Tag: Cruyff

De Boer shows promise!

I know, I said it before: friendlies are not that interesting. For us, the viewers. I always hope it is good for the coach. This friendly vs Spain for instance. We don’t play the best eleven, as we have two big games around the corner. Same applies to Spain. The players who played never played together before. We had to endure injuries in the run up to these games. And De Boer uses 6 subs, which never helps the flow of a match.

So, we drew 1-1 vs Spain. Big deal.

Still, I think there is a lot to cheer here, and I am going to be first one here to say it: I think appointing Frank de Boer was a good thing!

Before I go into it, a quick summary of the game, from my end, and some comments on players.

We were second best in the first half, and Spain was second best in the second. We lost the first half, but won the second half.

The reason: we didn’t push up from defence to pick up players in between the lines. There was a disrupt between defence and midfield, resulting in a dangerous situation every time Spain repossessed the ball.

The cause: 1) lack of fluidity and understanding between players, 2) lack of real top quality on the pitch (Hateboer, Veltman), 3) lack of courage.

We fixed it in the second half and voila.

As for individual performances: for me, Owen Wijndal was one of the best out there. He definitely gave his calling card to the coach. Wijnaldum was good. Steven Berghuis was good (off the ball, but sadly, his team mates didn’t have the courage to play him in). Dumfries showed why he should be RB #1 (for now). Davy Klaassen showed his strengths. Stefan de Vrij was strong when he came on.

Also, the aforementioned Hateboer and Veltman came up short again, while Luuk de Jong also demonstrated all his weaknesses.

But that is all a snapshot of course. Hateboer is revered in Bergamo. Veltman is a starter in the EPL and Luuk de Jong got Seville a European Cup, so….

But why am I excited about Frank de Boer, all of a sudden?

Here goes…

For starters, he ticks all the boxes. Age, history as world class player, financially independent, Dutch, Ajax / Oranje / Van Gaal pedigree.

He has some scars now too (Palace, Inter) which will make any coach a better coach and in Frank’s case, will add to his motivation to really make this work. This is not Guus Hiddink, who refused to come to KNVB meetings and preferred to play golf, or Ruud Gullit who leaves practices to his assistants to go shopping in Amsterdam.

His main strength is: his honesty. Brutally honest.

Where Ronald Koeman had to act the benevolent uncle to the squad, picking them up after a dreadful couple of years and instilling them with confidence and self-esteem, it is now time for a more mature approach. Where Koeman protected his players in the media, De Boer has already been more critical of his players in 1 month than Koeman was during his whole tenure.

When Oranje struggled in the first half vs Spain, De Boer saw the problem immediately, and tackled it at half time. Koeman would not have mentioned in the press conference. Koeman would have used generic statements. De Boer simply said: “We lacked the courage in defence to step out and follow their forwards in between the lines. We had huge holes in between defence and midfield and we solved it during the break.”

Eat that, Joel Veltman.

And he went on: “I’m not saying you get the death penalty for letting a man go in between the lines, but that is where Spain will hurt you and we weren’t alert enough or courageous enough.”

He also complimented Frenkie and Wijnaldum for alleviating pressure at times but was critical about the decision making of his team: “You need to be able to read the game and know when to play long on De Jong, or when to pass your way out of trouble.”

Another aspect of De Boer vs Koeman: the current Barca gaffer had the tendency to keep his squad intact. There were heaps of questions about Strootman, about Babel but Koeman would praise Strootman’s mentality and kept him close. He was one of Koeman’s captains, when he started out in 2018. Frank de Boer only needed 1 month in charge to drop Strootman. And when he needed fresh blood in midfield, he didn’t go for the comfortable solution (call up Kevin), but brought in 18 year old talent Gravenberch. De Boer won’t be afraid to use fresh players, if he thinks they’re ready. He didn’t call up experienced goalies like Sergio Padt (Groningen) or Pasveer (Vitesse) when Bijlow got injured, but 23 year old Drommel.

Last time around, vs Italy, Frank defied the pundits and kept Berghuis benched, because the system he decided on lacked a right winger. And the Italy result (and performance) said the coach was right.

Just like we could and should have won versus Spain, (missed chances Memphis and Luuk de Jong), we could have beaten Italy with that system.

Now, Frank is clearly not the most fluid communicators. People like Koeman, Ten Cate, Gullit and Peter Bosz do have more flair. Yes, but the football smarts De Boer has will compensate for this. He also has a sharp sense of humour, cynical, which works well amongst footballers.

So the way we look at Frank, is via his interviews, and he will never dazzle with those. But the players will judge him on his actual craftsmanship and I think he has enough. And probably exactly what this team needs.

It’s time to go from Koeman’s Kids to De Boer’s Boars…

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Italy outsmarts weak Oranje

Well, it seems that after a good series of games and increasing positive vibes around the team, our lads manage to help us level our expectations and get us back with our feet firmly on the ground.

It was at times a shocker. A really sobering experience.

It was well known beforehand that 1) Italy would freshen up the team and 2) they’d come with a mission, as they dropped two points at home. A response was to be expected.

Lodeweges set up the team almost exactly like Italy (as I said before: both teams try to play a similar style of football with a similar type of tactical plan), but instead of putting fresh legs in, he decided to use the team that had a confidence boost vs Poland. He also figured that Hateboer and De Roon would find something extra vs the players they see every week.

Bergwijn, who struggled after an hour vs Poland, was rested and Wijnaldum played as a false right winger, in what was probably a 4-3-2-1. Promes and Gini close behind Memphis, with a block in midfield ( De Jong, Van de Beek, De Roon).

Italy executed the plan to perfection and coach Mancini’s only real issue was the lack of more goals.

Oranje received a football lesson from the Azzurri and will need to get its act together really fast, as the matches will come thick and fast.

The issues.

I think for starters, Lodeweges made the mistake of using 10 of the starting 11 against Poland. Two big matches in 3 days with players who are not 100% match fit… Why? Dumfries was fit. Wijnaldum can play for De Roon, and give Frenkie some protection and help as holding mid (Davy Propper was injured and not part of the squad). Bergwijn could have done another 45 minutes and Ihatarren could have easily had his debut. He’s young, fresh, eager and has that surprise factor.

Anyway, that was just one issue. Italy is also not 100% match fit but still I think the risk of injured players was relatively high and it was visible that some players (Memphis!) were struggling at times.

Secondly, the team played to expansive. The spaces between the players was too big. Putting pressure and chasing the opponent is harder this way and costs even more energy. And once you do have the ball, there are less options to find a team mate. We lost the ball constantly, after 2 or 3 touches.

Example 1: Marten de Roon pushed up while right winger Wijnaldum has no direct opponent and seems lost in space. Big hole behind De Roon, for Hateboer and Veltman to deal with…

Thirdly, the right flank was in disarray. It’s easy to criticize Hateboer. And I personally also think he is not good enough for the NT. I do believe Dumfries, or Karsdorp, or Tete or even Janmaat (when fit) are better options. Yes, he has great lungs and keeps on going, but his crosses are mediocre, his touch lets him down and his decision making isn’t great. Having said that, him being the weakest link, he wasn’t helped that well by his team mates. De Roon and Wijnaldum should have made sure he was never playing against two opponents. Wijnaldum in particular was highly disappointing. But Joel Veltman also didn’t play like De Ligt or De Vrij would. He’s too much on the back foot, tracking back and never really pushing forward.

So Hateboer became the weak link, but this was partly the fault of the team (incl Lodeweges!).

And again. Van de Beek and wijnaldum both cover one Italian, while Frenkie is pressing high up, with gaps behind him. 

Some players (Memphis!) want to overcompensate the fact we’re not playing well by making it all even more complicated. Half volleys on goal from 35 meters out, bicycle kicks and more. In these situations, one needs to play simple.

And then this… A gap between defense and midfield. Frenkie pushing up, Van de Beek and Wijnaldum lost. The Italians can find a free man all the time.

Italy could have had 4 goals, in all honesty. Their finishing wasn’t up to speed (they also are not fully fit) and Holland really had very little to show for itself in the final third. A shot by Wijnaldum in the first half. An attempt by Van de Beek in the second half. Some weaker attempts by Memphis and Promes. Luuk de Jong came to play for Ake (cramp) in the final minutes of the game and had one decent heading opportunity, but overall it was piss poor.

This happened all the time. Huge space on the right. Look at the pairings. Wijnaldum or De Roon should be covering.

Frenkie de Jong did what he could, Memphis tried a lot, Van Dijk kept his head up and kept on commanding the troops, but it was just not good enough. We looked leggy, we kept the pitch to wide, we didn’t help each other out… we never deserved anything from this game.

This is the goal. Four Dutch against three Italians. Ake is marking his man. Van Dijk should have control. But it will go horribly wrong.

So now what?

Well, in terms of standing in this group: we still have control. We need to win games, and the away game vs Italy is a game we probably have to win, but I think we can. There is nothing lost yet. And make no mistake, it is going to be worth our while to perform well in this Nations League as it could help us get a ticket for the World Cup.

In terms of playing style and players: I think we need to keep on going on this road, but we need to learn from this match and learn fast! We need to stay more compact, have less space between the midfielders and the different lines. We also need players to stand up, and read the game and take charge. Lastly, I think it is safe to say we do need Propper, De Ligt, Blind, De Vrij, Malen, Stengs, Danjuma, Karsdorp, and maybe even Berghuis.

In terms of coach: I think this will probably urge the KNVB to sign a big name heavy duty coach. Lodeweges is probably a great assistant. But doesn’t seem to have the fire in his belly and the confidence to take charge because it didn’t take me more than 10 minutes to see what the problem was.

I also believe another – more experienced – head coach wouldn’t have started the same eleven (well…ten). Louis van Gaal or Henk Ten Cate. One of those two seems needed to guide and lead this still young team. My preference is Ten Cate (it was the same three years ago, when Hans van Breukelen fukced up so gloriously).

My ratings (I got some flak for the generous ratings for the Poland game, but I took into account the fact it was the first match and we ended up winning, so….).

Cillesen – 7 – was there when he needed to be, his passing was ok, not great, and I don’t think he was at fault for the Italy goal

Ake – 6 – couldn’t bring a lot moving forward, looked leggy

Van Dijk – 5 – Not sure where he was when that cross came in.

Veltman – 4 – Very sloppy, gave balls away needlessly, wayward passing and letting Hateboer drown at times

Hateboer – 5 – Got himself in trouble, had one major howler, but fixed it again, worked hard but was left in the lurge

Frenkie – 6- worked hard, tried hard, but struggled

Marten de Roon – 4 – didn’t protect his Atalanta team mate Hateboer

Donny van de Beek – 3 – almost invisible, kept the field to long, tactical positioning was weak, had 1 good chance

Gini Wijnaldum – 3 – Wasted as right winger, hardly any threat, lost in space between players and leaving Hateboer to drown

Memphis – 3- Tried hard, seemed to be very motivated but lots of wrong decisions and not enough team play

Quincy Promes – 3 – Almost invisible, sloppy in possession, weak in his positioning

Steven Bergwijn – 4 – Could affect the game, had a through ball for Frenkie but overcooked it

Luuk de Jong – 6 – Did what Luuk de Jong does

Dwight Lodeweges – 5 – he probably had a good plan but the execution sucked and he wasn’t able to change it around. Was late with subs and should have started fresher legs

I can’t play the high lights of this game. So lets look at a game that got us all cheering!

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Lessons learned for the Italy game

Well, we learned Italy coach Roberto Mancini needs his glasses, before he puts Donnarumma in the striker role or something. Italy underestimated Bosnia & Herzegovina and dropped two points. Or won 1 point even.

Oranje, on the other hand, snatched the leader position, even after a long spell of no play, an empty stadium, three starting defenders injured or otherwise disposed and a new coach.

Some conclusions.

Playing in an empty stadium sucks. The Dutch starters asked their substitutes and training staff to cheer the lads on. They were so used to the passionate and loyal Oranje fans that they hoped to get some form of substitution via there peers. Lodeweges: “The players really valued it and they thought it was great. It really helped. At a certain point, Hateboer was running past and he must have felt like he was Leo Messi, that was how much we cheered him on, hahaha.”

I will never get used to it. Only a limited number of press and some officials were allowed in. Not even the family of the players. There was a questionnaire, a temperature gauge, masks. There were checks of bags and personal items and the majority of seats were blocked by an alarming red banner.

In this atmosphere, the players need to find the motivation somewhere. This is not a big issue for this generation of players. We had a very gloomy couple of years with Oranje and the players are very focused on making history. Steven Bergwijn: “It is not easy without the fans. But you do have to remember that millions are watching infront of the telly, and it’s them who we want to give joy and make proud.”

Virgil van Dijk sounds like the boss. The advantage of playing in an empty stadium, is that one can hear everything that is said (or yelled more). It was interesting to see/hear how Virgil grew into that leadership role. His charisma is known. But in the Poland match, he was very audible with his coaching. Him and Jasper Cillisen are constantly coaching. But Van Dijk stands out with his bassoon voice and he guides the team through the match. He is the one deciding when to apply pressure, and when pacing is more important. He will give the start sign for the press (Yeah Yeah!!), he points the way in possession (Forward!!) and coaches players who are played in (Turn! or Time!) and he gives compliments when something worked out (That is it!!).

Players taking charge is wonderful for a coach. Lodeweges: “I lost my voice already, and I am not even Antonio Conte! I tried to analyse, observe, think. And I usually sit quiet on the bench. Having a player or players doing this is vital.” Steven Bergwijn: “This is Virgil! I don’t know better. He is the man, our leader. And he has that voice, hahahaha.”

Lodeweges follows the Koeman doctrine. Not a lot changed, with Koeman leaving. The former Oranje captain organised the whole new Oranje protocol and Lodeweges has zero reasons to change this. Lodeweges impact as a coach was already huge. “Ronald was not a dominant leader. He delegated a lot. He would let me analyse opponents or prep training sessions and two weeks before the game, he’d ask me: so, what is your plan? And we would tell him what we believed we should do. He would listen and would decide which parts he agreed with, and which parts he didn’t. And he was always right, you know. 95% of the time, he knew exactly what would happen.”

The players’ council is very content with this way of working, and they (Babel, Van Dijk, Strootman, Blind, De Ligt) have informed the KNVB that they want to keep on traveling on this road.

If there is one thing that Lodeweges wants to streamline, is the press. “I think there is room for better choices to be made, by the players. I noticed that pressure sometimes gets translated to “running, hassling, sweating and panting. Putting forward pressure on was such hard work. So much energy used up. I think we need more control, we need to position ourselves better and be more selective in the moments to put pressure on. There are better chances to repossess the ball and it will cost less energy. We are working on that. Against Poland, that went well. Considering the circumstances, I do believe we actually played really well.”

Lodeweges is known to be a serious and passionate coach, but also very down to Earth. He likes to use language to put things in perspective. Asked about his new role, he calls it “a fun job”, when asked about the group, he says “it’s a hungry bunch of players”. He described debutant Owen Wijndal as “a good little lad, with a nice left foot”. And after the 1-0 win over Poland, he ended his presser with “we had a pretty decent evening, all in all….”

Some automatisms between players never fade. Memphis was scanning his options, ball at his feet. His peripheral vision was looking for runners and he was on the prowl for Frenkie. Vice versa, Frenkie knew an opportunity was coming if he timed his run right. Memphis eyes see, Memphis minds races, and Memphis feet execute. Their dance was unrehearsed but perfect. The run was made, Memphis chipped the ball his way, Frenkie controlled on the chest, turned and half-volleyed. That one deserved a goal. The dynamics between Memphis and Frenkie hasn’t suffered from 9 months no game. Their connection was clear from the first minutes they played together. Frenkie is always looking deep, for his passing, Memphis is always looking to get the ball. They have this telepathic understanding, like Jonk and Bergkamp, or Sneijder and Robben. Frenkie, Memphis and leader Virgil ended up being the best players on the night.

Lodeweges used 4 practices to show the players what he wanted, in terms of variance. “You don’t always have to play intricate and short passing. You can play long, you have to vary your approach. I like to see quick, deep balls over the defence.” The players enjoyed the intense training sessions, as both Bergwijn and Wijnaldum commented how hard it is to not play together for 9 months, and then suddenly needed to be a team again.

Lodeweges declared every one in the squad fit and ready to play Italy. Daddy Dumfries also returned to the squad.

It is not easy to look into the head of the coach, but I think he won’t change much for the Italy game. I think he’ll keep Hateboer in the side, as he knows his opponents well and has that tandem with De Roon happening. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Babel start on the left and maybe Van de Beek instead of Wijnaldum.

I was asked for player ratings, for the Poland game. Here they are :-).

Cillesen – 7 – he was there when he needed him and he had some good long balls too.

Hateboer – 8 – he wasn’t too successful in the first half, but his second half was fine, and the assist gave him an extra point

Veltman – 7 – played an invisible game, which is good for a centre back. Solid on the ball.

Van Dijk – 8 – Virgil is always focused, always leading. Good interceptions and overall leadership.

Ake – 7 – Played well, understands his role, great on the ball and an aerial threat too.

Frenkie – 7 – Played a tough first half, came into the role in second half. Created the goal but has way more in him.

De Roon – 7 – played faultless, was there to take Hateboer’s position, was dogged and good on the ball too.

Wijnaldum -6 – A bit invisible. Doing his work, making runs, and being a threat by his shere presence, but not effective.

Promes – 6 – Missing rhythm, his crosses didn’t connect, his dribbles were a bit off, but he played his role and had this one chance on a goal in the first half

Bergwijn 8- Played well, drifting into space, coming centrally to wreak havoc and worked hard. Scored his first goal, giving him an extra point.

Memphis – 8 – Still not in 100% shape/form but working his ass off, trying to dazzle, to entertain, to find openings. Everything he does is focused on creating something. Any opponent will use 2 players to stop him.

Van de Beek – 7 – showed glimpses of his qualities.

Luuk de Jong – not enough time on the pitch for a rating

Lodeweges – 8 – I can’t fault him for anything

I think Italy will be another scalp for us.

They are also not in 100% shape of course, but they will have to try and take something from the game.

Italy plays a bit like Holland does, and the game will be more open. Confidence is high in Oranje, which might be our biggest threat, actually. I think 3-1 for Holland. Own goal by Van Dijk. Memphis, Promes and Van de Beek on the score sheet for us.

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Koeman Barca dream come true!

We didn’t know this would happen. But we knew Koeman really wanted this to happen. For years, Koeman shared his big dream to one day coach his favorite Barcelona. In the footsteps and on the shoulders of his mentor, Johan Cruyff.

And finally it happened. He was one of the few Barca fans with a huge smile on his face, when football machine Bayern took the Catalonians apart in the CL quarter finals…

Koeman ideally wanted to finish this years Euros with Oranje, before he’d jump to Barcelona but due to Covid, that tournament has been postponed and could in theory even be completely cancelled (nothing is sacred anymore).

So when Setien couldn’t find the answer to the problem(s), it became clear a new strong man was needed.

In the words of Barca watcher Edwin Swinkels: “Barca needs a strong coach, who will have the balls to complete renovate the squad and has the socios’ respect and support.” Xavi has been on the wishlist for quite a while, and the favorite in the eyes of some of the candidates to win the presidency at the club but for the inexperienced Xavi, it would be ideal if someone like Koeman would clean house first, and leave a new and flash Barca team to Xavi to enjoy.

Barcelona initially wanted Koeman for 1 year. But in the flash negotiations between him and the club (and manager Rob Janssen), the camp Koeman made it clear that he’ll need a bit more.

Koeman’s job will be a tough one. For starters, La Liga will start within the next 4 weeks already. And secondly, Barca declared only four (4!) players to be essential for the next Dream Team: Ter Steeghe, Messi (of course), Frenkie and French defender Lenglet. Yes, you read it correctly: Alba, Busquets, Griezmann, Suarez, Pique, Vidal, Dembele…anyone interested in them? Barca will wrap ‘m in gift paper.

And all this in a time when Barca doesn’t seem to have a lot of money to invest in new blood. A tough assignment. Typically an assignment only someone with a big huge hard-on for the club would accept. Koeman just did.

Lets look at that history between the two football phenomena…

It’s 1988. Koeman won the Euros with the NT and the European Cup with PSV. Real Madrid calls. Koeman answers the phone and checks in with mentor and ex-coach Johan Cruyff (at Barca), what he thinks. Cruyff: “Don’t sign. I want you here.”  Koeman signs in January 1989, for 6 million euros. A club record for PSV. He flies to Barca with his wife and goes through the motions with press, fans, and more press. On his flight back, he mutters: “Ooh, I can’t wait till I can hit a rocket into the top corner in Camp Nou!”. He did not lack confidence.

But his first months are dramatic. Barca can’t find the flow. They lose against Anderlecht in the first round of the European Cup and Koeman is used as midfielder, right and centre and fairly quickly named as the worst signing of the season…. When he also ends up losing against Mallorca on a pitch not even fit for cows, he doubts his move: “Is this what it is? Playing for Barcelona?”.

Koeman doesn’t believe his eyes. The socios adore players who run and work like crazy. Koeman is the type that doesn’t run, but prefers to walk, while letting the ball do the work. The forwards don’t press. The midfield is not strong enough. The defenders are constantly up against a majority of opponents. “I played nine years in the Eredivisie, I won everything you could win and then this??”

Koeman improves that season but would get seriously injured in his second season. Barca wins the title, though, the first since 1985. In his third year, Barca wins the title again and this time Koeman is impressive. He scored 26 goals from distance in six seasons and he would earn the nickname “the canon”.

Koeman and Cruyff had a difficult time together at Ajax. The midfielder went nuts over Cruyff’s continuous hammering on details and when Koeman could jump to PSV, Cruyff let him go. Only to buy him back for Barca, paying 13 times more. In Barcelona, they’d become neighbours and friends.

Koeman always played, until the 1993/94 season. Barca signs Romario. And extra foreigner, as JC had Koeman, Laudrup and Stoichkov. The media started to bet on “which player will be left out”. The bookies placed Koeman as the least likely. The Dutch man was so important now, Cruyff would never bench him!

But JC did. Koeman: “I was so angry! We had coffee earlier on the day as mates. I yelled at him: WHY DIDNT YOU INFORM ME?? And he just shrugged his shoulders.” Later, the press asked him about it and he said: “I decided to put my best man on the bench, as he is the strongest, mentally. He will get over it and it won’t affect him.”

After the press conference, he called Koeman and said “lets get the wives and go out for a bite” as if nothing had happened.

It’s May 1992 and Barca was finally able to get out of the shadow of Real Madrid. At Wembley, Barcelona Superstar Koeman scores the winner in the CL finals and will end up a club legend as a result. Koeman plays a top match and emphasizes his worth for the team. Every attack starts with him. The players always try to find him. He is the natural leader of this Dream Team.

Koeman reflects back onto his goal: “There was only one angle to score. One trajectory and I had to shoot the ball straight between a couple of players. When I take that free kick 100 times, 95 times I will hit a body part. This time, it went clean through.” Immortality for Koeman, as this goal will be shown in the Barcelona museum for decades to come…

In 1995, Cruyff wants to extend Ronald’s deal but it seems Koeman doubts. The Dream Team is not longer that dreamy. Stoichkov has placed bombs in the squad by saying that “this team isn’t good enough for me to want to play with” and “Koeman is in the team because he is friends with the coach”….The stress of playing in Spain becomes too much. Flying to away games, constant police protection, women hoping for a glimpse or more…. Whenever Ronald visits his family in Holland, he feels he is in paradise.

Koeman returns to Holland and signs for Feyenoord where he’ll play for 2 seasons. After that, he returns to Barca, as right hand man for Louis van Gaal while he also assists Guus Hiddink at the 1998 World Cup. He also coaches Barcelona B until Vitesse lures him to the main chair, in Arnhem. Even back then, he stated his ambition: one day I will coach Barcelona, I hope. He will coach Ajax and when in Amsterdam, Barca comes by to lure him to the job. But Ajax refuses to let him go.

They come again for him. This time it’s January 2020 and Koeman thinks he will play the Euros with the NT that summer… He couldn’t predict Covid-19, of course. He told Marca “Of course, I would have signed immediately if I was without a job. Everyone loves Barca. I don’t care what the circumstances are. When Barca calls, you listen. I love the city and I had my best years there.” Typical for Koeman: he seems to be able to make all his dreams come true.

The big question now is: who will follow him up as NT coach?

We will look at that in depth, in the coming days.

Dutch candidates: Louis van Gaal, Peter Bosz, Henk ten Cate, Phillip Cocu, Frank de Boer….

International candidates: Ralf Rangnick, Jurgen Klinksmann, Mauricio Pochettino, Leonardo Jardim, Hein Vanhaezenbrouck

Your thoughts?

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Big Move for Nathan Ake

Nathan Ake deserves to be a symbol. In The Netherlands, there has been a lot of criticism on players who left Holland before they made a name for themselves in the first team of their club, and signed for big money clubs abroad… Royston Drenthe, Karim Rekik, Ebicilio, Nazarite, Jeffrey Bruma, we have seen it with so many players who end up being ignored, being loaned out, losing momentum and ending up with mid tier clubs in Greece or warming the bench at Wolfsburg or decided to go back to the amateurs in Holland…

Nathan Ake is the big exception to the rule. He too left Holland when he was 15 years old. The skipper of the Netherlands rep team that made a name for themselves (with some of the players mentioned above) and was considered Feyenoord’s next big thing.

But Chelsea swooped in and sign the introverted Ake for the future… The best thing for Nathan, was the fact that he was with Chelsea for 3 seasons at least, before he turned 21 making him a home grown player, in England. That will have helped his transfer tremendously, as any club needs to have 8 home grown players in their squad.

Last summer, Guardiola was eyeing Ake already, but the transfer didn’t happen, for different reasons. This season, City has been struggling defensively and needed to get some fresh blood in quick. And City was also limited due to the number of home grown players needed in their squad. Ake was the ideal candidate.

Ake is not just a good fit due to his “English status”, but also because he fits like a glove in Pep’s tactical plans.

He’s not the tallest (180 cm) but he’s a great header of the ball (timing and powerful jumps), both defensively and offensively. He has great feel for space and positioning. He’s very good on the ball and finds footballing solutions easily. He’s quick and has the balls to defend high up the pitch, with space behind him.

A good example below of what Ake can do. In the away match vs Man United, there is pressure on the ball but a confident and composed Nathan Ake dribbles his way to safety.

Recognising when it’s a good moment to push forward is a key strength for players in Guardiola’s teams. John Stones is hailed for this quality, but his defensive work is highly criticised. Those qualities are better balanced out with Ake. See below.

 

 

On top of that, Bournemouth got relegated, meaning that the club will most likely be happy to off load Ake for a good price. Bournemouth’s former coach – and the man who signed Ake – can fully understand Pep’s crush: “Nathan is a symbol of consistency. He has performed really well for us over a long period of time. And not just on the pitch, he is just a top notch professional. He can play on different positions. We have seen him play left full back, defensive mid and centre back. He needed to get used to it a bit, but he’s really brilliant in that role.”

Ake is seen as one of the best CBs in the EPL but in the Dutch NT, he’s fourth choice, behind Van Dijk, De Vrij and De Ligt. Potentially also because Ake never played Eredivisie football and isn’t that well known in Holland. He started with ADO Den Haag, where Feyenoord picked him up really early on. He never made the first team but enjoyed playing in a team with his mates and a move to England wasn’t part of the plan. Chelsea came and Nathan said no. His dad changed his mind, by saying: “If you wanted to study somewhere, and Harvard accepts you, you’d take it! You learn a lot and should you fail you can always go to a lesser school.” Nathan decided to go and check it out and loved it.

He won’t be able to get a starting birth though, but he did develop well in London, playing with the likes of Terry and Lampard. Frank Arnesen is Chelsea’s TD and loves for the youngster to move to the first team squad, but Mourinho is the Chelsea coach and he is not the guy to help young talents. He’s about winning, like most coaches in the EPL. Ake still enjoyed working with Mourinho: ” I liked him a lot. I worked with him for two years and he can really touch you, motivate you. You’ll go to war for him, and he demands 100% every training again. He wants to see that fighting spirit. At that age, it was really important for me to work with him and experience that.”

Later, Ake was less positive about Mourinho, claiming he was dropped by Mourinho after having had a good spell of starting berths under Benitez. “At one point he humiliated me in training, when I made a mistake. He threw his pad on the ground and yelled: “do you want me to buy a real defender for 50 million euros”. He dropped me from the squad and left me broken. I never understood why, as I was voted young player of the year and had some good games for Chelsea.”

Chelsea’s Rafael Benitez, Nathan Ake during a training session at the Cobham Training Ground on 15th March 2013 in Cobham, England. (Photo by Darren Walsh/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

Chelsea agrees to do a loan deal with Watford for Ake and here he gets the first heads being turned. He plays left back, he scores important goals and keeps Watford in the EPL and reaches the semi finals of the FA Cup with Watford. When Chelsea wants to loan him out again in the next season, Ake prefers to go to Bournemouth. “I played against them a couple of times and they play good football. Pass and move, careful build up… Their coach Eddie Howe wanted me and I felt like he had a plan with me. He initially wanted me to play defensive mid, as I played there under Benitez at Chelsea for a bit. But the manager already told me he also saw a centre back in me.” Ake impresses in the role and becomes a key player. When he returns to Chelsea, it is because new coach Antonio Conte really wants him back. But Conte doesn’t use Ake that much and he has to watch the FA Cup finals from the stands, while he was in the team in the semi finals against Spurs to deal with Harry Kane. Successfully. When Bournemouth returns to Chelsea to get Ake permanently, the The Hague born mini Gullit jumps to the opportunity. Chelsea sells him for 20 mio euros and negotiates a buy-back clause for 40 million euros.

After a couple of good seasons, Bournemouth ends up being too small to withstand the onslaught from more ambitious clubs, and gets relegated.

Nathan’s rise to the top has gone via a long(er) and winding road, but he does prove that you can reach the summit when you leave the Netherlands so young. It’s a matter of working hard and keeping your head down and prove it week in week out.

At the NT, Ake has the bad luck that he has De Ligt and Van Dijk in front of him, same as Stefan de Vrij. The former Feyenoord defender was voted the best defender in the Serie A recently. What a feat for a lad from Rotterdam.

Ake, the silent power, the unsung hero, might well be Oranje’s secret weapon at next year’s Euros. He keeps on surprising people and seems to be making his way into one of the best footballing teams of the world.

Some Statistics:

Of all the defenders in the EPL today younger than 25, he only has to allow Luke Shaw and Hector Bellerin above him. The 11 times capped Ake played 146 EPL matches

Ake is not a safety before anything player, but his passing accuracy is 87.6%. Only 14 defenders with more than 1000 minutes of EPL football do it better than him.

Ake is only 180 cm tall but scored 6 headers this season in the EPL. Only 12 EPL defenders headed the ball more, defensively.

With Ake, Bournemouth won 29.5% of their games. Without him, it’s a lowly 12,5%.

Ake was taken on successfully in a one v one situation only nine times. Kurt Zouma (Chelsea) and Virgil van Dijk are the only two defenders whom experienced this less times (7 times only).

Like Virgil, Nathan hardly goes to ground. When he did do this, he won the ball 21 times out of 31 attempts.

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Listen to the Man: soccernostalgia

Hi all, I realised I am becoming a bit of fossil. The whole world is podcasting, infuencing, selling shit via instagram etc etc. And I am just sticking to the typed word. Putting a video in my posts is a real hi-tech feat for me.

But, you can now listen to the man, as the Soccernostalgia Podcast invited me to talk them through the year 1983, for The Netherlands National Team.

An interesting year indeed. Ajax won the double with Cruyff. Feyenoord with Van Hanegem (57 years old or something) just finished second. The season after this one, Cruyff signed with Feyenoord and won the double there :-). And Oranje was prepping for the amazing 1984 Euros in France. We will do another one of these for that season too, I hope. As this was the period in which the 1988 Champions were moulded…So host Shahan Petrossian and co-host Paul Whittle will also blow your minds, as these two afficionados have incredible knowledge of international football… In general. I mean, minds blown.

Just click here if you want to have listen of what we discussed…

Your fearless writer in the podcast…

I will work on a nice piece on Jerdie Schouten of Bologna, who was under the radar of most, for a spell. But Christian Eriksen and Lukaku will tell you that they know who he is now.

But more importantly, I will post a cool article on another 1974 hero who died recently: Wim Suurbier.

He wasn’t the best player in the team. He didn’t get the accolades that Rep, Cruyff, Nees or De Kromme would get. But he is by far the guy who led the most interesting life… And I hope to get that article out to you soon.

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Justin Kluivert: I want to shine!

Justin Kluivert spent time in The Netherlands during the Lockdown. This interview was done during the non-football period in Italy.

How are you?

Justin: “Until the Corona outbreak I was doing fine, particularly with my football. And you know me, when the football is good, my life outside of football is good too.”

Football as the benchmark?

“For me, yes. When you are happy in your football career it’s hard not to be happy outside of it, so yes. I played a lot before the lockdown and scored my goals. That seems to be key for most people, especially when you are playing abroad. People read the news headlines and you will come across in a positive way, when you score. So, that is good.”

Do you notice it in the streets too?

“Of course. When you scored the last game, people come up to you and congratulate you. And when you don’t score, they won’t. That is how it works. And I like reading stuff like “Kluivert saves AS Roma” or something. That sortathing works for you.”

You’re a young mama’s boy from Amsterdam. And there you went: as a 19 year old, to Rome!

“The first six months were all about adjusting. I only lived in Holland, with my mum. So big steps for me: leaving the club where I played all my life and leaving my mum behind.”

Were you lonely, in Rome, that first period?

“I don’t get lonely that easily, I am good at being alone. I am also a bit like: you signed for Roma, so no whining! I had a girl friend in Amsterdam but now I’m single again so literally alone. My mum visits often and I still have a little brother at school, so it’s a quiet life but it’s good. My first season in Rome, I didn’t want too many distractions.  I do get a lot of visitors so that is nice. My grandma flies down to Rome whenever she can. And my mum also helped by taking care of my home, she did the whole internal design thing, right how I like it. I have home here with a pool and many bedrooms for guests.”

Did you learn how to cook?

“Yes, I went to cooking school, hahaha. I cook for myself, no drama.”

Justin with mum Angela

So do you enjoy the life in Italy?

“Yes, the Italian vibe is top. Food is great, the weather is top, and I also use the Italian gestures now hahaha. One cappuccino for breakfast and then espresso shots. And on we go!”

Did you manage to be the tourist? Go to the Colosseum and all this?

“Football here is top class but the city of Rome is top as well. You can do so many things, we can go sailing or have lunch at the beach. I also visited the historic spots, but it’s like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam… It’s for the tourist. You don’t go to the Rijks every month, when you live in Amsterdam. And we will get recognised always, that is a drawback. Walking through the city is no problem, you don’t need to wear a hoodie or something. They do look at you and sometimes ask for a selfie. I always say yes. It takes 30 seconds. So what, right?”

Who are the team mates you hang out with here?

“I spent a lot of time with Rick Karsdorp and his family, before he left for Feyenoord. He tought me heaps of things here, and I have to be grateful for him for this. Kevin Strootman was top too but he left very early to Marseille. I am the only Dutchie now and the youngest too. Most of my team mates have kids and families etc. At Ajax, all the players were young and we were all mates. I knew most from the youth teams. Here it is different, but on the pitch I get along with all of them.”

With which Ajax players do you still talk?

“I talk to Hakim Ziyech every now and then. His move to Chelsea was to be expected, man what a season he had! I look forward to seeing him in the EPL. I app with Frenkie at Barcelona a lot, but everyone is busy. We’re all on our own trajectory.”

Mino Raiola is your agent. Does he help you by connecting you to strikers like Zlatan?

“Well, I have my dad to talk to right? But I was in Monaco one time with Mino and Balotelli and Zlatan were there too. We had lunch together, which was fun. I also speak to Mkhitaryan a lot. He came from Arsenal, and he is so smart. He always gives me little hints and tips. He wants me to shoot quicker, get the shot away. Don’t make that extra move or trick. And I talk with my cousin Marillo and with my brother. Marillo is my best mate.”

Like Abdelhak Nouri was a good mate too….

“Yes, a really special mate. We played together at Ajax but we’re still friends. I think about him a lot. And because of what happened, I learned to enjoy every single day. Don’t hang on to anger, that sorta thing. Life can be over, just like that. Now I live here in Rome, I don’t get to see Appie that often. I’ll be visiting him soon I hope, but I find it extremely difficult. So horrible…”

How important is your mum to you?

“Pfff how do you say that. I am always very happy to be with her. She means the world to me. I lived with her my whole life and whenever I have a decision to make, I call her. And she support me in everything. She wasn’t very stern or anything but always clear. And when she said her piece, I was like… Ok… that is how it will be. But she always was loving and warm. She likes to hug and still does.”

So after a good game, you think about her?

“Yes, of course. I also play for her, but also for my dad. I love it when he’s proud. And for my brothers too. I want to shine on the pitch. And they give me my motivations. My parents got divorced when I was still little and I don’t know different than being raised by my mum. But I missed nothing, don’t get me wrong. In the weekends I saw my dad. That is how it was. My mum is a strong woman, she made sure we were happy.”

Are you tearing up?

“No. Yes, well… a bit. I mean, I am not a cryer person, but I always get emotional talking about my mum. She is the most beautiful woman in the world for me. But everyone will say that about their mum, I hope.”

You are known to be a very positive and open lad, but also very polite?

“That is how she raised me. Just act normal, she would say. Be polite. She raised three boys by herself and that can’t be easy but she did ever so well. I think my bond with my brothers is strong because of her parenting. I have two younger brother, Dean is my mum’s and lives in Amsterdam and always wants to know everything about football and Shane is my dads and he lives in Barcelona with dad, who works for Barcelona. I call them a lot and we always go on holidays together.”

And your dad? What does he mean to you?

“My dad was my role model! I always hear i look like him and he is also chill like me. That is cool. He’s not just my dad, but also a football legend. I now experience a tiny bit of what he went through. And I can always ask him for advice. We talk daily on Facetime or Whatsapp. He can’t visit often, as he’s very busy at Barca but that is ok. I am used to not seeing him often but I love him dearly and we will spend more time in the future.”

Daley Blind once said: I think my surname means I will be judged even more than I actually should…” Do you recognise this? 

“Of course, Daley is right. With a famous dad who also played for Ajax, people do try and see similarities or want to compare and yes, they judge you. You got to learn to deal with this. I got that as well: “You only play at Ajax because your dad played here…”. I used to say: come and see me play this weekend! The surname motivated me to play even better. “Will you be that good?” people would ask me and I always said: I will have to answer that on the pitch. Shane in Barcelona is going through the same as me. He looks like me, also as a player. Not too big, plays on my spot and has the same way of playing. We speak daily. I try to coach him a bit and we reflect on the stuff we go through. It’s not easy to be compared to your dad all the time. But it’s not just about football of course…”

Last season, when Ajax was so impressive, did you ever thing: “I wish I was there”?

“Of course I would have want to experience that! Take Matthijs de Ligt! We’re the same age, we know each other since we were 12. I have a smile on my face when I see him play at that high level. It was strange to see them do all that, without me. I watched all there games, and when you saw them play, in the tough games, I’d think: Wow, this is not normal! But this is how things go. You take decisions and sometimes you look back and think…hmmm…. but I’m proud of them and of myself for taking the step I took.”

Patrick, Justin, Shane and Matthijs in Barcelona. 

So why did you go? Why leave Ajax so early in your career?

“I just wanted the adventure. I did ponder it for a long time. But AS Roma was very concrete, the money was there, they explained to me why they wanted me and I thought: wow… The Roma deal vs the Ajax deal… It just was a very good step for me. I am a satisfied guy. The question was: are you ready, but how do you ever know? You have to try. People said: you have to perform every week now! And I’m like: do you think that is different in Ajax?”

Did you get better, as a player and human being?

“That is it! I have. The power I have now, I didn’t have at Ajax. And living in Rome, well…. “

Justin didn’t get selected for the National Team, in the past periods of play, but just when Koeman picked Kluivert for the pre-squad in the run up to the Euros, the corona virus reared its ugly head.

“It’s totally shite that the Euros are postponed. I was focusing on that for a full year. That was my big goal. But I get it, this is bigger than football. Now it will be next season and I will work my ass off to get there.”

Do you talk to Koeman?

“Every now and then. He came specially to Italy to see me last season. And guess what: I was on the bench all game. And I thought: there goes my chance. But he sent me an app with some little comments and the final word: “you are on my radar”. That gave me energy. The coach will not just look at my goals, but goals are important. I played two matches under Koeman now. He is a very relaxed and good coach. His tactical talks are never longer than 12 minutes. He said himself, he never liked these long speeches. So suddenly he’d look at his watch and yell: “Ok, we’re ready!!!” We all had to laugh. He is very clear in what he wants, and you feel like “ok, this is what we will do”. He is a real leader.”

Do you talk to your dad a lot about your game?

“Oh sure. He watches all my games and sends me stats from all my matches. He has an app with he uses and can show me the # of ball contacts I had, how many passes reached my team mates, etc. That is very insightful. I am personally not that analytical, I just play my game. I also don’t like tactics, I really need the freedom to play and be free in my head.”

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Why Cruyff never coached the NT, part 2

We’re getting to the end of the football-less season… We have had Germany start already and the Italians, Spanish and English will start soon as well… And at some stage, our Oranje will come back as well… Here is part 2 of the KNVB-Cruyff debable. We read in Part 1 how the WC1990 was sabotaged by Michels and the KNVB. Four years later, the call for Cruyff as coach was heard loudly, yet again…

“The KNVB thinks that anyone can win at a World Cup? First, in 1990 they select a different coach than the one the players asked for. And now this…”, as said by Johan Cruyff.

After the 1990 World Cup debacle, Rinus Michels takes the reigns again for the EC1992 in Sweden, with Dick Advocaat as his assistant. A new generation of talent emerges (Witschge brothers, De Boer brothers, Roy, Winter, Bergkamp, Jonk) while the 1988 champs slowly disappear. Van Basten wouldn’t make it to the World Cup 1994, due to injuries, but Koeman, Wouters, Rijkaard and Gullit are still keen.

When Oranje gets closer to qualifying for the World Cup in the US, in 1994, the KNVB feels pushed to talk to Cruyff and use everything they can to be able to cut Cruyff loose again. When the KNVB wants to talk to Cruyff for the role, they plan to do this in the run up to the Clasico, the big match vs Madrid. Cruyff declines the meeting invite. On another suggested date, Johan had already plans to do something with his daughter and again, declines.

Chairman Jos Staatsen finally gets the time to see JC and returns to the Netherlands with a sobering statement. “I don’t think Johan wants the job. He wants to be paid the same wage as Barcelona pays him now, which is way out of budget and he also wants his own staff, which is non-negotiable to us.”

Yes, you read it right. In a time when coaches bring multiple staff members in their entourage (assistants, scouts, physios, video-analysts, specialised coaches) it is weird to see that the KNVB strongly objected to Cruyff wanting to bring two assistants and 1 scout (Tonny Bruins Slot). The KNVB had cushion jobs for the likes of Bert van Lingen and others and they protected their in-house staff to the death. As for the salary situation: JC was on 1 million guilders per annum at Barca and said: “If I have to invest time and energy into this, I want the equivalent per month (and it would be two months in total – JR) as I will not be receiving that from my club in those two months.”

In December 1993, the KNVB decided to give Dick Advocaat the job. The end result, we all know. Ruud Gullit and Advocaat clashed and Gullit walked away. The clash was about tactics. Gullit knew (as almost everyone did, except for the Dutch federation) that there would be a very hot summer in the US. Oranje would play its games partly in Florida. Hot and humid. Gullit had his entourage of medical experts who all told him: it would be tough to play a high-paced, dominant game of football. And: they suggested a training period at height. Gullit wanted to discuss tactics with Advocaat and play the AC Milan style of football (compact 4-4-2) instead of the typical 4-3-3. Gullit didn’t get his way and realised Advocaat would not have a spot for him in his 4-3-3.

Advocaat returned home with Oranje after losing the knock out game vs Brazil, 2-3, in a mediocre campaign. Advocaat claimed to be proud of his accomplishments…

KNVB chair Staatsen

This is the interview from 1994 with Cruyff…

On December 19, both you and Pele were shifted to the side lines by the respective football federations….

“Can you believe it? This was for different reasons, but it’s weird. He really did all he could to put football on the map in the US and if I have to believe the letters I receive at Barcelona, people are on the edge of their seat when we play…”

You think you play the best football on the planet, right?

“Well no, I wouldn’t claim that, but if I look at the 1000 letters I receive per week, at least 50 of these are about the Orange Machine of 1974. The Maquina Naranja is still a thing in Spain and people relive this with Barca now. We may not have won in 1974, but we made an impression alright!”

So why was it that the federation seems to fight you?

“I don’t know how they think. They say that I ask for too much money. I heard that 914 sponsors have said: we will help pay his fee! But it doesn’t have anything to do with money, of course. My fee would be 75,000 guilders. That is 2% of the total budget. The second problem was the sponsor for the kits. The KNVB has Adidas, I wear my own brand, and I will never not wear my own brand. Simple. I’ve been wearing my brand for 20 years now. That is contractual on my end as well. I can’t imagine Adidas trying to change that, because they know me too. I wouldn’t wear a trainings kit along side the pitch anyway, so what are we talking about? And they want me to win the World Cup with a team of people I never worked with… How does that work?”

Wasn’t there another issue, with sponsoring?

“Oh yes, I told the KNVB I don’t want any money or additional payments for sponsoring activities and as a result, I will also not be part of any commercial activities around this circus. I won’t be doing photo shoots for sausages or toilet paper.”

JC with on the far left Tonny Bruins Slot, master scout

Was this the big clincher, at the end of the day?

“No idea. I had a very good understanding with Staatsen initially. He was open to all I brought in. And the sponsoring stuff… Listen, the Federation might see this World Cup as a perfect commercial opportunity to get new sponsors or do PR. Brilliant. But not with me. I am not going there as a business guy! I am there to win the tournament and my job needs to be completely separated from the ones who go there for a party of a business event! They need that outside world, to exist. I don’t. I need my team. I also told them that I don’t want any official and / or sponsor in the players hotel. That would result in chaos.”

And Jos Staatsen was ok with all of this?

“Sure. He is an organisational design professional. He got it. But he is not the boss. You see, in Spain, when you deal with the President, you know you get what he tells you you’ll get. But in Holland, Staatsen was the chairman, but not the man in charge.”

So the power behind the throne blocked you?

“I think some people had a fright. They worked four years for this and now the new coach might decide to not take them. But I never said I don’t want any one of them. In particular Dick Advocaat would be welcome. I respect him and I think he did an amazing job so far. He could have had any role he wanted. Scout, field coach, whatever. Up to him. He would not have been in my way.”

Maybe the KNVB felt they could do it without you?

“Sure. And why not. But you need to have a certain mentality. They were all talking about “lets hope we survive the group stages…” And I’m totally different. I say: I want Argentina, Brazil and Germany in the group. So we can get rid of two major forces. Listen, I would have many reasons not to want this. The pressure, the ridicule when I don’t make it past the group, the impact on my health, a lot of people in my circle told me: “Don’t do it!” But I would have gone for the gold. I think this team has it in them. For 10 players it is their last chance. Most players have trophies, have money in the bank and are now keen to get this ultimate prize… Like Gullit.”

Winning the double with Feyenoord (and Gullit and Joop Hiele)

So Gullit would have been part of your squad?

“For sure. And Van Basten. Everyone says: He can’t play at the World Cup. I say he can! The KNVB thinks differently to me. They want two friendlies in March, versus Scotland… I am not sure why? I don’t need it. Why do I need to practice. These are all top players, who know how to play. All I need to do is find the right system, pick the right players for that system and then get in their heads.”

Wouldn’t it be tough to build this in 6 weeks?

“No? Why? I have worked with about 16 of these lads. They know what I want. I was not in a hurry. 6 weeks would be enough. It’s a bit sad. I did have my dreams about this World Cup you know. The first game Oranje plays in Washington is in the stadium where I played my last march and Oranje’s final game (the finals) is in the stadium where I made my debut in the US. I would have gone full circle…”

Your first response on Studio Sport seemed quite relaxed and complacent. “Whatever”.

“Well, yes. I said, if they want another, they should appoint another. It’s that simple. I don’t care. I am all for the result. I don’t care about politics or whatever. I have a strong relationship with people on the basis of mutual respect. People like Wim Jansen, Frank Rijkaard, Van Basten… I had so many conflicts with them. Dozens of clashes. But we respect each other’s qualities. I feel blessed with their friendship and respect, that is all I need. I don’t need the reverence of some official at a sponsor or a football association.”

Cruyff with two of his prodigal sons, Ronald Koeman and Michael Laudrup

So now you will never get the biggest prize of all…

“Hmmm, it’s not though. I won so many prizes but the biggest one is the claim that this Barcelona plays the best football on the planet. That is my biggest prize.”

Would Oranje have won the title with you?

“You can never claim this. But it was a possibility, yes. But you can always lose a match…”

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Why Cruyff never coached the NT, part 1

My friends, another post in this dreary non-football period… Health is more important now, but it’s good to see the virus more and more under control and football returning to the stadiums… Albeit empty ones…

This Covid-19 situation has hurt people individually, but also society as a whole with potentially more fatalities as a result of all that…

Your fave blog also felt it. Way less interest in the non-current stories, I suppose while the annual bills (hosting, site, etc) keep on coming in. So… some help, some beer money would be highly appreciated :-). You know where to find the donation button!

And now this message from our sponsor ends, and we look at that question that was asked here before. Why did JC, the greatest coach we ever had, the man who had the most impact on Dutch football, on Ajax and on Barcelona… why wasn’t he ever given the role? Why did the KNVB not beg for him to come on board. Here is why…

JC was never overly popular with management types at the Dutch federation. As a player, he was the one who harassed the federation mostly about players’ insurance, about fair pay for the internationals, etc and at Ajax he had lost his job for being difficult to work with. JC was known to want to be the boss. He gets to say how he wants it. And typically, the KNVB wasn’t too happy with the long-haired beatnik.

Thijs Libregts hears he’s fired and won’t coach Holland at the World Cup

When Michels took Oranje and led them to their first and only prize in 1988, the Dutch federation hired Thijs Libregts, former Feyenoord coach, as the NT manager. He was an able player in his days, mainly for Excelsior. He had coached with success at club level but didn’t cut it as NT manager. He wasn’t an innovator, he didn’t bring anything to the – by then – mature top players we had. Don’t forget, by then, the Dutch players are all considered top class in their particular skills. The Milan 3, Koeman, Van Breukelen, Van Tiggelen, Vanenburg, Kieft… all seasoned by now and in need of a coach who would impress them and who can teach them something and discipline them when needed… A strong coach.

When Libregts reached the pinnacle of his shenanigans by saying racist and derogatory things about Gullit in the media, the players had enough. They took the initiative to go to the Federation and say: “Either he goes, or we quit!”

The KNVB, with former coach Rinus Michels as director, decided to sacrifice Libregts and to offer the players a vote for their ideal coach. It was between Leo Beenhakker, Aad de Mos and Johan Cruyff. Don Leo had coached Real Madrid before and was now coach of Ajax. Aad de Mos was a former coach of Ajax, now with Anderlecht (and successful with KV Mechelen before, with Erwin Koeman, among others).

The majority of the players – among them the Milan 3 and Koeman, Van ‘t Schip, Blind, Menzo, Witschge, Wouters, Roy – voted for Cruyff. No surprise. Some players selected Aad De Mos (Erwin Koeman, Adri van Tiggelen)… Basically the players who worked with him but never with Cruyff. And a small contingent picked Leo Beenhakker. Most likely players who had a clash with JC before (Vanenburg) or who expected not to play under Cruyff…

San Marco’s body language tells the story… No Cruyff…

The majority of the players wanted Cruyff. With good reason.

The KNVB took their input, and Rinus Michels was to do the final selection process and came home with… his friend Leo Beenhakker. The players were flabbergasted! Even the ones who voted for Don Leo…

Michels and Cruyff were at each other’s throats at the time. The big rumour is that Michels feared Cruyff would win the World Cup and become Oranje’s most successful NT coach. Only 2 years after Rinus big trophy. Michels even said in a press interview that “coach Cruyff is a psychopath”… Rinus blocked the JC appointment. And this resulted in a huge upset.

Captain Gullit felt screwed over the most, as he led the charge against Libregts and saw his plan thwarted. It broke something and the feud went from JC and Michels to Gullit and Michels. Michels wrote columns for the one daily newspaper, and Gullit started to write columns for the rival daily newspaper and they took their battle public.

The second mistake the KNVB made, was to organise a pre-World Cup camp and with the WC in Italy, there were numerous amazing opportunities to find a nice resort for the lads. Something close to a beach? To a nice town? Golf courses? But the KNVB found an old castle in former Yugoslavia, with a moat!, and locked the players up there. It was cold, it was dark, it lacked entertainment… Don’t forget, these were top class players by then. Mature, experienced, leadership… And they didn’t like where they were but had to accept it. But something broke.

Don Leo and Ruud Gullit bickering

Gullit was busy getting his numerous girlfriends from Milan to come to the castle. Van Basten and Rijkaard pulled away from it all. And that vacuum of leadership allowed for the second tier of players to start to become more vocal, which disrupted the hierarchy.

The rest is history. Leo Beenhakker suddenly appearing at press conference with a thick and bloody bump on this forehead. “I bumped my head to the door post”. But players slowly released the story that Marco van Basten threw an ashtray to Don Leo’s head. Assistant coach Nol de Ruiter appeared at breakfast with a black eye. No one knows what happened, but Nol and Leo didn’t see eye to eye, so…

When Beenhakker was asked after the tournament what the F happened? He famously answered: “75% of what happened will never see the light of day.”

Marco and Ruud actually almost decided to leave the camp and forget about it all. The first two group matches were dramatic. No leadership, no work rate, no team play, no hunger.

Oranje played Egypt in their first match. Beenhakker played almost the same starting eleven as Michels did in his first 1988 match at the Euros. Graeme Rutjes was brought in for Arnold Muhren basically. Kieft scored the first, in a dreadful match. With Egypt equalising from the spot, late in the game.

The second game was vs England, ending in a bloodless 0-0. Beenhakker made some changes, taking Rutjes out, brining Van ‘t Schip in midfield and Hans Gillhaus for Erwin Koeman. Kieft came in from the bench again.

After those two games, something broke. The players demanded a talk with the coach and issues were aired out. The third match was against the Republic of Ireland and Oranje needed one point to move on. Beenhakker used Richard Witschge in midfield for Van ‘t Schip. Oranje played with the shackles off, and Captain Gullit showed up, scoring the first goal. Ireland equalised late in the match, giving a third draw to the Dutch.

After the group round, the Dutch were up against West Germany, our favorite opponent and finally Holland played to their strength. Beenhakker was convinced by the players to use more creative options in midfield, so both Richard Witschge and John van ‘t Schip were brought in for a 4-4-2 with Marco and Ruud up front together. We lost that game, but we could have won that too… We played ok and got some chances we simply didn’t take. The match was most famous, sadly, due to the red cards Voller and Rijkaard received in the 22nd minute already, thanks to a spitting contest.

Nol de Ruiter’s biography goes into the Beenhakker situation and the whole vibe at that WC1990 campaign. De Ruiter: “Leo was really focused on his PR image. He didn’t want to be a stern coach, he wanted to be friends with the top guys. Leo is completely media focused. And you could see that in all the Ajax players too. Arrogant, rude even. Only Jan Wouters behaved normal. Leo did odd things, he would shorten practices or tactical talks, just to please the players. There was no discipline and I was there as a token assistant coach. I didn’t have anything to do. We had comedian Freek de Jonge living with us in the players’ hotel and he was a total distraction. Why? Doctor Frits Kessel was like an old woman and gossiping all the time. Gullit was hunting for women, Rijkaard was completely unmotivated, Koeman was kilos to heavy. It was a mess.”

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50 Years ago: Ernst Happel invents Total Football

In the late 60s, Ajax had a first stab at it, but they lost their finals, vs Internationale, 4-1. The still playful and naive Ajax players vs shrewd and ruthless Italians…

The next season, Feyenoord led the way. And Coach Ernst Happel and his key players Moulijn, Van Hanegem, Jansen and Israel created the template which Michels, Cruyff and Co would perfect in the ensuing years… Dutch football was never the same.

Coach Ernst Happel is famous in Holland for his typical quote: “Kein keloel, fussball spielen!”. Which translates as “Stop talking, just play football!”.

He was a no nonsense guy. A tremendous football player himself, for Austria and Rapid Wien and Racing Club Paris. As a coach, he immediately won the respect when at the first training, he placed several empty bottles on the cross bar, and placed  balls outside of the box. And he then hit the balls which would all hit a bottle. The Feyenoord squad has just seen that their coach knows how to hit a football.

In Austria, Happel was never seen as a potential top coach. He loathed theory and was never part of the incrowd. But after he won the European Cup with Feyenoord, the Austrian federation invited him for a presentation at some seminar. “The people in the room were silent and hung onto every word. It was just fantastic. His pitch was just incredible!”.

Happel was the first coach to win the European Cup with two different clubs: Feyenoord and Hamburger SV. He did reach the finals again, with Club Brugge but lost. He won titles in four different countries and the national cup in four different countries. He reached the finals of the World Cup 1978 with the Dutch national team.

His biggest issue was his lack of language skills. He spoke German. That’s it. So he never did long tactical talks. He would observe, say something here and there and use simple commands like “Geh ma raus!”, which translated as “Move forward!”. The training and practice sessions, however, were such that the players didn’t need to hear longwinded tactical talks. “He could communicate to every single player exactly what he wanted. But he didn’t do it with words, but with practices.”

Should Happel have had the same audacity as other coaches to write a book about his methods and vision, he would have been an international guru in the same vein as Michels, Mourinho or Sacchi. But he never did. He wasn’t interested in becoming a guru. The following three topics form the foundation of Happel’s football sacraments.

The Off-side Trap

Maybe to clear this up first: Happel didn’t invent Total Football as a mathematical formula. He was a man of the pitch, not a theory guy. He would create solutions based on the players he had at his disposal. With him, it was an organic process. Former Ajax back (and part of the Feyenoord squad when they won the Cup in 1970) Theo van Duivenbode: “Michels was great in developing a tactical plan at the start of a game and he’d try to hold on to it. Happel was different. Happel was capable of seeing where things didn’t work in a match and he’d tweak it while we were playing. I think Happel read the games way better than Michels.”

The Off-side trap, a mechanism that would impress the world in 1974 when the Dutch successfully used it at the World Cup 1974 was something Happel came up with in 1949 (!). He was the main man in the Rapid Wien team, one of the best teams in Europe. Rapid went to play in Brazil vs Vasco da Gama and was played off the pitch, trailing 3-0 in a short spell. After the break, the Vasco manager told his players to take it easy. The end result: 5-0.

The 22 year old Ernst Happel couldn’t sleep and decided to analyse the game that night with his coach Pesser and technical director Franz Binder. Pesser: “We were humiliated. We had never had this before. We spent hours jotting on pieces of paper and analysing what they did. Their coach Flavio Costa was an innovator, who laid the foundation for Brazil’s flowing tactical style of play. That morning we decided to abandon the Austrian school. We needed something new. And one new thing we introduced was Ernst Happel as central defender, the playmaker from the back.”

And as central defender, Happel was able to use the off-side trap. He was the last man and could recognise the ideal moment to move forward and complete out think and out manoeuvre the opponent. He used this in all the teams he coached. German legend Gunther Netzer played for Borussia Monchengladbach and faced Feyenoord in the European Cup: “We couldn’t live with them. I saw one head after the other slumped down. We had no idea how to deal with this and I looked at the bench, I wonder who their coach was…”. Ernst Happel of copurse.

In 1981, Netzer would sign Happel as coach for Hamburger SV.

The 4-3-3 system

Feyenoord played a 4-2-4 system in 1969, with deep striker Ove Kindvall and playmaker Willem van Hanegem as two strikers and two players in midfield. All Happel did was drop Willem back to midfield and add Franz Hasil (Rapid Wien player) to the midfield (with Wim Jansen) and the rest is history.

Rinus Michels copied what Happel did. He used the 3-2-5 still, the traditional offensive football style in Holland, with one central defender, 2 back, two controlling mids and 5 attackers: 2 out and out wingers and two “inner” players and a striker. When Ajax drew 3-3- with Feyenoord in April 1970, Michels decided to go with 4-3-3 as well. His old style was simply too vulnerable against strong teams. A year later, Ajax would win the European Cup as well.

When watching the finals between Celtic and Feyenoord, it is remarkable to see how patient Feyenoord is… Celtic is constantly playing the long ball forward and hopes on some creativity from the four forwards. Feyenoord plays like a collective. Patient build up play with short passing from the back. When Feyenoord played against teams using the 4-2-4, they always had the extra man in midfield and getting a free man using the man-more concept is more an Austrian invention than a typical Dutch one…

Some of the Feyenoord legends: goalie Eddy PG, central defender Rinus Israel, Guus Haak and mercurial winger Coen Moulijn, next to Happel’s statue.

Pressing

Again, a lesson learned in a country far far away gave Happel the necessary insights. Rapiud Wien is the first team post World War 2 to travel to the USSR. The teams there played a collective style of football. In Western Europe and the UK, teams relied on the dribbles of the individual, but Russian teams worked on playing pressing football as a collective. Viktor Maslov (not the dog guy), who was the mentor of one Valeri Lobanovski, was an innovator. He was the one stating that one had to take time and space away from the opponent. In those days, it was normal to allow defenders some space so they can move forward dozens of yards. Willem van Hanegem: “I can’t remember any time where Ajax put us under pressure. It was Happel who was innovative in Holland with this concept, using fast, hardworking players on the wings. They were the first defenders. We had Henk Wery at Feyenoord and he used Rene van de Kerkhof in the 1978 Dutch team. He created the ideal circumstances this way, for a team that could grasp the opponent and never let them go.”

Again, Michels took notice and decided to let more static players like Henk Groot and Bennie Muller go for marathon men like Johan Neeskens and Nico Rijnders. Ajax never played that aggressive, actually, it was once Michels had players like Jansen, Van Hanegem and Neeskens in one midfield (World Cup 1974) when he started using the aggressive press. The label Total Football was given to Michels’ team, but it was Happel who led the way.

Rinus Michels promoted the concept, with his trusted lieutenants (Cruyff, Keizer, Krol) at his side, but if Happel would have been a better promotor and had written some books about it, he would have had more respect internationally… The off-side trap, 4-3-3 and collective pressing might have needed way more time to find Dutch football. Michels copied it smartly and deployed his tactics with a better team than Happel could…

Winning the European Cup also meant Feyenoord was going to compete for the World Cup for club teams. Argentine club Estudiantes was the opponent and it was a completely new experience for the Dutch side. Willem van Hanegem: “We didn’t know much about them. Basically, nothing. In today’s world, you can find out everything about opponents, stats and what not. We did think their football was going to rought, but how rough… We played in Argentina and we got a corner kick. When the ball was played in I felt this sharp pain in my side, some Estudiantes player had a little needle in his pocket and when the ref wasn’t paying attention, with dead ball situations, he’d prick me right when the ball was coming in… This was beyond “wanting to win” and I realised we were schoolboys compared to them!”. Feyenoord drew 2-2 in Argentina, with Van Hanegem and Kindvall on the score board. In Rotterdam, sub Joop van Daele was the unlikely match winner with a distance pile driver. The anecdote everyone remembers about this game, is that the glasses worn by goal scorer Van Daele were taken of his head by an Estudiantes player and trampled! During the match. “By accident”. Yeah right.

 

 

Van Daele wants his glasses back!

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