Captain, leader, legend, analyst, coach, pacesetter – Daphne Helena Koster is a jack of all trades. The Oranje legend and Ajax captain who on Tuesday announced her retirement at the age of 36, is universally acknowledged as the face of Dutch football. Koster’s decision to call time on her career comes after more than a decade of trophy-laden success at the top level of Dutch football.
In 1997, four days before Princess Diana’s death, 16-year old Daphne Koster made her Dutch national team debut against Switzerland in Apeldoorn. Current Netherlands manager Sarina Wiegman and former Oranje coach Vera Pauw were in the side that day. Vera Pauw captained the side as the Netherlands beat Switzerland 2-1. Koster was named Dutch Talent of the Year 1997. At the tender age of 18, Koster captained the national team for the first time. She has come a long, long way since her debut on August 27 of 1997.
Born in The Hague, Koster was just six years old when she joined boys’ amateur football club SVA, spending 13 years with the Assendelft side. Mixed football, especially girls playing football, was not a common sight back then.
Koster joined Ter Leede at the turn of the millennium. She was part of the team that dominated women’s football in the Netherlands until 2007. Ter Leede enjoyed its moments of brilliance in the first seven years of the 21st century as the club won a total of 4 league titles – in 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2007, the Dutch Cup in 2004 and 2007 and the Dutch Super Cup in 2004. Daphne won the double twice with Ter Leede – in 2001 and 2007.
Her next career move was to now-defunct AZ. Her dominance and consistency in the game continued year after year. She won 2 league titles in her first 2 seasons at AZ; her last was cut short by a move that would change the face of Dutch football. AZ won the league title that year but Daphne had already joined Sky Blue FC in February 2010, becoming the first Dutch player to play in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) League. Sky Blue FC earned the White House visit as winners of the inaugural WPS championship in 2010. Daphne Koster had the chance of meeting Barack Obama at the White House ceremony.
Her time in the USA lasted only a season as she returned to the Netherlands to rejoin AZ Alkmaar.
Her second spell at the club was less successful as she missed a greater part of the season because of various league regulations and injuries. She was only eligible to play in the league when another international Jessica Fishlock had left the club. AZ won the Dutch Cup that year but failed to win the league title as they finished the season in third place. To make matters worse, AZ folded at the end of the season due to financial reasons. Daphne and most AZ players joined Telstar, the team that took AZ’s spot in the new Eredivisie season. But an injury-blighted spell meant she played just a handful of games for Telstar who finished third that season.
In the summer of 2012, Koster became Ajax’s first ever signing.
Koster was delighted to join Ajax: ”It is a childhood dream come true because I have always been an Ajax fan. I have always wanted to represent the club as a child but it was impossible because there were no girls’ teams. It was not a good feeling because boys in my class were going for trials at Ajax and AZ while the girls were neglected.”
She has never won the league title with Ajax, narrowly missing out on Champions League football on 4 occasions. Last season, the Eredivisie’s Eternal Bridesmaid, Ajax, lost the penultimate game of the season and the title after leading all season. Koster’s only trophy with Ajax till date is the 2014 Dutch Cup. She has been on the losing side twice – the last 2 Dutch Cup finals. Ajax’s overall game has really improved over the past years. The younger squad members are very lucky to have such a leader in the team. They have learned a lot from her.
Some top stars have retired early, with some due to controversy. Daphne Koster is no exception, in what became an international career of highs and lows. At only 24 years old, her national team career was all but over in 2005 after falling out with national team coach Vera Pauw. But two years later, she returned to the national team and helped them qualify for their first ever European Championship finals.
She captained the national team in two European Champions – in Finland and Sweden. In 2009, Koster led her team all the way to the semi-finals of EURO 2009 in Finland. The memorable penalty shootout win over France in the quarter finals inspired the next generation of Dutch footballers. The next EUROs in Sweden was a disaster as the Netherlands exited the group stage with 0 wins and 0 goals. The only blemish on a remarkable international career is her failure to represent Oranje at a World Cup.
Since 2015, Koster has a part-time punditry role with FOX and NOS (Dutch Broadcast Foundation). She worked with NOS as part of their 2015 World Cup coverage and FOX during the Netherlands World Cup qualifying campaign. She has also made various football talk show appearances in the Netherlands. After her career comes to an end this summer, Koster is set to continue her punditry role with NOS and FOX, covering live domestic, European and international football and joining current pundits Hélène Hendriks, Aletha Leidelmeijer and Rivkah op het Veld.
Female footballers who want to start a family usually have to quit their careers because of lack of support from the KNVB and football clubs. This situation doesn’t really exist in USA, where the women’s game is really big and totally accepted. Balancing motherhood with football is a herculean task in the Netherlands.
Koster took a sabbatical from football in 2014 to have a baby, Sanne, which cost her her national team place and a World Cup berth. She spent the second half of the 2014 season watching the team play without her as they won the Dutch Cup. She was eager to get back on the field after giving birth. National team coach Roger Reijners said she was far from her pre-pregnancy fitness levels when she made her Ajax return. I totally disagree because I feel she was back to her best that season.
Koster’s former teammate at Sky Blue FC, Christie Rampone, is also a football mom. Rampone, 41, has two daughters and is still playing professionally. She was three months pregnant with her second daughter when she won the 2009 championship of the Women’s Professional Soccer league. She got back to the national team after pregnancy to win her third Olympic Gold medal and second World Cup. Arrangements are made by the United States Soccer Federation to enable footballers have nannies and travel with their children during tournaments. Player like Shannon Boxx, Joy Fawcett, Carla Overbeck and Amy Rodriguez have all benefited from that.
In 1994, Joy Fawcett became the first player to have kids while still playing football. She would go on to play in 3 more World Cups—1995, 1999, and 2003. In 2001, playing for the San Diego Spirit, Fawcett was back on the field six weeks after giving birth to her third child Madilyn Rae. She breastfed her daughter at half time.
However, balancing motherhood with the love for the game has not always been a fairy tale. Most footballers have had to retire prematurely because they wanted to start a family and have children. Household names like Louisa Nécib (now Cadamuro), Célia Šašić and Fatmire Alushi have all suffered the same fate.
I think Koster was unfairly treated by former Oranje coach Reijners and the team missed her experience in Canada. Roger Reijners robbed Koster of a chance to play at football’s biggest stage. My dream was to see Daphne Koster captain Oranje for the last time in a friendly or another tournament.
As well as amassing 11 major trophies with Ter Leede, AZ and Ajax, Koster won 139 Oranje caps and ended her career with 7 goals. Her last international game was in November 2013, a World Cup qualifier against Greece which the Netherlands won 7-0. Daphne Koster is a true legend of the game and a top professional; a role model on and off the field for young players like Vivianne Miedema of FC Bayern. Koster is a huge favourite and loved by all; a true national asset and icon.
Daphne Koster is currently in her 5th and last year at Ajax. The Amsterdammers will be competing in a fourth successive Dutch Cup final this season. They are also top of the league and have lost just once all season. A 1-0 win over PSV last night helped Ajax maintain their 5 point lead at the top of the Championship play offs table. Ajax’s meeting with Twente on Friday could decide the title race. Winning the double with Ajax will be the perfect end to an illustrious career. But Koster has some unfinished business left in the game – to score for Ajax.