Arjen Robben has been there too. Top talent in the Groningen youth. Made his debut at 16 years old. Was on the hitlist of many top teams at a young age. Decided to stay in Bedum with his parents while signing for PSV. He played one more year for Groningen, so he could finish his high school. Dad was in education and Arjen was always a serious lad. Ajax and PSV had the best papers. Both clubs sent their reps North to discuss with the Robben family. Ajax came across arrogant. PSV wanted what’s best for Robben. Frank Arnesen (technical manager of PSV): “We would always beat Ajax in those days. We actually cared about what was best for Arjen. It was a very positive experience, the Robben family had their wits with them.”
Arjen wanted to finish his high school, because “you never know if that football dream would pan out.” Robben spent three years at PSV under Hiddink. He had some weaknesses. He didn’t do anything but stand on his right leg. And he was a whiner. A sissy. When he was young, everyone in Holland thought he was to weak, to soft, to become a big player.
And look at him now. World class. In the same category as Zlatan, C Ronaldo, Messi and Rooney.
Captain Robben was sorely missed during the Euro campaign. To say we didn’t qualify because of this is a bit strong. But fact is, that he carried us during the WC2014 campaign. And he is still not fit. But he definitely is at the Oranje camp right now. Not to train, or to play. But to inspire. So there was suddenly a hint of world class in the Oranje camp. At last. “Passion, professionalism, mentality, this will have to come from the players themselves, for 90%” Danny Blind asked Robben to drop in and the captain was happy to oblige. “Not because of guilt or anything, but we are in front of a big big year. I made it work with my recovery program, so here I am.”
What are you going to say to the group?
“For starters, don’t blow this thing up out of proportion ok? I am not here to tell everyone how it’s done. I don’t have a list of players I want to talk to or something. We have four professional coaches here with massive experience and the role of leaders starts on the pitch. I’m now a captain on the side of the water (beste stuurlui staan aan wal, Dutch expression). I am not even training with them so let’s not overdo it. But I do know this: if you start thinking about the away game vs Sweden in September, you’re too late. We are not starting against Andorra or Malta. It’s Sweden away. We don’t yet have a firm line up so we need to start the work now. Today.”
How did you experience the away game vs Ireland?
“I heard from the coach that the boys trained really well last week and that it was a bit strange that they couldn’t make it happen in the first hour. It was sloppy. That is not good. And also not after a disappointing season or right before the holidays. How can I explain… Everyone is happy to go on a break, sure. And one player got relegated, another player missed the title on the last day of the competition and another player had a disappointing season… It’s all influences, sure. But it can’t be the excuse. You have to a be a 100% pro. No matter how bad you feel, you need to find the will to play a top game. And Wednesday against Poland and Saturday vs Austria. I hear people are complaining about the coaches but that is bullshit. It’s the players. If you need a coach to motivate you, you don’t belong at this level.”
Asked about his own career, Robben said his mental strength was key. “Sure, I am talented. But I played with lads who were as talented as me, in the youth. And in the Oranje rep teams. And where are these lads? You need to be balanced and you need to really want it. It takes more than talent to reach the top. When I was 18 years old I went with Louis van Gaal to the youth World Cup in Argentina. We had good talents there, players like Stekelenburg, Huntelaar, Theo Janssen, Van der Vaart… Van Gaal was so different, so intense. He was constantly on our backs. I remember most players having great difficulties with this. Theo Janssen would go nuts! I loved it… Every day I would challenge him and he would challenge me. He wanted to make me better and I wanted to become better. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I played my best football at Bayern when I reunited with him, after Real Madrid. That is what players need to learn, to invest in themselves, all the time.”
Danny Blind said in a press conference, that he rates Poland higher than Ireland. “Sure, Ireland is tough, they play physical, they’re a real team. But Poland is shrewd, they’re like East Germany in the olden days. Tactically strong, agile and with two pretty decent strikers (Milik of Ajax and Lewandowski of Bayern). It will be a real test.” Asked about the line up: “I will make changes. But not because of disappointment in players or so. But because I want to see different players perform. I will probably make a change in every line of the team.”
Asked about Memphis’ antics off the pitch. “I won’t discuss players individual in terms of their off pitch behaviour. Not relevant for me to discuss publically. Memphis is working hard in his own way. He is not in his best form but he’s young. He has a lot of talent and he will get back at his usual level. I am not worried.”
Danny’s son Daley will not play for Oranje at all this trip. The calf injury he ended the Cup Final with, is too hefty and might result in an early summer break for the Man United defender. Marco Asensio Willemsen will make his debut in the National Team of Spain. The son of a Spanish father and Dutch mother will make his debut because Spain will be without the internationals of Atletico and Real Madrid. Asensio is not selected for the Euros. In October, Danny Blind approached the midfielder for Oranje, but the kid felt he was more Spanish than Dutch and wants to go for his chances with Spain. He did leave the door open for Oranje. Should the Spain national team not be interested, he might still pick our colours. The 20 year old player is on the pay-roll of Real Madrid but plays on loan for Espanyol, where he had 4 goals and 10 assists. If he does play this friendly, he can still decide for Oranje, until Del Bosque actually uses him in an official Spain game.
Danny Blind is working on a new hierarchy, with question marks behind names like Huntelaar, Van Persie and Sneijder. In the Ireland game, he had seven players with ages between 24 and 29 years.
Advocaat: “Some people say we need to build this Oranje around the PSV core in the squad. But when you have players like Bazoer, you won’t go there, right? He’s one of our brightest talents.”
Blind is happy to confirm, that at least seven or eight players out of this current squad will need to become firm starters for the WC qualification. “We need a fixed framework for the September game.” Coach Blind: “Strootman is important for us, not per se as a player, but his personality is that of a leader. He is a born skipper. He has very high standards, applies them for himself and his colleagues. And he expresses that loud and clear. This is an area where Daley and Wijnaldum need to make steps quickly.”
Strootman was pleased with the skippers band but also said: “This captain’s band was given to me before the knee injury. I am now post injury. I will need to earn my stripes again.”
Blind uses Advocaat’s opinion after every session. A quick word, a quick glance… Blind: “Advocaat has done all this before. He observes sharply and sees things I might miss, and vice versa. So we always have a quick chat after a certain practice. We need to work towards a new team and hierarchy and personality is important.”
As for Danny Blind and his job, a question was asked about the selection process…. Well, the answer is simple. Danny Blind is national team manager. He is end responsible for all decisions re: the first team. To even think a “panel” would be selecting players is a bit silly. As if Hiddink, Van Gaal, Van Marwijk etc would EVER accept this :-). You are being sacked because some panel decides to bring in a player you don’t want? No….
But, there is an advisory panel. It’s called the assistant coaching back room staff. People like Mourinho, Van Gaal and Hiddink would not want dominant people in there. So these coaches pick you ex-players with good insights but also happy to learn and take the second fiddle as we say. Less experienced coaches, like Gio van Bronckhorst, Frank de Boer, Danny Blind and Frank Rijkaard usually pick experienced coaches as assistant. De Boer > Spijkerman, Gio > Jan Wouters, Frank Rijkaard > Henk ten Cate and now Danny is picking Dick Advocaat.
So, there’s probably not more than 30 players abroad of any substance. The Oranje youth scouts will have lists of young talents coming through. And there is the club coaches who are consulted. The Oranje staff will have around 60 players they follow on a week by week basis. Reports, footage etc. Once you’re “in” the system, the players communicate with Blind and co. via email on their fitness, nutrition, etc. And based on their performance and the feedback from coaches / scouts, Blind makes his decisions. Every Monday/Tuesday the coaches meet and discuss the performances of all players. They keep track of their findings and know exactly what stats are relevant to the players. Tackles, passes, forward passes, back passes, mistakes, etc.
Blind picking Memphis for Oranje despite his lack of game time has everything to do with his status. He already is an Oranje player, he demonstrated before that he can perform (WC2014) and they probably feel there are no real rivals to Memphis on the left flank. Elia? Maybe. Locadia? Not really a left winger. Afellay? Not a left winger and not always effective in that role? Etc etc… Same with Van der Wiel. Janmaat not available? Tete not tested yet? Van der Wiel didn’t have a lot of game time with PSG when he was selected for the Iceland home game, but at least he has played big games for Ajax, PSG and Oranje and he’s fit. So why not use him instead of Karsdorp. Who never played big European games and mainly deals with left wingers of Groningen, NEC and Heracles….
In hindsight, it’s easy to criticise. But as Robben says above: desire and passion need to come from the players. Not the coach… It is like Rooney said it in the Cup Final post match interview: “I am grateful for the coach helping us to win this game.”
Last word is for Van Gaal. It seems club icons like Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona and Ryan Giggs are not happy with Mourinho coming in. These people all believed in the reason to bring in Sir Louis. To get Man U to play more exciting, to work on the youth academy and football philosophy. I think they all agreed that this Manchester United season was not great, but with 1) less injuries next season (Jones, Shaw, Schweini, Valencia) and 2) better players coming in for next season, all were convinced the club would go on the up and up. Sure, replacing Van Gaal is not necessarily a bad move, but replacing him Mourinho….? According to insiders, the corporate money men in the club want trophies, whereas the football people in the club want performances. Ronald Koeman, like many other Dutch icons like Blind, Frank de Boer and Van Hanegem, believe the way Van Gaal was sacked and left hanging for months was ManU-unworthy. “A disgrace, really. To read rumours for months, being left dealing with the media without support or honesty from the board is really bad conduct. No one deserves this, and most certainly not a seasoned coach like Van Gaal.”
Post Ireland presser by Danny Blind (in Dutch). Very funny, because at a certain point, the wall behind Blind collapses which results in the interviewer to say “Wow, the most exciting event of the evening!” 🙂