Gerard Nijkamp: One Goed Fellow
The Post has always had a commitment to providing a platform to diverse voices and perspectives. Nevertheless, we were surprised when Nijkamp reached out to share his side of the story. What follows is Nijkamp’s unedited account of his time in Cincinnati, which we had been holding for publication until his new position at Sparta Rotterdam was confirmed.
**EDITOR’S NOTE: Gerard Nijkamp had nothing to do with writing this.**
As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a general manager. To me, being a GM was better than being Minister-president van Nederland. Even before I first wandered onto Transfermarkt.nl to find an attacking midfielder rated under $10 million, I knew I wanted to run a transfer window. It was there that I knew I belonged. To me, it meant being somebody in a league that was full of nobodies. GMs weren't like anybody else. I mean, they did what they wanted. They pretended to sign Zlatan to a TAM deal, and nobody questioned it. In the summer when Miami signed five DPs, nobody ever called the league office.
Then I met Jeff Berding. Jeff ran the fifth-highest payroll in MLS for his buddy Carl who was the boss over everybody in the city. Jeff might not have taken a lot of questions, but it's only because he didn't have to answer to anybody.
At first, the media and fans loved that I found a job with the team. Kevin Wallace, who ran The Post, wanted to see the process, and he liked that I made a PowerPoint presentation about my Dutch style. He always said American teams don't do things the right way, and he thought we'd work our way to pro/rel. And CST was happy after they found out that my buddy Ron coached the same team in the Netherlands that Luis Suarez used to play for. To them, I was the answer to their prayers. I was the luckiest guy in the world. I could sign anyone. I could spend whatever I wanted on an international spot to sign a backup goalkeeper.
But it wasn't too long before the fans changed their minds. See, they thought being a GM was just another game of Football Manager, but for me, it was a full-time job. People like Kevin could never understand, but I was part of something. I belonged. I wore a full kit. Every day I was learning to use allocation money.
On the other hand, Matt Doyle was always angry. He was angry that he had to deliver Don Garber's party line every day. He was angry that he made such lousy money. He was angry that Gaston chose to ride the bench at Cagliari over signing for FC Cincinnati. But after awhile, he was mostly angry that we didn't understand MLS mechanisms. He said you needed MLS experience, or you were going to get in trouble. I used to say that soccer is soccer, that we have a capologist, but he knew better. He knew what went on behind the scenes and, every once in awhile, usually after he had a few Heineken 0.0s in him, I had to take a verbal beating. But by then, I didn't care. No matter how many beatings I took, I wouldn't listen to what he said. The way I saw it, I could spend as much money on a DP as I wanted, and it didn't matter if I tripled Allan Cruz's salary three months into his first contract.
Hundreds of guys depended on Jeff and he got a piece of everything they made. It was tribute, just like the old country, except they were doing it in America. All they got from Jeff was a pat on the back and maybe a few thousand dollars into their Super PAC. That's what it's all about. What Jeff and the MLS does is offer football for people who don't want to subscribe to Paramount+. They're like the Premier League for plastics.
Once I got the GM job, people looked at me differently. They knew I was with somebody. I didn't have to wait in line at Brown Bear Bakery on Sunday morning anymore for cinnamon rolls. The owner knew who I was with, and she'd come from around the counter, no matter how many people were waiting. I was taken care of first. I had more money than I could spend, and allocation money out the wazoo. I had it all. One day, New York Red Bulls sent me a Ben Mines, free of charge. It was out of respect.
Now, if you're part of a front office, nobody ever tells you that they're going to can you. It doesn't happen that way. There aren't any arguments or curses like in the movies. Jeff comes in with a smile. He comes as your friend, the guy who's always had your back, and he always comes at a time when you've just botched a transfer window and are most in need of comfort.
So I met Jeff in a crowded place we both knew – the food court at Kroger On the Rhine. I got there 15 minutes early and I saw that Jeff was already there. I could tell he wanted to see if I'd brought any new signings with me.
He was jumpy. He hadn't touched his ribs. That was a tell. In the old days, Jeff would house three coneys without question. On the surface, of course, everything was supposed to be fine. We were supposed to be discussing the upcoming window. But I had a feeling Jeff was trying to sense whether I was going to try to sign another injured, over-the-hill PSV player to a last-minute DP contract.
Jeff looked me right in the eyes, and he said "I think we have a good shot at signing Gotze this winter. I want you and Jaap to go to Eindhoven and take care of him. Without him, we've got no offense."
Jeff had never asked me to sign anybody before, but now he's telling me to go to Eindhoven and sign a player with Jaap. That's when I knew I would never have come back to the United States.
It was easy for me to disappear. I was renting an apartment under the team's name. My cars were registered to Ron Jans. My Transfermarkt page and that interview I gave to the Zwolle newspaper, that's all you'd ever have to know I was alive.
The hardest thing for me was leaving the MLS. I still love the MLS. We were treated like movie stars with track jackets. We had it all just for the asking. Our wives, mothers, kids, everybody got on a podcast. I had spreadsheets full of allocation money and a sugar bowl full of Young Money slots on my desk.
Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Club seats and charter jets, private David Guetta concerts. I'd get a million dollars in a trade for Frankie Amaya, and then I'd blow the whole thing on a midfielder who can't make the 18 or borrow from 2022 cap space to pay back Geoff Cameron's contract.
It didn't matter. When I was out of international slots, I got a green card. We called presidents, we pressured embassies. Everybody scratched our backs. And now it's all over.
And that's the hardest part. Today everything is different. There's no action.
I have to sit around Rotterdam like anybody else. You can't even get decent food. Right after I got here I tried to order a three-way and they sent me to the red light district.
I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a sukkel.