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Exclusive: Denny Landzaat – “My Goal Is To Be The Gaffer”

“Skoko on the edge… oh that’s a poor attempt to set him up. Landzaat’s already had one good crack… AND THAT’S EVEN BETTER! IT’S FANTASTIC FOR WIGAN FROM DENNY LANDZAAT!”

“Well that’s a stunning strike, and from 25 yards out! What a shot!” 

– Martin Tyler and Alan Smith commentating on Denny Landzaat’s goal vs Arsenal, 11th February 2007.

As a young Denny Landzaat laced up his boots and donned a blue shirt to play for amateur Amsterdam side SC Buitenveldert, it was apparent that the teenager possessed qualities that set him apart from the other footballers. A domineering presence in the centre of midfield, Denny impressed so much at an amateur level that Ajax – the unsurpassable entity of Dutch football and European champions at the time – seized the signature of the impressive defensive midfielder for their academy. Landzaat’s journey into the world stage of football had begun.

Denny’s tenure at Ajax was short, however, making only two appearances – his first as a late substitute in the quarterfinals of the 1995/96 Champions League against Dortmund – before being sold to MVV Maastricht where he would help “de Sterrendragers” return to the top flight of Dutch football. Lengthy spells at Willem II and AZ Alkmaar followed, with Landzaat establishing himself as favourable among supporters, before he was granted a move to the Premier League with Wigan Athletic following his appearances for Holland in the 2006 World Cup.

It was in the small town of Wigan that Landzaat made a big impression among English supporters. Holding his own for an ultimately struggling Latics side in an incredibly competitive Premier League season, Landzaat was a mainstay in the Wigan midfield and helped the side to stay up on goal difference in their second ever top-flight season, at the expense of Sheffield United on the final day. After a fruitful season-and-a-half spell in the Premier League, racking up 52 appearances and scoring 5 goals – including an audacious effort against Arsenal – Landzaat departed Wigan to return to the Netherlands with Feyenoord. Landzaat saw off his career in his home nation, collating 2 KNVB Cups and a Johan Cruyff Shield to boot, before turning his full attention to coaching; where Denny has serious ambitions.

Whilst currently holding the assistant-manager position at his former club Feyenoord as they chase for the Eredivisie title, Denny. in his typical affable manner that was shown on the pitch, graciously agreed to answer some questions for 90MAAT.

“So, Denny, you’re currently the assistant coach at your former club Feyenoord now that you’re playing career is over, and coached youth at AZ prior to getting the job in Rotterdam. How are you finding coaching players rather than being the player yourself?”

“I like it very much, almost as much as being a player! To work with a team that is successful and helping players who want to get better every day and help them in their career is great.”

“Growing up in Amsterdam as an aspiring footballer, what kind of players did you take inspiration from when attempting to break through at Ajax?”

“Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten and Jari Litmanen were very special players at that time who I looked up to.

“Of course, as a young player before the break through, I was getting inspired by how the players from the first team trained and played in the position I did.”

Landzaat was fortunate enough to grow up during an exciting period for Dutch football, and it clearly shaped his playing style. As the Amsterdam native was an emerging teenage talent, Ajax had become European champions in 1995 by beating an ever-so-dominant AC Milan side 1-0 in the final and the likes of Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard were at the forefront of a dangerous Netherlands side. Fast forward over two decades later, the KNVB are desperate for a resurgence in Dutch football due to some poor showings as of late and Landzaat is essentially cultivating the new generation coming through at Feyenoord.

The traditionally attacking-minded ethos of Dutch football certainly moulded Landzaat’s playing style; being a defensive midfielder who would frequently make supportive runs to assist the attackers as well as drive through the centre of the pitch to carry the ball forward. With 38 caps over the span of 7 years for a star-laden Netherlands side, Denny became a frequent contributor in the Holland midfield – especially under the management of one of his idols; Marco van Basten. The Dutchman was also renowned for being vigorous when facing the goal, as shown by his stunning 25-yard strike for Wigan against Arsenal in 2007 or his sole international goal against Liechtenstein in 2004.

“You had a career spanning almost 2 decades and played for an abundance of clubs, are there any particular games or moments from your career that stick out in your mind as special?”

“The special ones for me are the international games with the Dutch team at the World Cup. Also, the ones against big clubs in the Champions League or Premier League, and for sure my goal for Wigan v Arsenal on Sunday 11 February 2007! [Also playing against] players like Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes and Steven Gerrard. They were all top-quality players!”

“Speaking of that screamer at Arsenal, what were your thoughts as you struck the ball and saw in sail in over Lehman?”

“Just before I got the ball I was just gambling that maybe the ball can come to me somewhere around the box. It did and then everything went so fast. Before I knew I was celebrating with [Leighton] Baines, [Lee] McCulloch and Ems [Emile Heskey].”

As a cog in a Wigan Athletic machine that was competing at the pinnacle of the club’s history, the consummate midfielder certainly played a key role in securing the Latics’ Premiership status in the 06/07 season. As well as being adept at getting forward at attacking teams, Landzaat was also proficient at pressing players in the middle of the park and his defensive credentials are also fairly imposing; with an impressive 75% tackle success in his 52 games for Wigan that largely speaks for itself. Denny was seemingly a vastly overlooked and underrated player during his time in English football, acting as the cog in the background that kept a team fighting for survival ticking.

“You were a fan favourite at Wigan during your one-and-a-half season spell at the JJB, what are your fondest moments from playing in blue and white in the Premier League?”

“Celebrating together in 2006-2007 when we stayed up on the final match day when we won 1-2 at Sheffield United! We had a great night arriving back at Wigan.

“I wasn’t there but I can imagine that in 2013 when the FA Cup was won [the celebrations would have been phenomenal], Wigan town was so little!”

Whilst his time in England was rather short-lived in comparison to his extensive tenures in the Netherlands, an impression was certainly made on the Wigan faithful by the Dutchman – and the feelings are clearly mutual. With his 18-month stint at Wigan Athletic his only adventure away from his domestic nation, Denny certainly made a connection with the Latics faithful before being signed by Dutch giants – and former club Ajax’s fiercest rivals – Feyenoord; a club Landzaat is still associated with now as Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s second in command at the Rotterdam club. However, whilst the 42-year-old is content with his position currently, the former ‘Oranje’ midfield maestro has aspirations for even bigger things. 

“Lastly, you’ve decided to go down the coaching path following your retirement from playing; is your ultimate goal to go into management and if so what managers that you have played under will you take inspiration from?”

“My goal is to be the gaffer. Hopefully one day I can become more successful than I was as a player”.

“Every manager that I have played under is an inspiration for me. I use them often as an example, by asking or thinking to myself, “how was it then?” or, “what would have he done in this situation and why?” Louis van Gaal is one of my favourite examples. I’m unlucky that I didn’t get to play under Roberto Martinez, I think he is also a tactical strong coach and that the players enjoyed playing under him.”

Whilst a modest and surreptitious player who proved essential in the teams that he played for, Denny now aspires to be at the forefront of a football club; commanding a squad in a managerial sense akin to how he commanded the midfield as a player. Homogenising aspects from his lengthy playing career in Holland under some astounding managerial names as well as performing in the Premier League for Wigan, Landzaat could be seen donning a suit and taking the helm of a club in the very near future.

From wearing the blue shirt of SC Buitenveldert back in his early footballing days in Amsterdam to possibly a white shirt and tie at a prominent managerial role, Landzaat certainly exerts his spirit for the beautiful game. In a period of resurgence for Dutch ‘voetbal’, expect the name of Denny Lanzaat to be ever-present as he fulfils his goal of becoming “the gaffer”.

Harry Robinson

A 19-year-old journalism student at the University of Sheffield, Harry has been writing and interviewing sports personalities since the age of 15. He has interviewed the likes of Roberto Martinez, Kevin Davies and Bryan Robson and has been writing for 90MAAT since June 2018.

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