It's not easy following European soccer from this side of the pond. Especially when your club doesn't play in England, or one of the other Big Four leagues.
I'd been hearing rumours about ownership problems at AZ (my boys), related to bankruptcy problems with DSB, the company belonging to team owner Dirk Scheringa. However, I didn't know how bad things had become until this past Tuesday when I spent some time watching the team's Champions League clash against Arsenal.
While the AZ fans went home happy after snatching an injury-time draw, I couldn't help but notice that the team had been playing without DSB's sponsor logo on their shirt.
The situation is unclear, but things are looking bleak. The various companies under Dirk Scheringa's control are bankrupt and under some form of receivership. While the fans are trying to put on a brave face (a banner at one end of the pitch in Alkmaar read "Ook zonder geld is Dirk onze hield" -- "Even without money, Dirk is our hero"), but it seems things will get worse before they get better.
The assets are being snapped up. Among other holdings, Scheringa's impressive art collection has been picked up by ABN AMRO, ironically the shirt sponsor of Eredivise rivals Ajax. AZ itself is up for sale for $35 million. If the team can't be sold quickly, it will be sold in pieces as other teams have begun making inquiries about AZ players, assuming they will be dealing with a motivated seller. Moussa Dembele, Stijn Schaars and Mounir el Hamdaoui (who Scheringa opted to keep instead of selling for 16 million euros over the summer) are some of the names being knocked about.
With all of this going on, it's no surprise that the team is struggling in the Eredivisie. Still, performances like the late comeback against Arsenal at midweek suggest this team has some quality, should they be able to hold on to most of their players.
As for the shirt, it will remain blank for a while. Rumour has it that Kooyenga, which as far as I can tell is a Frisian temp agency, is the likely replacement.
I only lived in the country for a year, so I can't honestly claim that my affections run deep, but it is a bit sad to see this team, a mid-sized club that has been swinging with the big boys for the last 5 or 6 years, take such a negative turn.