The JOGO Line-Up with Frank Zaal
Behind every successful company, there is a winning team. At JOGO, this is a passionate bunch with the drive to revolutionize the world of football as a collective. In The Line-Up, we would like to show off the brilliant people behind JOGO. Meet Frank Zaal.
Patrick Kluivert, John van den Brom, Rob Witschge, Ron Vlaar, and Teun Koopmeiners. Just a few of the many (former) footballers that have great stories starring Frank Zaal. The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of JOGO, a title that hardly does justice to his work, is a familiar face in the world of football. “My entire network has been in football for over fifteen years: from VVV Venlo’s kit manager to Giovanni van Bronckhorst”, says the 36-year-old no-nonsense football fanatic from Wilnis during one of the few quiet moments in his busy schedule.
“JOGO is growing very fast at the moment. We are onboarding an incredible number of new clubs. If you also see the kind of clubs we are talking to and the period in which we managed to do all this, it is quite unique”, Zaal says proudly. “Certainly, without a ‘warm handshake’, it would have been very tough to maintain such a strong position in the football world in such a short period. Maybe it’s a bit of positioning myself, but it does help that people know me within the football community.”
Zaal’s ‘warm handshake’ opens doors in the football world that often remain closed to many others. “It is easy for me to communicate with clubs. I know what’s going on: in the boardroom as well as on the pitch. Not only did I work for three years in such an organization (as team manager of AZ Alkmaar, ed.), but I also spent my entire professional career with footballers and visited all kinds of clubs. It’s all about trust, especially in the world of football, the world of big money. People first want to know who they are dealing with before they move forward.”
‘First steps in football’
In 2006, through the Academy for Physical Education (ALO), Zaal stepped into the world of football himself: at Guido Albers’ Players United. “That is now a great sports marketing agency with renowned football agents and events, but at the time it was still quite small. Guido started the company to pursue his passion: football. With friends such as Frank and Ronald de Boer, John van den Brom and Rob Witschge, he had a large network in the football world that he wanted to use for commercial activities”, explains Zaal. “When I heard about this agency from my former supervisor at ALO, I actually started stalking Albers. I really wanted to get into the football world, and this was my chance.”
In Players United’s service, Zaal did precisely what he is great at: organizing things tightly. From KNVB partner events to everything around ex-internationals matches, an account he was directly responsible for, Zaal strived on every job. He was also sent to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to arrange everything for the Dutch national team players’ family members and guests during the group stage. “You can imagine that was a huge challenge”, states JOGO’s current COO, “but a personal highlight. Imagine going to all the Dutch team’s matches at a World Cup where they reached the semi-finals and sit between crying parents when their son scores against Spain. It’s all very special.”
With a backpack full of experiences and memories, Zaal was ready for a new adventure in the world of football in June 2015; that of a team manager. First at Curaçao, later at AZ Alkmaar. “I am someone who enjoys organizing things from a young age. Also, in my private life. I would say to my girlfriend Luciana: hey, let’s have thirty people over for Christmas. We’ll hire a bus, take out all the furniture and invite our friends for a nice drink and a bite”, says the organizational specialist, who describes himself as a real ‘people person’. “The role of a team manager is really cool because you can combine organizing and working with people in a professional football organization.”
When Patrick Kluivert, back then the national coach of Curaçao, was looking for someone to help him with the administrative aspects around the island’s national team matches, Zaal did not have to think twice. “But it so happens that I was already in contact with AZ at the time. So then I said: I’ll go to Curaçao for a few weeks, but that will be my last trick because after that I will start at AZ as team manager.”
Due to the ‘different organization and culture in Curaçao’, it was the prelude to a crazy adventure full of challenging and bizarre situations. One wild game against Cuba (1-1) was the highlight as it was stopped halfway by the referee for 2.5 hours due to excessive rainfall. “There you are, together with Patrick Kluivert, with a towel over your head in a leaking portacabin. Meanwhile, groundsmen are trying to get the field ready to play. And while the lightning strikes, I’m wondering how to get everyone on the right flights back to their clubs. But just then, the referee grabs the ball, finds a dry spot on the pitch and throws it forward. We’re going to play. He must have thought: I’m not going to stay in Havana for another three days.”
Home at JOGO
It’s just one of the many great stories from Zaal’s time in Curaçao, but he also has numerous fond memories of his three seasons at AZ Alkmaar (2015-2018). He attended two cup finals in De Kuip, enjoyed beautiful trips throughout Europe as part of the Europa League, and much more. “All very special, of course, but at the same time also relative. You’re often on the road and don’t see your children that much. That’s why I made a conscious choice to be less time away from home.”
After working for sports and events agency Tribe Company and a short spell as Pre Match Ceremony Coordinator for UEFA 2020, Zaal is now entirely at home. The JOGO office in Amstelveen is ‘around the corner’ from his home in Wilnis, and the job itself is full of ‘organizational challenges’. Contacts with football clubs have to be made, maintained, and numerous operational tasks to be arranged. In other words, a lot of work. Luckily, Zaal has quite the support. “The team is fantastic. The will and energy to build something and make it a success is overwhelming. There is also the drive to not let things lie around, tackle things straight away. That’s what makes JOGO so incredibly powerful and fun!”