Wim Koevermans with young Indian talent. Rob Baan on the right, behind him…
Only 22 Dutch players ever won senior gold with the National Team. That is not much, considering the tremendous talent Holland has had through the years. The likes of Swart, Moulijn, Keizer, Cruyff, Neeskens, Van Hanegem, Peters, Krol, Bergkamp, Kluivert, Seedorf, Frank de Boer, Roy, Blind, Van Nistelrooy, Van Bommel, etc etc never won gold.
Any one on the planet can give you the names of the most famous Trio that did, back in 1988… Goeliet. Vanbastan, Ricard or whatever they make of it… Most fans can tell you Wouters, Van Breukelen, Vanenburg and Koeman too… Only the diehards will tell you Van Tiggelen, Muhren and Van Aerle while it takes a real geek to go to the bench and name Bosman, Suvrijn and Van ‘t Schip.
Wim Koevermans is probably the least known gold medal winner of the EC1988. The tall defender was never a charismatic player and basically unknown in Holland even!
Never got to play for a big team (was Fortuna Sittard’s and FC Groningen’s central defender) and hasn’t played a lot of games ( only one! ) for the Dutch team.
But Koevermans was there, that summer in Germany and got part of the victor’s spills.
And he had a nice career in coaching since. Did all the courses, and ended up working for NEC Nijmegen and MVV Maastricht before working for the Dutch Federation (KNVB) in coaching management, structuring and lecturing and youth coaching.
He took a youth coaching job for the Irish federation, after Ireland consulted with the Dutch Federation on youth development and was their High Performance Director for a while, until a bigger challenge presented itself.
Today, Wim Koevermans is National Team Manager of India. A country with 2,1 billion inhabitants (give or take a couple) and inhabiting the 169th spot on the FIFA World Ranking. Room for improvement.
So how is he fairing in a country where the biggest club in the country just has been ousted from competition for two seasons… or where you suddenly find a holy cow on your training pitch….or where the best match pitches are worse than the worst amateur training fields in Groningen…?
Koevermans: “Rule one: don’t get annoyed. It will not help in any way. I think preparation is key. A lot of people move abroad not realising the difference in culture. I have prepared myself for this and I knew this would be my reality. I have to deal with it. You want to be successful? You have to get with the culture. This is why Hiddink is so successful abroad, partly and other big name coaches have had trouble… Good know how of the culture is key to success, is my statement.”
The odds are that India oozes talent. Has to be. If it’s a simple odds game and a certain % of youngsters have the gift, than China and India are super powers in the making… But…how do you find the talents? “India has an overarching federation, but under that sits 34 Indian states with 34 sub federations. Some of these states have more than 120 mio inhabitants. More people than France and Spain together!! Some sub federations are truly professional with a good staff and some others are manned by one or two volunteers…”
He goes on: “The level of talent here is pretty good. Technical skills are definitely there. They do have similar circumstances here as in Brazil… Sand, bad pitches, bad balls…all the circumstances to really learn to have quick feet and good skills. But tactically, it’s poor. Physically, it’s poor. In Holland, they teach you from the ages of 6 upwards to make the field bigger or smaller, depending on what the situation is… Here, they don’t. This is one thing we are working on. If you have good skills, a smaller pitch is in your advantage.”
Cricket is India’s sport #1. No doubt about. Ask an Indian kid who he wants to be and it’s not Messi or Beckham or Van Persie.
Football pitches are normally lined out on cricket fields, in multifunctional stadiums.
Koef: “The development in India will be slow. But also sure. Once they commit, they do it. I don’t see India partaking in any World Cup soon, but progression is possible for sure. We recently won the Nehru Cup by beating Cameroon. Sure, it was Cameroon’s B-team but still a strong team. That was a good confirmation of what we will be capable of.”
How did you prepare for this job?
Koevermans: “I started with the culture. I talked to people from the ITIM International group, specialized in management in different cultures. I studied the Indian culture, how do people deal with each other, how can I best transfer know how, how can I best organise meetings, etc…. Rob Baan has been Technical Director here since October 2011 (the former Feyenoord, KNVB and Australian FA tech boss) and I talk to him a lot too.”
“In terms of football, a big nation is a benefit but also a challenge. Watching a couple of games is like flying through Europe or the US. I watched a lot of videos and analysed the work of my predecessor (Bob Houghton). He did really well, but molded an English style of play. Lots of high balls, aerial challenges and pace. For this reason, you see a lot of African born lads in the local competition. Which makes sense, as the Indian physiology is not for that type of game. Fleet of foot, smart, flexible, skillfull… Indian football should be more like Dutch or Spanish football.”
“For the Nehru Cup, I invited 38 players. My assistents told me an Indian player will never tell you he is injured. But I also wanted to have personal meetings with all players. And I wanted to see them all perform on a pitch. I told them my football philosophy and how we would do things. Quite a challenge as you cannot be as direct and confrontational as we are in Holland. The team doctor was an important influence for me. He is our culture guardian.”
“I also introduced video analysis. That helped a lot to get my vision across. You can pick situations and then match those with how the better teams deal with those… They hardly use wingers. It’s very 4-4-2 oriented. I introduced 4-3-3 and we are very dominantly using the flanks. And then you enter the next problem: players telling me they hear and learn things with me they never hear at club level….”
How does Koevermans involve the club coaches?
“That is a challenge. For starters, I do work and talk with them when I visit games, but it’s always limited of course. Secondly, coaches in India do not have a long use-by-date… Thirdly, the quality of their coach diploma is…not that good… We need to do some work on that….