Stam was Manchester United's first major signing of the 1997-98 close season, for a new club record £10.5M, a world record fee for a defender. It was anything but a straightforward switch of clubs for the Dutch Player of the Year, as the deal dragged on for several months. United refused to meet PSV's initial £15 million demands and the move seemed dead in the water until the player himself intervened. Determined to join United, a club he had supported as a child, Stam was willing to forego a substantial signing on fee in order to make the transfer possible.

He did not however officially join United until 1st July during Holland's World Cup campaign in France, throughout which he appeared in all seven of their games. He received heavy media criticism for his blunder which led to Mexico's equaliser in a 2:2 draw and his shirt tugging which gave away a penalty against Yugoslavia. And he was even named in a World Cup Worst XI even though his superb display against Brazil in the semi-final proved his quality against arguably the best attacking side in the world.

However the uncertain start to his career in English football only fueled media criticism of the big Dutchman's massive price tag. In the Charity Shield against Arsenal at the start of the season, essentially Stam's debut for United, he was exposed by the pace of Anelka and for Arsenal's third goal was blamed for allowing the Frenchman to get his shot in on Peter Schmeichel.

His full league debut was equally traumatic as the powerful Emile Heskey caused Stam no end of problems. However the player himself admitted that it would take time to settle in to English football, and he already had a reputation as a slow starter at his previous clubs.

And true enough within a couple of months Stam was producing his best form and it was obvious why Alex Ferguson had been so determined to bring the Dutchman to Old Trafford. Deceptively quick for his size, Stam weighs in at an intimidating 13st 9lb and 6' 3" in height. A powerhouse of a defender, he is as accomplished in the air as he is on the ground. And on top of all that he is equipped with the classy football skills the world has come to expect from Dutch players. With such an array of talents, he has proved an ideal replacement for Gary Pallister.

With a growing wealth of experience at International level, he has faced some of the world's most dangerous strikers and has seldom been found wanting. In his first season with United he came up against the likes of Rivaldo, Elber, Zamorano, Ronaldo, Inzaghi and Bergkamp.

Goalscoring has never been Stam's strongest suit but he got off the mark for United in the 6:2 hammering of Leicester City at Filbert Street. Guiding a David Beckham cross past Kasey Keller with a controlled sidefoot volley. But it is his rock solid presence at the back that has made him such a crucial member of the United squad.

The contribution of Jaap Stam to Manchester United winning the treble in 1998-99 cannot be understated. At times he held the entire United defence in place, most impressively when the odds were stacked against them in such matches as the 3:3 draw with Barcelona at Old Trafford and the Semi-final replay against Arsenal, two matches when United were reduced to 10 men.

Having signed a five-year contract in 1998, and still aged only 27, Jaap Stam is sure to be an ever present in the Manchester United team for a long time to come. A fact most strikers across Europe and England won't be relishing.

Patrick Eustace 2000. Last modified on Thurs, 27 Jan, 2000

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