Ok, that was Robbie Williams, not Peter Bosz. But the Ajax coach does have this as leading mantra in his football philosophy: “I want to entertain the fans. I want to hear the oohs and aaahs rolling from the Arena stands.”
Bosz made a name for himself as a defensive midfielder and captain in the title winning Feyenoord team of 1993 under Willem van Hanegem. He started his career at Vitesse but was loaned to AGOVV amateur club before moving to play for Toulon in France. The Rotterdam stadium club signed him and Bosz was a tough as nails but also tactically astute midfielder, with 8 caps for Oranje. He’d move to Japan after his Feyenoord days and played for Rostock in the Bundesliga. Bosz was part of the Oranje squad for the Euros1992.
The 1992-1993 Feyenoord champs, with – standing from left to right: Gaston Taument, Arnold Scholten, Josef Kiprich, John Metgod, Ed de Goey, – sitting, Peter Bosz, John de Wolf, Ruud Heus, Rob Witschge, Regi Blinker and Henk Fraser
Bosz started his coaching career with AGOVV – the team of his home town – and coached De Graafschap and Heracles Almelo, with whom he won the title (and promotion) in the Jupiler league. He got the technical director job at Feyenoord and was responsible for the signing of a couple of senior players like Roy Makaay, Denny Landzaat and Gio van Bronckhorst. He left the club in protest of the sacking of coach Gert-Jan Verbeek who clashed with the older players.
After that, he returned to coach, first at Heracles again, then Vitesse and a short stint at Maccabi Tel Aviv (managed by Jordi Cruyff). The latter raved about Bosz’ coaching capabilities and the similarities in vision with icons like (dad) Johan Cruyff and Willem van Hanegem.
Jordi Cruyff, Johan and Peter Bosz in Tel Aviv
When Frank de Boer left Ajax, Bosz was the ideal and logical candidate to replace him.
When visiting Bosz in his sanctuary, the walls are “paved” with flip over slides and big diagrams. “This is where I watch the games back and make notes,” he says. “I make notes every minute, everything that happens. Good situations, mistakes, decisions taken. And in the bus home, after away games, I write it out. It’s the best way for me to work with the players. Taking situations they were in and using it as fast as possible to get them to process changes.”
So when did the tone in the notes start to change?
PB: “I remember that moment vividly. Mid September, the National Cup match vs Willem II. I used some players who needed a chance, players who hadn’t played a lot. I gave them a chance and I was enjoying myself on the bench. This was when I read back my analysis and was surprised to see many things just clicked.”
“It was quite a journey for us, a quest. We had our vision alright, we want to play attacking, dominant and attractive. But over a long series of games, we weren’t getting to the right level. Every day we were talking about, I was scratching my head. We were trying to get the right players on the right position and in that cup tie, it was there!”
Did you ever have doubts that you’d make it work?
“Oh there were times when I thought: can I do it? And it took some time. To form the midfield, which is key to how we want to play. Would we use two holding mids, or just one? Or one deep lying controlling mid? And we had some more positions where it didn’t flow. I missed something and we were continuously trying things out, combining different types of players, looking for the ideal team.”
And Lasse Schone became the missing link in the team?
“I saw him play that match and thought: that is it! See, he started this season as attacking midfielder and in the past he’d played shadow striker, winger too. I didn’t know he had a controlling mid in him. But he actually told me at some stage: “Coach, I can play there!”. So we tried it at training and it worked. So I used him vs Willem II. It worked and now he is the key player. This is the #6 role and I have very specific wishes for that player. I don’t call it the defensive midfielder but controlling midfielder. I want a player with vision, quick feet and who can pass the ball in an offensive way, forward. And he needs to be available to get the ball always. That is tough. Someone like Guardiola, or Fabregas. I wasn’t that player, I was the defensive midfielder. If they’d pass me the ball with a man behind me, I didn’t know what to do so I’d played the ball straight back. But Lasse gets the ball and turns around and moves forward. Those qualities are essential to our game.”
As a result, first Bazoer and then Gudelj were the victims.
“Those are always hard choices to make. And some players don’t deal with it well. Take El Ghazi and Gudelj. That cannot be accepted. Although they were too different cases. I can understand players who don’t play are disappointed. Sure. But it matters that the players do understand that they hold the key themselves. I have discussed their failings many times, with them. And they weren’t satisfied with their own performances. And yes, when I try others and suddenly it clicks, it is hard for them. And I did not have a reason to suddenly change the team again.”
And then they get motivational issues…
“I was surprised. A player who says “I can’t motivate myself to sit on the bench!” No one I know in coaching land, including Hennie Spijkerman who’s been doing this for 35 years, has ever heard this from any player ever. My first response was: unacceptable! What could I do? What kind of signal would I give the others? I can’t have players saying “call me when I play, otherwise I’m not interested”.
Unhappy bench warmers: Bazoer, Tete and Riedewald at the back. Nouri can still smile…
What was driving Gudelj?
“Listen, he’s a good kid and a fine player and I worked well with him. If he was a irritating SOB it would have made sense. We actually gave him a chance to revisit his stance. When he came back from international duties with Serbia, but in that meeting he was adamant. And I told him: think about the media, think about how the outside world will view you… But this was it. He would not budge.”
The media suggested you made hard promises to Gudelj, Tete, Bazoer….
“That is a lie. I can’t. I’m the coach, I can’t promise player A or B something? I heard those rumours too and I asked Gudelj in a conversation, with witnesses, and he was clear: “I worked well with you, it has nothing to do with you. I simply can’t motivate myself for a bench role. I am better than the rest, I think I need to play”. I like his thinking, but he needs to show me on the pitch, not with a stance like this. But every player, Tete, Riedewald, they all have a different story…”
Riedewald played well as central defender and defensive mid, we felt?
“And he did. I agree! It was a tough decision to bench him. I did not have much criticism on him. At home vs PAOK for the Champions League qualification he played ever so well. But his bad luck is that he didn’t play when it clicked.”
Bosz and El Ghazi had a falling out. The right winger is now at Lille
But you did say he was the only #6 in your squad in the media. That didn’t help.
“But it was true at the time. Jairo played ever so well. And he’s still young, he will develop and I do recognise his potential. But Lasse is simply a better option today. It was a comment I made about Jairo and it got all the headlines and it was repeated time and time again. And I get that. If I could use him as center back I think it would have had less impact. But Viergever and Sanchez have a solid partnership. Viergever is one of the few players who is vocal on the pitch. He coaches, he directs, he corrects. He is a good organiser. Most people don’t see this. But that is why he is quite unique. Sanchez doesn’t speak our language, so Viergever’s contributions are even more important. I discussed all of this with Jairo and he found it very hard and again, I get that. He’s a tremendous talent, but, you know, once he gets over this, he’ll be an even better player. His time will come.”
Peter Bosz, #6 of Oranje in 1992
Riechedly Bazoer was the Oranje #6 and there was talk of a Barcelona bid. Now he’s gone.
“Bazoer is a wonderful player, but not the ideal #6 for me. In our system, you need to be very disciplined tactically. Bazoer had trouble with the balance and I think it was his age. He’s very young and exuberant. Like Feyenoord’s Vilhena, a bit. He has tremendous potential but on his position you need to pass the ball, not bring it like a mailman. He runs too much, he does too much. So you need to compensate his style by putting an extra midfielder in. It didn’t flow. It’s a shame, coz he is has real potential. I think he had a transfer in mind anyway, there was talk that he was keen to go to Barca or any other big team. He reminds me a bit of Seedorf. I call them old souls. Wise before their age. And Wolfsburg gave him a solid perspective. For me, I would have loved to have had him at Ajax longer, but sometimes it’s the player that wants to go.”
And is Tete that much worse than Veltman??
“I don’t want to go into detail. Kenny knows he had a mediocre start this season. They told me when I came: Kenny is a slow starter. That might be the case. I actually gave him quite some opportunities at the start of the season because of that. But we got to the point where we wanted to use alternatives and with Joel and the other changes, it started to flow. So I’m not changing it now. But he’s doing it well. He’s working hard, he’s positive and he takes his chances when he does play. It’s only a matter of time for him.”
The media enjoyed all of this and became very pro-active in discussing the changes. You have only 3 starters of Frank de Boer’s team in your team!
“We needed change, we wanted to be on the front foot more and we dealt with it. There will be lots of opinions about my choices, I’m sure. Everything you do at a club like Ajax is put under the microscope. I hardly watch those football talk shows and I try not read all these stories. It’s noise for me. The essential bits, people will tell me anyway.”
The criticism on Youness and Traore?
“I see the players daily. I can see what they are able to do and how they work. I call all that media stuff shortsighted. They judge players on 7 minutes highlights. Whether it’s Sinkgraven or Tete or Viergever or Traore. Man, if I would listen to all of that I would go insane.”
What do you think of the criticism that you block the development of the Academy players?
“I am brought in as outsider, with the aim to play attractive football AND get results. I will field the best team to do this. That is my job. I will treat all players equal, whether developed here or not. Whether young or older. On loan or signed for a big fee. I can’t make decisions based on where a player is developed! And some players who are developed here are killing it! Klaassen, Justin Kluivert, Dolberg… When I came here they said about Dolberg: “Here is a youth player. Maybe have a look?” And he’s our starting striker now. Mathijs de Ligt. Only 17 years old. We used him a bit, but expected a bit of a downfall, like many youngsters have, but he doesn’t have it. He’s the perfect example of a player developed here and given a chance.”
“And Jose, this is how big your ego is, man!”
Playing like you want to play, this starts with communication and guidance, I guess?
“Yes, a few things are essential. What players do you have and how can you gel them into a team, the best team? Midfield is key for me. This is the metronome if you want. And then it’s the understanding in the player about the way we want to play and what his tasks are, because the Ajax way and my way of playing demands concentration. And it all starts when we don’t have the ball. High press and forechecking by all players on the pitch. With tactical cameras you can see exactly the movements of players. Which players push up as well and which players drop down or lose concentration i.e. their man? And playing attractive and dominant football is step 2, after you manage to do this right. Most Ajax players can do a lot with the ball, but the thing is….you mostly do not have the ball. What do you do then, as a player, or line or team?”
Recognisable football is also a term you use?
“It is important to develop what we call automatisms… Patterns, if you like. We are dealing with conscious and subconscious developments in players. When I do video analysis with them, it’s concsious. They know what I am talking about, think about it, talk about it. But we also have practices where I don’t want them to think or talk or know about anything, I want them to subconsciously make the right decision, like intuition… And develop patterns. So we train different match formats. 3 v 3 or 4 v 4 or 9 v 9 but always with three free players who can be used for a one touch bounce. This will develop patterns both ways (for the teams and for the bouncing players) that I can see in matches too, and we’re making progress.”
“But then, this is the seize of your dick!”
And there is the infamous 5 seconds rule, isn’t this a bit of a hype?
“Maybe for outsiders, but what can I do about that. It’s a key foundation for our way of playing. See, when you defend, the pitch needs to be small, when you attack you want the pitch big. It usually takes 5 seconds for the opponent to regain position as a team, when they take the ball. This is why we want it within 5 seconds back. It’s easier. You eliminate their threat. And when we play versus a counter team, the 5 second rule is really important. Recently, we played Standard Luik for the Europa League and the execution was good.”
And in the meantime you are building a bigger squad…
“Well no, I don’t want a bigger squad. We will have players leaving. I want more balance. I have a lot of midfielders but I had only one real left back in Dijks. Now with Daley Sinkgraven I have another option, a different option. I only had one left winger so this winter we had to make some moves and we got Justin Kluivert moving up from the youth team. Mathijs de Ligt is playing his games. I want every player in the squad to have a chance to play, I don’t need 30 players. It won’t work. There will always be disappointed players and they can affect more than you know.”
Ajax does play more attractive now then under De Boer. And the European adventure is going on as well.
“We have done well so far in Europe. I believe it should be doable, for a Dutch club to reach far, but not every year and maybe not so much in the Champions League. That league is determined by money. I’m sure a Dutch club with the right draw can reach beyond the group stage but at quarter final level, you will compete with clubs who spend 5 times more than Dutch clubs, at least. So yes, one or two surprising wins are possible, but the finals will be very hard. Europa League is different. We won vs Kopenhagen, a very decent club. If we get a lucky draw, semi finals is doable. And then anything can happen. But this doesn’t mean a thing re: the past. I don’t want to say anything negative about Frank de Boer as he doesn’t deserve it. Every season is different and he has achieved the impossible here, almost. I do like results, but I really want to be able to entertain. I want the fans in the stadium to yell ooh and aah a lot of times. Spectacle, speed. And it takes time to gel a team. We sadly lost too many points in the first half of the competition where Gio van Bronckhorst had his season last year in which he had to find the solutions. They’re very solid and hard to beat all season. We took more time. But I’m happy with the development of the squad. Onana, Sanchez, Dolberg, Lasse Schone and also the youngsters, like De Ligt, Kluivert, Van de Beek… We can be very proud of our Academy and good things will come.”
How far are you from your goal?
“I re-watched our home game vs Standard Luik. And I saw a remarkable low number of situations where I frowned, situations we did wrong. We are making good steps. But we need to keep on working and developing, we’re certainly not there yet. We have an urge to be perfect and we’re not there. We’re on course, but not there yet.”
Old friends, gunning for the title