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Chester FC: Joe Jakub on being team-mates with Louis van Gaal, playing under Harry McNally and admiration for Graham Barrow

Former Blues midfielder sheds light on time with current Manchester United boss at AZ Alkmaar and playing days with Chester City

Joe Jakub in his Chester City playing days
Joe Jakub in his Chester City playing days

Louis van Gaal's bold, unabashed approach, witticisms and baffling comments to journalists may have taken much of the football-loving British public by surprise over the last two years, but for one former Chester City player the Dutchman hasn't changed one bit since they first crossed paths 30 years ago.

It's 1986 and Joe Jakub, who wouldn't play for Chester for the first of his two spells for another two years, makes the decision to leave the English game to embark on a fresh challenge in Holland, signing with AZ Alkmaar.

Falkirk-born Jakub had spent 13 years as a professional in England, beginning his career with Burnley before making the switch to Bury in 1980 where he would go on to make over 250 Football League appearances. He was part of the 'Forgotten Fifteen' during the 1984/85 season that saw Bury win promotion from Division Four using a squad of just 15 players, a feat that would be almost unheard of today.

His decision to move to Alkmaar, a quintessential Dutch town in the north of the country was, by his own admittance, motivated by a lack of forthcoming opportunities in England rather than any deep-rooted desire to try his hand at playing in a foreign land.

The same season he arrived another central midfielder had joined the club, a player coming to the end of his career having been a stalwart at Sparta Rotterdam for the previous eight years. That player was Louis van Gaal.

Joe Jakub and Louis van Gaal in their days together at AZ Alkmaar
Joe Jakub and Louis van Gaal in their days together at AZ Alkmaar

Playing with van Gaal

"'You do all the work, all the running and all the tackling', he would say, 'just get the ball and give it to me'," said Jakub, who would play a season in the centre of midfield with the future Manchester United manager.

"Me and him were in the centre of midfield playing together, but we never really saw eye to eye, I don't think. He was then how you see him now on the telly. He was very sure of himself, put it that way.

"He couldn't run but he was technically very good.

"We certainly weren't best pals or anything like that. He used to come out with all these bizarre quips and sayings and nobody would know what he is going on about, a bit like now!

"He was making the transition into assistant manager and took the role on at the end of that season. When he had the role it meant a lot less game time for me. I never really played and was on the bench all the time, but I always got my head down, worked hard and tried my best in training, and I think there was something that he admired in that, even if we didn't get on so well.

"Even then he had a thing for wanting to bring young players through, something he has done ever since at the likes of Barcelona and United, with a lot of success. You only need to see the likes of (Marcus) Rashford now at United to see he isn't afraid to play the youngsters.

"I was an older head by now, in my 30s. There was one occasion I can remember nearing the end of his time there when he addressed the whole team in Dutch and was speaking about me. He was saying how he admired me and my work ethic and the way I applied myself. I suppose that was the good side of him there.

Read: What became of former Chester City starlet Matt McKay after move to Everton in 1998?

"I stayed at Alkmaar for a season after he left to go and work at Ajax but our paths did cross again.

"I was working for Dave Jones at Southampton and we played a friendly match against Barcelona when van Gaal was manager there. He came over and shook my hand after the game and me, Dave Jones, van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, who was assistant at the time at Barcelona, all had a drink after the match. He was very courteous and we recalled some of our time together in Holland and that was the last time I saw him."

Jakub was one of a small band of British players beginning to try their hand at plying their trade on the continent and looks back on his time in Holland with fond memories.

"Kevin Young, who I played with at Bury, went out to Holland a season after me and played for Utrecht and David Loggie, who I started with at Burnley, was already out there with Alkmaar and we played in the same team," said Jakub, who was also team-mates at Alkmaar for a period with former Manchester City defender Michel Vonk.

"It was a culture shock I suppose but to be fair the people over there seemed to speak better English than me!

"It was a great challenge, though, and I was able to play against the likes of Marco van Basten, Ronald Koeman and Frank Rijkaard week in, week out. Playing against world class players like that can't help but improve you as a player."

Arriving at Chester

The end of Jakub's time in Holland would be followed by his first spell with Chester, a club that would eventually go on to hold a special place in his heart.

In need of an experienced, tough-tackling midfielder to add even more bite to a side that included Graham Barrow, legendary Blues manager Harry McNally swooped to add Jakub to his squad at Sealand Road.

Martin Rickett/PA Wire Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is a former team-mate of Joe Jakub
Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal is a former team-mate of Joe Jakub

The 1988/89 season was to prove a successful one for McNally, Jakub, Barrow, Carl Dale, Milton Graham and company as the Blues finished the season in eighth place in the old Division Three, one of their highest ever finishes in the English pyramid.

"That was a fantastic season and we had a wonderful side," said Jakub.

"Harry McNally – they broke the mould when they made him. When you talk about characters in football and guys who stand out there as individuals, doing everything for the love of the game, that guy was right up there.

"There were characters in that team that just don't seem to be in the game anymore, and that's a shame. We weren't interested in Bentleys or nonsense like that, not that we could afford them, we just played our hearts out for the shirt we were wearing every game. We lived and breathed football.

"It was a memorable season and we did so well. It was a privilege to be able to play under Harry, if only for a short while. He was one of a kind and someone who was a sad loss to football."

Promotion to Division Two

Jakub, who had put down roots in Denbighshire after returning to England from Holland, left the Blues for a second spell at Burnley in 1989, a club he would remain at until 1993 when he left Turf Moor for a second time to link up with Barrow at Chester, where his former team-mate was now player-manager and in charge of a side who were now playing their home games at the Deva Stadium, a residence they moved into in 1992.

Jakub had no hesitation in playing for Barrow, a player and manager who he holds in the highest regard, despite some fiery battles between the pair on the pitch down the years.

Chester Chronicle They 'broke the mould' with Harry McNally, according to Joe Jakub
They 'broke the mould' with Harry McNally, according to Joe Jakub

"I played against Graham quite a few times during my career and we had some right battles," recalled Jakub.

"We kept coming up against each other and he even broke my nose one game with a stray elbow. There was never any malice, though, and like me, Graham just wanted to win and was a real competitor and we always respected each other.

"When the chance to come back and link up with Graham was there I jumped at it. I was still living pretty locally in Denbigh and Graham was a wonderful, wonderful guy and manager. I couldn't speak more highly of him."

Jakub would spend the 1993/94 campaign with the Blues, playing 36 league games and helping Barrow's charges secure automatic promotion to Division Two following a stellar season on the pitch.

Chester used just 20 players throughout the promotion-winning season as Barrow managed to strike upon a winning formula from the off. And that consistency is something that Jakub attributes the success of that season to.

Settled side

"We had a settled, consistent side that year and everybody knew their role and their job," he said.

"There was no chopping and changing of the team. It was the fact that things were so settled that we were able to do so well I think.

"Nowadays teams are using 40 players in a season. You can't expect to have success when you change the team every week. Consistency is something that breeds success. I don't think that has changed over the years."

Jakub followed Barrow to Wigan Athletic at the end of the 1993/94 season and made 16 appearances for the Latics during the 1994/95 campaign.

He signed for Preston North End the following season but failed to make any appearances for the Lancashire side. He would go on to coach the youth side at Preston before linking up with Jones at Stockport and following him to Southampton in 1997 with John Sainty. He left The Dell following Jones's sacking in 2000 headed back to his Denbigh home.

With no coaching offers that appealed to Jakub forthcoming he took a different path, but one that ensured he would be able to get his football fix.

He said: "Look, nobody willfully leaves football, I don't think. You miss it so much when you finish, a big part of you is taken away and you never quite fill that void.

"I wanted to stay in football but no jobs came up that were suitable for me. I ended up starting to work for the Press Association (PA) around 2000 and I have been doing that ever since."

James Bentley Joe Jakub is now a match analyst for the Press Association
Joe Jakub is now a match analyst for the Press Association

Jakub is a familiar face at Chester FC home games, working as a match analyst for PA at the Lookers Vauxhall Stadium, alternating his weekend's by doing the same job at home matches for the Blues' cross-border rivals, Wrexham.

But despite only playing two seasons for Chester during his 22-year playing career, the Blues hold a special place in the Scotsman's heart.

"There is an affinity I have with this place, I've had it ever since I first came here I think," said Jakub.

"Living in Denbigh, it's not too far away so they are local to me. The fans are superb and a lot of familiar faces are still here all these years on, the likes of Barry Hipkiss.

"I'm still able to get my football fix on a Saturday and keep Chester as a big part of my life, I can't complain too much."

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