The modern day AZ was formed in 1967 after the merger of Alkmaar ’57 and FC Zaanstreek. Although a new venture, the club struggled in its early days and soon ran into financial difficulties after recruiting a group of expensive foreign players.
As the club’s financial problems began to bite, local businessmen and brothers, Cees and Klaas Molenaar intervened in 1972 and provided some much needed stability. The Molenaar brothers, who played for KFC (FC Zaanstreek’s predecessor), helped to fund the club through the proceeds of their successful home appliance business, Wastora, with the aim of taking AZ to the top of Dutch football.
Financial support from the ambitious Molenaar brothers undoubtedly led to a successful period in the late ‘70s as a number of top players were recruited and the club flourished. The club signed Kees Kist and Kristen Nygaard first in 1972 and 1973 respectively, followed by several others including Ronald Spelbos, Hugo Hovenkamp, Peter Arntz, Johnny Metgod, Jan Peters, Pier Tol, Eddy Treijtel, Bert van Marwijk, William of Hanegem and Austrian striker Kurt Welzl. The coach, Georg Kessler, undoubtedly produced one of the best teams in AZ’s history.
First cup and league title and European qualification
AZ won their first major trophy in 1978 after winning the KNVB Cup and won the league and cup double a couple of years later in 1981 followed by the KNVB Cup again in 1982. The club made their European debut in the 1977-78 season but bowed out in the second round of the UEFA Cup after losing to Barcelona on penalties. AZ bounced back in 1981 and reached the final of the UEFA Cup but lost to English side, Ipswich Town. On the way to the final, AZ recorded memorable victories against Red Boys Differdange (Luxembourg), Levski Sofia (Bulgaria), Radnicki Nis (former Yugoslavia), Lokeren (Belgium) and Sochaux (France).
UEFA Cup Final
AZ narrowly lost their first European final in 1981 to Ipswich Town on aggregate 5-4. They lost their away leg 3-0 in England but secured a 4-2 home victory at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam but they fell short at the final whistle. The Ipswich side, managed by the late Bobby Robson, proved difficult to beat and fellow Dutch players, Frans Thijssen and Arnold Mühren figured in the English team.
After Cees Molenaar’s death in 1979, his brother, Klaas, left the club six years later (and died in 1996) and the club went into freefall. The club enjoyed very little success after their KNVB Cup win in 1982 and were eventually relegated in 1988 spending several years in the wilderness.
Businessman Dirk Scheringa came into the fold in the mid ‘90s as president and led a period of rejuvenation. AZ were promoted and returned to the top flight in 1996 but were relegated a year later but promoted again in 1998 under the stewardship of Willem van Hanegem. In 2002, Co Adriaanse took the reins at the club from Henk van Stee and announced at his first press conference that European qualification was his target. In 2004–05, AZ reappeared in the UEFA Cup tournament, advancing to the semi-finals. They also finished third in the Eredivisie that season, again qualifying for the UEFA Cup, after spending most of the season in the top two spots.
Semi-final of the UEFA Cup
In 2005, AZ reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup but lost marginally to Sporting Lisbon on away goals. Although they lost their away leg 2-1 in Lisbon, they fought back at home and won 3-2 to make it 4-4 on aggregate. AZ hearts were broken though as the Portuguese side progressed to the final after scoring more goals away from home. AZ enjoyed a fantastic cup run on the continent after defeating some of Europe’s top sides including AJ Auxerre, Rangers, Shahktar Donetsk and Villarreal.
Louis van Gaal
Co Adriaanse left the club in the summer of 2005 for FC Porto and Louis van Gaal, the former coach of Ajax, FC Barcelona and the Dutch national team, succeeded him. Although van Gaal was unable to bring instant success to the club, he took AZ to third place in the league in 2007 and also led the club to the final of the KNVB Cup in 2007 losing on penalties to Ajax. In 2009, he led AZ to their first league title in 28 years securing qualification for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history.
AZ moved to the current AFAS Stadium (capacity 17,000) on the outskirts of Alkmaar in 2006 from their spiritual home, the Alkmaarderhout. During their first season at their new home, AZ reached the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup losing to Werder Bremen, reached the final of the KNVB Cup losing to Ajax and narrowly missed out on the title on the final day of the season after losing 3-2 to Excelsior settling for third place behind PSV and Ajax.
AZ replicated their success in 1981 and became Dutch champions for the second time in 2009. It was the only the second time that the Eredivisie had been won by a team other the ‘big three’ (Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord) since 1981. AZ striker Mounir El Hamdaoui was the club’s top scorer with 23 goals and was named Dutch Footballer of the Year. Louis van Gaal was snapped up by Bayern Munich at the end of the season and he was replaced by former Dutch international, Ronald Koeman.
Johan Cruijff Shield
In his first official match as coach of AZ, Ronald Koeman won the Johan Cruijff Shield at the Amsterdam ArenA in 2009 with a 5-1 victory over cup winners SC Heerenveen.
Due to a poor start and disappointing results in the 2009-10 season, Ronald Koeman was dismissed after only several months in charge and he was replaced by another former Dutch national coach, Dick Advocaat. Although Advocaat managed the Belgian national team at the same, he led AZ to fifth place in the league before leaving to coach the Russian national team.
Change in direction
At the end of October 2009, club president and founder and chairman of DSB Bank, Dirk Scheringa withdrew from the club after DSB, the club’s main sponsor, went into bankruptcy. The former president said an official farewell to the club on Saturday, 13th March 2010 before the home tie against RKC Waalwijk.
Verbeek, Stewart and AFAS
The summer of 2010 saw further changes at the club as Director of Football, Marcel Brands left for PSV and Dick Advocaat became coach of Russia. In came Earnest Stewart as Director of Football and Gertjan Verbeek succeeded the departing Advocaat as coach. On 12th August 2010, AZ announced AFAS Software as the club’s new sponsor after they signed a five-year contract for the naming rights of the stadium and a three-year shirt sponsorship deal.
In the summer of 2011, AZ’s women’s team which achieved league success in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and cup victory in 2011 was disbanded.
Exodus of players
Gertjan Verbeek’s first season in charge saw the exodus of some of AZ’s big names including Mounir El Hamdaoui, Moussa Dembélé, David Mendes da Silva and Jeremain Lens. The club managed to finish a respectable fourth in the league and qualified for the Europa League. However, Verbeek’s young side struggled in the harsh conditions of Eastern Europe against BATE Borisov, Dynamo Kyiv and FC Sheriff and failed to progress in the competition.
Although Verbeek’s second season in 2011-12 signaled the departure of Stijn Schaars, Hector Moreno and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, AZ finished the season in fourth place again to guarantee European football. In the Europa League, the club fared better this time around and reached the quarter-finals after seeing off Anderlecht and Udinese before eventually losing to Spanish side Valencia. In the KNVB Cup, AZ progressed through the rounds and reached the last four before being knocked out by Heracles Almelo. In April 2012, the club’s sponsorship deal with AFAS Software was extended until 2017 and in July 2012, it was announced that the club had settled its debts.
2012 -2013: Cupwinners
AZ's Eredivisie campaign didn't live up to expectations but their cup exploits will certainly be remembered for years to come. Despite flirting with a relegation battle towards the end of the season, Gertjan Verbeek's men finished 10th in the league but won the KNVB Cup against PSV which came with the added bonus of European qualification. Midfielder Adam Maher and striker Jozy Altidore caught the eye of admirers all season and were eventually snapped up by PSV and Sunderland respectively at the end of the season.
Maher, who is one of Holland's hottest young talents, came through the youth system at AZ and Altidore, who was the Eredivisie's top scorer and AZ's cup final hero, was sold for a club record fee. With a void to fill, AZ brought in midfielder Nemanja Gudelj from NAC Breda, striker Eli Babalj from Melbourne Heart, defender Jeffrey Gouweleeuw from sc Heerenveen, defender Jan Wuytens from FC Utrecht and striker Denni Avdic from Werder Bremen. Maarten Martens also returns to the AZ fold after being sidelined for several months through injury.