attacking wingers and for that you had Lang and De Ketelaere. But it really rarely came out. Club Brugge is the deserved champion, but in direct duels with Union they have never really deserved to win. That was the case in many matches, but he ensured that Club Brugge almost always pulled the longest straw† You could say that it has been completed nicely from a business point of view. Club Brugge has been efficient at the right times. You can compare it a bit with the title of Ajax. Ajax has already experienced much nicer titles and that also applies to Club Brugge. But of course it remains an extra title.’
The hand of the trainer Schreuder
Schreuder is therefore accused of a lack of sparkling playing. The question is: is this due to the coach’s mentality or is Bruges simply lacking the necessary qualities to enchant the outside world? Maebe does not have a conclusive explanation, but he did see Schreuder make some special decisions during the past six months. “He has released a number of players from their permanent positions and placed them elsewhere in the team. For example, De Ketelaere is ideal as a false striker and suddenly he was tried on the wing. That didn’t work very well and then the comment was: should Charles de Ketelaere, the man who can make the difference, play on the wing?’
Moreover, when Schreuder arrived, he brought an old acquaintance with him and with that he failed to impress. Schreuder also brought his own striker with him last winter: Sargis Adamyan. He worked with him at Hoffenheim. In the beginning he did play and you could see he’s a workhorse, but you could feel everything that he brought that player in because he knew him. At Club Brugge there are nicer and more attractive footballers, such as Noa Lang and De Ketelaere. Adamyan is more of a target man and then you get a completely different style. If it doesn’t run great, you’d better make sure you keep getting points, otherwise you’ll get even more criticism.’
The feeling about Schreuder is not all bad, by the way. Startling choices can have several reasons. One thing is certain: Schreuder was ultimately responsible and never shied away from it. “He made his choices and that suits him. It has not turned out that it was an assistant who suddenly became head coach. You felt that he was in charge and carrying out his idea. Although his choices were not always easy, he always made them. He was somewhat right in winning the title.’
‘His way of playing leans against the classic idea of Ajax’
The name of Schreuder does not seem to be mentioned forever in Belgium, but he deserved a nice next step in his career. Erik ten Hag will be the trainer of Manchester United next season, while Schreuder can fill in his place in Amsterdam. The news did not necessarily come as a surprise to Maebe, certainly not because of his past as assistant coach of the club from Amsterdam. “When I read the news, I thought: I understand the history behind it. In the beginning, however, I also thought: is he ready for that? He was already at Ajax before and he can live on a lot, so I suspect that he will certainly not be walking around like a headless chicken. His way of playing is very close to Ajax’s classic idea of football. It is logical that Ajax has put him on the list. It also makes sense that Schreuder took it up, because it’s a step forward. It is a man with an idea who comes to Ajax. Like Erik ten Hag, he sometimes has an idea that is not initially understood by everyone. In terms of style, approach and priority, he has many similarities with Ten Hag. He can fit very well with Ajax, but he still has to prove it.’
In his time at Ajax and at FC Twente, Schreuder was widely praised for his interaction with the players. His relationship with Hakim Ziyech is more than good, while Dusan Tadic has also praised the now head coach several times. It turns out that the players of Club Brugge also seem to have a high regard for the trainer. “When the title was celebrated, a lot of top players referred to him. At press conferences, he often comes across as a bit distant. They are often very short press conferences. Rather it seems to be a bit of a master, but within the group Schreuder was someone who could inspire the players. He also supported his players when things were not going well. It was not sparkling, but Schreuder has rarely dropped his team. Only when there was a crazy moment, like with Noa Lang back then. Then he couldn’t help but say it wasn’t smart. Many players made it clear: don’t forget the coach. And that while a lot of fans forget this coach. He was very popular within the group of players. There was always clear communication.’
In recent years, Belgian football has often been played in a 3-5-2 system, just like the national team of the country. However, it is no secret that Ajax and the 4-3-3 system are anchored together. In the last games of last season, Ten Hag chose to play 4-2-2 several times and that caused a lot of controversy. Maebe talks about the way Schreuder has let Club Brugge play since his arrival. ‘He played a bit of a hybrid with Club Brugge. A four-man defense which then becomes a three-man defense. Certainly in the last few weeks he has pinned down on a kind of 3-5-2, with flank attackers on the sides. You can see it when Antony ends up on the right back, but has the entire flank in front of him. So Schreuder is not married to the 4-3-3 system, but he hasn’t tried all kinds of new systems either. He continued with what Clement had deployed. In midfield he played with a classic triangle with a six, eight and a ten. In the front you had Lang and De Ketelaere, two dynamic and fast players who walk a lot.’
Does Schreuder take players to Ajax?
It often happens in the football world that trainers choose to take players with whom they have a good relationship to their next club. Although Schreuder was well in the group of players in Bruges, Maebe does not really expect that next season there will be players from the current Club Brugge to be admired at Ajax. “It hasn’t been discussed yet. Maybe Adamyan, because he is only hired from Hoffenheim. He came to Bruges on his intercession. Noa Lang or Charles de Ketelaere aim for higher than Ajax. They want to go to a sub-topper from a top-five competition. Hans Vanaken would fit very well at Ajax, but has been playing at Club Brugge almost all his life and he is very happy there,” the reporter concluded.
Jesse ter Haar (Twitter: @jesseterhaar † Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)