Jaap Stam was sold, which was a bombshell as big as Sparky leaving, even for the players – especially for the players. We were as mystified as anyone. All kinds of conspiracies swirled around because Jaap’s exit came on the back of his ‘controversial’ autobiography; but I’ve always believed that the book was a minor factor, perhaps irrelevant. I know the manager wasn’t thrilled about the book, and nor was I at being called a ‘busy cunt’. Jaap had called me that to my face many times, and I know it was meant affectionately, but it didn’t look quite so clever spread across the front of the Daily Mirror.
He was very apologetic, because he was a big softie at heart, a big playful bear. Phil, Butty and I used to wind him up by flicking his ears or tapping him on the back of the head so he’d run after us, like a father chasing after a naughty kid. He didn’t mean any harm with the book, he’d just not thought through the consequences of serialisation, when little passages get blown up into big stories. As I explained to him, you can say Ruud van Nistelrooy was selfish when he was near goal but the headline won’t explain how that selfishness was part of his brilliance.
People came up with their conspiracy theories for Jaap’s exit, but all that counted was that the manager had lost confidence in him – a mistake, as he’d later admit. He thought Jaap had lost a bit of pace, and was dropping off. But even if that was partly true, he remained an immense presence for us in defence. He was missed.