It was a bizarre weekend in Alkmaar. The whole city was dressed up and ready to celebrate as AZ Alkmaar looked to clinch the Eredivisie title at home to BV Vitesse on Saturday, only for their opponents to spoil the party with a 2-1 victory. It was AZ's first league defeat in 28 matches; the dream of a first title since 1981 had been put on hold again.
Tears, though, soon changed to cheers. The following day PSV Eindhoven thrashed AFC Ajax 6-2 and that result meant that with three games to spare AZ could no longer be caught. After four seasons and 1,457 days as champions, PSV had relinquished their crown. Finally the party could begin in Alkmaar. The planned boat ride through the city had to be cancelled, but that did not stop fans and players gathering outside the DSB-Stadium to celebrate the club's achievement on Sunday evening.
"It's true this is not the most beautiful way to become champions," AZ coach Louis van Gaal said. "It is the first time it has happened to me without having played a match ourselves. But this party at the stadium makes up for that. This is a spontaneous party, the people came here on their own initiative. You could see that this was the first championship party for most of the players. They were very enthusiastic on the balcony, and persistent. This title is fantastic for the fans and [AZ chairman] Dirk Scheringa. I'm very proud this team has made this happen."
Van Gaal and AZ will officially be presented with the championship plate at the Amsterdam Arena on Sunday when AZ play Ajax. Van Gaal enjoyed the biggest success of his career at Ajax who he led to the UEFA Champions League title in 1995. He found things more difficult on his return to the club in 2004, however, leaving his position as technical director after only a few months in the job. "I did not leave there in a nice way," the 57-year-old recalls. "The fans always supported me, so it really does mean something to receive the plate in the Arena."
AZ, whose name comes from the initials of Alkmaar '54 and FC Zaanstreek who merged in 1967, will play in the UEFA Champions League group stage next season as Dutch champions. They are the only side outside the traditional Dutch top three – Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord – to have won the title since 1964, doing so now for the second time following their maiden triumph as AZ 67 in 1981. Van Gaal may have won domestic titles with Ajax and FC Barcelona, as well the UEFA Champions League with Ajax, but he knows just how unique this achievement is. "This is my greatest masterpiece," he said.
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