"My mum always told me: 'When opportunity knocks on the door, it doesn't send an email. You have to be ready."

The motto Pascal Jansen adheres to, he revealed in an interview with the Guardian as he reflected back on stumbling into the role of head coach at AZ Alkmaar back in 2020. Then AZ boss Arne Slot had held secret talks with Feyenoord, which lead to his sacking and his assistant, Jansen, was handed the reins.

Having spent the majority of his career coaching youth sides in the Netherlands, most notably PSV Jong - where he boats a 44.59 per cent win ratio his 2015-2017 tenure - the head coach position at the AFAS Stadion, was his first in senior management.

READ MORE: Sunderland's battle with managerial merry-go-round a risk

From December 2020, to January 2024, Jansen won an impressive 58.02 per cent of his games in charge of De Kaasboeren, 94 wins from 162 games in all competitions. It's those impressive stats that have caught the eye of Sunderland supporters amid Jansen's recent links to Wearside.

We Are Sunderland understands the Dutch head coach has indeed held talks with the Black Cats, but it's not clear whether he remains in the frame to take over the club.

That being said, it's worth a deep dive into 51-year-old's background, and why he, a relative unknown on Wearside until earlier this week, has emerged as fans preferred candidate - on social media at least.

Born in London, Jansen has family in Aylesbury and spent the majority of his youth there, growing up as the son of singer Sue Chaloner, one half of Spooky and Sue, a British-Dutch pop duo from the early 1970s.

A promising footballer in his youth, representing AZ, Ajax and Telstar, his career was halted by a serious knee injury at the age of 17 and he set himself a goal of completing his UEFA pro licence before the age of 35 - a feat he completed.

Managing in the Premier League and in English football remains an ambition of his, which is why it should perhaps, come as no surprise to see him linked with the vacant head coach position at the Stadium of Light.

Former AZ Alkmaar boss Pascal Jansen has been linked with Sunderland.Former AZ Alkmaar boss Pascal Jansen has been linked with Sunderland. (Image: PA Wire)

With grand plans of returning to the top flight of English football, by developing young talents and selling them on for profit, while reinvesting into the squad, Sunderland may well have found an ideal candidate.

For all the talk of alignment with previous coaches, Jansen's experience of working at AZ and competing with the Dutch giants of Ajax, PSG and Feyenoord, on a much smaller budget, appears to be an open goal for the Wearsiders.

AZ have to be innovative to challenge for the coveted European spots in the Netherlands, with Jansen guiding them to third, fifth and fourth placed finishes during his tenure at the club.

De Kaasboeren, who's youth side won the UEFA Youth League in 2022-23, reached the UEFA Conference League semi-final in 2022/23, where they were beaten by eventual winners West Ham United.

The Dutch club stunned Italian giants Lazio in the last 16 of the Europa Conference League that year.

“They have more money to spend and the average age of the team is older than ours. But those are things you can put aside," he said. "I always tell my boys a few things Johan Cruyff mentioned. He once said he’s never seen a bag of money win a game. We strongly believe the truth will always be within those lines."

A club that bring players through their academy system, sells them for profit and refreshes the team. Sounds familiar right? 

Like Alkmaar, Sunderland are unable to boast the same wealth as those clubs coming down from the Premier League, needing to box smart. On the face of things, it seems a match made in heaven.

Former AZ Alkmaar boss Pascal Jansen shakes hands with West Ham boss David Moyes ahead of the UEFA Conference League semi-final in 22-23.Former AZ Alkmaar boss Pascal Jansen shakes hands with West Ham boss David Moyes ahead of the UEFA Conference League semi-final in 22-23. (Image: Pa Wire)

While Jansen's final few months at AZ ended disappointingly, edging past amateur club Quick Boys in the KNVB Cup his final act before being sacked, his stock hasn't fallen that drastically.

Rangers and Norwich City have both shown an interest in appointing the 51-year-old over the past 12 months or so, the Canaries as recent as last month before appointing FC Nordsjaelland manager Johannes Hoff Thorup.

READ MORE: Sunderland interested in former AZ boss Pascal Jansen

But, what of Jansen's style of play?

Like many coaches and managers in the modern era, he's inspired by Dutch Icon, Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Carlo Ancelotti and Louis van Gaal.

“I’ve always been interested in what happens in Italy, Spain and the Premier League," Jansen told the Guardian ahead of AZ's clash with West Ham back in 2023. "You can learn if you’re open-minded. If you’re educated from the Dutch point of view you have a very offensive way of thinking. We were inspired by Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff.

“It’s having the ball and being creative, but also not being naive by only playing attack and forgetting what it’s like to be out of possession. I strongly believe if you want to attack as much as we do you have to be better in defending than anybody could imagine.”

Jansen's AZ Alkmaar's sides were possession based, mainly lining up in a 4-3-3 with a trio of versatile midfielders, one of those operating as an anchor at the base. They're patient, luring teams out of their defensive shape, before striking with precision.

Jordy Clasie has been the man operating in that key role in recent seasons, dropping in between the two centre-backs, operating as a half back on occasions if both wing-backs push high to attack. Dictating play from deep.

Jordy Clasie operated at the base of AZ Alkmaar's midfield three during Pascal Jansen's tenure at the club.Jordy Clasie operated at the base of AZ Alkmaar's midfield three during Pascal Jansen's tenure at the club. (Image: Wyscout)

A natural screener of the back four, while also confident playing through the lines, it's an area that Sunderland would need to strengthen if Jansen is to be appointed as head coach, with the 'number six, position a weak point last season.

The other two midfield roles are more straightforward, one a box-to-box role, and the other of a playmaker mould.

The former of those two midfield roles, would on paper, suit a Jobe Bellingham to a tee given his knack for finding space with late runs into the box. Seven goals and an assist from 45 appearances could easily turn into double figures.

Jansen's Alkmaar sides liked to build-up from the back, as is the case with nearly every side in modern football. The premise of their attacking build-up was to move teams from side to side, with creativity coming from their wing-backs.

Yukinari Sugawara registered seven assists from right back last season, eight the year prior, with 11 goal contributions in both of his last two seasons.

On the opposite flank during their 2022/23 Europa Conference League campaign, was impressive Hungarian youngster Milos Kerkez. Now playing for Bournemouth after a stellar campaign with AZ, the then 19-year-old caused havoc with his runs from left-back, both over and underlapping.

If Kerkez attacked, Sugawara would tuck inside to form a back three when in possession, with Clasie joining the attack. The role of the full-backs are vital in Jansen's blueprint.

The Black Cats have full-backs who, when fit, are among the best in the Championship. Another enticing proposition for Jansen to work with.

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One major area of the pitch that would need addressing, is the need for a focal point up front. Vangelis Pavlídis is as close to a complete forward as you can get in the modern era, scoring 33 goals in all competitions last season.

The 25-year-old is a focal point for his side to play off, strong, physical and a natural goal scorer - something Sunderland are lacking.

While it's not yet a foregone conclusion, it's clear to see why the Dutch head coach has been on Sunderland's radar and it's one to keep an eye on in the coming days.