The Restoration of AZ Alkmaar’s Adam Maher

Adam Maher was once the shining light of Dutch football as he earned a move to PSV Eindhoven after an astonishing KNVB Beker winning season with AZ Alkmaar. His performance in an International Friendly against Italy where he outshone Andrea Pirlo is still spoken about with lore. Phillip Cocu’s PSV had little use for a midfielder of his ilk as Maher spent seasons on loan in Turkey at Osmalispor and at FC Twente in their ill-fated relegation campaign. AZ Alkmaar signed him on a short-term contract as a reclamation project as he has reinvented himself as a metronomic deep-lying controller rather than an attacking midfield creator.


Maher is now 25 as Cocu tried to turn him into a creative box-to-box player as there were always doubts about his ability defensively. Maher was in an enthralling midfield triumvirate with Georginio Wijnaldum and Jorrit Hendrix or Andres Guardado as PSV strolled to the title through the goalscoring exploits of Luuk De Jong, Memphis Depay and Wijnaldum. Maher was supposed to replace the innovation of Wijnaldum as PSV gave him Wijnaldum’s old number 10 shirt before injuries and the performances of Davy Propper curtailed this development.


Maher’s performances began to earn the ire of the PSV faithful who yearned for a workmanlike presence in midfield as in a match against Utrecht in November 2015, he had a poor version of an overhead kick from a Santiago Arias cross bobble into the path of De Jong who scored. Maher was eventually brought off to boos from the PSV fanbase as that signalled the declining faith in him from the fans and the coaching staff. PSV would sign Marco Van Ginkel when Guardado suffered an injury in the January window as the AZ Alkmaar youth player would see his playing time dwindle. Maher eventually asked the coaching staff to train with Jong PSV in order to prove himself but at the end of the season, Marcel Brands confirmed the Dutchman would be leaving.


Illustrations of Maher’s creative brilliance were sporadic and fleeting as his goal against his old side AZ Alkmaar where he weaved past four players from the flank with a mazy run before placing the ball through the legs of Wesley Hoedt and past the goalkeeper to score was an example of one. In a friendly match against FC Sion, he played a perfectly weighted through ball to Jurgen Locadia who squared a cross for Gaston Pereiro to tap in at the far post as he struggled for the consistency in fitness and performances to truly make the most of his time in Eindhoven. His short loan spell in Enschede allowed him to regain his rhythm for regular games while he re-established his love for the game before joining AZ Alkmaar on a free transfer last year.


At AZ, he found a squad bursting with young talent in need of experience as Maher established a fruitful midfield partnership with Fredrik Midstjo as Teun Koopmeiners is now playing at centre-back. Maher adds a willingness to play audacious balls through the lines from deep while surging to win back possession as he has added more authority to his game since leaving AZ the first time. Maher has also mastered the art of spreading play by pinging accurate through balls and chips across the pitch as he drops deep to collect the ball from Ron Vlaar and Koopmeiners before cleverly evading pressure with his technical ability. Against Heerenveen, he chipped a ball to Calvin Stengs who cut in and crossed for Idrissi to curl a shot off the far post. He also played through Mats Seuntjens to smash over in the second-half.


Maher can play as AZ’s deepest-lying midfielder with Midstjo pushing up while he can also push higher to add creative nuance to AZ’s play as he has enhanced the defensive side of his game. In a game against ADO Den Haag, he took on a pass from his centre-back before a pinging an accurate pass to Stengs on his opposite flank. He repeated the trick as he chipped another accurate pass to Thomas Ouwejan who was overlapping Idrissi.


 In added time, his side were 2-1 down and were hemmed into the ADO half for a corner before a clearance fell to the feet of the quick winger, Sheraldo Becker. Before Becker could make inroads into the AZ half, Maher won possession with a calmly executed well-timed sliding challenge before taking possession and hitting a beautifully weighted and perfectly arced cross to Albert Gudmundsson who tapped in to level the score.


AZ eventually lost the game by conceding in the last minute, but Maher’s crucial assist was yet another example of his creative genius as well as the grit he has added to his game since returning to the club. AZ had to face their rivals for third place, Feyenoord as the young side sought to improve their record against the Eredivisie’s traditional top three. AZ dominated the game as they created opportunities for Mats Seuntjens to blunder in the early stages of the game. Maher then worked a pass and made a run into space to receive possession before lifting his head and playing a stunningly angled cross for Seuntjens to divert past Vermeer as the delivery was so subtle that it only needed a touch.


The assist did not dim Maher’s influence on the game as he continued to play tracking diagonals across the pitch as he sprayed a pass to Guus Til out wide before moving to centre-back after Ron Vlaar pushed up, receiving a pass, driving the ball forward and chipping a cross-field pass to Ouwejan which landed at the fullback’s feet. Feyenoord equalised and went ahead as John Van den Brom added attacking impetus to the side, so the former PSV midfielder played at the base of midfield alone. The midfield metronome then lobbed a pass to Idrissi on the break as he also played a through ball to Myron Boadu who mis controlled the pass. Maher ended the game at centre-back as AZ lost to Feyenoord while they conceded third place and an automatic European place to the Rotterdammers.


Throughout his career, Maher has been used in deeper roles but was unresponsive to the positional changes as he felt that he was a true attacking midfielder and playing in a box-to-box role or defensive midfield role limited his creativity. Now 25, on the verge of turning 26, he accepted more responsibility in a deeper role as he has reaped the rewards with extra training during the winter break. He has accrued 1 goal and 4 assists this season becoming an integral facet of AZ’s press resistance.


“For me, trainers see more a number six or number eight than a number ten. At some point you have to be mature enough to accept that. The most important thing for me is that there is clarity. Van den Brom is very clear in what he expects from me, I have to play a more important role in the construction,” said Maher in an interview with Voetbal International in February.


The midfielder also leads his side in interceptions as a mid-career metamorphosis as a deeper lying midfielder is complete. His contract will expire in the summer as Maher and AZ are yet to agree on a new deal as the 25-year-old believes staying in Alkmaar is certainly an option. It would be the best outcome for all parties as the club gain an experienced leader on the pitch and in the dressing room while the player will participate in an AZ side aiming to close the gap on the PSV, Feyenoord and Ajax while being more competitive in Europe. It has been so encouraging to see one of the Eredivisie’s most highly regarded talents rediscover himself by returning to the club where he originally set the league alight.