Those of you who follow Ajax closely are likely to know Winston Lloyd Bogarde as a former player of the Amsterdam side, who is now an assistant coach with Jong Ajax. In England however, he is best remembered as the player who sat out a lucrative four-year contract with Chelsea, simply because he could. More on that shortly.
Bogarde was born in Rotterdam in October 1970. He began his Eredivise career in 1991 with his hometown club Sparta Rotterdam, having a short loan spell before that with neighboring Excelsior who were then in the second division. Bogarde scored a career-best 11 goals in the 1993–94 season as Sparta qualified for the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
The imposing defender then moved on and signed for Ajax in 1994. During his first year at the club, Ajax won the Champions League although Bogarde did not come off the bench in the final. He would stay at Ajax between 1994 and 1997, making 62 appearances in total and scoring 6 goals. Bogarde’s honours at the club were the Champions League in 1995, the UEFA Super Cup in the same year, as well as the Eredivisie title on two occasions.
In 1997, Bogarde signed for Italian giants AC Milan, but only made three Serie A appearances in what was a very short stay. In January 1998 he moved to Barcelona who were then managed by his compatriot and former manager Louis van Gaal. He made 19 appearances in the second part of the campaign as Barcelona won both La Liga and the Copa del Rey. He remained at Camp Nou for another two years, picking up further La Liga and UEFA Super Cup winners medals.
Then in 2000 came that move to Chelsea. For those of you that don’t know, Bogarde signed a four-year contract worth €45,000 per week under the then manager Gianluca Vialli. However, one week after signing, Vialli was sacked and replaced by Claudio Ranieri who almost immediately deemed Bogarde to be surplus to requirements.
In that situation I would hazard a guess that most professional footballers would seek a move away in order to play first team football. Not Bogarde though. At 30 years of age, he opted to sit on the Chelsea bench instead and pick up his pay cheque for the next four years. No other club was willing to pick up his sizeable wage so rather than take a pay cut, Bogarde was happy to be remain in limbo at Stamford Bridge.
During his time in London, Bogarde made only 12 official appearances, 11 of those coming in his first season. His second and fourth years yielded zero minutes on the pitch, while his final appearance for the Blues came as a late substitute in the League Cup game against Gillingham during his third year. Now I hope my maths are correct, but I think it works out that Bogarde was paid around €9,200,000 over four years for just 12 games. And while in these days of Neymar-esque transfer fees and salaries that may not seem a lot, remember this was the early 2000s. Besides that, Neymar is likely to make more than 12 appearances for PSG.
Of course Chelsea did try to offload the player. However, this was the pre-Abramovich era and money was not yet that abundant at Stamford Bridge. The club tried to sell him without success, demoted him to the reserves and made him train with the youth team, but Bogarde would not budge and carried on regardless. Although he denies this is true, there were murky rumours circulating at the time, that rather than live in London, Bogarde flew in from Amsterdam three times a week for training with the youth team to make sure he didn’t breach his contract.
This is what Bogarde himself had to say about the situation: “This world is about money, so when you are offered those millions you take them, few people will ever earn so much. I am one of the few fortunates who do. I may be one of the worst buys in the history of the Premiership but I don’t care.”
Unsurprisingly, his fellow professionals at Chelsea had a different opinion. Graeme le Saux, who was with Bogarde during those four years, is quoted as saying: “As a player he seemed to have little desire to achieve anything. It was all about what he had done at Barcelona and Ajax, not about what he could achieve with Chelsea. In different ways we all tried to motivate him, but he appeared to have other things going on in his life and he lacked focus. He put a lot of weight on at Chelsea. I’d have been embarrassed to be in that shape as a professional, but he didn’t seem to care.”
For the sake of balance, in an interview with The Guardian in 2015, Bogarde insisted he always wanted to play but was never given the chance. He also maintained that several clubs wanted to take him loan but would only pay 70% of his salary and that Chelsea refused to pick up the remaining 30%.
You can make up your own mind whether Bogarde was the ultimate mercenary or a player just taking what was his by right. I’m not a Chelsea fan with an axe to grind, but personally I would choose the former.
After being released by Chelsea at the end of his contract, Bogarde never played professional football again. Despite his protestations of innocence, he had problems getting a job in football after retirement. The Dutch FA refused to put him on their accelerated coaching programme and instead he had to study in Northern Ireland. He was turned down by Motherwell and Oldham Athletic, despite holding the UEFA A coaching licence (the second highest available behind the pro licence). Bogarde believed, almost certainly correctly, that this was entirely due to what happened in his time at Chelsea.
Away from football things didn’t go quietly for Bogarde either. He bought and sold a hugely successful music company, closed his Amsterdam gaming club after a gangland murder (he has always denied it was a gaming club) and was thrown out of his €3.5 million home (complete with a ‘party basement’) on the outskirts of the Dutch capital.
Then salvation – if that’s the right word – came along in the shape of his former club, Ajax. As a result of the drive for a return to the glory days which brought back legends like Van der Sar, Overmars and Bergkamp to the club, Bogarde also returned to work as coach with the renowned Ajax youth academy.
In effect Winston Bogarde has come full circle. He was once regarded, rightly or wrongly, as the ultimate example of someone who only took what he could from the game. But now he finds himself giving something back by helping young players at one of the finest academies in Europe get even better. That’s quite a turnaround whichever way you look at it.