Dutch goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg continues to defy the odds aged 38 as his nation’s number one at this summer’s EUROs. Now in his nineteenth year of professional football, Stekelenburg continues to build his legacy.
When Maarten Stekelenburg left Everton in the summer of 2020, you’d have been extremely hard pressed to have found a single football fan who would have tipped him to feature, let alone start, at the following summer’s EUROs.
12 months later, his career has come full circle.
Debuting for the Netherlands in 2004, Stekelenburg had already been plying his trade with Dutch giants Ajax for two years previously. With his true breakthrough season coming in 2005/06, Stekelenburg began to build his footballing legacy – winning two major trophies in the Netherlands by the end of 2006.
Roma, Fulham, Monaco, Southampton and Everton followed, but over a period of seven years (since leaving Roma), the shot stopper made only 56 appearances. In fact, Stekelenburg never managed to make more than twenty appearances for a single club since joining Fulham.
The COVID-19 pandemic seemed as if it would bring a rather downtrodden end to what was a career that had been in decline for some time. So, when Stekelenburg moved back home to re-join Ajax, most expected him to play nothing more than an insurance role.
But for those of us unfortunate enough to ever actually have to use our insurance, we know that it can be a lifesaver. In football, things change quickly. Stekelenburg became the insurance option that was entirely worth it. And boy, has it worked out well for him.
Every business should aspire to create a strong brand legacy. But what does this have to do with Maarten Stekelenburg?
In life and business, people are often too quick to give up. They don’t hope for the pot of gold that sits at the end of the rainbow. Rather just accept it isn’t there, and add their dreams to the bottom of a lengthy ‘To-Do’ list that just never seems to be completed.
Stekelenburg re-joined Ajax as a footballer of times gone by. In fact, he made his international debut in the same team as Dutch icon Edgar Davids. It’s not particularly typical to recognise goalkeepers by their international accomplishments given the relatively small number of appearances they actually make, but Stekelenburg is perhaps an exception to the rule.
It was his stellar role in the Netherlands’ 2010 World Cup runners-up campaign that arguably formed much of his legacy. This isn’t something seen regularly in football.
But when Ajax number one Andre Onana was banned from football in February 2021, Stekelenburg was presented with an opportunity to add to his personal ‘brand legacy’. An opportunity that he likely thought would never come about again not only saw Stekelenburg pull on his boyhood club’s number one shirt for the second time, but also become an Eredivisie winner for the third time and put himself back in contention for a somewhat miraculous EURO call up.
Nobody would have expected Stekelenburg to revitalise his career at such an ‘old’ age (in footballing terms, at least), but the Dutchman has proved three things:
One, you should never throw the towel in when you’ve got skill – skill is rare. Two, you shouldn’t always look to continue to add to your personal brand legacy – it’s your contribution to the world, no matter how small. Three, it’s never too late to chase your dreams.
Athletes heading into retirement should always look to continue adding to their brand legacy.
Retirement at a relatively young age can suck the zest for life out of people. It can leave a bit of an ‘is that it?’ feeling lingering somewhere at the back of their brain. For athletes especially, a routine is ripped away. In many cases, this has formed the backbone of life for as long as they can remember.
Aiming to add to your personal brand legacy, in whatever way that may be, won’t guarantee you continued riches. But it will guarantee you a purpose – a renewed purpose. Trying to do more for the world won’t only make you feel good. In fact, following your passion means success is easier to come by.
And with success comes legacy. A purposeful, personal brand legacy.
Leaving a positive mark on the world is something we believe all businesses should aim to do. Athletes, 99/100 times, bring so much joy to other people. Making others’ lives better is contagious – like a yawn, laugh or smile – and not only does striving to better your personal brand legacy bring meaning to you, but also to the everyday life of a friend, cousin, neighbour, uncle, grandma, teacher, or anybody else, for that matter.
Business is an important part of the world, but we like to think that meaningful branding gives it some humanity.
Maarten Stekelenburg is hopefully going to enjoy a fruitful rest of the EUROs, but merely in being there is he defying the odds, providing inspiration to millions well into the twilight years of his footballing career.
In something so globalised and commercialised, Maarten Stekelenburg’s appearance at EURO 2020 reminds us all of the true spirit of the game, in many ways. The addictive love of sport that never grows old clearly burns inside the Dutchman, no matter his age or footballing past.
At JAX Branding, we help you ignite the passion that’s deep inside. The passion inside that we can turn into a beautiful, beloved brand. A brand that powers on and continues to defy the odds in the face of whatever comes at it.
Want to kick off your business career? Chat with Jack about your vision, and get the ball rolling.