Tag: Feyenoord

The Arne Slot Miracle

Feyenoord won it’s 16th title, only 6 years after a complete different team (under Van Bronckhorst) won it. And they won it about 19 years later after the trophy in 1999.

The gaps between titles becomes smaller and if Arne Slot has any say on it, the next gap will be even smaller…

At the start of the season (when Gakpo was still at PSV), many pundits and analysts were convinced that PSV and Ajax would be slugging it out for the title and Feyenoord and AZ would battle for 3rd place.

Yes, PSV had to sell their two most prolific attackers in the winter, but Ajax had a complete meltdown while Slot’s Feyenoord transformed into a winning machine. Where Feyenoord won the title in 2017 with 1 point difference on Ajax, today Feyenoord is 13 points adrift from the Sons of Gods after 32 matches. Two more to go.

A very unlikely title, in other words but thoroughly deserved.

When Idrissi scored the 1-0 in the championship match versus the Eagles, the whole city erupted, but Arne Slot was stoic on the sidelines, hands in pockets. When Gimenez scored the second goals, the coach showed some emotion. Understandably, as the second goal was a training ground goal: Feyenoord played in towards the right wing, luring the Eagles’ players to that side. A quick combination brought the ball back into the centre of the pitch, where Eagles now were short handed. Mats Wieffer accelerated the play when he say Paixao popping up in the axis and the Brazilian was able to lob the ball in the path of the explosive Mexican: 2-0.

The 3-0 came when Feyenoord lost the ball close to the Eagles’ box. Three Feyenoord players, led by Polish international Szymanski, immediately put pressure on the defenders. The ball was blindly played out, Wieffer picked the ball up and he got his assist by finding the shrewd Paixao who came in between the lines: 3-0.

Slot has been able to mould this Feyenoord based on four particular pillars.

The Turnaround when possession is lost

In interviews Slot usually says: “What is attacking football? For me, it means hunting for the ball if you don’t have it.” His players can now dream the wise cracks of the coach. Time again he asks his players: can you deliver? Do you have the intensity to play like this? For Slot, how a players reacts when losing the ball is key. When he started at AZ, he showed his players footage of lacklustre players jogging back after losing possession. He clearly hates it. Spicy detail: Slot him self was a bit of a lazy #10 who played elegant and skilled football but wasn’t known for his running and tackling.

In Rotterdam, Slot started with the attackers. They were ones who had to suddenly work their socks off as first defenders. “If you can up the pace of the game and if you can play at a higher pace than the opponent, you will force them into mistakes and you can win the game. Simple.” The opponents were driving to complete breakdown, broken by the energy of the Feyenoord players.

Playing at Ajax in the Cruyff Arena, all these components came together in one particular moment. See the images. The match is only 4 minutes old or Alvarez intercepts a pass to Gimenez. But there is no mourning phase or disappointment. It’s Symanski who runs like a maniac onto Alvarez and got his foot on the ball. Berwijn got the ball but was circled by 5 opponents. Kokcu got possession and and a couple of seconds later it’s 0-1 Feyenoord, goal Gimenez. This goal was made by seven (!) Feyenoord players who immediately went into 5th gear when the opportunity arose. This intensity seemed to much for most opponents, this season.

Alvarez intercepts pass and wants to dribble forward

Szymanski is immediately on Alvarez’ toes and makes it hard for Ajax to play out

Bergwijn collects and is harassed with 5 opponents around him

Feyenoord wins the ball and plays the forward pass. Via Idrissi, Hartman can cross to Gimenez

The Ajax defense is complete overrun

And Gimenez has a tap in, basically….

Defending

Slot: “We need to create a man more situation everywhere on the pitch!”

When Slot was signed by Arnesen, two years ago, many people doubted that the high octane game Slot likes to play would work in Rotterdam. He laughed it off: “I don’t believe it. This can work, because we have 6 non-defenders who need to chip in and help.” He used the World Cup break to work on his team, 6 days a week. And what he did was basically getting into the players’ heads and convince them of his vision. And he did. By repeating the positives and positive examples. He used books and documentaries, such as the Michael Jordan Doco and the book Intensity by Liverpool assistant Pepijn Lijnders to make his case. The core message: make sure we always have more players around the ball when defending. Dick Advocaat used man marking, Slot went to zonal marking. He wants the team to collectively move with the ball, ensuring there is always players close to the ball.

Four attackers all involved in the initial press

The former Sparta playmaker appeared quite flexible in his execution of his ideas. He started last season with his high press of two forwards: the striker and the 10. He started this season with three attackers pressing, the left and right winger and the striker. In the World Cup break, he worked with the team to place a fourth pressure point in the mix: playmaker Kokcu was going to be the 4th presser, behind the striker. But when Gimenez got the role at the expense of Danilo, Slot changed it back. Gimenez feels best with a 10 next to him, so Slot adepted again. And the striker paid Slot back with important goals.

Turnaround when winning the ball

Slot: “If you are well organised in your press, then opponents make mistakes. And their mistakes will immediately provide opportunities for us.”

Gimenez is Feyenoord’s top scorer this season with 15 goals. The high press helped him tremendously, as 12 goals came straight from a turn around high up the pitch. Under Advocaat, in his last season, this only happened 4 times. Only Celtic in Europe scored more often than Feyenoord from a position of high press.

Always a man more around the ball

These statistics were already in Slot’s thinking when he was an assistant at Cambuur. There, he said: “We can be more lethal when the opponent has the ball on their half, as opposed to us having the ball on our half.” And it worked for Feyenoord, as the Rotterdam club was at their most lethal when opponents decided to build up from the back.

Attacking

Slot: “When you have the ball, you need to create a man-more situation immediately and use it.”

His principles aren’t much different in the attacking sense of the game. He was able to increase the % possession from 54% to 60% and when the Feyenoord attackers were totally trained up during the World Cup break, he was able to execute his preferred playing style.

Slowly suffocating the opponent

Slot: “I don’t have the illusion I can make players play better. But I can make the team play in a way that makes the individual seem to be better. So they can play in their strength.”

It’s also good to see that Slot doesn’t force his players into a style of play. He does look at the skill set he has available to him. Good example: the right back position. Geertruida is a very intelligent player, who can play the inverted right back/midfielder role (like Trent Alexander Arnold, John Stones and Joshua Kimmich can play). In that case, the right winger takes the right wing. Pedersen however, doesn’t feel comfortable playing in that role, so whenever he plays, Slot uses him as a wingback marauding down the line and the right winger will come more inside to fill in the extra midfielder role.

And always keeping track of the distances between players

Arne Slot sticks to his guns, but is always looking to finetune his vision to allow the players to play to their strength. This resulted in the miraculous title for Feyenoord.

His next mission: keep as many players on board as possible and try to make a name in the Champions League.

Thanks to Pieter Zwart VI

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This Blog: the Future

My friends, Happy New Year, first and foremost. I started this blog back in 2004 when I was completely devoid of any Euro 2004 coverage in Australia and I had to have people in Holland tape the games and send it via snail mail to me, allowing me to watch the games “live” one week after the fact!

And all this time, trying to keep my ears and eyes closed for any news articles or coverage while awaiting that tape.

I started to get involved in the predecessor of this blog before I was forced basically to take the blog under my wing when the original blogmasters decided to stop their national team platform.

We’ve seen ups and downs, wins and losses. From the blood bath in Nuremberg in 2006 to the rollercoaster ride of 2008’s Euros. The amazing run to the finals in 2010 and heart break in 2012. The return of LVG in 2014 followed by too many years in the desert with a series of coaches, from Hiddink and Blind, via Grim and Lodeweges to Koeman, De Boer and Van Gaal again.

We saw Sneijder come into the fold and retiring from football. We criticised Kuyt, Blind and Howard Webb. We adored Gio’s wonder strike and were in awe of Stekelenburg’s save on Kaka’s attempt. The Casillas toe, the Van Persie own goal, the madness of Van Gaal’s antics in this past World Cup and the ongoing debates about players, systems, line ups and the Blind family.

It’s been 18 years. Time to move on. I hoped I could say my farewell with a World Cup win but it’s not to be.

I had fun doing it, and I made some great friends. The blog even resulted in a partnership with 3 dear friends, at least…they were dear friends when we started. Some meanderings resulted in a bright commercial idea by one of our Singapore based regular posters and that resulted in a partnership to execute the idea, potentially catapulting the new venture into stratosphere with gazillions of dollars as revenue.

The project failed. The tech wasn’t ready. The founder decided to make some silly mistakes with the money, the investors got antsy and lost patience and it all went to shite quite fast.

One of the partners died while watching an Oranje match (no joke) while the other three (me included) never spoke again.

There were amazing loyal and supportive and generous posters here. I won’t name their names, but a few of you were always happy to support me financially and I thank you all for this!! (You know who you are).

One of the many results that came out of this blog. We laughed, we cried, we debated and argued and we celebrated.

This blog is up for grabs. Whoever wants to pick it up and run with it: let me know. Send me something in the comments and I’ll reach out. I’m not selling it. It’s for the guy/gal with the best ideas, plans to move this forward.

I have not done many things. I never wanted ads (the money they pay is lousy and I feel it ruins the experience). But I also wasn’t able to bring daily news updates, videos, funny highlights, or whatever. I focused mainly on the Dutch NT and less and less on clubs. My video library was literally non existed on the site and I failed to engage you all with polls, quizes or other interactive stuff.

I hope the next blog master will be happy to do more with it.

If you’re interested in taking the mantle, let me know and we’ll work something out.

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On the road to Qatar: Noa Lang

LVG has made his final decisions. Lots to discuss. I will give my insights here, and will continue with the Road to Qatar series discussing a suprise – for some – inclusion: Club Brugge’s Noa Lang.

But first the 26 squad.

The shock was the omission of Cillesen. Something that would have made the goalie furious and I get why. The argument that Cillesen is not in form is BS. He is as much in form as Pasveer, who had some howlers in the past months. Cillesen is playing really well for NEC Nijmegen, so this was a white lie.

Later in the presser, Van Gaal let slip in between the lines, that Cillesen is poison in the squad when he doesn’t play. I think this is the real reason. Wesley Sneijder opened up about Cillesen’s behaviour at the WC2014: “When Van Gaal subbed him for Krul he got really mad. We all remember the kick against the water bottle, when he walked off. But it went further. He didn’t congratulate Krul afterwards and kept away from the team celebrations. He called his parents and his management and they went back to Van Gaal. I remember the coaches were about to send him home, but decided against it due to the media spectacle that would become. He is not supportive towards his colleagues. When he is #2, he will undermine the #1 goalie. I can understand why he is not part of the squad.”

Ok, so can I. But if this is the case, why wait so long with letting him know? That was unnecessary. When you have good options in Bijlow, Pasveer, Flekken and Noppert, why not let Cillesen know weeks ago that he won’t be in the plane? Strange.

Then for some (me too), the exclusion of Danjuma seems odd. He is fast, explosive, strong in the duels, he makes runs in behind and he has ice in his veins. When you need good penalty kickers, he’s one of your men. But Van Gaal opted for an extra midfielder in Taylor. I would have taken Danjuma as replacement for Memphis who simply is not fit and could well be a huge gamble. It’s a muscle injury. Muscle injuries can look like their gone, and then suddenly return with a vengeance.

Janssen is not a replacement like-for-like for Memphis.

The reasoning to leave Danjuma out: he was not part of Oranje when Van Gaal made his big shift from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. He said it then: players who were part of that experience – which LVG sees as crucial – have an extra plus behind their names. Danjuma was not there due to injury and will have missed the tactical instructions.

Whereas Noa Lang was part of that squad. Even better, Club Brugge plays in that exact same way! And even betterer: Noa Lang excels at Brugge as a sub, which is exactly what LVG has in mind for Lang. A game changer off the bench.

Janssen v Brobbey is another debate. The Ajax man is more explosive and quicker and a better header of the ball. But… he wasn’t part of Van Gaal’s “masterclasses” and Janssen was. It’s also a known fact that Janssen is a popular lad amongst the players and the coaches: articulate, intelligent and loyal. Brobbey can be a wild card in this respect.

For me, there are not any more surprises. I would have loved to see Clasie but not sure who I would have sacrificed.

Lets look at Noa Lang. The rebel forward who started his career at Feyenoord, made the move to his fave club Ajax, and from there got himself a transfer – sort of forced – to Club Brugge.

Last season, he established himself as a force to be reckoned with, both in Oranje and in Club (remember the PSG games in the Champions League), and he gambled on a transfer. He felt AC Milan would be a nice next step on his way to Real Madrid.

But the transfer didn’t happen and he got injured in the summer, which cost him his spot in the starting line up. Despite being fit only for a month, he made it in the WC squad.

It may be a surprise for many, but not for me.

His Dribbles

We used to have many players in the past who could take on opponents and dribble their way to success, from Rensenbrink, Cruyff and Van Basten all the way to Robben and Elia. Today, we have a couple of fast paced, direct forwards (Malen, Danjuma, Bergwijn) and a couple of target men (Luuk, Weghorst, Janssen, Brobbey) but we desperately need a guy who can take on an opponent to create a man more situation. We have Gakpo, Memphis and, yes… Lang who can do this. Of all the Oranje potentials for attack, Noa is the number 2 on the list of successful dribbles, just behind Gakpo, and in front of Depay. Bergwijn, Brobbey and Luuk de Jong are quite a way behind.

Van Gaal: “Noa has always delivered in my teams. He is a creative player who doesn’t need a lot of time or opportunities to break open a defence. And at Brugge he now demonstrates he can do it as a sub too, which is exactly what I have in mind for him. He will be my impact player off the bench.” As mentioned before, Lang also is accustomed to the 3-5-2 LVG is planning to use at the World Cup. Definitely a plus.

Running in Behind

It seems LVG sees the trio of Gakpo/Memphis/Bergwijn as his preferred attacking three. With subs like Luuk de Jong and Wout Weghorst and Vincent Janssen, Oranje has different types of strikers, but still need a player with speed and depth, with the ability to run in behind. Malen is considered not good enough at the moment, so it was between Danjuma and Lang. LVG chose Lang.

Lang has explosiveness also without the ball. Most of his goals come from his runs in behind, from the left flank. When Oranje is pushed back against strong opponents, Lang can definitely be a strong weapon.

Multi-functional

LVG loves multifunctional players. The likes of Blind, Klaassen and Berghuis fall in that category. When Lang was used in his debut v Latvia, Van Gaal put him on the right wing position. He was clear in his pre-match announcements: “I want to see how Noa plays from the right”. Within 5 minutes, the extraverted rebel pushed Gakpo to the right and went to play on his fave left position. Van Gaal was gobsmacked! “Isn’t that incredible? I had to correct that immediately. That was not my plan!”. LVG could laugh about it though, and have him another chance later. Against Wales, LVG changed his system from 3-4-2-1 to 3-4-1-2 and Lang’s introduction was key to that. As Van Gaal has three traditional central strikers in De Jong, Weghorst and Janssen, Lang offers the veteran coach something different, with the various positions Lang can play in. Even a return to 4-3-3 is an option with Lang in the squad.

“Plus”

Van Gaal likes to use the “plus” and “minus” labels when explaining his selection process. He wants the following aspects: form, rhythm, personality and tactical knowledge of the LVG Philosophy (huh?). It seems form, rhythm and personality are quite on par between Lang and Danjuma, but the Brugge forward has an extra plus as he was part of the squad that worked on the 3-5-2 model ( 3-4-1-2) LVG prefers these days.

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Jan’s World Cup Squad

Well folks, I promised you my World Cup Squad. I will try to get into the head of LVG but my personal preferences will shine through.

Yes, Blind was hooked by Schreuder for two matches now (apparently they had a bit of a fight) but Blind will obviously be part of the squad. There is no way in hell LVG will drop him. There will be very limited new blood in the squad, knowing Louis, as he won’t want to many new faces to “educate” about the Van Gaal method. So don’t get yourself all worked up. No Bakker, no Struijk, No Botman. He will probably add Xavi Simons for good reasons, but Van Gaal is a hard head and he could even completely ignore what we all want.

Below is the scene from Ajax – PSV that stuck with me most. Not the goals, not the silly hand bag battles, or moves by Kudus. Not the shot on target from Berghuis or the workrate of Xavi Simons. This:

As for the comments on Ajax – PSV. I think the match was pretty even between the boxes. Ajax had the better of the ball there. But when it started to become serious – in the boxes – it was PSV that was sharper and more willing to battle. For both PSV goals, Ajax simply didn’t want to defend. As if they didn’t want to get their shorts muddy. Before the 1-0, Bergwijn is worked to the ground and he stays there, as a spoiled child, watching the ref. Kudus and Brobbey decided to jog a little bit. As a result, the right hand side of Ajax was overrun and the right back couldn’t or didn’t want to pressure Gakpo too much: result? A pin point cross to Luuk de Jong: 0-1. For the second goal, it was a corner by PSV (or a free kick, not sure) and the ball was cleared half, Ajax started to push up, while Tadic lost possession on the edge of the box to Veerman. 5 (!) Ajax players stood still and watched. De Jong went into a duel for the ball, these Ajax players still stood there, watching. As a result, Guti was completely free to pick up the ball and score.

Simply lack of work ethics. Nothing to do with tactics or experience or quality. Everything to do with willingness to fight for every ball.

This is so pathetic… I’m ashamed to be Dutch…

Ok, now my 26 for the World Cup. Some comments: usually a coach picks two players per position. When you play 5-3-2, however, you would pick 10 defenders instead of 8 (in a 4-3-3) so that won’t work. You don’t even need 8 defenders usually, as historical data show that you usually only sub a defender if he’s injured or has a yellow. To change the game, you usually bring a forward, not a defender.

You will find my group of 26 in this image below.

I have to be frank, I thought I’d have a surprise for you, but I don’t. I was thinking to put Clasie in. Why? Because Clasie has 1) experience, 2) is a Van Gaal favorite and 3) brings the passing quality we might need if a player like Frenkie and/or Koopmeiners is out. Clasie is a good organiser, a very decent dueller for the ball and a cool head. Good set piece taker as well.

But right before posting this, I realised that it’s probably overkill. With Koopmeiners, Frenkie and Berghuis we should have enough players who can play in that role. You can even add Blind to that if need be while Ake or Timber could even play in that position.

I realised that there is no alternative if Luuk gets injured or suspended. Yes, you can send De Ligt up top or De Vrij but I decided to pick Weghorst as the joker’s joker behind Luuk.

Simons has to come, and I added Klaassen as well (positioned as LCB but that is only to make the picture symmetric I guess. Klaassen is the only real box to box player and with his goal scoring instinct I felt it was good to bring him along. Klaassen is also a player who will not complain if LVG makes him polish all the boots.

This my preferred start up eleven, based on the fitness of the players today:

Ok, let the insults, criticism and sarcasm begin!!

You know where to put your comments… ( pun intended).

 

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On the Road to Qatar: Steven Berghuis

Whether he going the long way from the amateurs to the pros or whether its through a headline grabbing transfer from Feyenoord to Ajax, Steven Berghuis will always go his own way, dreaming of a pro career and dreaming to reach Oranje, like his dad Frank “Pico” (ex PSV, ex-Galatasaray) did.

He made his debut in pro football in 2011, for FC Twente in a game versus Heracles. It’s no surprise that Steven got into the National Team, as that whole team consisted or would consist of internationals. A couple of names: Mihaylov (46 caps for Bulgaria), Rosales (91 caps for Venezuela), Onyewu (69 for the USA), Landzaat (39 caps), Luuk de Jong (38 caps), Nacer Chadli (66 for Belgium) and Marc Janko (70 for Austria) to name a few.

Ironically, defender Douglas didn’t get any. But he was the one Louis van Gaal pushed to get a Dutch passport and after a prolonged visa process, he did get two call ups for qualification matches with Oranje but never played a single minute for the Dutch NT.

Berghuis’ debut in Oranje

12 years later, it’s the longhaired youngster with the shiny boots who would become the most prolific international for Oranje from this particular squad. He made his debut in 2011 but there is only 4 seconds of footage of him, in which he is recognisable due to his typical little spring in his step. Assistant coach Alfred Schreuder (!) told him to go out and enjoy himself but he might not even had touched the ball, against Heracles with a young Remko Pasveer on goal.

A couple of years before his debut, he has had a sniff of pro football when WSV from his home city Apeldoorn selected him as 15 year old to play with the first team against Feyenoord in a friendly. The amateurs lost 4-1 but Berghuis gets his goal and celebrates it as if he just won the Champions League. When he made it to skipper at Feyenoord, many years later, he posted a photo from that match, standing in between Gini Wijnaldum and Slory, with goalie Henk Timmer on the right.

15 year old Berghuis against Wijnaldum

His dream to become a pro player like his dad Frank seems shattered when the Vitesse/AGOVV academy decides to cancel his spot there. He tells his coaches that he will find another way to become a pro player and goes back to his amateur club, where he would play for 2 years, until several pro clubs come knocking. He gets into the Twente first team squad via the Go Ahead Eagles academy and the rest is history. He doesn’t get much chances at Twente, where Co Adriaanse feels he is too feeble and vulnerable for the top. He makes a move on loan to VVV Venlo where he shines and gets picked up by AZ Alkmaar scouts.

Watford recognises his talent and pays good money to lure him and dad Frank (as scout) to Watford, after having impressed at AZ. He doesn’t fit in the system of Quique Sanchez Flores though, and only gets a couple of sub turns, before he is relegated to the B team, from October to April. Late in the season he gets two games and partly due to two Berghuis assists is Watford able to stay up. Flores praises Berghuis’ tenacity but the technician feels English football is probably not for him. When Feyenoord decides to get him in, on loan first, he grabs the opportunity with both hands and becomes a regular at De Kuip.

Danny Blind also recognises his talent and selects him for Oranje. Berghuis would finally eclipse dad Frank, who played 1 cap for Oranje, and gets his hare against Ireland in a friendly.

At Feyenoord, he is important in his first season, when Feyenoord wins the title. Striker Jorgensen and Dirk Kuyt are the key men but Berghuis still gets seven goals and five assists. He will grow out to Feyenoord’s main man and skipper in the seasons after. In four seasons, he will become the most valuable player with a role in 106 goals in 119 matches.

In a 2020 interview, he is asked about his stats in relation to his role as winger: “I don’t see myself as a winger. I don’t have that speed or particular dribble like Robben had. I am more a 10 playing wide. Something you see more often. Ziyech plays like that, Mahrez, Tadic. I could also play as a real 10 I think. But in modern football, a lot of the 10s are now more box to box players, with lots of movement, like Guus Til or Davy Klaassen.”

Steven and Frank Berghuis

Interestingly enough, at Ajax, Berghuis is used a lot as midfielder, and actually, a midfielder who can play at any position. Under Ten Hag he plays mostly as a 10 but under Schreuder and recently in Oranje as well, he is used as an 8 or even a 6.

This means he gets involved sooner, and has more impact on the game. His stats demonstrate this. This season, he had 91 touches in a match and 68 passes! That is the highest he had ever since returning to the Eredivisie.

In Oranje, Van Gaal used him as controlling mid and in that role he had 4 key interceptions defensively and three shots on goal and a wonderful assist.

In the National Team, he can play in any role in midfield and in a 4-3-3 he could also play as right winger. Wonderful for any coach to have such a versatile player, with a wand of a left foot. When he played his first U-19 match, he wondered if he could do better than dad Frank. With 39 caps now and a World Cup on the horizon, it seems like he has definitely made his dad proud.

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On the road to Qatar: Nathan Ake

He grabbed a starting berth in Oranje stealthily. He combines intelligence, experience, eagerness to learn and quality in one package. “He’s a special kid, and that he is.”

When Ake played at Bournemouth, his coach would play 5 defenders at the back when playing Man City. “In this way, we will limit the space for them to play in.” This is how Ake realised that playing for a big club like City (or Chelsea) brings a different dynamic. When he made his move to Man City, he realised he had to improve in finding solutions in less time and less space. Dutchman Piet Cremers worked at City as their peformance analyst for years and can confirm that Nathan was always trying to find ways to better understand the game and use this to develop himself. Whether it was thinking about football, working in the gym or using the video footage of games to understand the game better. Cremers confirms that Ake was one of the players most often harassing him for answers and insights. “He is the perfect professional, extreme in his drive to become better every day. It’s in his personality, I don’t think anyone pushed him to do this. He deserves all the credits for what he has achieved.”‘

Piet Cremers, former performance analyst Man City

Ake left for England as a youngster. The 15 year old captained the Oranje U17 team when he was picked by Chelsea. Living in London, he was to be part of the A-squad but his guest-family’s home wasn’t connected with the training complex in Cobham via public transportation. So young Nathan walked every day, on sandy country road and then along the highway, where one of his rich team mates would stop to allow Nathan a hitch in their expensive cars. On match days, Nathan could take the subway to Stamford Bridge. He’d sit among the Chelsea fans with his sports bag. “It was always good fun,” he’d later say.

Nathan is from Voorburg, a small town outside of Den Haag/The Hague. He was scouted by ADO Den Haan and after 4 years, Feyenoord came calling, where was in teams with Tonny Vilhena, Terence Kongolo and Karik Rekik. In 2021, Frank Arnesen – TD of Chelsea – called him and toured him around the Chelsea grounds. Ake was sold and after consulting his parents he decided to move to London. 16 years old.

Two years later, Ake made his debut in the Chelsea elite squad and Frank Lampard gives him the Talent of the Year award. He moves into his own apartment, with his brother Cedric. “My parents don’t allow us to get a help in, they want us to do all our home chores ourselves, and we will.”

When confronted with stories how most young talents fail to break into the first teams, he said: “I know, I heard all the stories. But I don’t want to see those stories as my reality. I want to be the guy who does succeed. I think the biggest pitfall for players making their debut, is to think they are there. They made it. But you haven’t made it, you are just beginning!”.

Skipper Ake with amongst others Tonny Vilhena and Karim Rekik

After a lone spell at Reading he was loaned out to Watford where he played his first real season as starter in the EPL. Jong Oranje coach Fred Grim started to scout him and was delighted with what he found: “At that age, Nathan was a man. Very mature and balanced and multi functional. He really understands the game. His best skills is his intelligence as a football player. I met his parents and understood how he got to be who he is. His parents are balanced, the family life there is grounded and harmonious. Nathan is a very modest and polite lad. The thing missing in his personality is the bastard. Some times in top football you need to be a bastard and think only about yourself and your goals. Nathan doen’t have this, a model pro and a top bloke.”

Grim also allowed Ake his debut in Oranje, when he took over from Danny Blind as interim coach: “We played against Morocco and that game had it all: physicality, fouls, and tough challenges, but Nathan didn’t care. He is not your typical defender, with his 180 cm height, but his tactical smarts, his intelligence and his football skills kept him on top, easily.”

After spells with Bournemouth and a short return to Chelsea, Pep Guardiola took a shine after Ake, partly due to the fact that the former Feyenoord captain is considered an English player. Life would be different. “At Bournemouth, he played in a 5 back line and the space was limited. They play compact, and backing up your team mate is a matter of two or three strides to the side. At Man City, the defensive space is huge. You play in big spaces and in isolated one-v-ones. When you step in at the wrong moment, it’s a 100% chance for the opponent. But on the ball, you don’t get time, most opponents will park the bus and play compact. What are your options. How quick are you feet and brain? These things, you can only find out by playing in those situations. Nathan made that switch super fast,” says performance coach Cremer.

Ake’s debut versus Morocco

Cremer goes on: “Nathan also has great ball skills. He can dribble and has the forward pass. He’s a great guy to work with as he is like a sponge, he wants to know everything. And eh…. he’s talented on many levels. He is also an amazingly accomplished piano player. This last season, his dad died and he married his childhood sweetheart, but all these events would not have any impact on the quality on the pitch.”

After a shaky start in Manchester, with some injury woes, Nathan now has a starting berth under Guardiola and plays his games regularly. Also in Oranje, the modest defender can count on a trip to Qatar as starter.

“I want a left footer on the left side of defence,” Van Gaal explained. Van Gaal thinks in terms of possession. When a defender needs to push high up on the pitch and ends up in midfield, he needs to use his best foot to open the game up and pass. A left footer is the natural type of player to do this swiftly. You need someone who is good on the ball, sees the game and has positional awareness. All things Ake has in spades. He’s also a very reliable defender of course.

When Ake moved to Man City, the criticasters were doubting him. Similarly. when the back three for Oranje was discussed, not a lot of people mentioned Ake. But he’s one of the few outfield players who managed to play consistently in the English Premier League. Him, Virgil van Dijk and now Pascal Struijk are the only ones that come to mind, amongst players like Klaassen, Van de Beek, Ziyech, Vincent Janssen, Berghuis and Bergwijn…

Ake after his 29th cap. “It’s going well, I am happy with the chances I get and the confidence the coach has in me. I need to keep this going, because the competition is intens. We have some top notch defenders now and everyone wants to start. The competition is good, it means you cannot snooze off.”

And yes, he has competition in Oranje and at City too. De Vrij, De Ligt, Blind, Struijk and Botman to name a few in Orange. And of course Ruben Dias and Laporte at City.

And developing yourself at a club like Manchester City is not that easy, says Cremers: “Don’t forget, City plays games every fourth day, so there are only 2 training sessions to develop and show yourself. The sub top teams in the EPL will have 4 to 5 sessions to work on becoming a better player. At City, you need to develop and show yourself in the games. That is pretty tough. And this makes Ake’s development even more impressive.”

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Remko Pasveer: 38 years young

Signed as reserve goalie for Ajax, by Erik ten Hag. And as a result of injuries and suspensions (Onana, Stekelenburg) he became Ajax’ first goalie and even with Jay Gorter breating into his neck, the veteran goalie has snatched that role up at Ajax and potentially also in the Dutch National Team. As Wesley Sneijder commented the other day: “Pasveer is currently Holland’s best goalie and deserves to start”.

We’ll see if Van Gaal agrees. The coach is known to be headstrong and contrarian that it’s hard to know. An interview with young Remko Pasveer.

Isn’t it great to see rival goalies getting injured?

“No not really. I mean, we work as a team. And it’s just shitty for Maarten as he was doing so well and even got to the Euros with Oranje. Of course, I got my spot thanks to the issues Maarten and Andre had, but I prefer to win the spot on merit. I just hope Maarten will be well soon.”

You do seem to get along well?

“We do, we’re good together. I see Maarten as my older brother. I mean, the clubs and competitions he played in, he has a World Cup in his locker, got silver in 2010, he is a big name in goal keeper land man. And he shares his experiences and Jay and I love those stories and anecdotes. He had a terrific career, something to be proud of. And Jay is our young brother. There is quite a generation gap, hahaha and we do have fun with that. Jay is very talented but also a bit erratic and he does shoot his mouth off every now and then. The coach will say something and he will be a smart-ass back to the coach. Maarten and I just look at each other and chuckle. We were like that when we were young. He’ll learn. He’s a good kid. And you do need that passion, that will to win. I think it won’t be much longer until he pushes me out of the team.”

But now you are the first goalie!

“I don’t know, it looks like that, but I don’t worry too much about that. I just go from game to game. Do what I can for the team. The coach will pick me if I’m the best option.”

Is it much easier to be a goalie at Ajax compared to say, Vitesse?

“The pressure at Ajax is way bigger. We want a clean sheet every match. At Ajax, they’re quite serious about not conceding. At Vitesse, it was ok to lose every now and then. At Vitesse, you’d also get more work to do and that always makes you stronger. At Ajax, there are matches I don’t see a ball for minutes on end and then suddenly you need to act when the opponent is through. That takes a certain mentality. At Ajax, when we played Sporting away, I was the hero for a while when I had that massive assist on Antony. And 10 minutes later, I make an error and we concede a goal. You will be judged as a mixed bag in that case and I also felt unsatisfied after that match, even when we won. You basically don’t want to be too much in the spot light as the Ajax goalie. That means all is well.”

How do you process a conceded goal like that, the Sporting goal?

“It sucks, and I am really pissed off. I made an error in judgement. I think it was my partnership with Martinez at that point, which resulted in the error. We couldn’t communicate well enough, we were doubting. It taught me again that it’s key for us to communicate well together and to be able to know what the other guys do. We weren’t there yet at the time, I suppose. We won 1-5 luckily. You do need to pick yourself up really quickly because 30 seconds later, the ball rolls again.”

How do you deal with criticism?

“I don’t hahaha. I try not to read it or watch it. I didn’t deal well with it and as everything is so black and white these days, I decided to ignore it. A striker can miss 6 chances and people will say “he should have scored!” and that’s it. When a goalie makes 1 mistake, it’s been analysed and debated for hours on end. One week, I need to be in Oranje, the next week I’m too old.”

Interesting, how you almost signed for Vitesse and now you’re playing Champions League football and you’re part of Oranje.

“It’s amazing and I’m blessed. This is so cool, everything is bigger. The games, the stadiums, the media attention, the quality of everything… I was in contact with Vitesse about my new contract for months and suddenly Overmars called. I said: “You gotta be quick, I was about to sign for a new term.” Within a week it was all settled and I was in Amsterdam.

How is it different?

“Everything is bigger, quicker and better. The players think quicker. The players are very intelligent here, they think and talk football, they constantly scan their surroundings, knowing where the space is… At lower levels, the defenders usually think “let the goalie deal with it”, at Ajax the players want to deal with it. Guys like Daley Blind and Mazraoui or Taylor, you can always play them in. And I need to always be available to them for a back pass if need be. I also need to coach and instruct players on what is happening behind them or something and it’s not always easy. Try coaching your backline versus Besiktas away, or in De Kuip.”

You’re 38 years old. Shouldn’t you kick back a bit and just enjoy?

“Oh but I do enjoy this! Massively. My age is just a number man. I enjoy everyday, on training, with the other goalies, with the lads. I enjoy seeing Timber play, the kid is only what, 20 years old and so in control, so focused. Most people enjoy strikers and goal scorers, I can really enjoy watching Martinez or Blind play. I can enjoy it more now, when I was 28 years old I was focused on my own game, now I can take in more, my vision has expanded in a way. Van der Sar was 40 when he quit and I like that, I don’t feel 38. I am one of the lads in the dressing room and can have fun with the youngsters as well. As long as I feel good, I’ll be doing this.”

Your dad Eddie was an Eredivisie goalie for FC Twente and your daughters also play. Three generations Pasveer, that is cool.

“Yes my dad will come and watch me always, when we play at home. He’s so involved, we always analyse the matches. He’s a real mentor like that. He had heart issues and had to close his physio practice but he still works with older guys now, doing gym and keeping them fit. He used to be my goalkeeper coach you know and before his heart problems, he’d always talk to me as my coach, hahaha. Now he’s mellowed a bit and he just gives me some tips here and there. Both my daughters are football mad. They play, but not goalie. One is left back, the other left winger. They play tennis too. They really enjoy the life, and are very committed supporters hahaha.”

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The Dream of Andries Noppert

While the likes of Messi, Neymar, Van Dijk, Thiago, Benzema and Lewandowski will get the headlines this midweek, with the CL in full force, this time a story about a guy who will most likely never play a Champions League match in his career.

But he might play a game at the World Cup!

Andries Noppert. Sent away from FC Dordrecht in the second tier only two years ago. In two weeks, he might make his debut in Oranje.

Coach Kees van Wonderen took the gamble and signed Noppert as reserve goalie for Go Ahead Eagles. Today, Van Wonderen is head coach at Heerenveen and Noppert followed him there. Asked whether he could see the potential in the tall goalie, he said: “No. No one did. Not even Noppert himself. But it was as if he exploded!”

Van Wonderen: “He is a quaint goalie. I saw him at training, where he stopped unbelievable balls only to fumble tremendously in matches. It seemed like he accepted the fact he was not top.”

And yes, everywhere he played Noppert was told he was not good enough. He started at Heerenveen in the youth. They didn’t think he’d make it. He went to NAC in Breda, and was the reserve goalie there. He took a trip to Foggia, in the Serie B in Italy and he warmed the bench there too. Even in the bottom of the Dutch 2nd tier, he didn’t get a game. FC Dordrecht thanked him and sent him home. He was without a club for 6 months until Eagles in Deventer needed a reserve goalie. He spent 12 months on the bench, until he got his chance. The rest is history.

Most of his career, he looked like this… This is at Dordrecht

Ever since, there is a fun chant in the Go Ahead Eagles stadium: “Noppert in Oranje!” and it sounded like a joke. Not something you’ll hear in the Ajax or Feyenoord stadiums, as it is quite logical that the key players of these teams end up in the orange jersey.

These are the anti-heroes, or cult heroes. The players who could have ended up as postman instead, or truckdriver. Noppert is popular, because the average football fan might think: this could have been me!

The friendly giant in the Heerenveen goal, 27 years old now, is suddenly a fan favorite, with chants to his name and fans whereever he goes.

The football world seems addicted to stats, these days, but sometimes something happens that is not easy to explain. Suddenly, Leicester City wins the Premier League, or Iceland goes to the Euros or Greece wins it. And now, this lanky clumsy goalie has the chance to present himself at a World Cup!

Today, coach Van Wonderen sends his goalie into the match with the words: “Show them why Van Gaal loves you!”

Or he looked like this…

His invitation to Oranje seems a surprise, but based on stats, it’s actually logical. Take this stat:

xG on target tegen = Expected goals against

Goals Tegen = Actual Goals against

Verschil = Difference

The savings percentage of Noppert is way above the percentages of the other goalies. He stopped eleven attempts of Feyenoord in the second match this season and won a point for his club.

There is no reason whatsoever for Van Gaal not to select this goalie. We know Van Gaal also looks at the football capabilities of the keepers. Their kicking abilities, their coaching and their eye for tactics and organisation. Bijlow, Cillesen and Pasveer are all three quite comfortable on the ball, this is not Noppert’s strength. Only Twente goalie Unnerstall is worse in his kicking than the tall Heerenveen lad. Only 58% of his passes actually end up at the target.

Noppert will not become the next Manuel Neuer anytime soon. Van Gaal will have picked Noppert for that other reason: his amazing reach and reflexes on the line. Louis wants a penalty killer, to help the team in situations where penalty kicks need to bring the decision. This used to be Tim Krul’s role but Noppert is potentially surpassing the Norwich goalie. Every centimeter counts.

When asking that question, the press chief of Heerenveen comes up with an old video of Heerenveen A1 versus Ajax A1. A penalty series needs to bring the final decision and a lanky Heerenveen goalie can demonstrate his skills by stopping two spotkicks: Heerenveen A1 goes to the finals.

Does Van Wonderen see Noppert as that potential penalty killer? “He did stop one in the pre-season and he also was close to stopping Yilmaz penalty but that just taken with too much power for Andries.” Van Wonderen can understand Van Gaal’s thinking: “Yes, he has everything to be a penalty killer. The length, the reflexes, the mental calmness. But I think Van Gaal will want to test that in more details at the trainings camp.”

Van Wonderen stresses Nopperts mental powers. “He had to deal with so many setbacks and rejections. And he has been booed a lot and now people are cheering him. Either way, he will shrug his shoulders. I hope he’ll reach the final squad and that he has a chance to show himself. What a journey this lad has been through.”

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Slot’s new Feyenoord

The price of success. When you do well, as a Dutch top club with money needs (AZ, Feyenoord, PSV), bigger clubs will come and rob you of your top players.

Feyenoord is slowly climbing out of a deep abyss. Financially that is. In the past season, Feyenoord was able to perform well thanks to two loan players (Dessers and Til), among other things. Sure, Slot is a top notch coach, we know this, and Aursnes and Trauner were great signings while Sinistera, Malacia and Kokcu played the season of their lives.

But Dessers and Til left. Sinistera and Malacia made big money moves and now Marco Senesi has joined Bournemouth (…). I think Wim Jansen will turn around in his grave knowing that the Argentine CB thinks a move to newly promoted Bournemouth is a step up. No international tournaments for him and potentially a relegation. And before we know it, Aursnes is off to Benfica.

Sad to see this top class player go. Bought for 450k, leaving for 15M

Nice for the Feyenoord CFO, to see the millions come in, partly to cover the debt and partly will the money be spent on new signings.

Arne Slot can be seen as the man who created all this value. Kokcu was a question mark for long. Malacia was considered to wild and not good enough on the ball. Sinistera was struggling with fitness. But Slot brought confidence, joy and a positive playing style to Rotterdam and the players embraced it.

Can he do it again. Because with more than half the Feyenoord team from last season towards the exit (Linssen is now at Japan, while Raymond Hendriks is seriously injured… Jorit Hendrix never convinced Slot), the Rotterdam behemoth is on the look out for new blood.

New blood

Santiago Gimenez is only 21 years old but the Mexican has already 4 years as a pro under his belt in Mexico. The sports reporters in Mexico compare the tall striker with Graziano Pelle, the Italian striker who mesmerized the Feyenoord legion. He is a left footer, tall and strong. A good target man, but he also has depth in his game and he’s quite skilled too. The madness in Mexico around him is such that ESPN will broadcast every Feyenoord game live in Mexico.

23 year old Danilo Pereira already made an impression. The 11th player in history to go from Ajax straight to Feyenoord. Feyenoord lost 39 goals from last season and needs players who know what scoring is. Danilo is that player. He is effective, threatening and direct. He scored 17 goals in one season for FC Twente and the Brazilian was also on a free, so hardly any risk involved with him. Danilo scored twice in the first game versus Vitesse, last weekend.

Oussama Idrissi is back at the club where he started his career. The Moroccan international worked with Slot at AZ where he had a tremendous time. He’s a right footed Robben, once could say. Threatening to go on the outside, cutting inside with his light-footedness and then curling the ball in to the far corner. He is on loan from Sevilla (which paid 12 million for him but he never played the full 90 for the Spanish club).

Maybe the biggest signing for Feyenoord, Quinten Timber. Also a player who is returning to his old home. He played 6 seasons in the youth academy but moved to Ajax where his twin brother was (and still is). He impressed at Utrecht last season and was on many a scouting list. The youngster finds 21 years too young to make the move abroad. He will definitely make that jump one day – like his brother – but will hopefully spend two good seasons in De Kuip. He would be the natural successor to Fredrik Aurnses. Timber is really multfunctional and reminds me of Edgar Davids. He has grit, he can tackle but he’s also very skillful and has the ability to ghost past opponents Frenkie-style.

Mats Wieffer caught my eye when I saw him play with Excelsior against ADO Den Haag for the promotion game from the lower division to the Eredivisie. A game Excelsior – and Wieffer – won. The 22 year old playmaker was developed at Twente but never broke there. Via Excelsior he’s now a Feyenoord midfielder. As a creative player, he did have the most ball winning actions in the second division. Another multi functional midfielder. He can play the 6 and the 8 role and his former coach used him as a central defender at times as well.

24 year old Javairo Dilrosun has a promising CV: Ajax, Man City, Hertha BSC, Girondins Bordeaux… But he never really settled anywhere. In three seasons in Germany, he only played 29 matches. He will probably do well in Rotterdam, where his speed, his guile and his skills will be too much for most of his opponents. He is a one time capped international and will have the ambition to show himself to the NT manager as well. He scored a tremendous goal versus Vitesse for Feyenoord.

Sebastian Szymanski would normally never play for Feyenoord. The 23 year old is one of the biggest Polish talents and he seemed in the right place at Dynamo Moscow, with 6 goals and 8 assists in 27 games. But the Ukraine situation helped Feyenoord, as Seb is able to play elsewhere on loan as a result of the war. Szymanski is a real left footed #10 but can also play on the 8 position or even as a false right winger, Steven Berghuis style.

The last signing and least exciting one, is 25 year old Jacob Rasmussen, who came in on loan from Fiorentina. The Dane went to the Italian club for 7 million euros and never played a single game there. He played for Empoli, Vitesse and Erzgebrige. His key assets: passionate defending and taking-no-prisoner defending. Rasmussen impressed at Vitesse alongside Bazoer but might lack the speed needed to play in Slot’s system.

Tactical differences

How will Slot’s preferred eleven play? No one knows. Not even Arne Slot. After the last pre-season game versus Osasuna, he muttered he needed to study mathematics, to sort it out. Too many moving parts still, with players still leaving (Senesi, Aursnes) and players still coming in.

Arne did sign a new deal this summer yet again and has commitment towards the club and the process. In the last season with Til as #10, he played with two controlling midfielders behind the current PSV player. With Slot, it’s the players who determine the shape. With Toornstra and Kokcu, Slot plays them side by side. With Aursnes in the team, Kokcu is pushed further up, as the Norwegian midfielder has the legs to control the space in front of the defenders. Til’s exit has a big impact on the Feyenoord structure as the former AZ player was the first player to press. The wingers usually benefitted from Til’s press. There were no other Eredivisie players last season with the many touches Sinistera and Nelson had in the final third. Now, it seems Slot wants his wingers to be the first to press, allowing the midfielders to take control of the ball. It’s basically the same principle Slot used previously. Control the axis of the field and create a man-more situation on the wings. The execution is different, though.

This is already outdates, with Aursnes going to Benfica and Senesi off to Bournemouth. There is also interest in Kokcu and Pedersen…

This season, Slot expects to have more variation in his game. He wants to be able to make subtle changes per match, if the opponent “asks” for it. For this, Slot will need more width in his squad. For the coming weeks, it’s all still wishful thinking. Slot does not have that much to choose from, due to late signings, visas not yet done and injuries.

Still, their first Eredivisie game versus Vitesse tells you they will yet again be a force this season. That is also the expectation the legion has, as they hold Arne Slot in high esteem in Rotterdam.

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Alfred Schreuder’s Ajax plans

Alfred Schreuder impressed in his early coaching days, at FC Twente and PSV and made his way from assistant coach (Ten Hag, Nagelsmann, Koeman) to title winning head coach, at Club Brugge.

He was seen as instrumental in the 2019 success campaign with Ajax and is now back at the club, in the head coach role. His plans and ideas for the new season…

“I can see the team getting sharper and the chemistry is growing really well amongst the new lads. The mainstay players are back and hitting their usual levels and we have some new blood now as well. Last season, we had a couple of set backs to deal with her. The CL loss versus Benfica was a shock to the system, but so was Antony’s injury. Despite the weaker second half last season, I can see the patterns of the first season’s half emerging again. That is our platform.”

Mohammed Kudus

“We have some much attacking talent. Let me mention Kudus. He came as a midfielder, a number 8 or 10. We didn’t see much of him due to his injury woes, but I love playing him higher up the pitch. He is such an intuitive player, to play him in midfield means I have to restrict him. He needs to play more tactical. Not his strength. If I play him in a free flowing false 9 role, call it the Tadic role, he shows some real quality. He is unpredictable. I love that in a player. He’s strong, he’s quick and he doesn’t stick to one particular thing. He is one of the players that exceeded my expectations.”

Multi-functional

“I love players like Kudus, who can play in different roles. I mean, Tadic…he can play in the 10 role, as a striker and as a left winger. Same with Steven Bergwijn. Berghuis can play the 10 or the right wing or even in a midfield role as an double pivot holding mid. Daley Blind can play in 3 roles, Timber can play in different spots, I can keep on going like this. This way, I don’t have to have a “core eleven”. I can switch it up anywhich way. Depending on the opponent, the form of the day, the specific circumstances of the day. It’s abundance for me as a coach, as if I have 44 first squad players. You don’t win trophies with eleven players…”

Competition

“Yes there is competition of course, but also collaboration. We are doing this as a team. We have several players for only a limited number of positions. I can only field 3 midfielders, but I have 6 top options. It’s not a problem for me. It’s just my job. If a player doesn’t play for 6 matches in a row, yes, he’ll get frustrated, I get that. But we will play a match every 4 days so rotation is the name of the game. My job is to make sure all players feel seen and are happy. Playing or not playing.”

Patterns

“Some people say you can only get these automations and patterns when you play the same eleven. Not true of course. You can work on these with all players so it becomes even easier to rotate and use different players. There will be subtle changes, but the time that a player could only play with one particular team mate or something is over. We have 3 or 4 possible left backs, in Blind, Wijndal, Bassey and Rensch. Tadic will have to be able to play with all of them and knowing what the particular strengths are of the different players.”

Fitness levels

“Remko Pasveer, Jurrien Timber and Antony are recovering really well. They’ll be making their first minutes soon. With Antony, we get more options as he is amazing on the wide side, but he can also play in the half spaces, close to Berghuis. We’ll experiment more with those options. Timber might not be ready for the Johan Cruyff Shield. We’ll be careful with him, we envision a long season.”

Level of play

“We are focusing on the way we played in the first half of last season. The level was really high and we know we can touch on that again, as our benchmark. We need to see the positive energy again, the joy of playing. If we can muster that in combination with the quality we have, we should be doing really well again. We will build on what Erik ten Hag did here. Our way of pressing will need to adapt a bit. We need to get more different options. Feyenoord also presses high but they do it differently to us. We used to use our wingers to put pressure on the half spaces and the centre back. Feyenoord uses their #10 to put pressure on the centre back. An interesting option for us to check as well. A lot is also depending on how much space the opponent has between their centre backs. If the space is too wide, our #10 pressing will mean our other midfielders are facing a man more. Which might not be ideal. And all these choices have flow on effects for the wingers and the other players. It’s like conducting a symphony, isn’t it?”

Pressing

“I studied Bayern Munich’s pressing under Hansi Flick. They were able to press anywhere and in any combination. It looked like chaos but they all joined in and it was glorious to see how they all participated. It requires trust and team work because if one player doesn’t participate, you’re gone. I am working hard with the lads to make sure they can recognise the patterns. What to do when the opponent plays with the centre backs close together, or… when they are more wide. I need players to come up with solutions. I don’t want to pre-chew their food.  Take the Red Bull Salzburg game, who started playing long balls. I am keen to see how our team deals with that, without me jumping up from the bench to yell instructions.”

The Key Players

“I spend a lot of time with the players whom I expect to be able to take charge on the pitch. Tadic, Blind, Klaassen, Timber and Berghuis are those guys. I need to them to recognise situations and patterns. These lads are all tactically astute and need to be more pro-active in their football thinking. Yes, it’s called football but it could have been named brainball…”

Schreuder’s talks

“I talk a lot with the players. I need to know how they feel about things, what their beliefs are and how they process certain things. I also need to get to know them personally. What motivates or triggers them. Take Mohammed Kudus, I spent time with him also to explain that my choices do not mean I don’t see him as a midfielder. I don’t want players to become anxious when I do something unpredictable. I need them to see my point, just like I want to see their points.”

Build up

“I like to build up with three players from the back. And I need them to be higher up, so we can create more effective triangles. When we play against a 5-4-1 it won’t really work, there will not be enough space, but I need to make sure we can use our players’ strengths. Antony is very good with his back to the touch line. But Tadic is better in the half spaces. Bergwijn can do both very well. Last week, I trained with three at the back: Blind, Rensch and Timber. And Rensch has got some development to make, to realise his positioning. When we’re in possession, it goes well. He really understands where to be, but when we lose possession, he’s drifting too much. A bit like Mazraoui in the beginning. He had that too. It takes time. We’re also working hard on different options in midfield. When Alvarez is marked, what does Berghuis do and vice versa. I now want to try out Ken Taylor in the Frenkie role. I think he can play that role but I need to work it still. That is for next week. We’re also trying to get some variance in the build up. At times, I want to pivot the full backs. Keeping the right back deep and move Timber into midfield. Or vice versa. Against Salzburg, we were faced with a diamond in midfield. Interesting. Rensch forgot to follow the left midfielder, who at times came into the left winger role. These are the details we are working on now.”

Target man

“We almost have a well-balanced squad but I miss a target man. We don’t have one of these and you can really use them in certain situations. Take Luuk de Jong at Barca. Haller can be dangerous from crosses from the wings and he’s not longer here. Brobbey is not that type and I think it will be hard to find a 25 year old to play that role. You’re more looking at a Luuk de Jong or a Klaas Jan Huntelaar in his last phase here at Ajax. We are still looking for a strong header to take that role.”

Players leaving

“I can be brief about this topic: as far as I am concerned, no one leaves now. Tagliafico is the last to go. Antony will stay at Ajax. Not for sale. Martinez went to Man United and we signed Calvin Bassey in his place. A strong player, who can also play left back. Giving us an extra option. Blind and Bassey can both play centrally too. I haven’t used Daley as midfielder yet, and I think I will. I know he’s capable in that role. He is so good tactically. He is one of those players who can easily slot into a new position.”

Francisco Conceicao

“What a player! He is young, he has a tremendous dribble one v one. He has a lot of potential. He is leaving Porto and his dad because he can see Ajax is the ideal next step for him. He has a great mentality. We had some good talks with his dad, who used to be a top top player too. He finds it hard that his son is leaving but he also knows Ajax is a great club for his development and next steps. He knows his son will be in good hands. We signed him as a stand in for Antony, and we’ll give him time to get used to the game and our squad.”

Goal keepers

“The battle of the goalies is still open. Stekelenburg started so well too, but he got injured. I do think he’ll be back soon. But all three are top. Pasveer has that calm and cool, while Gorter is very lively, a mega talent. Gorter is ready to go but I think we will wait with our decision until all goalies are fit. I am also focusing on the partnership with the central defenders. I think they’re quite equal in their qualities, they all three are great with their feet too.”

Mo Ihattaren

“The club is in contact with him. That is all I can say. I focus on the players I have at my disposal and at this stage, Mo is not ready. He’s dealing with some nasty personal business. We have a trainings program for him and I hope we’ll see him soon again.”

The title battle

“I will be between the top 3 again. PSV has done amazing business, and they had to too, due to their CL ambitions. Feyenoord is a bit slow again but they did good business late in the window last season and Slot has demonstrated he doesn’t need a lot of time to gel a good team. But we’ll focus on ourselves. We have a top squad again and we will keep on building on our own strengths.”

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