Over the years, Holland produced a number of fine coaches. Wiel Coerver should most likely be named as the first one to establish a real method to the madness, even if Michels, Cruyff, Van Gaal and Hiddink are the best known names amongst the Dutch coaches. We had a number of so-called “school teachers” as coaches ( the more analytical of the bunch, such as Van Gaal and Adriaanse, although both had a long career as players in The Netherlands) and the so-called practice coaches…. The ones who applied their trade as a result of being top players. Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Rijkaard and Frank de Boer come to mind. There is also quite a large category of Dutch coach who work more anonymously than the former… Wim Koevermans, in India. John van ‘t Schip in Australia, Jos Luhukai in Berlin and Rene Meulensteen (ex Man United) are typical examples.
Every couple of years, a new “crown prince” emerges. Some stay on top, some vanish as a result of disappointing results ( Alex Pastoor, Robert Maaskant, Fred Rutten) and some simply choose to work in the background (Jan Wouters, Rob Alflen, Jean Paul van Gastel).
This season, in the Eredivisie, we saw a number of good stories emerge. Edwin van der Looij at Groningen, Marco van Basten’s resurrection at Heerenveen, Peter Bosz at title contender Vitesse, Ron Jans at PEC Zwolle and even much criticised Phillip Cocu at PSV has reasons to be proud.
Future coach of AZ Alkmaar?
Dick Advocaat did very well with AZ, particular in Europe, while Erwin Koeman might have had the best season performance at RKC with very limited resources. Little brother Ronald Koeman really should have snatched up the title this season with Feyenoord but failed at crucial times.
A name that has been mentioned a lot in recent weeks is that of Henk Fraser. The former Feyenoord and Oranje defender made his way to the top as a player via Sparta, FC Utrecht and Roda JC. The lanky player started as a striker but was quickly transformed to central defender. The shy and soft spoken player was a ruthless and hardworking defender. His killer mentality on pitch and his shyness off pitch earned him the nickname “the ghost” by Marco van Basten, who played with Fraser in Oranje at the ill-fated World Cup 1990 in Italy. Fraser played 6 caps for Oranje and scored once. The defender played nine successful seasons for Feyenoord winning the title, several national cups and reaching the semis of the Europa Cup II in 91/92.
Fraser took over at ADO Den Haag, 10 games ago, when the club was in serious trouble of being relegated. Under Fraser, they didn’t lose nine until they met Ajax last weekend.
Future coach of Feyenoord?
It looked like Den Haag, playing with typical Fraser grit, would be able to get a draw in the Arena but Ajax stepped on the gas in time to win the game 3-2.
And with Ajax, we have mentioned the club with the Coach of the Season, yet again. 43 year old Frank de Boer will win the title for a record fourth time in a row and will most likely also win the National Cup, this coming weekend versus PEC Zwolle.
Only 6 months ago, De Boer claimed he’d like to stay at Ajax for years to come, but only a couple of weeks a go he said he would entertain offers of “really interesting clubs”. And I think it would be a safe bet to say that Barcelona is most likely “a really interesting club”.
After four years Ajax, with good results, are you losing motivation?
“Certainly not. I am very intense in my approach to work. Fanatical almost and pretty demanding. But I am not blind. It’s not like I don’t see what is really valuable in life. Family and health are really key. Football is a very important hobby. But I am not an easy to guy to be with. I have daughters in their teens now and I want to make sure they live by the right values. Treat older people with respect, introduce yourself properly, thanking people when appropriate. I can be pretty tough on them, in that sense.”
Do you see a similar role towards players?
“I do expect normal conduct, in that sense, of course. I believe in dependability and accountability. On the pitch, but also off the pitch. Towards supporters, sponsors, stewards, etc… And on the pitch, dependability is key. You need to be able to rely on one another. Ninety minutes long. We make agreements, on how we play and we all need to be part of that game plan. We have strict rules regarding regaining possession. This only works when all players engage. I speak about this a lot with young players coming into the fold of Ajax 1. Recently, I spent a lot of time with Riedewald on this. All these lads know how to work the ball, to control the ball or to score a goal. No problem. But this aspect of taking your responsibility, that is something they need to learn around their 17th or 18th year…”
Is this why Davy Klaassen made such an easy entrance into Ajax 1.
“Yes. I had him in the B Junior group and you could see that he saw it all and that he had those leadership skills. He is not just a top talent, he is also a player who can read the game and take responsibility. And I am cool with young players making mistakes. A wrong through ball or a failed dribble. Players need to take risks and make mistakes to get better. But once they lose possession, they do need to turn around and try and win the ball back. Davy did not need any motivation to do this. He had that naturally in him.”
Klaassen has had some serious injuries and you decided to bring him slowly.
“I believed that to be best for him and for Ajax. We wanted Davy to be ready to be valuable in a big way for the team, as he is capable of doing. He needed time to regain his ball feeling and his strength. He played a lot of games for Young Ajax and when we needed Davy to be ready, due to Siem de Jong’s injury, he was ready.”
In this season, the big turnaround came when you moved Daley Blind to the midfielder’s role. This happened with Vurnon Anita as well, two seasons ago. That shift got Ajax the title then. Is it important for Ajax to have a real football player on that spot?
“It is a position which demands a lot from a player. First and foremost, you need to be capable of defending and of reading the game. So you need to be able to look over the ball, see what is going on around you and make the right decisions accordingly. You need to be able to defend and to make that first build up action. You need to be able to make the pace in the team and to play that essential deep ball. Daley is capable of all this. And he is still getting used to the role but he has so much football in him. More than he can display as defender. His strong suit as defender is his ability to forward press. He can do this in his current role as well. Serero is also a good example of a player who came with lots of individual skills but who needed to learn to be dependable for the team. He took some time getting adjusted, from the life in South Africa to living and playing in The Netherlands and he has really made great progress. I had to explain to him many times that as a player he will only have the ball for two or three minutes max. It’s what you do with the other 88 minutes that determine your value for the team.”
The right winger role is a difficult one for Ajax now. I guess you really wanted Narsingh? He would have been ideal.
“Well, he didn’t come. He went to PSV and we are now doing it our own way. I tried to get Eljero Elia as well. I worked with him with Oranje in 2010 and I think he is great. He will not have forgotten how to play and I thought I could get him to perform well again. Elia is having some good moments now at Bremen again. He is a on his way back. Ola John was also on my list. A real winger. But Lasse Schone is doing it his way and he has a lot of value for the team.”
Spijkerman, De Boer, Bergkamp
Co Adriaanse wonders why Ajax can’t deliver good wingers and strikers anymore?
“I get that comment of course, but hardly any big club in Europe uses wingers in the traditional sense. At Munchen, Ribery on the left and Robben on the right… Neymar is playing from the left at Barca. And the list goes on and on. It’s all about their contribution. I rather have a Robben style winger who comes inside then a classic winger who hugs the line. That is too limiting in today’s game. Marc Overmars could play both roles, he could come inside and he could go on the overlap outside. But those players are rare.”
Ajax wanted to do better in the CL this year but again, a tough draw made it hard this season. Again.
“You know what, I didn’t think our draw was that hard. To be honest, AC Milan is not the Milan we know of the 1980s and 90s. And Celtic is truly not as good as Ajax. I believe we should have finished second in the group. We dominated five games of the six we played. And we should be proud of that! We played to bad halves. Once against Barca and once against 10 men of Milan. That was hugely disappointing but we shot ourselves in the foot. The draw against Milan at home was unnecessary and we should have beaten Celtic twice. Simple. And we cannot play like Milan does. It’s not in our DNA. I don’t blame Balotelli for what he did. He is a pro, he wants to win. Fine. The referee determines where the line is drawn. We should not be drawn into all that drama. I believe we have the best chances if we play our own style of football. Combination play, pass and move, putting forward pressure on the opponent. We won three titles in a row with this and most likely a fourth.”
Is Ajax maybe too sweet, too kind for international success? Aren’t the current Ajax players more like the ideal son-in-law?
“I don’t think so. My number one priority is the football qualities of a player. Their personality is key too but not in the sense of screwing over an opponent or diving. I do miss some verbal aggression in the team. The coaching and the wake up calls, if you want. I need to hear that, even in a full Arena. And I don’t. We played a dreadful game against Cambuur and I couldn’t hear one single player having a go. I used to be different and more recently Luis Suarez was good at it too. He would be in your face if you were weak in the challenges.”
Is this why you are so pro-actively coaching all the time?
“Yes indeed! I feel like I still need to be coaching actively. Telling them if there is time or whether there is a player in their back.I want players to make it their second nature. Some lads try it but it is as if they’re whispering… I need to hear it loud and clear.”
How far reaching is your influence, as a coach?
“We can offer our players a lot. But it doesn’t mean they all process it in the same way. I believe the player himself has the most influence on his career. When I was young, I would practice free kicks every practice session. Day and night almost. My dad told me to do this and I took it on. A coach can help with details, but the mentality of the player is key. And the way a coach approaches a player or motivates a player is probably also something one has to learn by doing. Typical example, Stefano Denswil was unlucky last season as I had to leave him out of the match squad often. He would train really well and he is a tremendous talent but he had to take a seat in the stands a lot. I needed a second left back as I had good central defender options already. So he was the sacrificial lamb so to speak. I never explained this to him. I expected him to see that. So after a while, he came to me and quite distraught asked me why he wasn’t given a seat on the bench. I learned from Denswil because I should have explained this and kept him motivated, instead of making him doubt himself.”
Your good friend Phillip Cocu is going through a lot at PSV. How do you see him?
“Phillip… I wish him all the best, except for the title with PSV, hahaha. Knowing him, he will simply work on the basis of his vision and he will definitely come good. They played really really well those first weeks. The whole nation was saying oh and ah. It’s hard for him, to have to handle this all in his first season, but with a young squad this is what you can get. But I am sure he will come out of this much stronger. Don’t worry about him….”
Guus Hiddink will be Van Gaal’s successor. Didn’t the KNVB call you?
“No, and I am happy that they didn’t. One day, sure… I want to do it. It’s a great honour. But I am happy here. I have much work to do still. I took over from Martin Jol and since Jol only Siem de Jong and Ken Vermeer are the only players left from those days. I say this to explain how dynamic the work is at Ajax. I have said it before, if a really really interesting club would come….who knows. But if I would have to work here another ten years I would be grateful as I am working with utmost pleasure.”
“Hahaha, I will not go into those questions. There is someone working as a coach now at Barca and it is simply not done to talk about someone else’s job, I think. But it will be quite clear for everyone that obviously Barcelona is my second club. I had a great time there and it would be the biggest job in club football, I think. For anyone.”
Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart might want to return to Ajax. Could you use them?
“I don’t know you know…. I have all the respect for both. They are outstanding players and two of the best Ajax has ever produced. But I have seen players return to Ajax… Total legends… Litmanen, Winter, Witschge and it is hard. Everyone remembers the fit, young player. But you always return in your autumn days…. And it almost always ends up being a disappointment. Look at Van Bommel even. He didn’t have a bad season, so much, but it also was not a great success. I am sure he will agree with me. So, can I use Wes and Raf as midfielders? I am not sure? Will they be able to pull it off? I can see Raf as shadow striker or even striker. And I can see Sneijder as a false winger, as Mancini uses him now. But I would be careful in asking them back, to be honest. I think only Cruyff, Rijkaard and Cocu had a good return to their old club…”
And lastly…the World Cup 2014… You were assistant in 2010 and you worked intensely with Van Gaal. What do you see?
“Hard to say. It’s still a way to go for Van Gaal. A couple of question marks I suppose. But Louis is smart enough to play to the strength of the team. Which means, typical Dutch style football, with flair and offensive intentions. Van Gaal will probably come up with one or two smart ideas and maybe pick some players which will surprise the general public. But all in all, it is not very likely we will have an easy road to the finals. Our group is tough and we do have some inexperienced players in our squad now. If Sneijder or Van der Vaart are fit and Robben and Van Persie can hold form, I think Holland can surprise. Spain is not that good anymore so there are chances. A World Cup is always special. There is always that outsider that does well and there are always favourites that disappoint and are sent home early. But I’m glad Louis has to make the decision instead of me, hahaha.”
What is your ideal Oranje Eleven?
“No. I won’t go there. Won’t sit on Louis’ chair. We have a number of good goalies. We have a number of good, but young defenders. We have good midfielders and we might need to take a risk there as Strootman is out and we have pretty good forwards… I am sure Louis will come up with a solid team.”