Exclusive Interview: John Lammers

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ‘'Hi John, thanks for talking to me at TSF today.  Let’s go back to the beginning of your football journey.”

JL  ''Football was different in my time to how it is now, at the age of 18 I went from the A Juniors of an amateur club to Willem II and I debuted for Willem II shortly afterwards in a match against Feyenoord.  Back in my time there was no specific ambition to be part of the youth setup of a club because I wanted to finish my studies which is why I chose Willem II instead of PSV Eindhoven.  The club cooperated with me regarding my studies and PSV Eindhoven did not.

Nowadays it is easier to be part of the youth setup of a club whereas in the past you had to arrange a lot of things yourself.  I think that is what forms your character.  I always wanted to be a professional footballer but I did not envisage it happening at a young age.’’

JR  ‘'You really made a name for yourself at NAC Breda where in five years you made over 100 appearances, scoring over 100 goals.  Those are Messi stats!''

JL  ''Yes, when I arrived at NAC Breda I previously played two seasons abroad in France for SC Toulon.  NAC was in the past, and still is, a club with a massive name and fanatic support.  At that time they were playing in the Dutch first division and they wanted to return to the Eredvisie, they brought in good players to achieve that and we did it in our second season.

I have fond memories of my time at the club and the coach Ronald Spelbos.  During my five seasons at the club I scored over 100 goals and I can only look back on that period of my career with pride.’’

JR  ''You mentioned your time playing for SC Toulon in France, at that time French football was beginning to wake up again, and there were some football heavyweights begging to come to the fore…”

JL ‘’That's right.  During my time in France I got to learn a different culture and I was still young.  That helps to shape your life and you learn a lot of life skills and you can really develop as a person.  It is no different in football.  If you go abroad it is really easy to think that you will go there and you will get the time to perform, that is a typical Dutch attitude.  If you go to France or any other country you are a foreigner and you must perform.

But it was difficult because I did not speak French, but I had a great time and I learned a lot in France getting to play against great opponents.  I remember playing against FC Nantes, I played against Marcel Desaily and Antoine Kombouaré, we won 1-0 and I scored the winning goal, Didier Deschamps was playing in the FC Nantes midfield too, they were big names.

I remember playing against Enzo Francescoli, Chris Waddle, Jean-Pierre Papin and a very young Zinedine Zidane playing for AS Cannes.  I have wonderful memories and I have experienced what it is to play abroad and live and adapt too.  At the time I was taken under the wing of François Zahoui who is from the Ivory Coast and at the age of 16 he was the first African player to go to Europe when he signed for Ascoli Calcio 1898 FC. He helped me a lot. The nice thing about it is that 30 years later we are still in contact, between that time he was the national team manager of Ivory Coast during the time that Didier Drogba and Kolo Toure were playing for them.

Ivory Coast often prepared for their games in Amsterdam and I would go and watch them train and eat with the players, it is nice to have such contacts in football and one of the things that I have learned and something that I have always done is if here in the Netherlands a young foreign club comes to the country and I can help them, I will.

That is why I still have regular contact with many players abroad that I have played with and that is something which in football is great.  Other cultures and other people who all have the same goal of performing in the football world.  I also played against the great Johan Cruyff twice in my career too.’'

JR  ‘'I love how you slipped that in right at the end!  You went into football management where you’ve managed among other FC Eindhoven, what are your memories of that time?"

JL  ''I only have bad memories from my time at FC Eindhoven but that is how things are in football sometimes.  I did a really good job at my previous club in Excelsior Rotterdam and after that season I received three offers from Helmond Sport, AGOVV Apeldoorn and FC Eindhoven.  There was also an offer from a Hungarian club but at the time I did not feel that I was ripe enough for a move abroad.

I spoke with the clubs and eventually I chose FC Eindhoven.  Sometimes  you make the wrong decision in football and that was my wrong choice.  I was used to working with the likes of Peter Bosz, Alex Pastoor and they are complete professionals who want to get better everyday and I have learned a lot from both of them.  At the time John Dahl Tomasson was my assistant at Excelsior Rotterdam and these are people who are day and night busy with football and making people better which is what you have to do as a manager.

But when I arrived at FC Eindhoven they did not want to progress and I did not enjoy my time because I thought it was an amateur setup.  I made the wrong choice and these are things that can influence your career and these things happen in football.  Then you have to get yourself out of it, I found myself sacked after only four months due to the work environment and often it is the manager's fault.

There is often a battle and also that season four members of the back room staff were also sacked and the club decided to take a new direction.  These things happen as a manager and I moved on into my next role, often the decisions that you make are really important.  My nephew Sam Lammers currently plays for Atalanta BC and we spoke about the need to make good decisions and not just look at the financial side, especially as you move on during your career as a player.

But that is why I try to educate players about the importance of making the right decision.  I thought I made the right one at FC Eindhoven after having a good interview with the club, but at the moment you arrive at a club you must also look at ambition.  At Esbjerg fB I worked with Ted van Leeuwen and these are people that are day and night busy with football and improving others and that is something that I also now look for in a club and the people”.

JR  ‘'You mention Esbjerg fB in Denmark where you managed for two seasons during a very productive time for the club both on and off the pitch.”

JL  ''I must say that when I went to Denmark I did not know a lot about Danish football.  Ted van Leeuwen was at the club and the club had just been relegated with the budget of the club being reduced.  But their under 19 team had just become champions of Denmark so there was a lot of talent at the club.  When I started at the club I watched a lot of live games over the whole country and I immersed myself in Danish football, learning a lot.  With a Dutch approach you want to change the club and I have also learned that you must work with the strong points of the country that you are working in.

With such a combination I was able to include five players of 19 years of age in the starting lineup.  We achieved promotion which was a highlight because nobody saw that coming.  Then our best player and top scorer Anders Dreyer who scored 27 goals and provided 13 assists was sold to Brighton & Hove Albion in England for €2.5m which was a gigantic figure which had never happened in the history of the club.

The following season in the highest division you noticed a massive difference in the manner in which the teams play.  In the Danish second division many teams play not to lose and it involves a lot of power football, but in the highest division in Denmark there are many teams that play good football to win, and they are tough teams too.  Even though we were promoted we did not have a big budget and Ted van Leeuwen had left the club to go to FC Twente in the Netherlands.

But we managed to sign two Finnish internationals and finish third.  The Bronze medal is a big prize in Denmark because it means you qualify for Europe and I was chosen as manager of the year by the Danish newspapers which was a nice individual prize, but winning the Bronze medal is like winning the league.  The fact that we qualified for Europe was fantastic.  Once again we started with a young team and there again you see what happens in football, we played away to the top team in the league and we lost 1-0 and we had a goal ruled out for offside and a penalty not awarded.

The next two games we drew and after 9 games I was sacked even though we were about to play European football.  But once again you learn, it was disappointing and that season Esbjerg fB had three managers and were subsequently relegated.  When I was sacked I said, ‘with me at the helm and if I stay we will not get relegated because I know the team so well and the players have confidence in me’.  That is always so important with managers.

The players still had confidence in the manager and they worked together well, Esbjerg fB panicked too quickly, but often you have to deal with people that do not come from the football world and that is a shame.   

After my first season and winning the Bronze medal there were a lot of clubs that had interest in me but I said that I had a contract with Esbjerg fB and even though I had a clause in my contract which said I could leave, I stayed.  Perhaps I should have made the decision to move on to the next step in my career, but on the other hand I really wanted to experience European football as a manager and that is why you must make the right choice at the right time.  I always say you must not regret the things that you have not done.”

JR  ‘'John, it’s been really refreshing to hear such honesty from a manager, I want to thank you again for talking to me today.  With everything that’s happened in your managerial career, what does the future hold for John Lammers?

JL  ''As a player you are always ambitious.  I played at different levels in the Netherlands and I also experienced playing abroad but I must be honest and say that playing abroad made me what I am, and my ambition is to manage abroad again in future.  I am open to a new challenge.  There are some great clubs in the Netherlands but in general I would prefer to manage abroad in order to enrich myself as a person.

I believe that in Denmark not only did I become a better manager but also a better person and I learned a lot and made many friends.  When you spend time abroad you learn another culture and mentality.  At the moment with the Coronavirus it is difficult because you cannot watch any live games - normally I would watch a lot of games - and current Bayer Leverkusen manager Peter Bosz is a good friend of mine and I would often go and watch a lot of games of Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.

My agent has good contacts at Borussia Dortmund and in France to watch games.  I want to watch games all over Europe and I also watch all the games of Atalanta BC because my nephew, Sam Lammers, plays there.  Also the possibility of working an internship at a club under an interesting manager is not possible at the moment.  These are the things that I would like to do and due to Coronavirus it is a shame that they are not possible at the moment.’'


James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.