Monday 23 May 2022

New Sparta coach Steijn thrown into relegation battle after Fraser quits

Maurice Steijn (centre) says his players are fit and focused. Photo: ANP/Pieter Stam de Jonge

New Sparta Rotterdam coach Maurice Steijn has said he believes the Eredivisie’s bottom side can escape relegation after Henk Fraser abruptly quit with four games of the season to go.

Steijn, 48, was due to take over in May from Fraser, who has agreed a move to Utrecht in the summer. But when Fraser’s assistant Aleksandar Rankovic was dismissed at the weekend, the coach stepped down in solidarity, leaving Steijn to step into the gap.

‘Time is very short and that means we have a lot to do this week,’ said Steijn, who takes charge with the club a point adrift of 17th-placed Willem II and three points away from safety.

‘I very much believe we can do it, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the job on,’ he told NOS.

Sparta’s last four games include a crucial home clash with fellow strugglers PEC Zwolle on May 11, as well as trips to Groningen and Heracles and a home match this Saturday against AZ Alkmaar.

‘We have a chance in every one of the games on our schedule,’ Steijn said. ‘I see that the players look fresh and are keen to train.’

Sparta’s technical director Gerard Nijkamp, meanwhile, has had to face down suggestions that the dismissal of Rankovic was designed to force Fraser into leaving early and save the club a costly payoff.

Nijkamp insisted he took the decision because the technical staff was underperforming as a group. ‘I couldn’t just sit on my backside, do nothing and hope that we avoided relegation,’ he said. ‘Henk can confirm that something needed to be done.’

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