Earlier this week, Champions League quarterfinalists Ajax Amsterdam announced that they had extended their contract with technical director Marc Overmars until 2024.
Overmars, of course, is no stranger to top football, having played at the highest level in the Netherlands (Go Ahead Eagles, Willem II), England (Arsenal) and Spain (Barcelona).
His honours list is equally impressive: the Premier League title, the FA Cup and the full array of Dutch titles, as well as the Champions League are among them.
Announcing the signing, Ajax president Leen Meijaard paid tribute to Overmars: “Marc has made a huge contribution to the club, both on the football front and financially. We are thrilled to offer him a new deal.”
The former winger, who became the most expensive Dutch player in 2000 when he was transferred to Barcelona from Arsenal for £25 million (R478 million at today’s exchange rate), said he did not hesitate to extend his contract.
“There are still plenty of challenges at Ajax and I’m having a good time here. We are taking steps with both the youth academy and the first team. From a sporting point of view, we still want to show a lot. What is also important to me is that it is nice to work with the people around me. I get pleasure and satisfaction from that,” he said.
Overmars’ position at Ajax is no exception in European football, where a number of top clubs have roped in former professionals to help them run the club away from the sidelines.
Former French international Eric Abidal is technical director at Barcelona – a position formerly occupied by Spanish legends Txiki Begiristain and Andoni Zubizarreta.
Begiristain has since moved on to Manchester City in the same capacity, while Zubizarreta is employed by Ligue 1 club Olympique Marseille, where he works with Basile Boli.
El Clásico rivals Real Madrid had Emilio Butragueño, among others, fulfilling the same role. The former striker has now become a director of the club, while Miguel Porlán Noguera (Chendo) is the club’s head of football operations.
It is not only in Spain that clubs have turned to former players to become involved after retirement. Former internationals Paolo Maldini and Leonardo are sporting director and technical director at AC Milan, respectively.
In Germany, just about every club has former players in boardroom jobs, with five-time European champions Bayern Munich leading the way. World champion Uli Hoeneß (president) and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (chair of the board) are the two most powerful members of the club, while former player Hasan Salihamidžic is technical director.
Former German international Oliver Bierhoff is now employed as general manager by the German Football Association.
But what seems to be a normal occurrence in top-level football in Europe seems to be the exception in South Africa, where very few clubs make use of former players – unless they are employed in a coaching capacity.
Football journalist and author Ian Hawkey, who spent several years in South Africa before moving to Spain as a football correspondent, said South African football had already taken a step forward by roping in former players as coaches.
“The success that former players like Benni McCarthy, Pitso Mosimane, Eric Tinkler, Steve Komphela and Gavin Hunt – to name a few – have had, is not only tremendous, it is also a fitting tribute to their achievements as players. It is much less the case that former players are invited to be a part of the club’s management team outside the pitch, even though I think they would have a lot to offer.
“You did at some stage have somebody like Mike Ntombela at Sundowns, but for many former players, a position at a club remains unobtainable unless they go into coaching.”
Hawkey, who is co-author of Vuvuzela Dawn, a new book on South African sport since 1994, said that he believed one of the reasons could be that clubs in South Africa were controlled by one or two people.
“It could well be that these individuals are not too eager to allow others to be involved in having a say in issues like player transfers. They accept that they need to have coaches, but they believe they can handle things that sporting directors handle in Europe themselves,” he said.
“I do, however, believe that this situation will change and we will see more ex-players taking up different roles. It would be a pity if not, as they have so much to offer and they are keen to give back to the sport.”