It’s a tradition I suppose. In the year of the World Cup, we do revisit the World Cups we have been to before…
I realise I have started with the 1974 one, in this series… And I actually should have started with the pre WWII campaign we had… Later I suppose….
I’ll stick to the “modern times” for now.
So here goes, by popular demand… What happened at (or rather: before) the WC1990.
Well, it all started in 1988 of course. Van Basten & Co stunned the world. With Michels moving up from manager to federation official, former Feyenoord coach Thijs Libregts took the reigns. The ex-Excelsior and Feyenoord player had quite a reputation as a coach. Arrogant and authoritarian, he had a title to his name, but no one thought he actually won it… He was Feyenoord’s coach when Cruyff decided to avenge his departure at Ajax and JC (and Gullit, Houtman, Hoekstra and Jeliazkov) won Feyenoord the title. Libregts was a suave operator, wearing the right suits and hairdo. But he was also a bit crass, with careless slip of the tongues… Like “Gullit is lazy, that’s what you get with those blacks…”.
Thijs Libregts being fired. The manipulator Michels in the background.
Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten were a force in these days. The Milan trio ruled. But so did one Ronald Koeman, Jan Wouters and Ajax captain John van ‘t Schip. And positivo Hans van Breukelen was a voice to be reckoned with as well. The big guns decided they didn’t want cold Libregts. They wanted to win the title and they pleaded with the KNVB to replace the unpopular Thijs by a coach they respected. Someone like JC for instance.
At some point during qualifying for the WC1990 (which we intended to win) revolted. Gullit led the players to a vote of no confidence and Libregts was told to go. But who would have to lead Oranje to the title? The players got to vote.
KNVB honcho Rinus Michels chose the side of his players and a ballot was made. All players voted and the top three was: on number 3: Aad de Mos. The former Ajax and KV Mechelen coach is a tactical wizard and a kid from the street, who spoke the players’ language. Wim Kieft and Ronald Koeman (having had some negative experiences with Cruyff who made them leave Ajax) picked De Mos. Leo Beenhakker came in at number 2, with a tad more votes than Haagse Aadsje. Leo is well liked by most. He can work on players’ confidence and seemed ideal for a short stint. Although everyone remembered how Beenhakker failed to coach Oranje to a big tournament in the mid 1980s (Mexico WC 1986, with the dreaded late header by George Grun). JC topped the list, of course. The Milan and Ajax clan in particular (Witschge, Winter, Schip, Van Basten, Gullit, Rijkaard (despite Frank’s falling out with JC at Ajax). And JC was game. Or so it seemed.
Body language Gullit tells the whole story. Leo “Ok, Ruud… So you’re balls are this big. Fine.”
But Rinus Michels showed his true colors. He looked at the list and thought…hmmm…Johan…Can’t have him winning the WC and putting my EC trophy in the shadows… And Rinus vetoed JC’s appointment, giving the job to Don Leo in the meantime.
Can’t remember what Rinus said to justify this, but it was along the lines of “Leo is more experienced, Johan is an inexperienced coach. He never did the course. And Johan will cause problems with the KNVB, because Johan is expensive and he wants to pick his own staff. It’s not good to pick Johan.”
Later, off the record, he even called Johan Cruyff a psychopath…
The players were livid. The one-time schmooch-fest between Gullit and Michels was over. And before the WC a true trench-guerilla war began. Michels wrote columns in the Telegraaf (Amsterdam-based newspaper) and he leaked inside stuff to the press. Gullit wrote columns in the AD, the Rotterdam based rival of Michel’s on-the-side employer. A war began, resulting in the KNVB forbidding players to write columns.
So, the scene was set. Beenhakker – the fool – accepted the job and should have known he couldn’t win. And then, as they have done many many many times before, the KNVB in all their wisdom came up with their tournament preparation scheme… How they fucked up, again! In 1994 they would highly, dramatically underestimate the weather in the US for the WC (Gullit was adamant that the summer would be too much for a normal prep and – influenced by the Milan scientists – begged for a special approach… When people told him he should stick to kicking footballs, the dreadlocked one decided to withdraw from the Dutch team… We all know the result of that group phase…).
Anyway, the KNVB decided to book a monastery type castle in the middle of nowhere in Yugoslavia…
These top players, who had tough seasons with their clubs, were looking forward to fun and chilling out. To clear the heads for this WC. Some beach volley ball, a nice town nearby for the wives and girlfriends, maybe some golf-resort…. But they got medieval circumstances… Isolation and a full on training scheme…
Something broke in that period. The players were miserable, and some players started to rebel (again), breaking out of their prison and going haywire.
Now this picture tells a story. Gullit had a column deal with the AD newspaper (he is reading) and Michels had a deal with rival newspaper De Telegraaf (see Michels in the back with reporter). Both columns clashed tremendously and Gullit was forbidden to write columns while a national squad player. Something broke alright….
The performances were abysmal in this WC. Gullit and Van Basten weren’t able to deliver. Was it fatigue? Injuries (Van Basten’s right ankle was already in shambles)? Was it the Beenhakker thing? Van ‘t Schip and Wouters were the danger men for Holland, Kieft had a good spell, Rijkaard was solid, but it wasn’t enough. At one point, Leo Beenhakker left the dressing room with what seemed to be a black eye. Rumors started how Van Basten punched him out, but Don Leo said “he’d bumped into to something”… Marco’s fist? Other stories related how Van Basten had thrown an ashtray to Leo’s head. Whatever it was, we’ll never know.
Don Leo sighed that “75% of what happened behind closed doors will never be revealed” but when asked about this much later, he claims he never said it. Players now balk at that quote, saying they can’t imagine what Leo had been smoking…
“We just didn’t have it. It didn’t gel. Gullit, Van Basten, Koeman…they all seemed tired. It’s one of those things…”
The first knock out game against Germany was a classic. Oranje could have won that, there were some good chances (Wouters, Winter, Schip) but the Germans scored twice and we only once. That sums it up. Although Rijkaard scored twice against Rudi Voller of course :-). But that didn’t result in us winning, it only resulted in both men being sent off.
Rinus shouldn’t have screwed the players over. And maybe the players should have gone on strike.
Maybe, they should have said: look, we’re the 3 from Milan. We won European cups, we won the EC in 1988, we have tremendously skilled players and we’re eager. We only need one thing: a coach we respect. Give us JC! If not, we won’t go.
That never happened. They went with Don Leo and stayed too long isolated from the world in some horrible camp. The spirit was broken. The mind wasn’t fresh. The legs refused to listen.
No gold and glory, only humiliation and mysterious insinuations of mythical proportions…