Stam back with no axe to grind

When Jaap Stam strolled out of the players‘ exit at Old Trafford after helping Manchester United overcome Fulham on the opening day of the 2001-02 Premiership season, he never imagined it would take him 3 years to return. He had expected to be back for the next home game, but only six days later he was called into Sir Alex Ferguson’s office and was told the club had agreed to sell him to Lazio for 15.25m.

At the time it seemed a strange move. With Stam at the heart of their defence United had won the treble in 1999 and finished as Premiership champions in each of Authentic Prada Factory Outlet Online his three seasons since he had arrived from PSV Eindhoven. He was twice voted Europe’s best defender by Uefa, and Ferguson selected him in the club’s greatest team of all time.

As recently as February 2001 the Dutch defender had been rewarded with a new five-year contract, but Ferguson still decided to cash in on him and bring in the ageing former French captain Laurent Blanc on a free transfer. The United captain Roy Keane was moved to observe: „Contracts mean nothing. Jaap has discovered that to clubs the players are just expensive pieces of meat.“

It was initially Bicester Village London Prada thought Stam had been sold as punishment for his candid autobiography, Head to Head, which included the allegation that Ferguson had tapped him up while still at PSV. But the United Authentic Prada Handbag Uk manager countered that it was „absolutely a footballing decision“ and he believed Stam had not been the same player since returning from an achilles injury.

Stam insists he has long got over it and will return with Milan for the first leg of their Champions League tie against United tomorrow night without any resentment. „I’m really not bitter at all,“ he says. „Yes, I didn’t want to move and I wasn’t happy with how it happened so quickly. One day I was a United player and the next I was being unveiled as a Lazio player.

„But I had a choice and I could have stayed and fought for my place replica prada saffiano, but it seemed wise to move on. These things happen in football and I was never naive enough to believe it couldn’t happen to me too. There Agata Ruiz De La Prada Shop On Line is no point making a big deal about it. I moved on from United a Authentic Prada Online Shop long time ago.

„I would certainly shake Sir Alex’s hand, why not? If I bump into him in the tunnel I would be happy to do that. He is a great man and I still have a lot of respect for him. I don’t want to tarnish what I had at United, because they were such wonderful times. I am genuinely Authentic Prada Milano Handbags looking forward to All Prada Nylon Bags the game and playing at Old Trafford again.“

Of course, it is easy to be magnanimous when you are now an integral part of a fine Milan side, who moved to the top of Serie A with a win Authentic Prada Bags Online Singapore over Cagliari at the weekend. As Stam says: „I haven’t done too badly since I left, have I?“

After three seasons with Lazio he moved to the San Siro last summer to complete the most revered defence in European football alongside Cafu, Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta.

„I enjoy playing with these guys, especially Paolo Maldini,“ says Stam. „It is hard to believe he has just celebrated 20 years in the first team at Milan. He is still as brilliant as ever and if you see him play he looks as if he’s still 25 years old.

„We never worry too much about the opposition because if we play to our full ability then we can beat any team. Just look at the quality we have throughout our side.

„We have several players who have already won the World Cup, and the Champions League. We can play both ways: we can defend and soak up pressure or we can go out and attack teams. When you have players like Shevchenko, Crespo and Kaka, you know you will usually score at least one goal. Defenders might be able to control them for 89 minutes but they just need a split second to score a goal.“

Stam’s successor in the United defence, Rio Ferdinand, will be aiming to stop that tomorrow night, and the Dutchman sees plenty of himself in the England defender. They have both served drug-related bans (Ferdinand’s was for missing a test, whereas Stam tested positive for nandrolone in 2001, though he still insists he was innocent), and he believes the experience has made them both better players.

„When you feel an injustice has been done to you it increases your desire for the game; you give absolutely everything because you have learned how precious it is and that it can be taken away. Rio has come back from his ban as one of the world’s best players and has brought a new authority to the United defence.“

Though Stam admits he About Prada Products is wary of United’s new kids on the block – Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney – he believes it is the club’s old guard who pose the biggest threat. „Just as when I played there it is Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs who make everything happen. They are still among the best players in the world and most things go through them. We know we will have to stop them distributing the ball from midfield.

„I really don’t think United have an obvious weakness. They are strong throughout the side; they have four great strikers, a midfield full of experience and creativity and a defence that isn’t letting in many goals now. They seem to Agatha Ruiz Dela Prada Messenger Bag still play in the same style as when I was there, which is very attacking, and I don’t expect them to sit back.“

At Euro 2004, while Stam was playing his final games for Holland before retiring from the national team, his manager Dick Advocaat said: „Alex Ferguson might have thought Jaap’s best days were behind him but I think his best days were actually in front of him.“ Tomorrow night Stam has the ideal stage to prove it.