Football Features

Where are they now? Louis van Gaal’s AZ Alkmaar that won the 2008/09 Eredivisie title

By Oliver Young-Myles

Az Alkmaar Eredivisie title winners Louis van Gaal

Published: 17:39, 4 March 2020 | Updated: 17:34, 15 March 2020

In so-called smaller European nations, outside of the big five leagues, football can often become a largely predictable affair with a few select teams generally hoovering up trophies and enjoying success between them.

Historically, Portugal has always had a ‘big three’ consisting of Porto, Benfica and Sporting CP. Turkey’s equivalent features Galatasaray, Fenerbahce, and Besiktas. In Scotland, Celtic and Rangers are far more successful than any other club while Anderlecht, Club Brugge and Standard Liege dominate proceedings in Belgium.

The same is true of the Netherlands, where three major clubs – Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord – have claimed 73 national league titles combined. With bigger stadiums, better youth facilities, greater fan bases and ultimately more wealth than the rest, it is no surprise that they have often made up the top three positions in the Dutch Eredivisie.

Between 2008 and 2010, though, all hell broke loose as two clubs outside the traditional big three won the Eredivisie title.

In 2009-10, the much-maligned Steve McLaren steered FC Twente to their first-ever Dutch league title, a success that immediately followed AZ Alkmaar’s second-ever title win in 2008-09 under the management of former Ajax manager Louis van Gaal.

When Van Gaal returned to AZ – the club where he had started his coaching career as assistant manager between 1986-88 – it appeared his time as a top coach had come to an end following spells in charge of Ajax, the Dutch national team and Barcelona.

The reverse was true, though, as after revitalising the club by leading them to a second-, third- and first-place finish in his four seasons in charge, Van Gaal was hired by Bayern Munich, the Netherlands again and Manchester United.

AZ’s shock title win worked wonders for their coach, but what became of their players? Here’s where AZ’s class of 08/09 are now.

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Sergio Romero

Age: 33

Position: Goalkeeper

2008/09 apps: 28

Current club: Manchester United

Football Index value: £0.30 (Sell) £0.32 (Buy)

Sergio Romero’s professional career practically started in Alkmaar as he was signed by Van Gaal in 2007 after making only five appearances for Racing Club in Argentina prior to the move.

In total, he spent four years at AZ before joining Sampdoria. During his time in Italy, Romero helped his side earn promotion from Serie B while he also spent a season on loan at Monaco.

Van Gaal signed him for the second time for United, where he has had a hand in League Cup and Europa League wins but is very much behind David de Gea in the pecking order.

Gill Swerts

Age: 37

Position: Right-back

2008/09 apps: 28

Retired in: 2019

A steady if unspectacular full-back, Gill Swerts was a virtual ever-present in the side during the title win and stuck around for a further two years before returning to Feyenoord where he started his career.

Swerts spent just one season in Rotterdam before taking in spells with SønderjyskE in Denmark, NAC Breda and Notts County, who he represented in the 2015-16 season.

He last played for Belgian outfit KFC Lille whom he joined in January 2019.

Kew Jaliens

Age: 41

Position: Centre-back

2008/09 apps: 24

Retired in: 2015

After spending seven years in Alkmaar, Kew Jaliens embarked on a new challenge by joining Wisla Krakow for a couple of seasons before heading to Australia to play for Newcastle Jets and then Melbourne City, where he ended his career.

These days, he is employed as a defender and assistant manager for the quite brilliantly named semi-pro club Weston Workers Bears FC in Australia’s New South Wales.

Niklas Moisander

Age: 34

Position: Centre-back

2008/09 apps: 22

Current club: Werder Bremen

A pre-season signing from PEC Zwolle in 2008, Niklas Moisander became a key member of Van Gaal’s back four and remained integral to the side for four years until he left for Ajax.

While in Amsterdam, Moisander added two more Eredivisie titles to his collection before deciding to take his career to Italy with Sampdoria and then Germany to Werder Bremen in the summer of 2016.

Hector Moreno

Age: 32

Position: Centre-back

2008/09 apps: 15

Current club: Al Gharafa

Football Index value: £0.22 (Sell) £0.24 (Buy)

A regular starter in the side prior to fracturing his metatarsal midway through the campaign, an injury that ruled the Mexican out of action for over three months.

Moreno left AZ in 2011 to join Espanyol and following four productive seasons in Catalunya, he made a return to Dutch football in 2015 by signing for PSV, whom he helped win the league title in the 2015-16 season.

He joined Roma in the summer of 2017, before moving to Real Sociedad the following January and now plies his trade in Qatar with Al-Gharafa.

Moreno still remains a key part of Mexico’s national team.

Ragnar Klavan

Age: 34

Position: Centre-back

2008/09 apps: 12

Current club: Cagliari

Football Index value: £0.29 (Sell) £0.31 (Buy)

Replacing Moreno at the heart of AZ’s back four was the Estonia international Ragnar Klavan, who joined on an initial loan deal from Heracles before signing permanently after the title win.

Klavan stayed at AZ until 2012 when he moved to German side Augsburg and after establishing himself as the captain there during his four years, he joined Liverpool in Jurgen Klopp’s first summer transfer window.

With his winner against Burnley on New Year’s Day in 2018, Klavan became the first Estonian to score in Premier League history. He would move to Serie A team Cagliari that summer after slipping down the pecking order at Anfield.

Sebastien Pocognoli

Age: 32

Position: Left-back

2008/09 apps: 28

Current club: Union Saint-Gilloise

Signed by Van Gaal in 2007 after starting his career with Genk, Sebastien Pocognoli was AZ’s starting left-back for two-and-a-half years but returned to Belgium in 2010 to sign for Standard Liege.

From there he went to Germany to line up for Hannover 96 and after two seasons with them, he was on the move again, joining West Brom where he struggled to secure a starting spot before they loaned him out to Brighton in 2016

He was sold a year later, back to his old club Standard Liege, where he remained for two seasons before joining Saint Gilloise.

Demy de Zeeuw

Age: 36

Position: Right-midfield

2008/09 apps: 30

Retired in: 2015

After impressing Van Gaal in a pre-season friendly while playing for Go Ahead Eagles, Demy de Zeeuw transferred to AZ in 2005 and he was a cog in their midfield by the time of their title success.

Shortly after lifting the title, De Zeeuw joined Ajax where he won a Dutch Cup and an Eredivisie title before he took in spells abroad for the first time in his career, playing for Spartak Moscow and then Anderlecht. He most recently played for NAC Breda.

David Mendes da Silva

Age: 37

Position: Central midfielder

2008/09 apps: 29

Retired in: 2017

Another Van Gaal signing, David Mendes da Silva was a versatile, combative midfielder who earned seven caps for the Netherlands during his peak years.

After four years in Alkmaar, he joined Red Bull Salzburg where he spent three years prior to a move to Panathinaikos, where he acted as player-assistant manager for a season.

He then went on to play for Sparta Rotterdam for the second time in his career before retiring in 2017.

Stijn Schaars

Age: 36

Position: Central midfielder

2008/09 apps: 29

Retired in: 2019

Van Gaal’s playmaker in midfield, Stijn Schaars possessed a powerful left foot and excellent vision and was pivotal in helping his side win the title. During that season, he was compared in style to former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard by the Dutch press.

He earned 24 caps for the Netherlands between 2006 and 2016 and went on to play for Sporting CP and PSV before joining SC Heerenveen where he hung up his boots.

Maarten Martens

Age: 35

Position: Attacking midfielder

2008/09 apps: 33

Retired in: 2015

The imaginatively named Maarten Martens made more appearances than any other player in AZ’s squad and his efficient performances on the left-flank were clearly appreciated by his manager.

Undoubtedly the best years of Maartens career were spent with AZ. He played eight seasons with the club before trying his hand in Greece with PAOK and then returning to Belgium to play for Cercle Brugge. He’s now a youth coach for their rivals Club Brugge.

Mousa Dembele

Age: 32

Position: Striker

2008/09 apps: 23

Current club: Guangzhou R&F

Football Index value: £0.33 (Sell) £0.35 (Buy)

Given the manner in which he has dominated games in Tottenham’s midfield, it is strange to think that Mousa Dembele started his career as a central striker.

Indeed, he managed 10 league goals in 2008/09, the same number he managed in seven years at Tottenham.

Dembele spent one further season in the Netherlands before moving on to England. The Belgian international spent two seasons in west London with Fulham, before switching to north London.

Injuries have halted Dembele’s progress and he’s since moved to China by signing for Guangzhou R&F.

Mounir El Hamdaoui

Age: 35

Position: Striker

2008/09 apps: 31

Current club: Al Kharaitiyat

The 2008/09 season was undoubtedly Mounir el Hamdaoui’s best – having failed to impress at Spurs after an initial breakthrough with Excelsior – as he struck 23 goals to fire his side to the title. A move to Ajax in 2010 followed and despite scoring 13 goals in 26 league games, disciplinary issues led to him leaving for Fiorentina.

His career stalled in Florence and he was loaned to Malaga for half a season before rejoining AZ during the 2015/16 season. These days, he is playing for Qatari side Al Kharaitiyat whom he joined after spells with Excelsior and FC Twente.

Graziano Pelle

Age: 34

Position: Striker

2008/09 apps: 20

Current club: Shandong Luneng Taishan

It took a while for Graziano Pelle to get going and it would be fair to say he was still finding his feet while playing for AZ as he was predominantly a substitute during the season they won the title.

The towering Italian finally exploded into life when playing for Feyenoord – via spells at Parma and Sampdoria – where he scored 55 goals in 65 games, leading to a move to Southampton.

After two years on the south coast, Pelle joined Shandong Luneng in China ahead of the 2016-17 season, becoming one of the best-paid players in the world in the process.