To celebrate Marc Overmars' 42nd birthday we pulled a classic interview with the Dutch winger from our archives. This piece first appeared in the Arsenal Magazine in August 2007.
When Marc Overmars joined Arsenal from Ajax in 1997 to become one of the first major signings of the Arsene Wenger era, there were dark mutterings in the media that the Gunners were singing a player who was injury-prone and whose best days were behind him.
Not for the last time, Wenger ignored popular wisdom and backed his own judgement. Not for the last time, Arsenal supporters could thank their lucky stars that he did.
Overmars contributed massively to Arsenal’s first golden era under Arsene Wenger, scoring in an FA Cup final and securing a memorable winner at Old Trafford that turned the tide in Arsenal’s favour as they marched towards the double.
Indeed, given that he was nominally a winger, Overmars’ scoring record for the Gunners was impressive: 41 goals from 143 appearances in all competitions gave him an average of over a goal every four games. And in three seasons at Highbury, the diminutive Dutchman provided the most excitement Arsenal fans had seen on the left wing since the days of Anders Limpar.
When he left for Barcelona in the summer of 2000, the pair left for a reported fee with, Overmars commanding the lion’s share of the fee, making him the most expensive Dutchman in history. Seven years on, he looks back on his career with Dan Brennan and talks about going back to his roots as a director with his first club in his native Holland.
You retired from the game because of injury back in 2004. What have you been doing since?
I’ve been quite busy running a company with my father and my brother. We had a vintage car business but we sold that a while ago. Now we are involved in property development - building and renting out commercial property.
And you are now a director at Dutch club Go Ahead Eagles. How did you get involved there?
They are the club where I started my career as a player, based in a town called Deventer. I got involved again two and a half years ago. They were struggling financially and the president of the club asked me to invest. For me, it was an emotional and business decision. I was ready to help them out financially but we also decided that it would be better if I got involved in the running of the club, so I joined the board as a director of football. They had lost a lot of money. I knew I couldn’t run away and do nothing. I felt we had the right group of people to do something, coming at things with new ideas.
Was it an easy decision to return to football in such a different role?
I certainly missed the game after I stopped playing and felt that I wanted some kind of involvement again. It is interesting for me to be on the other side of the table and it’s good to have what I call some ‘healthy stress’ in my life again. This is a small club - we get crowds of around 6,000 so it’s not too crazy. If another club had asked me to do the same thing, I am 95 per cent sure that I would have said no. I don’t think I’d want to be involved with just any club. Here I can shape my own schedule and I have a lot of freedom. I can spend time with my family, I can take the kids to school. These days it’s all about money, money and money, but there are more important things in life.
Go Ahead Eagles is a strange name for a club…
When I was at Arsenal people laughed when I said that I played for a club called Go Ahead Eagles. They thought it was odd that the club had an English name. The reason for it is that in the 1970s the club had an English manager, Barry Hughes, and he thought of the name and designed the club emblem which is an eagle.
Looking back at your time at Arsenal - when you first joined the club from Ajax in 1997, there was a a lot of speculation in the media surrounding your fitness, with suggestions the Gunners were taking a big risk…
I had come back from a bad knee injury and it’s true that a lot of people were writing me off, so it wasn’t easy for me. But there was never one per cent of doubt in my mind that I would be fine. Arsene Wenger believed in me. He saw me playing a few times and that was enough to make up his mind. It was very good for me that he was wiling to back me.
You played for three of Europe’s most famous clubs. How do you rank your time at Arsenal?
People always ask me what I enjoyed most in my career. I go back to Arsenal every year but have never been back to Barcelona since I left, so I guess that tells you something. I enjoyed my time at Arsenal unbelievably. The atmosphere was good of course - in the stadium and in the dressing room - and it was a great period for the club. I had three years of success there and from a personal point of view, they were the best years of my career. I think we had the perfect mix on the pitch. There were still around six or seven players from England in the team with four or five foreigners.
I really enjoyed the routine in England - playing at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. It was never the same when I moved to Spain. There you often played games at 9pm in the evening. And we spent a lot of time on planes or in hotels. Given the chance I’d often be in bed at 10pm so it wasn’t great for me!
Your move to Barcelona made you the most expensive Dutch footballer in history…
They bought me for an unbelievable amount of money. For Arsenal, I think it was an easy decision when they knew they could get that kind of fee for me. For me as a Dutchman, it was a special chance because of the history of the ties that Barcelona has with Holland, thanks to Johan Cruyff etc. Barca had just sold Figo to Real Madrid for even more money than they paid for me. There was certainly a bit of pressure because of expectations. I think people there were expecting something different from me. They wanted me to be like a Ronaldo or a Romario but I was never that kind of player, I was always a team player.
To be honest the club went through a difficult period in those four years that I was there. We didn’t win the league once. At a club like Barcelona you have to get results. If you go one year without success - okay, but if it last two, three or four seasons, then things get very tough. There were a lot of problems to be honest. We had six coaches in four years and four presidents - which is not normal or healthy. When you have that kind of situation, the team spirit suffers.
Do you still stay in touch with Arsenal?
I go back to Arsenal at least once a year to watch a game, and I am still in contact with various people behind the scenes. And of course I follow what goes on at the club very closely.
Anything else you wish to tell us, Marc?
Just to wish all the very best to all Arsenal supporters and wish the club the greatest success.
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