Tag: Frenkie

Prelim Squad announced for Oranje

Almost a month to go and we’re starting to leave the club competitions behind us.

You will have seen the squad selection by now? I don’t think too many surprises.

For some, the absence of Bizot was a surprise, as he was called up for the last international games. He was most likely part of the prelim squad, if not for some domestic family issues. Marco decided to forfeit the Euros as his family circumstances have not been resolved and he prefers to be with the family during the summer.

The list of injured players ( Hartman, Wieffer, Lang) might become longer with question marks for Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Zirkzee, while Luuk de Jong definitely retired from the NT.

Calvin Stengs, Thijs Dallinga and Steven Berghuis will have had idle hope and should something happen to Malen or Bergwijn or Xavi Simons, these three might still get a look in.

If Frenkie and Memphis can join the squad, I do believe we’ll be in good shape.

We simply need our key players to be in form and Koeman to pick a logical starting eleven for the games at the Euros.

I mean, our goalkeepers are fine. Our central defenders are top. Maatsen and Ake can cover the left side, even Blind might be able to play against opponents parking the bus. Frimpong and Dumfries will cover the right with Geertruida also on hand.

Our midfield options are pretty good, with Veerman, Schouten, Reijnders and Koopmeiners and when fit, we can expect some fire upfront from Malen, Gakpo, Simons and Brobbey.

As mentioned, we need Koeman to make the right decisions and allow the players to play to their strengths.

It may sound simplistic, but we need two teams: 1 that can dominate possession against the minions and 1 that can play on the transition when playing the strong countries who themselves want to dominate.

I will suggest three at the back in both scenarios and I would personally use Bijlow as first goalie.

My two teams:

 

 

Tell me your fave line up in the comments….

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Oranje’s bright future…

It’s a bit cynical maybe to speak of a bright future after a loss in the Euro qualifications, but with Koeman’s 3-4-3 and the talents cherished by AZ, Feyenoord, PSV and …. Ajax (?), we should be able to mould a winning team again.

We will need to reach the Euros of course and that is not a certainty yet, but with the Greece game coming up and our escape route via the Nations League standings, it’s hard to believe we won’t be making it.

There have been some good suggestions on the blog for ideal pairings and such. I think it’s best to stay flexible also taking form and the strength of the opponent into consideration.

Goal Keepers

With Bijlow, Flekken, Verbruggen, Olij, Vaessen, Van Gassel, Gorter, Room, Noppert I don’t think we’ll have many issues here.

Bijlow remains my favorite, although Verbruggen will develop into a top goalie as well. If we have 3 goalies who can stop shots, distribute the ball, coach well and remain fit, I think we should be happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Trio

Van Dijk will be beyond criticism, as will Ake be. I think De Vrij will make way soon for Van der Ven/Botman. De Ligt is not ideal in this role as he will have trouble seconding for Dumfries/Frimpong as occasional “right back”. He’s not very agile and needs a direct opponent to bite himself into. I would see De Ligt as the replacement for Van Dijk. With space around the right centre back, the likes of Timber and Geertruida are more suited for that role on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Van der Ven impressing in orange and in London

Wingbacks

It’s clear that Dumfries and Frimpong on the right and Hartmann, Malacia, Maatsen will be the main guys for the wingback role. I haven’t ruled Karsdorp out on the right, but he’ll need more playing time of course. Mitchell Bakker can be an option on the left and who knows, Wijndal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercurial Frimpong

Central midfield

De Roon will probably always play a role in the squad as coach appreciate his physical strength, his tactical discipline and leadership but from a football perspective, Reinders, Wieffer and Veerman and even Schouten (PSV) will eclipse him at some point.

To me Schouten is a more complete “De Roon”. The PSV midfielder is also a great passer of the ball. Shame that he was overlooked, in particular with Koopmeiners out.

Frenkie will be a certainty. Koopmeiners/Frenkie hasn’t worked too well. Reinders could be a good partner for Frenkie. I personally rate him overall higher than Veerman who remains to be weak without the ball. Schouten/Frenkie can work well too, I believe.

Ryan Gravenberch is doing really in his early Liverpool days and he and Frenkie might also end up being a strong partnership. Not sure about Gravenberch as a 10. I can see Reijnders playing as a 10 though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerdy Schouten

Forwards

Up front, it might get tough for Memphis to get back into the team, in particular if Koeman can get Brobby to perform. Gakpo and Xavi Simons are probably solid options for the coach. Noa Lang is on fire at PSV. A forward trio of Lang, Gakpo and Xavi Simons looks really amazing, with Malen, Bergwijn as support. Danjuma is a bit of a dark horse. No idea why he cut his time at Villareal short, as he was doing so well there and then he ended up with Everton??

Zirkzee and Joel Piroe might end up becoming top strikers for us too, in the years to come. Another forward/midfielder I really rate is Ruben van Bommel of AZ, currently in Jong Oranje.

In that squad, managed by Michael Reiziger, players like Kenneth Taylor, Jorrel Hato (Ajax defender), Dirk Proper (NEC) and Isaac Babadi (PSV) look like the real deal, as I’m also impressed with Noah Ohio (Standard Luik). The latter played his youth football in Manchester at United and City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruben van Bommel scoring while Mark van Bommel is tearing up

Coaches and playing style

Ronald Koeman seems to have the sympathy factor in The Netherlands, based on his past as a player and based on his last stint as national team manager, as he is seen as the man who got Oranje out of the slumps. He’s not the most innovative or even adventurous coaches, but with Erwin Koeman next to him and more important, Sipke Hulshoff next to him, we should have all elements in place. Erwin is a great field coach and analyticus while Hulshoff offers the more modern coaching aspects to the team (stats, video analysis). Pat Lodewijks is always praised for his wonderful set piece ploys.

As clubs like PSV, Feyenoord, AZ but also Sparta and even Almere City transforming into high press, high octane teams (Ajax currently lacking behind a bit) and with top internationals playing this style of football already under Klopp, Guardiola and Xavi, it’s only a matter of time before Oranje plays in this same vein, forcing the likes of Xavi Simons, Memphis and Lang into the mould as well.

We will only get better.

The Greece game will not be easy. Greece is better than most people think ( we have a couple of these guys in the Eredivisie and they’re good). We can lose or draw that game, I would not be surprised.

We will still have a way into the Euros via the play offs but again: if we can’t beat Greece than we need to wonder what we want to achieve in those Euros.

Still, I say we win 0-2, with Weghorst and Simons on the score sheet.

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Oranje simply not up to it

The cliche “men versus boys” has been used here a lot. In the past. And how I hoped that would remain a thing of the past.

But the games versus Croatia and Italy have yet again demonstrated where we go wrong. Again.

And I wonder who or what is going to change this!

The System

Lets start this two-match review with the obvious: some people claim that due to the losses and the conceded goals we will need to consider a switch back to the 5-3-2 of van Gaal.

One photo will show you why this is nonsense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As one can see: we had enough defenders in the box (5!). It’s not about the number of defenders. It’s about how the defenders defend and about what they do.

Combine this insight with the fact we conceded two downright idotic penalties versus Croatia and the analysis is done: stupidity, complacency and laziness.

Gakpo trying to turn the best midfielder of the past decade on the edge of his own box. Gakpo losing the ball and then trying to pick up the little maestro from the back (and what… bring him to the kids’ stands??)…. And late in the match, Malacia with a lunge in the box. I mean, a rush of blood to the head of course but I could accept the explanation of Malacia: only minutes left to score a goal and we needed the ball so I took a risk. And failed. But either way: two cheap penalties and very unnecessary.

The Croatie second goal was a typical example of alibi defending. Or pseudo defending.  Making people believe you’re doing what you can. Dumfries, in this case not putting any pressure on the ball and staying at 1,5 yards from the forward. In his own box! That is not something you see Croatian or Italian defenders do. And Ake, Virgil and Koopmeiners all looking at each other. Typically something that happens even more with a 5 at the back system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not enough pressure on the ball. No communication. Ake can see it all happening in front of him,

Versus Italy, same old same old. Two early goals because no one really defends! No one attacks the ball, no one clears the ball, no one puts pressure on the ball and the key forwards who should track back to cover the Italian wing backs: absent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dimarco gets time and time from Malen and his defender mates were not able to recognise or communicate the danger to him. Where is a screaming Frank de Boer when you need him?

We didn’t lose because of the system

The quality of the players

I think we all know we have a lot of players who can play some neat, nifty football. Xavi Simons, Noa Lang, Donny Malen, Joey Veerman, Frenkie, all gifted players. But tenacity, leadership, personality and mentality are also part of the complete package of qualities a player requires.

And we lacked it. Again. We did see some good moves, we did see some decent actions and at times we played some nice football. Sure. But it’s about when things don’t go your way. When the opponent finds spaces where you didn’t expect it. When team mates get sloppy.

The quality we need then, is not the step-over of Noa Lang, the shimmy of Frenkie or the dribble of Xavi. We need the leadership of a Roy Keane. The big mouth of Gatuso. The piercing look of Mark van Bommel. I can fully understand that Wieffer, Geetruida, Dumfries and Lang are not the players to demonstrate this part of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Virgil. Nathan Ake (treble winner!), Frenkie de Jong ( skipper at Barca) and Koopmeiners should do more in this domain. Captain Van Dijk should be in Malen’s face, if he doesn’t track back! Frenkie should be ready to make the tactical switches where need be.

It’s all too sweet. We’re too friendly. We play too many card games at training camp and we focus too much on funny youtube clips with quizes, or raps with cigars and fashion shoots.

Mentality, commitment, leadership

And these are the elements that are missing. Some players came to the Nations League final round complaining that the season was too long and if we don’t win versus Croatia, we can’t be bothered to play the Losers Finals. Koeman should have sent these players home!

If you can’t get inspired for a football game, not hoping the coach will do it for you, then you have nothing to do in an orange jersey.

Every single player of Spain, Croatia and Italy has had a long and tough season! Man up!

We believe we are great football players. But we are only great on the ball. And not great. Above average. And we suck in the mental department.

And this is not something we fix by changing systems.

The Coach

I never believe in getting a coach back for a second stint. It was a success with Michels and Oranje, ok. But not in any other instance. Mourinho at Chelsea. Van Marwijk at Feyenoord. Van Gaal at Barcelona. Van Gaal with the Oranje/Ajax contingent in 2000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a sense of “comfort”, working with a coach you know. Whenever a coach says it feels like coming home, you know you’re in trouble. It shouldn’t feel like home.

Why pick Koeman again? Because it worked so well before? Well…. did it? He bailed before the Euros. Not really a success. So in my book, a big cross should have gone through his name.

Peter Bosz was available. Just sayin’.

Koeman has end responsibility and he needs to get his players mentally ready for a match or send the ones that can’t be bothered home. And when Malen doesn’t track back twice in 15 mins and we get hammered twice: immediately sub the dude. Show grit. Show courage.

Just like our team wasn’t able to show courage versus Croatia, our coach lacked courage in his choices.

The Future

I do believe the youngsters we see in Orange will grow into good solid players for the team: Wieffer, Veerman, Geertruida, Simons and even Malen, Gakpo and Lang are still youngsters, compared to Blind, Van Dijk and Memphis. We need to give them a chance.

But we need to give Botman, Frimpong, Schouten, Dallinga and Spierings a chance too.

Bijlow was not 100% top, but was only really at fault with that third Croatia goal. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was stoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A back line with Ake and Botman, De Ligt and Frimpong should work. Or Malacia, Ake, De Ligt, Frimpong.

A midfield with Veerman, Frenkie and Wieffer should work. A forward line with Lang, Gakpo and Malen should work. We do have enough quality on the ball. But we need to turn it into a team and we need to wise up really quickly now and start switching that button on in their heads.

Playing for Oranje is not a summer camp outing after a tough season at the club.

It’s do or die now.

 

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Memphis’ injury a blessing?

This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.

But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.

But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.

Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.

Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.

Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.

Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.

And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.

And it’s a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arie Haan in 1974

And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.

Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.

Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.

The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.

Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988

But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.

Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.

The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.

At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.

It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.

For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.

This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.

My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.

Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.

As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.

This is my line up.

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Ajax’ nightmare season

In typical Dutch form, people will immediately say: “Who is to blame?”. The answer is not very straightforward. Lets first look at the problem.

Ajax was having a decent run in the past seasons. Frank de Boer did ever so well winning titles and turning the poor Ajax into a cash rich club, with some amazing outgoing transfers putting some fat on the bone. Peter Bosz came in and turned De Boer’s boring Ajax into a free-flowing attacking machine, but Bosz ended his 1 season spell with Ajax when Van der Sar refused to work with Bosz on a reshuffling of the backroom staff.

Marc Overmars was acting as technical director, but mainly with a focus on contracts and signing and selling players. The Ajax Technical Triangle was supposed to take care of the football (De Boer, Bergkamp, Ouaali).

The two friends, Dirty Marc and “I haven’t seen anything untoward” Van der Sar

Overmars was kept out of the decision to block Bosz’ plans and allowed Bergkamp his spot in the sun.

Bosz left and not much later, Dennis Bergkamp – Bosz antagonist – also had to leave.

But Bergkamp was fully in control when he was at Ajax and ushered in Marcel Keizer as the replacement for Bosz. Not a bad decision, mind you. Keizer was successful as a coach on the second tier level at Cambuur and as a real Ajax man (his uncle was Piet Keizer), he also coached Ajax 2 and impressed with that team (which had the likes of Van de Beek, De Ligt, Frenkie and Appie Nouri).

Keizer is also a close friend of Bergkamp, so the two set out to lead Ajax. The Nouri situation – the brilliant ballplayer had heart failure in a friendly in the pre-season and due to the late response, he survived the ordeal but that is about it….the poor lad is confined to his bed for the rest of his life – made matters tough for the young coach and the whole team or even club suffered through trauma that season.

Overmars decided to take the reins back from Bergkamp and organised a coup, in which both Keizer and Bergkamp had to make way. Keizer was on title course and would later impress in the Portuguese competition and in the sandpit. Bergkamp never pursued his career elsewhere and became a bit of a football recluse.

Now Overmars was in charge and he quickly lured his friend Erik ten Hag away from FC Utrecht. Ten Hag had had success with Overmars’ first love Go Ahead Eagles and Mark had always planned to get Ten Hag to Amsterdam.

The duo was quite successful, as we know. Overmars dealing with transfers and contracts, Ten Hag dealing with the first team and the results and Van der Sar safely away from the front, dealing with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the sponsors, the board of directors and any other non-football topic.

At that time, Danny Blind was the football man in the Board and he would be an intrinsic part of Overmars little cabal.

And boy, what was Overmars good at his job. And how horrible did he behave when it wasn’t about football.

Overmars telling inappropriate jokes to Sar?

Despite being married to a former Miss Universe (or Miss Holland, not sure), he couldn’t resist using his powerful position at Ajax to bother and hassle the young ladies working at the social media/marketing department of Ajax. And it went further than texting them invites for dinner. The diminutive former winger enjoyed taking pictures of his …less diminutive mini-me and sent them to the ladies in question, who apparently were to scared to report him to the general manager. One key reason: the general manager (yes Edwin van der Sar) knew this was happening and was part of the sexist cabal at Ajax, enjoying inappropriate humor.

Van der Sar protected his powerful friend but when the news broke in the media, it was clear that the former Arsenal and Barca man had to leave.

So, many things had gone wrong already by that time. But Van der Sar took it a bit further. Instead of trying to replace Overmars with a heavyweight – but with manners – he decided to give newcomer Huntelaar and scout Hamstra the joint role of technical director (not in name though).

Oops. Exposed. But a bit too much exposed.

And obviously, both were too lightweight, inexperienced and unconnected to step into Overmars boots. And what people do forget: he is a very good negotiator. He made money playing football and but multiplied his money by dealing in property and classic cars. Huntelaar and Hamstra are definitely people with expertise and added value but they’re no Overmars.

And it showed, this season. Lisandro Martinez left for Man United. Bassey was brought in. Gravenberch left for Bayern, Austrian midfielder Grillisch is his replacement. And so on.

I believe Sar never replaced Overmars, because he hoped (planned?) to get the speedy ex-winger back after a couple of months of “distance from the club”. But it didn’t happen. And when Alfred Schreuder, assisted by his agent, started to “help” Ajax to more new signings, things turned for the worst.

Ocampos was on the wishlist and Ajax would have signed him for 30+ million euros, if the Board of Directors hadn’t intervened. They forced Ajax to take him on a loan basis. And less than 6 months later, the winger was sent back to Spain as he was never able to convince anyone in Amsterdam.

Ocampos failure

But it went further downhill, as Schreuder lost the dressing room due to several bad decisions. His treatment of Daley Blind (who left after the World Cup), his decision to protect Tadic and never sub him, his decision to not use newcomer Wijndal but try Blind, Bassey and Rensch on that spot, the list goes on.

Daley Blind’s exit had another consequence for the club: highly rated Danny Blind – sounding board for coaches and technical management – could not continue his director’s role what with Daley being pushed out unceremoniously. And again, it appeared that Van der Sar and the Board did not have a shadow list waiting in the drawer.

They didn’t have one for Overmars. Not for Danny Blind and when stalwarts like Michael Reiziger and Academy director Said Ouaali announced their exits too, it was quite clear things are a bit fishy in Amsterdam.

John Heitinga was pushed forward when Schreuder was sacked. Much like his old team mate Van Nistelrooy at PSV, Heitinga planned to build up his career with care and consideration. The former Everton defender managed Ajax 2 and was about to start as Schreuder’s assistant but was propelled into the hot seat immediately.

So now, Ajax is re-building. They were able to get former midfielder Jan van Halst in as new football director in the board of directors. They installed Heitinga for this season, with Dwight Lodeweges as he new assistant and they finally signed a technical director – Sven Mislintat –  to replace Overmars, who seems to be enjoying his time at FC Antwerp, with Mark van Bommel. I personally believe Mislintat could well be the right choice, as he has quite a strong resume and clearly adores Ajax.

So, in conclusion, I think its fair to say that after the mismatch of Bosz-Bergkamp-Overmars-Van der Sar, the combination of Ten Hag-Overmars (without Sar) worked amazingly well. There is no need for me to list the achievements of Ten Hag at Ajax.

But when Overmars had to take his leave, Van der Sar needed more than 12 months (!) to replace him. Imagine that, your key guy in the organisation. And it’s not like Van der Sar was ambushed by the dick-pics, he knew about it. So his lack of taking action resulted in a head coach (Schreuder) who was drowning from day 1. And in hindsight, Schreuder also didn’t do himself many favours with his headstrong attitude within the club.

Heitinga with new technical director Sven Mislintat

The combi Ten Hag – Overmars was replaced by Schreuder-Huntelaar-Hamstra and that combination had no chance!

Ajax’ terrible season – in my view – is another nudge of the keepers gloves of Van der Sar. His list of failings is becoming very long.

And if things turn really sour for Ajax this coming weekend – away versus in form Twente – they might end up playing conference league football next season.

The only bonus: last year, when Van der Sar was asked about having to play in the conference league potentially in the future, his answer was: I will not be with the club when that happens. And the fans will now clutch that claim to their chest. The only silver lining in case Ajax finishes 4th this season.

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Ronald Koeman interview

As per our customs, we like to present a new team manager via a “Big Interview”. In this case, the manager isn’t new. The interview is still big.

Ronald Koeman, the new team manager for Oranje. Welcome…

Koeman: “I am so blessed, happy and priviliged to be the….

Yes, you can stop the cliches and the asskissing Ronald, we know your drill by now, ladidadida I am so proud, yadda yadda… is there another clause in your agreement? Will you forsake Oranje again?? Maybe when Spurs come calling?

“Oops, no. I get what you’re saying. No clause this time.”

Yes, because you were so keen to coach Oranje but you left at a key time and you left us with Frank de Boer and Louis van Gaal. Two major tournaments wasted opportunities. What do you have to say for yourself?

“Like I said, there is no clause now and I am happy and blessed and….”

Enough! What can we expect?

“Well, like I said before. I am a 4-3-3 man. I will not proceed with the LVG style of 5 at the back, whatever Louis called it. We’re going back to the system with which I had success, before I …”

Yes, shut up. How did you enjoy the World Cup?

“I think it was an exciting World Cup. The Qatar location wasn’t a success, neither was the winter time, for me at least, but we saw some exciting games. The Dutch could and should have done better, I feel, but I think everyone feels this way.”

What was the reason? Van Gaal?

“It’s tempting to say yes to that. But in all fairness, our top forwards were not in good shape. Gakpo did ok, but Memphis and Bergwijn were the go-to guys for Louis and I think he betted on the wrong horses. Overall, we didn’t have the quality we needed to have.”

How do you think you can overcome this?

“I hope I will make better decisions. But I won’t go back into the World Cup or stuff that happened before me. It’s not fair on Louis and not fair on the lads. I wasn’t there. I want to focus on the games ahead and the tournaments where I can have an impact. I do believe 4-3-3 will be a better option for us. Playing three at the back because you have top defenders is not good enough for me. I mean, we won’t play 5 strikers when we have 5 top goal scorers, would we?”

You came up with the definitive squad for these two Euro Qualification matches. It seemed the goalies and the strikers were a problem but now that is overshadowed by the loss of Frenkie de Jong. Can we cope without him?

“Of course! We will field 11 players, don’t worry. And we do not have a “second Frenkie” in the sense that Frenkie is quite unique. But even with Koopmeiners injured we have alternatives. They will play their part in a different way, but they can definitely play in that role. Wijnaldum played there, De Roon did, Berghuis even, Taylor plays in his role at Ajax and Blind played there a couple of games as well. And I have Wieffer and also Joey Veerman in the squad. Geertruida can play there even!”

Daley Blind? People will wonder why he is even in the squad?

“Really? He played 99 matches for Oranje! A player like him will always get his exit through the front door! He has been a good and loyal soldier of orange and although I did tell him that he shouldn’t count on a starting spot at LB, he can still be very important for us. He can play on 3 different spots and he brings a lot of know how and experience in the dressing room. I want to be able to give him his 100st international game, he deserves it. But whether I will keep on selecting him will hinge on his game time, moving forward.”

Ok, so no LB role for him anymore?

“No, listen when we play 4 at the back, Nathan Ake and Malacia are two excellent candidates and we have the likes of Bakker and Hartman coming through too. Daley is vulnerable defensively, that is no secret, but he can definitely play in the central midfield role, when we play with two pivots.”

Exactly what Van Basten and Gullit said in the Rondo talkshow.

“Yes but I don’t need them to tell me. Everyone knows this. But I have options. I can play De Roon if I want to build in more defensive strength. Or Berghuis, Taylor or even Wieffer if I want to play more offensive.”

Would you risk it with Wieffer in his debut match? Against France?

“Sure, why not? When you’re part of the squad, you’re part of the squad. He will have to show me, of course, during practice here, but I saw him play against Ajax, and Shaktar and those are games at a high level and he was great. I also added Veerman to the mix, we’re not in bad shape at all and Frenkie is a player who – like any player – can get injured or suspended so we need to find ways to cope.”

How bad was the news for you, that Luuk de Jong and Vincent Janssen withdrew from international football?

“Bad bad…. it was a surprise. I would never expect a player to say thanks to Oranje but hey, times change. I mean, Luuk is getting on and his body might need the rest at times. I respect that. He’s 32 and started his pro life at 17 or so? 15 years of knocks and pushes and battles. It’s a shame because he is definitely one of the best headers in the game in Europe, but like Janssen, he wouldn’t be a starter. Vincent has a young family and I think the pace of today’s game forces him to slow down. I think we demand too much of our players. All these matches, it’s nuts.”

Do we now have a strikers problem?

“Nah. I don’t think so. Gakpo plays striker for Liverpool. Memphis at Atleti. We have Danjuma who will hope that Kane moves on, we have Brobbey, Dallinga, Malen, Lang and even Simons can play there. Oh and Weghorst. I think we will manage.”

And the goalies?

“I understand there was a highly scientific approach re: the goalies. I’m a simple man and the father of a goalkeeper and I think a goalie needs to stop balls from going into the net. With Cillesen, Flekken, Bijlow and now also Verbruggen we have good goalies. Cillesen has years in him still, and the others obviously too. Noppert is top as well, but injured now and I can see more good goalies in the Eredivisie, like Olij and Vaessen. We – again – should be ok.”

There was some surprise re: Frimpong versus Geertruida and Tete?

“I can understand this, but I have a simple answer. Geertruida can play RB in a 4-3-3, he can also play central defender really well, and he can play also in the defensive mid role in midfield. Frimpong for me is more a wingback or even a right winger! He is excellent in Van Gaal’s system, so to speak. I think Geertruida is a better defender, Frimpong excellent in attack. But defenders need to be able to defend.”

Dumfries is suspended of course, for the France game. Tete was quite annoyed with the snub, he made some public comments about it. It felt like you were playing with his balls?

“I didn’t hear him say it, and he might have used this as a metaphor. I’m not impressed but I will call him after these matches and suss him out. I don’t think he has anything to complain. I got him into the squad again and I have gotten him into this prelim squad. I think Geertruida has been impressing way longer than Tete, who is only back at full form since this season. But I will call him up and see how he is.”

So Geertruida versus Mbappe? 

“Yes why not. Or Timber.”

How do you see this qualifications group?

“I think we’ll need to be at our best versus all opponents. The onus is onus is on us and France. Two nations qualify and that should be us. But you can easily get into trouble against one of the others. Maybe not Gibraltar but even that match will not be an easy one. They never are. But if we don’t qualify, I will have failed.”

Are you positive about our future? Talent development?

“I am very positive. Look at the level of the Dutch clubs these days. Sure, Feyenoord is top, Ajax is always top, PSV will be there, but now AZ and FC Twente are joining in, Sparta, NEC and RKC are performing ever so well, our overall level is going up. And there is excellent talent, all over the place. Xavi Simons, Summerville at Leeds, Struijk at Leeds, Huissen at Juventus, we have Wieffer now, I still believe in Rensch and Teze, I can see talent at Ajax and Feyenoord, like Hartman. And it’s great to see a player like Malen getting back into shape, Lang and Danjuma are still young. We develop some great central defenders too, there is Botman, Struijk, Schuurs and Micky van de Ven, Bjorn Meijer, I mean truly… The future is bright.”

And you also seem to be keen to bring Wijnaldum back?

“For me, Wijnaldum always needs to be part of Oranje, as long as he’s fit. He always delivered under me. I am not saying it was Van Gaal’s problem, as Gini could indeed have a lesser period, it happens, but I can only refer to his many goals, his partnership with Memphis, his work ethics, I mean… Gini is top class. It’s not for nothing that the Liverpool midfield struggled without him.”

How do you rate Xavi Simons?

“He is a tremendous talent. From a footballing perspective, he’s a top class and his mentality is even better. He is not here to do tricks or to make pannas, he wants to win matches. Whenever he plays, something happens. That is really good to see.”

What do you expect from France?

“I think they will play their usual compact game. They want to create space for MBappe and they won’t press high. The pitch will be small when we have the ball and we need to be neat in possession and create options for triangles. And our rest defence needs to be top notch. We will need some training sessions for this, still.”

My eleven for the France game:

Cillesen

Geertruida  –  Timber – Van Dijk – Ake

Marten de Roon – Daley Blind – Wijnaldum

Xavi Simons – Weghorst – Memphis

Result: 2-2 (goals Memphis and Wijnaldum and two own goals by Daley)

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Oranje: The Future

The future of Oranje looks bright. How often have I typed these words. Most likely after most tournaments we covered here on the blog. Starting in 2004, in Portugal, with Robben and Advocaat dominating the headlines, via the Battle of Nuremberg to the Russian drama in 2008, the Spanish toe in 2010 and the miracle of 2014…

But, the future of Oranje always looks bright, which is part of the problem actually. We want the present to be bright. But time and time again, we put a lot of weight on the multiple talents we recognise, but which somehow don’t come to fruition.

In 2006, Maduro, Kromkamp, Jaliens, Vennegoor, Hesselink (never know which one), Babel… In 2008, Engelaar, De Zeeuw, Melchiot, Bouma, Afellay. In 2010, Elia, Braafheid. And the list goes on.

We do have the players. We always develop players. From Cruyff, Rep, Rensenbrink and Neeskens, to Bergkamp, Van Basten and Van Tiggelen. Or Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben now to Memphis, Gakpo and Frenkie de Jong.

It’s not the players. I said this before: Greece won the Euros in 2004 without any real world class names. We have enough players to fill a national team.

My key issue with Dutch football is the lack of real competence at the Federation level (the KNVB). Somehow, mediocre managers are pulled towards the jobs. It’s a cushion job, nicely paid, making nice trips to FIFA and UEFA events, you get your face on tv and you get to hang with famous people… But the Dutch officials lack the gravitas, experience and commitment of – say – the German or English officials. It’s all a bit cottage-industry in the Netherlands.

I mean, allowing assistant coach Dick Advocaat a contract clause allowing him to leave his job after 2 months, after coach Danny Blind had said no to other candidates. And then to allow Ronald Koeman a clause in his contract, so he could abandon the NT mid campaign (which gave us Frank de Boer and then Louis van Gaal). And then inviting Koeman back in!!!

What messages do you give to the players? How will Koeman get back into the dressing room? Its like leaving your wife for a younger model and then after a year of failed love-making, you return to your ex?

Or calling Peter Bosz to ask him about his contract and then telling the media Bosz turned the gig down?

Or having joke Hans van Breukelen sign both Ten Cate AND Advocaat and then lying to the media, the supporters and the players while Ten Cate had audio recordings unmasking the glib former goalie.

I mean….

Top sport mentality? In the dressing room yes. On the pitch, sometimes. In the board room? No.

The KNVB management seems to be fishing in the same old pond: ex players, older than 50, successful as club coach, popular amongst the people, Dutch, experience within the Federation a preference.

Louis van Gaal had 3 stints. Hiddink had 2 stints. Advocaat at least 2. Now Ronald “this train might not come by again” Koeman twice. People like Grim or Lodeweges or further back Van Lingen, were part of the KNVB coaching staff before, at the youth level. There is no real vision. Coaches seem to be selected along the “IBM” mantra. In the past, corporations went for IBM because “no IT manager gets sacked for chosing IBM as a partner”. In Dutch football, no KNVB official will get sacked for selecting Hiddink/Van Gaal/Advocaat.

We don’t see rebels like Cruyff,  Ten Cate or Bosz as team manager. They are too high maintenance. They will say things the KNVB doesn’t want to hear. They will have an opinion about the KNVB staff, protocols or methods. They play risky football.

Back in 1994, Cruyff dropped out of the negotiations to lead Oranje in the USA World Cup because he was forced to use the KNVB coaches as assistants, while JC wanted Tonny Bruins Slot and his own staff. Just like someone in KNVB management blocked the signing of Henk ten Cate.

Next up, our Academy philosophy needs a kick up the behind. Our focus has been very much a cookie cutter “pass and move” format, where players like Danjuma, Frenkie de Jong and potentially even Xavi Simons were told to “stick to the program”, i.e. stop dribbling and pass the ball more.

It’s vital to develop programs for specific roles in the team and it’s vital to organise more resistance for our talents. Every player leaving the Dutch competition to go to Italy (in particular), England or Germany will tell you soon after their move how they now train really hard and how it took them months to get up to par with the other players in terms of fitness.

Our talents, at Ajax, AZ, Feyenoord and PSV, win most of their matches with two hands tied to their backs. Send them out to play more international tournaments. Develop ways to make it hard for them. Let them play 10 v 11 for instance, to build more resilience and grit.

Talents will always come through in Holland but talent alone is not enough.

But enough with the stern criticism. Lets look at the interview with Peter Bosz, the World Cup winning team manager in 2026.

Congrats, Peter. You finally got us a World Cup. When did you start thinking it was all possible?

PB: “I always knew it was possible. We were close so often but we regularly missed a detail. We were able to get all ingredients right, this time. The foundation being the mental and physical levels of the squad. And then it was mainly the typical Dutch football spirit which got us the win.”

Such as?

“It started when Ronald Koeman left after losing the Nations League final versus Spain, 1-8. The new 6 at the back system failed miserably. Koeman wanted to use all good central defenders in his line up and having Daley Blind as a striker was not a good call for some reason. So he left for Dundee United, which was one of his dream clubs apparently. I went back to the usual 4-3-3 and tried to get some clarity in to the squad.”

Was it hard to make the transition?

“The main thing was to get all these petty Van Gaal v Koeman things out of the consciousness of the lads. We just went back to the basis. 4-3-3 is ideal for the triangles and the positioning on the pitch. We were mostly play 3-4-3 whenever we had control which was often as we do have great ball players.”

How did you approach this World Cup?

“We decided to use the principles engrained in us by the glorious 1970s generation of players and we modernised it. We didn’t even do this to be honest, others have done it before us. I mean, Van Gaal in the 90s, Sacchi at Milan, Guardiola and of course the input from Wilson and Emanuel on the Dutch Soccer Blog was priceless.”

You decided to use a lot of playful, creative, adventurous players.

“Well yes, football is about scoring goals. You cannot score if you don’t have the ball. So players who have full control over the ball have more chance of keeping possession and finding solutions. All the rest, we can teach players. The massive overhaul we have seen in our academy has pushed the overall quality up. We’re just delighted with how it went.”

How did the selection process go?

“Simple. Which players are vital to have in the team, based on control, mentality, fitness and pure quality? Frenkie, Nathan, Tyrell, Cody, Xavi and Ryan. Right? So we built a team around them. Nathan Ake our captain, and leader and most experienced player. With Sven Botman regularly standing in for Nathan. Frimpong and Malacia are no-brainers of course and with De Ligt we have a true tank next to Nathan. A midfield of Frenkie, Gravenberch and Xavi Simons can play any opponent to smithereens and with Gakpo, Danjuma and Lang we have smashing forward line. I’m also happy Memphis as a supersub still works. It almost doesn’t matter who I put in goal, but Bijlow did really well doing nothing.”

Seven matches, no goals conceded, and scored an average of 5 goals per match. Wow.

“Yes, we could have done better I suppose. Your criticism is understandable. It usually takes about 20 seconds from start to the move, to the end: the ball in the net. We could and should have score more.”

Eh….

“Overall, my assistants Daley Blind and Dirk Kuyt have been instrumental in this and I hope we can now win a couple more tournaments. Football is coming home!!!”

Eh no Peter, that slogan has nothing to do with….

“Am I so smart, or are you so stupid??”

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Oranje back to drawing board

And here is the final result of the little Scorito competition we had going, the competition of course being called Lowievenkaals Armie. Shawn is the absolute GOAT of this competition.

Shawn, congrats! You will have bragging rights till the next World Cup. Robin is France, I am Croatia and Sjaak is Morocco. Ah well….

Despite a heroic comeback versus Argentina, Oranje is home licking their wounds. I am sad Morocco didn’t get a trophy to show for their contributions and with the Atlas Lions out, the real Dutch connection ( Ziyech, Amrabat, Mazraoui, Aboukhlal) to this World Cup is gone. There is no real connection with the French for us, and generally speaking, the Dutch are not big fans of Les Blues. Messi will always be my fave player, even if he gave Weghorst and LVG a piece of his mind. The Argentinian connection is there (Rijkaard / Ten Cate > Messi, Tagliafico and Martinez > Ajax) and I wish them well.

In The Netherlands, it’s back to the drawing board. Van Gaal’s final conclusion seem to have been “We have not wingers of top class”. Despite this, it was the move of Gakpo to the left and Berghuis to the right with two tall towering strikers which got us the equaliser and extra time in the quarter finals. It was warrior Wout Weghorst who got the final free kick which Koopmeiners took in Weghorst’s Wolfburg style, to get us a sniff of hero-ism. But Van Gaal made a bad judgement call for the extra time, counting on penalty success.

The fear of conceding was bigger than the wish to kill the opponent off.

Before the match, he also made a bad call, in thinking Argentina would not adjust to us and he felt the 3-4-1-2 would give us a good chance to win. But, Scaloni surprised by bringing Martinez as an extra defender, nullifying our tactical “advantage”. Argentina forced the ball onto us and this scenario paid out for Scaloni.

One brilliant Messi pass and a cheap penalty gave Argentina the lead: Van Gaal beaten with his own stick.

Since the bronze medal in 2014 we missed out on two major tournaments. We seemed to stick to what we know best, building up from the back, possession based football with wingers. All this in an era in wich the game got quicker and more tactical. Countries like Iceland, Sweden, Turkey and Bulgaria were able to throw sand in the not-so-slick Oranje machine, by defending as a team and playing compact. Waiting for the mistake. The Dutch were the Dodo of International football.

Self professed fans of Dutch football, Guardiola and Klopp were able to introduce concepts like the high press and positioning play by dividing the playing field in particular zones. In this way they found new ways to achieve balance while attacking. In the Eredivisie, coaches like Peter Bosz, Erik ten Hag and Arne Slot followed suit and were able to perform on the European stage with success.

Ronald Koeman copied this blue print after a shaky start. Left back Blind became the third central defender in the build up. Bergwijn would drift inwards, opening up space for Dumfries who covered the full right flank. On the other flank, Koeman used Ryan Babel to keep the width on the left. The yield of the wingers was limited. Bergwijn didn’t score at all in 9 matches, Babel scored 4 in 17 matches. Oranje was very dependent on Memphis Depay and his partnership with Gini Wijnaldum. Under Koeman we beat France, Germany and England, but we also lost against France, Germany and Portugal.

We could beat any team but we could also lose against any team. Under Frank de Boer we lost against Mexico, Turkey and the Czechs using different systems. This was the context when Van Gaal stepped in.

Van Gaal decided to use the learning from the past and introduced the compact playing style to the team, with the aim to build up with short passes and moves in order to combine forward. The execution was poor, to say it nicely. The simple basic things didn’t work. Creating triangles to get players on the ball, for instance. In particular the right flank was weak. No wonder Oranje played its best game against the USA, the only game in which we had less possession than the opponent.

We can debate endlessly about what went wrong, but in essence it comes down to quality, or lack thereof. Phillipp Lahm, the former Germany full back, said it best when comparing Argentina with Holland: “All the players of Argentina have what it takes in modern football: strong in the one versus one, defensively and offensively. These individual skills are what it takes to win matches, not tactics.”

Guardiola says it differently: “When I look at a player to sign for my club, I basically look at one thing only: can he dribble. Does he control the ball? I only want players who have a dribble. All the other things, like a touch, or a pass or a shot, I can teach. I cannot teach players to dribble. It’s impossible to beat a defensive team without players who can dribble.”

These are quite succinct statements explaining the problems we currently have with Oranje.

In five matches, incl extra time vs Argentina, we mustered 17 successful dribbles. That is less than Jamal Musiala of Germany on his own. Only Cody Gakpo managed to do this more often than twice. Gakpo totalled 5 successful dribbles, all in all. Mempis had 2. Denzel Dumfries? Zero. Frenkie had 3, Timber 3 and Berwijn only 1.

Arjen Robben had 5 successful dribbles in one match, in 2014. The lack of form and fitness of Memphis was not present this time, as he usually is the player to create something out of nothing.

We lacked creativity. That is the bottom line. In 2016, the Dutch FA came with a report: Winners of Tomorrow. Their conclusion was that we needed better defenders! While at that time, Ake, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind and others were already playing at very decent levels in Europe. While attacking creative talent was scarce.

Our successful generations ( Cruyff, Rensenbrink, Rep, Van Basten, Roy, Witschge, Davids, Kluivert, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Rob de Wit, Van der Vaart, Robben) were produced not at the club but on the street. Exactly like Brazilians or Moroccans are developed. The youth academies don’t seem to be able to replicate the street, in their youth development plans.

This is the most important lesson for the KNVB. That, and never ever allowing a coach to abandon his post because a dream club is interested in signing him.

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Oranje not good enough….

Below is the original text I wrote straight after – or actually during – the match.

With the game behind us, we can make some short and snappy conclusions:

  • The Heroes of the US game, Blind and Dumfries, the zeroes against Argentina

Scoring and assisting versus USA, and letting your man go (Blind) and conceding a penalty (Dumfries) making them the losers versus Argentina

  • Confidence, mental strength and will are important

We never played with confidence, the game was sloppy, slow, measured and basically… weak. When Plan B was executed, we scored 2 (we = Wout) in 15 minutes and in the remaining 30 extra time minutes, we should have pushed on.

  • Belief in penalty science unfounded

Louis and his minion Frans Hoek had decided that a scientific approach to penalty kicks would help the takers and the goalie. A whole theory was implemented and based on the 2014 deception, Van Gaal went for penalties this time, thinking he’d done the job already. In 2014, he wanted to win in 120 mins and brought Huntelaar. It failed. Now he decided not to bring Janssen or Simons but to stick it out to pens. Another mistake (in hindsight).

  • Van Gaal’s arrogance

Louis decided before the game to explain how Messi was invisible in 2014 and how we would manage to do this again. He also said repeatedly: “Messi doesn’t do anything without the ball and they’ll be playing with 10 men”. These words were obviously picked up by the Argentinian media and Messi was fuelled like never before.

  • Where is Ziyech??

Ziyech chose Morocco, which prompted the many Dutch experts to say “how can you pick Morocco when you have more chances to win silverware with Holland??”. Well, Morocco is playing the semi finals, Oranje is on a plane home.

  • Just not good enough

There are many subtleties that could have gone different: Danjuma instead of Taylor, Bijlow instead of Noppert, Malacia instead of Blind but overall, I think it is fair to say we were simply not good enough to win the title. Quarter finals sounds just about right.

Sadly, I am at an airport gate waiting for my flight after a couple of days of business in Melbourne.

I hoped to be able to ignore the game and watch it at home, after the match, but there is no escaping Messi and co. So I missed the 1st half, and I’m currently watching the 2nd half, 2-0 down, with 15 minutes to go.

And from what I have seen, we have been kicked out of the tournament at the highest level we have a right to be. We don’t deserve to play the semi finals, let alone the finals. Not good enough.

Not Dumfries, not Blind, not Koopmeiners and in this form, not Memphis even.

I didn’t see the 1st half but I can imagine De Roon and Bergwijn didn’t bring much. I saw the 1-0, and yes, Blind didn’t look good, but neither did the whole part of the team dealing with Messi. And lets face it, that pass was sublime, as was the run. You will all tell me how bad Blind dealt with it, I’m sure but Van Dijk should have tackled with his left, on the ball and there will have been others wanting as well (Ake, De Jong).

Still 45 mins to recover, but Koopmeiners had another dreadful game, with balls bouncing off his feet, passing backwards all the time and Memphis dribbling into cul de sacs, while Dumfries – again – saw no way through as he was constantly forced into a dribbles he cannot do.

Overall, a weak performance. 1 attempt on goal, none on target in the first 70 minutes.

It’s sad, we could have gone all the way, as Croatia would be a better opponent than Brazil, but at least we can cheer for Messi as he might well win it, finally.

We can be angry, disappointed, pissed off, disgusted, but I think we can only say that we are not good enough.

Ake, Van Dijk, Frenkie de Jong were consistent. Noppert was great, but overall not that great.

And while I am typing this, Berghuis curves the ball onto Weghorst’s head: 2-1. Wow.

Ok.

Who knows.

A grand finale?

WHAT IS HAPPENING???? 2-2!!!

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On the road to the semis: Frenkie will come good

Frenkie was the first to admit he didn’t play well against the USA. But he’s quite confident he will be present versus Argentina. Frenkie discusses some topics, and believes the Dutch were always happy to reach the finals. For him, it ain’t enough.

The Best

“I was a fan from a young age. I had posters of him on my wall, I adored him as a player. And it was just amazing to be able to play with him, a dream come true. He is the best in everything. In positioning, in ball handling, in his passing, his finishing. He sees everything a couple of seconds earlier. And you know it, but still he surprised me so often, at training or in the match. It was a privilege to play with him and now also to play against him. I mean, playing Argentina at a World Cup, it doesn’t get better. We didn’t app each other no. I won’t either, and I don’t think he will. We’ll see each other at the stadium and we might have a quick word there. And if not it’s fine too.”

Dominating

“Everyone wants to know how we will stop Messi but it’s not about him, but about Argentina. I don’t know what would work best: sacrifice a player or just deal with him as a team. We need to dominate and play better than them and mind you, he’s not the only player in the team. In La Liga, all teams were trying to stop him and tried so many things, but he will always bind 2 or 3 players and he will always have one or two things he can do, whatever you are doing.”

The System

“I wasn’t good against America, but it’s not system related. I simply wasn’t top, physically. Dealing with the aftermath of a cold. We play this system for some time now and I have done ok in it. I am still playing at the same spot and I get to play a lot of balls and get a lot of touches, so for me it’s not even that different. We haven’t lost in 19 matches and we don’t concede much while we did play against some decent teams, like France, Belgium, Germany. We didn’t make the right choices in the first half against the USA but they only got one real chance in the first half, and that was a mistake from us.”

Naive

“I am a football fan, I want every team to play full on attack, but you always need to take form and the opponent into account. Our intention is to attack and dominate more but you need to make the right decisions. If you lose the ball and you are naive and want to keep 5 players before the ball, well, you will get in trouble. It’s that simple. You have to deal with what you have in front of you. It all starts with control and if you defend well, you will not lose so easily. By the way, our first goal versus America was not a counter goal, and it surely is one of the most beautiful goals of the tournament, in my view.”

Critics

“Did Van der Vaart say I must have preferred to stay in my hotel, after the first half against the USA? Hahaha, I didn’t hear that one. Well, yes. I was bad. It happens, sadly and we do hear the criticism and we need to deal with it. I mean, we have played better and we want to play better, but then again, we haven’t lost here yet and we’re in the quarter finals, so we can not be all that bad. And I prefer winning over playing beautiful.”

Running

“I don’t think I have to run more in this system. I do have to track my opponent, yes. With Barcelona, we are usually the stronger side, so the opponent needs to follow us, that is a big difference. We do need to keep the space compact so you don’t have to run that much. If not, you do run more. I think I made the most kilometers in the first half versus the USA, because we didn’t play well.”

Expectations

“I don’t think we will play better versus better opponents. I don’t think it works that way. Sure, there will be more space maybe, but to think that this will help us play better… we need to do the things right, we need to make the right decisions, stay focused and work hard. Offer options and recognise the opportunities. I think it’s normal for people that Brazil or France have more of the ball and if the USA has more of the ball, people don’t get it. But it was not because they were so good, it was because we didn’t manage to play our game.”

World Cup

“I love this tournament, because the whole planet is involved and all the people seem to be enjoying it, everywhere. It’s beyond club colours, and when you win, the whole nation is happy, whereas when Ajax wins, the Ajax supporters are happy. It’s a difference. I vividly remember the Oranje games at World Cups. Like the win over Brazil in 2010, or the match versus Argentina in 2014. How Mascherano had to do his utmost to stop Robben from scoring in the last minute, that sort of things.”

Praying

“I have considered to go with the praying group, who pray and meditate before the meals. I am not religious or anything, but it is a grounding thing and we have players from different religions, doing this. Memphis organises it, it’s a sort of gathering. You don’t need to be religious. The mood is great, and we really believe in ourselves. I have watched most games and there is not one team that really rises about the rest. Brazil played great games, but also some lesser games. This applies to all teams.”

Stress

“There is always some form of stress and I guess you need that too. It will be even more now, with those Argentina fans in the stadium, but every player enjoys that. That is stress you need in a way. The one I found tough to deal with, was the decider against Norway, at home. In front of an empty stadium due to Covid. That was eerie. And we needed to get a result as well. We could lose something there, while now, we can only win something: a place in the semi finals.”

The Title

“We really want it now. We have the team for it, we believe in it. We also haven’t lost a match for some time now and it’s only 3 more games, hahaha. It’s that simple, right? But seriously, we will be completely bummed if we don’t win. In the past, we were so happy to reach the finals, it felt like we reached something. We don’t believe this. Reaching the finals is a means to an end. Which is finally winning the whole thing.”

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