Professional players who play in fried air on the field of the local amateur club, ‘pitch invasions’ by local youth chasing autographs and many goals.
The preparation for the new season lends itself perfectly to customer loyalty for football clubs. Despite this, several clubs are playing behind closed doors in preparation. Also AZ. Although that has a special reason.
The Alkmaarders do not prelude to a new corona season, in which they play without an audience. No, AZ is at a training camp in Epe in Gelderland and wanted to practice against the Greek PAOK at the local SV. The mayor could not guarantee safety due to a shortage of police officers. There was a fear that Greek supporters could run amok.
They had to move to Wenum-Wiesel (municipality of Apeldoorn), a place that was kept secret in the run-up to the match. PAOK supporters who were curious about the performance of their team could follow the match on Greek television. Fans of AZ had to make do with a live stream.
Through the screen they could see that AZ fought back after a 2-0 deficit. It became 2-2. Last year’s top scorer, Vangelis Pavlidis, and youngster Iman Griffith scored for the Alkmaarders.
AZ defender Pantelis Hatzidiakos, who was born in Rhodes and a Greek international, regrets that no audience was allowed to be present, but also seems to understand the situation. “I know that PAOK also has a lot of fans in the Netherlands and some supporters could come from Greece.”
Hatzidiakos and his Greek team-mate Pavlidis were not short of attention despite the absence of supporters. The Greek press and PAOK players hung around the two AZ players like a swarm of flies. Hatzidiakos: “I know some guys from the Greek national team”.
The central defender is feeling “much better” than the previous two summers as he is now uninjured. It had seemed to him “laughing” to play against amateurs.
For trainer Pascal Jansen it is a conscious choice not to play against amateurs. On 21 July, AZ will already play in the preliminary round of the Conference League against the winner of the diptych between Tre Penne (San Marino) and Tuzla City (Bosnia and Herzegovina). “So you want to have appropriate resistance early in the season. I also don’t believe in 13-0 games against well-intentioned amateurs. Then we can train better.”
Tour through the province
Jansen does recognize the importance of competitions in the region. That is why the first exhibition game of the season, last Saturday against PEC Zwolle (3-1), was played in Dirkshorn near Alkmaar. With audience. Later in this preparation, the Italian team Bologna will be played in their own stadium. Jansen: “If we had had more space in the preparation, we would do a little more with regional ties.”
The fact that the practice program is fully geared to the Conference League is apparent from the trip that is made after the training camp in Epe. AZ will play against Olympiakos in the Greek city of Piraeus on Saturday to simulate a “European trip”.
The question is whether the coveted Owen Wijndal will travel to Greece. The left back is coming to Epe and is in the explicit interest of Ajax. Jansen already seems to be preparing for a departure from Wijndal, even though the trainer does not want to explicitly say that he is leaving. “There is a lot going on around Owen, but he is now fully training. I take everything into account. We continue to work at the same time with other guys who can play as a left back.”
One of those players is Mees de Wit, who came over from PEC Zwolle. Like the other acquisitions, Jens Odgaard (Sassuolo) and Mayckel Lahdo (Hammarby), he is already a member of the selection. De Wit and Lahdo also played against PAOK. AZ is currently still busy signing Zinho Vanheusden for the coming season. The 22-year-old Belgian defender is currently still under contract with Internazionale.
Jansen does not only want to talk about the acquisitions. According to him, it is “great” to see that players are connected from the youth academy. “The youngsters do it all properly. They achieve a good level, although they also sometimes make a cosmetic mistake.”
All in all, Jansen is satisfied with the training camp in Epe. Perhaps the basis for the trajectory that Feyenoord took last season: starting in July in the Conference League and eventually reaching the final. Jansen: “We sign for that immediately.” It is to be hoped for AZ that there will be an audience.