Van der Hart: ‘An Ajax in top form is a different Ajax than the current Ajax’

Mickey van der Hart has found his way up with FC Emmen in recent weeks. The goalie, who was attracted by the club from Drenthe in the final phase of the summer transfer period, has been under the bar in the past four games in the Eredivisie and five points were scored in those four games. On Saturday evening, in the competition match with Ajax, Van der Hart hopes to stunt with FC Emmen.

Earlier this season Eric Oelschlägel was the first goalkeeper of FC Emmen, but mid-October coach Dick Lukkien opted for a goalkeeper change. Van der Hart explains in an interview with Ajax Showtime that because of his late transfer he first needed a few weeks to train and get fit. “You cannot suddenly start from the summer break of two and a half months,” says the FC Emmen keeper. “From the moment I came in, it was mainly about getting fit and trying to get my place. I believe it took five weeks, so in the end it went quite quickly.’

Can FC Emmen also hurt Ajax in the switch?

In the past four games in the Eredivisie, FC Emmen played a draw against FC Volendam and FC Groningen, while Fortuna Sittard won last week. “Since I’ve been playing, we’ve taken five points from four games, so I’m happy. It is different than in Poland where I competed with Lech Poznan for the prizes. Now a draw is sometimes good, while in recent years that felt like a loss. I had set myself the goal of being in the starting line-up before the winter break. In the end, I’m glad I’m playing now. Saturday is another great opportunity to go for a stunt. Intuitively, it will only really start after the winter’, explains Van der Hart.

On Wednesday evening Ajax did not pass Vitesse (2-2) in the Johan Cruijff ArenA. Million Manhoef in particular proved to be a real plague for the defense of Ajax with his dribbling and speed. FC Emmen also has a player, including Richairo Živković, who can hurt Ajax in the switch. The question is therefore whether people smell blood at FC Emmen. ‘We have something like: an Ajax in top form is a different Ajax than the current Ajax. I think everyone can attest to that. In principle there are always opportunities and with Živković you have a boy with a lot of speed, just like with our right winger Rui Mendes. They have specific qualities if they have the space to go. In such a match against a top team like Ajax there are phases that you are forced back into your own half, you cannot escape that. Then it’s nice to have boys who can go.’

‘In recent years, I have been spoiled with Ajax’s performance in the Netherlands and in Europe’

Ajax has been in a lesser period in recent weeks. The club lost four matches in the Champions League and has also lost its leading position in the Eredivisie. Van der Hart explains how he views this as a former Ajax player. “I am and will always be a supporter of the club. I grew up at De Toekomst and my family has a bond with the club that will never go away. You always stay involved. Of course we have been spoiled in recent years with the performance of Ajax in Europe and in the Netherlands. Now Ajax is faced with the facts. It’s not always hosanna.”

Van der Hart says that the lesser results of Ajax have a cause. The keeper is of the opinion that the selection of Ajax still has a lot of quality. ‘But it has not yet been possible to create a permanent starting eleven. A team that is on the field and running well. I think Schreuder is very much looking for his ideal line-up and you can see that in the results’, said Van der Hart, who explains that FC Emmen – forced by injuries – has managed to form a permanent team. ‘The results have been there in recent weeks, while we played some mediocre games a month or two ago. There is now some stability in the team and I think you need that if you are in our situation.’

Why it is so difficult for youth keepers at Ajax to break through

Van der Hart played for Ajax between 2007 and 2014, a large part of which as a youth player of the Amsterdam club. Like many other goalkeeper talents at Ajax, Van der Hart was ultimately unable to conquer a starting place. The keeper explains that the steps from B1 to A1 and the first team were huge. ‘You go from playing football on Saturday morning to training with guys who have played in the Champions League for years. That demands a lot from a young keeper’, said Van der Hart, who was part of the A-selection for two years. ‘When I left, I had Kenneth (Vermeer, ed.) and Jasper (Cillessen, ed.) before me.’

In the end Van der Hart decided to leave Ajax and one can guess why the goalie decided to leave. “You can sit and wait for your chance, but I chose to play and start making minutes at the time. That has prevailed for me’, said Van der Hart, who was rented out by Ajax to Go Ahead Eagles. ‘It was very different there than at Ajax. At Ajax you might get one or two balls per game – if all goes well – and at Go Ahead there are ten to fifteen balls per game. At Ajax, being a keeper is very much about playing along and that is different from when you are under pressure. I experienced that for the first time in the Jupiler League. Those steps you then have to take are very big.’

Mickey van der Hart in his Ajax time with André Onana. The latter got the chance in Amsterdam and became one of the best goalkeepers in club history.

Van der Hart also says that as a keeper you have to make a lot of flying hours and mistakes to get better and that is not always possible at Ajax. The keeper sees that Justin Bijlow did get the chances at Feyenoord, while André Onana also eventually got the opportunities at Ajax to develop as a goalkeeper of the first team. “The last few years have been very difficult. The step is just very big. If you see at what level Ajax played in recent seasons: the step from youth to Champions League level is immense. It is difficult for youth keepers to break through,” said the FC Emmen goalie, who also notes that as a keeper you cannot fill in for fifteen minutes. ‘You can bring in a field player more often and let him smell it, but you don’t bring a keeper for fifteen minutes. Players such as Van de Beek, Taylor, De Jong and De Ligt also started with substitutes and some cup matches. Then you grow a bit in expectations. For a keeper you quickly go from zero to a hundred and that is extremely difficult.’

In preparation for the current season, Jay Gorter got the chance, but soon coach Alfred Schreuder chose Remko Pasveer as first keeper. “He has had one chance and is immediately victimized. He hasn’t played a match since then’, said Van der Hart, who also sees that Remko Pasveer is rightly under the crossbar at the moment. ‘With Gorter you have a goalkeeper with potential, and with Pasveer you have a goalkeeper with experience. Pasveer also earned it based on last season. Anyway, those are considerations you make.’

How did you experience your adventure in Poland at Lech Poznan?

In the past three seasons, Van der Hart was under contract with the Polish Lech Poznan. The keeper tells enthusiastically about his time in Poland. ‘That was fantastic. Lech Poznan is arguably the biggest club in Poland. You still had Legia Warsaw, but there have been some problems. At Lech Poznan you just play with the favorite to become national champion’, says Van der Hart.

There is a lot to consider when playing at a top club, says Van der Hart. ‘The pressure there is comparable to the pressure you feel in the Netherlands at Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord.’ Last season, Van der Hart Lech helped Poznan to their first national title in eight years. That is something that the FC Emmen goalkeeper will not soon forget. ‘That was very special. We played in a stadium for 45,000 people for the last few weeks. It was a huge noise. There were also fireworks shows and the pressure to perform was enormous.’

Mickey van der Hart cheers as goalkeeper of Lech Poznan during the duel with Legia Warsaw.
Mickey van der Hart cheers as Lech Poznan’s goalkeeper during the duel with Legia Warsaw.

In addition, the selection was also of a high level, according to Van der Hart. Many internationals played for example. ‘Our team could be compared to a team that would end up high in the left row in the Netherlands.’ Yet Lech Poznan is a team that cannot yet be compared to clubs such as Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord. ‘It is impossible to compare, but the level in Poland is quite underestimated and it is the competition that is best regarded of all in the Eastern Bloc.’ Van der Hart indicates that he has learned a lot in Poland and that he has had a lot of fun there. ‘As a person I really enjoyed it, but it was time for something new.’

Interest from Romania, Bulgaria and Italy

Van der Hart had big plans last summer. The goalkeeper wanted to make a next step abroad, but the right club did not come along. “Some things happened. In the beginning a lot in the Eastern Bloc, clubs from Romania and Bulgaria. I had seen a bit of that kind of country.’ There was also interest from Italy. “Then you keep hoping for that and suddenly it’s mid-August.”

In the end, there was no transfer to Italy. ‘Then you keep waiting, or you go for something you already know.’ Finally FC Emmen knocked on the door. “They were enthusiastic, during the entire transfer period. It was a solution for both parties.” For example, FC Emmen was looking for a keeper who could help them to stay in the Eredivisie. “And I just really wanted to get going somewhere again. In the end we found each other in a one-year contract and then we will see what the future will bring, but that is still completely open for now.’

Future plans

At 28 years old, Van der Hart still has a bright future ahead of him as a goalkeeper. He therefore has his ambitions, he concludes. “It would be ideal to play abroad for another five to six years. Only you can never really plan anything in football. You depend on certain factors and you need a little luck left and right. Right now I just have one thing on my mind and that’s this season. I want to play as much as possible and as well as possible at FC Emmen. Then we’ll see what happens afterwards.’

Bart Veenstra (Twitter: @Bart_Veenstra | email: [email protected])
Cristian de Jong (Twitter: @CristianDeJong_ | e-mail: [email protected])

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