The Big Interview: Postma - I left because my heart was stamped on
Stefan Postma recalls vividly the moment he knew his claret and blue career was finally over.
Despite the 3-1 loss at Arsenal in October 2004, Postma had played a blinder, so much so that the Villa News & Record described his performance as "magnificent."
He had waited over a year and a half for another chance to impress between the posts.
And as the glow from that display shone on the big man, he prepared at Bodymoor Heath the following week with a real confidence that his place in the team was guaranteed at home to Fulham.
Thomas Sorensen was fit again after recovering from a back injury but Postma believed assuredly he would stay in the team.
But David O'Leary had other ideas, as he soon discovered with the players congregated for their pre-match meeting an hour-and-a-half before kick-off.
"My biggest game was at Highbury. We lost 3-1 but I saved so many shots that day. It could have been double figures! That was the game. I got a lot of plaudits after that.
"I was fully expecting to play against Fulham the following week. I was looking forward to that match. I was absolutely gutted when I found out I wasn't in the team.
"I knew we were going to win that game too. That would have meant two good matches in a row for me. That would have made it more difficult for the manager to leave me out. He would have had to give me a longer run.
"But he hurt me in the guts that day. It was an easy decision after that. I just decided: "I have to quit."
"He left me out and I just thought: "He's never going to give a proper chance."
"I had to leave because I wanted desperately to find out what my top level was. I never was going to find out that out as the No.2 at Aston Villa.
"It was a decision with a blink of an eye. If I had taken longer and thought it over, I would have stayed.
"The biggest regret was making my decision to leave in one moment just because of one incident with the manager.
"But at that point, I thought he stamped on my heart. I had waited for my moment. I got my opportunity and he took it away from me.
"He could have told me two days earlier. We were on our way into the main meeting room and he stopped me before we both went in. He pulled me to one side and said: "Stefan, you're not playing. I'm putting Sorensen in. If you want to talk about it, come and see me on Monday. I was just devastated."
The emotion at realising he had to walk away was very different from the one he felt when he joined the club in May 2002 in a £1.5m deal from De Graafschap.
He was absolutely thrilled to make the "massive step forward" in swapping Holland for England.
But he admitted it was quite a culture shock for him in his opening few months.
"It was amazing when I found out Villa were interested. I was at a very small team in Holland. It's normal in terms of progression to go from one of the smaller teams to one of the big teams in Holland. Then you move to England.
"But, for me, I was making one big massive step forward. I was in the prime of my life, I was 23, I was playing every game, I was important for my team and then Villa came in. What an opportunity! I jumped straight on it.
"I was nervous when I arrived. I didn't know what to expect. George Boateng was there for one or two weeks so at least I had someone I could talk to in my own language.
"I struggled with the level at the beginning. I remember that first training session with Paul Merson. He was in the latter stages of his career but he was absolutely amazing.
"On that first day, he was sensational. He chipped me four or five times. I thought: "Wow. This is the business!"
"The ease with which he did things was outstanding. He saw these chances and executed them in the blink of an eye. Out of nothing the ball was in the back of the net.
"I was used to the pace and intensity in Holland. This was so much faster and the accuracy of the shots was so much higher. It was higher than I was used to certainly.
"It was quite hard initially. The first pre-season I was getting used to the level. But I was picking up quite quickly. After half a year, I was on the Premier League standard."
Postma found his opportunities limited that first season, as he played understudy to Peter Enckelman for much of the term.
But he accepted that role as manager Graham Taylor had advised him of his No.2 status at the start of the season.
As his confidence grew towards the end of 2002-03, however, so did his tally of games.
He started in the Intertoto Cup match in July 2002 in Lille as Enckelman missed out with a groin strain.
Enckelman was forced to sit out his second game of the campaign in December 2002 with an ankle knock as Middlesbrough made the visit to Villa Park.
Postma impressed in a 1-0 win and kept his place for the following week's 2-0 victory over Middlesbrough.
Postma lost his place, however, after a 4-1 home defeat to Blackburn in the FA Cup, Dwight Yorke proving Villa's nemesis that day.
But after a couple of months Postma was back between the sticks in March 2003 for successive matches against Manchester United and Southampton.
At that moment, he felt the No.1 could be his the following season but Taylor unexpectedly quit - a decision Postma believes influenced the rest of his time in claret and blue.
"To be fair, the manager was honest about it all when I arrived. He wanted to give Peter the shirt from the start. At the end of the season, I felt like I was ready for my shot.
"I was getting the feeling for it. I remember the Bolton game. That was perfect for me. They were pumping the ball into the box and I was coming out and being commanding and collecting. That was my game. I was comfortable in those types of matches.
"I was ready to get into it. Then the manager resigned.
"I felt I was there, I had gotten a few games under my belt, and then he quit. I felt I was winning the fight at that point.
"Then obviously David O'Leary came in and signed Thomas Sorensen. He was a big international player with Denmark. So it was another battle for me.
"My big feeling was that if the manager had stayed I would have got my big chance. But when David O'Leary arrived and Thomas Sorensen came, I knew I had to start all over again."
Ironically, despite keeping clean sheets against Middlesbrough and Bolton that first season, it was the Manchester United loss that really had a positive effect on Postma.
Despite the 1-0 defeat - David Beckham scoring the only goal - the match was a source of pride at his own journey in the professional game.
And he said it also showed him first-hand the power of Villa Park.
"The supporters were amazing at Villa. I remember standing in the tunnel a minute before we entered the pitch against Man Utd. I was standing there and thought to myself: "This game is on TV in England and Holland." I just thought it was unbelievable.
"I was standing next to Fabian Barthez. What a small guy he was! He came up to my shoulders.
"It was a huge game. I felt proud of myself.
"Then I walked up to the Holte End and thought: "Yes this is the place to play your football. It was unbelievable. It was amazing!
"We were very solid that game. Beckham scored the goal. But other than that we played well."
That match proved to be one of only a handful Postma played in for Villa during a three-and-a-half year career at the club.
But he has no regrets about following his dream.
"It was everything I hoped for in professional football. It was a kid's dream to play in the Premier League for a big club. I didn't play many games but everything was just what I expected from being at a top, top club.
"It was my dream and I achieved it. I always smile when I think of Villa. And Villa are always the first score I check for when I get the results for the Premier League in the evening.
"I met some great people too. I got on well with Gareth Barry and Peter Crouch. If I ever chat to friends in England, they are the people I ask about.
"I played with Olof Mellberg also. I looked up to him so much. He was a brilliant defender."
But despite the headline-makers on the field, it was a man off the pitch who had the biggest influence on Postma going-forward.
Postma is one of the first men in Holland to have passed the new goalkeeping pro licence - the equivalent of the a-licence - which, within three years, will be the benchmark for aspiring coaches.
Postma, who currently looks after the youngsters at hometown club FC Utrecht, has now set his sights on working once again in England's top division.
"I enjoyed working with Eric Steele, who is now the goalkeeping coach at Manchester United. He was brilliant when I was at Villa. I admired him. I take a lot out of the work we did together.
"It would be great to be a goalkeeping coach in England myself one day. That would be amazing. That would be a dream.
"Villa would be an amazing destination. I feel Villa is like my family. Every time I go to Birmingham, I feel that connection. It will never leave me."
As he now reflects on the claret and blue journey he began some eleven years ago, it's not lost on him that the past few months has seen an influx of players join the current team from Holland.
He believes Villa have done fine business to bring in Ron Vlaar, Karim El Ahmadi and Brett Holman from the Eredivisie, a league he thinks is a perfect forerunner for combat in this country.
"I think the Eredivisie is somewhere where players can develop themselves in football terms. It creates very intelligent players. The players find out the standards of being a footballer at the very highest level. It's very similar to England in that respect.
"It's been great to see players from Holland arrive at Villa. Ron is a typical English defender, despite being Dutch! He is superb at the bread and butter things. He is a good leader too.
"He's really impressed me. And it's made me proud to see a Dutchman as captain of Villa. I wasn't expecting him to be captain that quickly.
"I thought it might take him longer to get used to the pace of the game. But he's come in and done brilliantly immediately. That's been superb.
"I believe if you put an Aussie player anywhere in the world, they make themselves very comfortable very quickly. Brett has pace, good footwork and always knows the best place to be.
"Karim is just a class player with his feet. He will get better and better over time."
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