Lots of developments again in Dutch football! Apologies for the late post again, just busy busy busy, but also lots of football to follow…
Can I say a big thank you first, to all of you contributing to this blog? I wish to thank all of you for keeping the discussion alive and lively but I also want to thank all the ones who have donated to the blog, to help me keep it in the air!! You know who you are (always seem to be the same ones by the way) and it’s very much appreciated… Very much!!
PSV and Phillip Cocu
I need to start with my least favorite team of the Top 3 in The Netherlands. I hardly ever do posts on PSV, but they deserve one now. They snatched up the title again and they were impressive this season. Not in terms of the beautiful game, but definitely in terms of winning games!
I am not a fan of PSV, but I am a big fan of Phillip Cocu. And it’s his title more than anything.
They lost a couple of key players (Guardado, Willems, Moreno, Propper and later on Locadia) and they started the season terribly, with the exit in Europe. But PSV kept their cool and allowed Cocu to fix it. And he did. He switched the system up, with a change in the midfield set-up (Guardado was the lone holding mid, now PSV has two midfielder sitting in the holding role) and allowed his mercurial forwards Lozano and Bergwijn to do the job. Typical for a title winning team, the main striker Luuk de Jong re-discovered his mojo and was again important to the team.
Key players this season: Jeroen Zoet, Marco van Ginkel, Lozano, Bergwijn, Arias and De Jong, with a good supporting role for Hendrix.
Mark van Bommel on Phillip Cocu: “We shared a lot, Phillip and I. We played together at PSV and Oranje and we both played at Barcelona. I also did my apprentice training job with Phillip and I am totally impressed. As a player, you can learn from training set ups and from coaching decisions taken by your coach, and I have worked with some of the best of course. But you’re never in the room when the staff actually makes the decisions and how they come to these. In my apprentice role, I got that opportunity and I learned a lot from Cocu.”
Van Bommel on Cocu’s style. “We all know how he was as a player. He’s the thinking man’s guy isn’t he? Always smart, always in control and as a coach he’s also very analytical. He is more patient and controlled than me, but the key thing is: he’s always himself. Never impulsive, never in panic mode.”
Cocu has picked up his coaching career like he did his playing career: step by step. He started as a creative left winger at AZ, moved to Vitesse and at PSV was transformed into a leading midfielder. A big move to Barca was the result, where he played for 7 seasons, even earning the captain’s band. As a coach, he started as an assistant at Oranje and as youth coach with PSV.
Frank de Boer is probably Phillip’s best mate. The both of them worked together as assistants with Van Marwijk’s Oranje, in South Africa 2010. De Boer: “As a player, I was more vocal I think. And as a coach, I guess that hasn’t changed. Phillip is more the observer. But we think the exact same way about football and make no mistake: Phillip is a tough guy. He has the image of being “nice” but he’s a winner. As a player, he could hack you to the grass with a smile on his face. And as a coach, he’s no softie either. And he is strong in his confidence. I believe he has a broad football vision about how clubs should be run and he will go a long way, I’m sure.”
In five years with PSV, Cocu won 3 titles. No mean feat. His start wasn’t too great and in his first season he asked Hiddink to mentor him. Some people felt it was a sign of weakness. Now we know, it’s a sign of strength. He is stoic, can handle pressure really well and doesn’t get upset when the position on the table is not in sync with his expectations. He simply analyses the situation and deals with it.
De Boer: “Cocu has seen it all. He’s played World Cups, he played in full stadiums in Spain, he doesn’t get all nervous when things turn south. Like Gio van Bronckhorst and myself, we might have been inexperienced as coaches, but we’re independent and have all been through all the ups and downs. And we hate losing.”
PSV has had criticism for the lack of quality and entertainment. The midfield lacks the creativity of – say – Ajax and AZ. Still, De Boer thinks Cocu gets the maximum out of his team. “You need to be realistic. If you don’t have the creative lads, you need to set up your team in such a way that the ones who are creative can get on the ball. Look at Liverpool, their most creative players are the forwards. So their midfield plays in service of those up front. It’s the same with PSV.”
PSV takes the second spot this season in terms of chances created, way in front of the much praised AZ team. Last season, when Feyenoord won the title, PSV had 64 attempts on goal more than the champs.
Cocu has ways to make sure his approach stays fresh, by introducing new approaches and keeping the squad fresh. Recently, young players like Paal, Schwaab and Bergwijn made their mark and several youngsters (Lammers, Mauro) are brought in to lighten things up, with Cocu working with mental coaches and yoga practices to shake things up.
The use-by-date of Cocu hasn’t been reached it seems, but the ambitious coach might look at making a move this summer. His successor is being groomed for the big job. Former team mate Mark van Bommel seems to be the man.
Feyenoord and AZ: Gio vs John van de Brom
The Dutch Cup Final was supposed to be an interesting affair. AZ Alkmaar received most compliments this season for the quality of their football and the rise of several young players (Til, Koopmeiners, Stengs) and the terrific progress of Weghorst and Jahanbaksh (Iran’s Salah). But, compliments are not trophies. And AZ failed to win against a top 3 team for yonks. In this cup final, many were convinced, AZ would play Feyenoord of the pitch. AZ’s form and confidence were sky-high while Feyenoord struggled to the finish line, this season. Sure, injuries, new players and a tough CL group will not have helped, but finishing 4th in the Eredivisie means Feyenoord’s season was a disappointment.
And what happened? Well, the game disappointed. Tough to watch. And this time the fault lies with AZ. Feyenoord doesn’t swing this season, but knows how to play big games and has players (Van Persie, Vilhena, El Ahmadi, Jorgensen) who can rise above their average based on their grit and pure class. AZ however, started the game already 0-1 behind. Coach Van de Brom decided to abandon his winning tactics and swagger by going 5-3-2. Mercurial signing Idrissi (developed at Feyenoord) was left out of the team and Ricardo van Rhijn was brought in as the 5th defender. AZ was scared. Cautious. And decided to adapt to the – this season – weaker Stadium club. AZ never controlled the game, allowed Feyenoord the initiative, and Feyenoord scored first. When the 2-0 was on the board (Van Persie super goal), Van de Brom decided to go back to 4-3-3. Too little too late. Van de Brom confirmed why he’s not top coach material and AZ left the pitch with a 3-0 defeat. Another Cup Final gone for AZ. And with Weghorst, Jahanbaksh and potentially more players leaving this summer, it seems AZ needs to rebuild again.
Elsewhere, Memphis Depay is making the headlines in his new striker role in the 4-4-2 of Lyon, while Van Dijk and Wijnaldum might be on their way to the CL Finals and Cillesen dazzled with a pre-assist in the Spanish cup final for Barca.
Slowly the new Oranje can be seen developing, with De Ligt, De Vrij and Van Dijk more and more established as European top defenders. Throw in full backs like Hateboer, Karsdorp, Tete, Van Aanholt and Willems, and forwards like Memphis, Berghuis/wijn, and Promes and a midfield with Van de Beek, Frenkie de Jong, Wijnaldum and Blind and our future is looking better and better. And partly, thanks to Van de Brom too… With prospects like Til, Stengs and Koopmeiners knocking on Koeman’s door as well.