After a first weekend of Eredivisie football and weeks and weeks of cycling, swimming, running, throwing, fighting and what not, the Dutch top football players are back together under their new coach Louis van Gaal.
Ajax dropped a point against AZ and is facing huge financial deficits (hence their attempts to sell off Anita (Newcastle?), Van der Wiel (Arsenal?) and Janssen (Vitesse?)) and PSV lost against RKC this weekend but the cream of the crop will have different things to think off as off today.
The main topic: to show a brave face to the fans and media and to make a good first impression on the new coach.
Not that they don’t know him well already. The key players have dealt with him before. Like Arjen Robben, at Bayern: “I worked with him for almost two years at Bayern and he’s by far one of the best coaches I ever worked with. He always focuses on attractive football, which I like and he focuses on team discipline too. We will need this a bit. Although we should be able to bring that ourselves too…”
And about the Euros. “It was a disaster. Starting over can be fine, but if you have to do it for this reason, it’s not that great. But, sometimes things happen in a tournament that totally deflates the team. I won’t go into it publicly, but we will talk about it amongst the group, I’m sure.”
Louis van Gaal confirmed he will talk about the past Euros with the group. “I heard what I heard from the KNVB staff, I have witnessed things myself. Now I want to hear it from the boys. But I won’t allow this story to go beyond Day 1. We talk about it, deal with it, and that’s it. Then we focus on the here and now.”
Sneijder already told the media that according to him the changes in the hierarchy made it harder at the Euros. “We had players on the bench that were very important with their clubs. That wasn’t dealt with properly. Not by the coach and not by the players themselves.”
Robin van Persie was back in talking mode again, although he did answer most questions with the annoying “no comment” or “I don’t want to go into this” or “I prefer to discuss this within the group”.
Against Belgium, this Wednesday, the new plans of LVG will be made clear. Will he play with one holding midfielder or two? Will he use some of the youngsters ( De Vrij, Viergever, Maher, Narsingh, Van Rhijn?).
Kevin Strootman, one of the holding mids in the squad, left the camp by the way. He took an injury with him from the RKC match and decided to let this one go by.
Rafael van der Vaart will have had a special feeling when he shook Van Gaal’s hand again. The team manager was the one who gave Van der Vaart his debut in Oranje, and will most likely be the one to allow Raf his 100rd international game.
Van der Vaart: “As if it was meant to be. I think that’s pretty special.”
The 18 year old Van der Vaart made his debut against Andorra, in October 2001. Adam Maher, his current team mate at Oranje, was 8 years old when that happened. Three Euros and two World Cups later, the 29 year old Spurs player is a veteran, but still has a whole life ahead of him. And carries lots of experiences. “High point and low points,” as he said, “like the last Euros.”
“Of course there were agitations within the group. That is normal when the performance isn’t there. I was highly surprised to hear my name mentioned as one of the bad eggs. People who know me, know that I will never be the negative factor. I said on one occasion that I had difficulty with my role as bench warmer. Isn’t that a normal thing to say? I never said I wouldn’t. I have always given my all.”
And… “I expect to have a good group talk before Belgium and I also think Van Gaal will put his plans forward. I wouldn’t be surprised if he switches to a system with one holding mid.”
Van Gaal expressed his concern about Van der Vaart and Van Persie, as they haven’t played too many games as yet ( Van der Vaart copped a slight injury in the US trip of Spurs). “Oh, I’m fit alright. I can play and I expect to get some playing time.”
Raf is looking forward to joining the club of 100. Only Van der Sar ( 130), Frank de Boer ( 112), Gio van Bronckhorst ( 106) and Phillip Cocu (101) wore the jersey more often. Van der Vaart will be given a watch with inscription and a silver plate with all his international games engraved. The UEFA will offer Van der Vaart a medal for the honour. This is a fairly new activity for the European federation.
Van der Vaart, with a broad smile: “Of course it means a lot to you. It does. I do look forward and believe I will have 4 more years in me. If I remain fit… Why not? If we qualify for tournaments I might add another 20 games to my tally. I do believe Sar will be unreachable, haha… When I played one game, I looked forward to 10. When I had my 10th I dreamed about playing 50. And before you know it, the 100 looms. Once that one is in the bag, I will start texting Phillip and Gio, hahaha…”