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Who is ‘AirPod Albert’ Stuivenberg?

By Jahid Islam

Hello readers of We Love You Arsenal! I’m Jahid (@JahidFullStop) back with my last article of 2021, and in the 251st article posted by all us writers here at WLYABlog during this rollercoaster ride of a year, I’ll be looking at one of the many suave looking gentlemen on Arteta’s technical staff, the one with the AirPods and iPad and whatnot. You know who I’m on about.

The name’s Stuivenberg, Albert Stuivenberg. Goes by the name Al to his homeboys, and he’s our assistant manager, soon to be in charge of ‘Teta’s tricky reds in our New Year’s Day match against ‘Citeh’ whilst the big boss is out of action after completing the COVID-Double. If his immune system is anything near as strong as his eyebrow-game, then he should hopefully be back, dancing up and down the technical area before the Carabao Cup game vs Liverpool on the 6th Jan.

The 51-year-old Stuivenberg has had a relatively long career in football coaching already. The former assistant manager to Louis Van Goal at Man Utd, Ryan Giggs in the Welsh National Team, as well as being the KRC Genk manager in the Belgian Pro League, he isn’t a baby-duckling waddling onto an unfamiliar scene. Although, taking the reins of the mighty Arsenal against the high flying Citizens will be one hell of a task for any coach, regardless of how many years they’ve got under their belt. It’s a task for the baby Jesus himself.

A former Midfielder coming through the Feyenoord youth academy, Al failed to break through into the first team and his playing career was mainly spent in the lower divisions of Dutch Football. Cruciate Ligament injuries prematurely ended his fledgling career and Stuivenberg moved into youth coaching, back at Feyenoord. Must’ve been absolutely heartbreaking for him.

14 years at Feyenoord, 4 of which were spent as the Head of Youth, were followed with a few years as the Head of the youth set-up, in, of all places, Abu Dhabi. To be fair, if I got offered a chance to coach football in Abu Dhabi, I’d take it in a split second. The weather over there’s a hell of a lot better than that in the UK/Netherlands. I’m tired of the rain, and I guess Al must’ve been too.

After that brief stint in the UAE, Stuivenberg became the head coach of the Under-17 Dutch National team, winning back-to-back European Championships in 2011 and 2012. Proper impressive stuff, and his managerial feats earned him a promotion to the Under-21s. A bit like when your parents let you help them cook for the first time, by peeling onions or something. After a scintillating kitchen debut including the finest peeled onions the land has ever seen, the next time you help out, your mum lets you stir the pot, which everyone knows is clearly the best part of cooking.

But there’s always that one older relative who says “You should cook for me next time!” That older relative, in this incredibly weird metaphor, is Louis Van Gaal, who recruited Stuivenberg to work in his new kitchen… I mean, at his new job at Manchester United. As a member of ‘LOOOEE VAN GAAAH’S AAARMYY’, Stuivenberg told 'The Independent’ in a 2017 article that Van Gaal fully trusted him to lead training sessions, which provided him with the confidence and experience that put him in good stead for his future job as Manager of KRC Genk, and also introduced him to a Mr Ryan Giggs.

Less than a year at the helm of Genk wielded a return of 23 wins in 48 games, a Europa league quarter finals appearance, and an 8th place league finish during the 2016/17 season. In contrast, Genk finished 5th the season before, and 5th the season after Stuivenberg’s tenure. Not the prettiest of pictures, but as it was his first managerial job and he was only given a year, he deserves some slack. I mean, an unexperienced manager named Mikel Arteta finished 8th with some club called Arsenal, but I’ve heard that they’re now doing pretty well…

Unfortunately Al wasn’t afforded the same patience as Arteta, and was unable to stay on at Genk, being sacked just over 2 weeks before the Christmas of 2017. That sucks. It would be pretty annoying to open up your stocking and find a P-45 or something. However, soon after his sacking, Stuivenberg received two gifts in short succession. The Wales assistant manager job alongside Giggs, and the Arsenal assistant manager job under Arteta. Talk about good things coming in two’s.

After balancing the two roles for a while, Al left the Wales set-up in July 2021, after the Euro’s, to fully focus his efforts on La Remontada at Arsenal, where he’s become known as that guy with the AirPods. However, it’s not known for sure whether he listens to true-crime podcasts, his Spotify playlist on shuffle, or calls his mum for the whole 90mins. I bet he listens to that new Doja Cat Album on repeat. Even if we get battered 8 nil by Citeh, my heart and soul will be at rest if a reporter gets to the bottom of what he does with those damn AirPods.

In all seriousness, throughout his near-30 year coaching career, Stuivenberg’s demonstrated a trust in youth and a desire to work with promising talent. He’s worked with a young Snake Van Persie, Memphis Depay, Jetro Willems and many other young Dutch players throughout his years in the Feyenoord and Dutch age groups, and there’s no other place that develops the calibre of youth quite like Arsenal’s Hale End. Except La Masia. And maybe Cobham.

He’s a coach who perfectly embodies the youth-centred approach adopted by Arsenal as of late; one that has brought through the likes of “SAKA AND EMILE SMITH ROOOOWE”, recruited young players in the recent summer transfer window, and an approach that's shifted the culture away from temporary stop-gap signings in favour of long-term solutions in the form of youth. There’s no doubt that Stuivenberg’s been a low key, yet influential part of that culture shift. Regardless of how he does against City, his value to the club can’t be stressed enough.

I’ve been Jahid (@JahidFullStop) for We Love You Arsenal. Thanks ever-so-much for reading, and I’ll see you in the New Year. Take care!

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