Tag: Lens

The Best of the 2018World Cup

The best of this 2018 World Cup is definitely this wonderful Neymar Alphabet typeface. Some Brazilian went creative and made this and it’s just too funny (and smart).

I didn’t like this World Cup much, to be honest. Sure, partly due to Oranje not being there. And we lost in the qualifications against the eventual World Cup winners. Nice excuse. But we wouldn’t have done so badly in Russia, I don’t think. The only team to really impress from day 1 to the end was Croatia for me.

And yes, Modric does look like Cruyff. And like Cruyff in 1974, Modric didn’t win the World Cup but he will be remembered mostly, like our Johan was back then.

Please challenge my opinion below if you must. Belgium was hot and cold. Lukaku was good in the group stages but wasteful in the knock out stages. Mertens, invisible. Dembele sadly unused.

It’s fun to make fun of Neymar, but truth be told: he clearly wasn’t 100% fit to play

France played negative football. You had the most impressive players (Lacazet, Audambayang, Rabiot weren’t needed for instance, Payet wasn’t missed) paired with a defensive, fearful coach. MBappe’s speed was sacred and France got some help from te VAR here and there too. Won’t go into the history books as a great winner (like the 1998 French team). Their striker Giroud had no shots on goal in 500+ minutes of football. The Dutch satire newspaper De Speld even broke the news Giroud actually missed three hi-fives after winning the World Cup….

The rest? England? Clueless with the ball. Russia. Nice, fun, underdogs, like Wales and Iceland at the Euros2016 but quality? Not really? Spain, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, woeful really.

VAR ref Danny Makkelie

And then the VAR! Messy to say the least. Lack of consistency, lack of clarity. Who takes the decision at the end? The ref or the VAR ref? When is hands hands? Why can two players pull a Serbia striker down to the ground? Why can Sweden’s Berg be tackled from behind in the box? Too many question marks.

So, no Mr Infantino. It was not a great World Cup.

Yes, the tv coverage was great. The stadiums were full. The vibe in Russia appeared to be awesome. But the quality of the football was below par.

Back to the season prep for the national competitions then.

I won’t go into all the different transfer news items, as it’s an ongoing thing and I don’t post enough to keep track and all of you abreast of the situation.

But there are some nice things to share:

Ajax is bringing some top quality to the Eredivisie! Dujan Tadic, Daley Blind… Nice one. Labyad from FC Utrecht is coming in. Per Schuurs is in Amsterdam. And Ziyech hasn’t left yet. Yowza!

But Frenkie de Jong’s transfer to Barcelona is an ongoing topic in the Spanish papers, while Mathijs de Ligt might also still be lured away, now he’s with super agent Raiola.

Feyenoord is losing some key players. Karim El Ahmadi is gifted a free transfer to Saudi Arabia, but it seems Sven van Beek is on his way to Cocu’s Fenerbahce. Sadly, only for 5,5 mio euros, for some reason. Unbelievable really. De Ligt is worth 50 mio apparently? But Van Beek only 1/10th of that?

But Feyenoord is planning to have Jordy Clasie come back, on loan from Southampton and is hoping to get Leroy Fer back as well.

PSV is still scoping on a new midfielder, now Marco van Ginkel is out with a heavy knee injury again and back in London. Mark van Bommel is the real big signing for PSV of course.

It’s good for the Eredivisie to have some European top players return. A stronger competition is good for everyone.

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Les Bleus will turn Orange in Paris

After more than 10 years blogging about Oranje and its exploits, you do run out of cute titles for posts.

A crucial week for the Dutch. We were absent in France at the 2016 Euros. It was a disgrace. A debacle. If we’d miss the World Cup as well in Russia next year, we might best just call it a day with football.

But the moral is high in the Oranje camp. The new coaches – Advocaat and Gullit – do instill some confidence of course. Both coaches are confident Holland will qualify. The ever defiant Sneijder will don the band, and Arjen Robben will give everything in this match, as he always does. Be it for 45 minutes, for 60 minutes or for the full match. And the Big Three are reunited now Bruno Martins Indi Robin van Persie has joined them, after a two year absence.

Lets look at the state of the union in the Oranje camp. And let’s explore the scenarios as well.

dick ruud pre fr

The Dutch internationals are back together in Hotel Noordwijk, as per usual. Some new faces, some faces missing. Nathan Ake had to cancel his trip, as he hurt his ankle with Bournemouth. Bruno Martins Indi was called up as a replacement.And Tim Fosu-Mensah was called up when Kenny Tete had to send this thanks as well. Donny van de Beek has his first call up.   “I was very pleased to read those positive words of the coach about me. It’s all going quick but the team can count on me.” Van de Beek was about to go in and introduce himself to the internationals. “No doubt, they’ll be on hand to guide me. I have been hearing great things about this group and can’t wait to be part of it.” The young Ajax midfielder will have said “Sir” to eminence grise Robin van Persie. Back where he belongs. But whether we’ll see him play is uncertain, as the Fener forward came to Holland with a shoulder injury. The medical staff will try and work their magic.

Dick Advocaat, Van Persie’s coach at Fener last season: “Robin is one of the best forwards we have. Or ever have had. I know his fitness was an issue for a while but if we use him in the right way, I am sure he can be of tremendous value. It’s clear he is delighted to be back. It will inject something into the group as well.”

dick robin

Advocaat on Van de Beek: “We can see some great talents coming up and Van de Beek is one of the more consistent ones. He has made his mark at Ajax in a tough role. He can tackle, run, give the final pass and score. He’s a complete midfielder and I think he has a huge future.”

Ryan Babel and Eljero Elia were not called up, despite their good form in Turkey. “I know both players well of course and they’re really close but I decided for these matches not to bring too many new players in. For the forward positions we do have Memphis and Promes and Janssen. I would have to drop one or two of them if I wanted to bring Elia and Babel and Van Persie. I didn’t want to break up the team that’s been working for a while together. And besides, Memphis plays well for Lyon, Promes is probably the best player in Russia and Janssen would be a starter for any Dutch club. His lack of rhythm has never stopped him from playing well for Oranje.”

Asked about Ajax’ and PSV’s recent disappointments in Europe and Oranje’s dramatic fall in the FIFA ranking. “We need to face the facts. We are a small football nation. We have great reputation and history, but we are to be compared with Portugal and Belgium and Denmark. Not with Spain or Germany or France. And even France had a long spell where they lacked success, in the 1970s and 1990s. Denmark had their peak, Belgium as well and is now back with a great generation. We need to accept that we cannot be among the top of the world all the time. Whether it’s our clubs or our national team. It’s not a shame. We should be proud of all we did achieve.”

pre france oranje

Asked about Oranje’s potential victory over France. “Why not? Why wouldn’t we be able to beat them? Sweden did. Rosenborg beat Ajax. FC Utrecht almost beat Zenit. You have to be positive, there are always opportunities, and we do not have a quality problem. I do not agree. We have players like Robben, Memphis, Strootman, Wijnaldum, all playing for top clubs. De Vrij and Hoedt play every week against top forwards, our goalie trains with Messi and Iniesta and Daley Blind is at Man United. We still have more than enough quality to trouble France. And I also can’t see Sweden win all their games just like that. We have chances.”

Willem van Hanegem is cynical. The former top player and coach still believes better options are available. “I see Rekik and Ake making mistakes. Childish mistakes, and why not? They’re still starting out. Why not get Erik Pieters? He’s been playing well for years in the EPL and holding his own physically. We’re not playing Belarus or Finland. We’ve got to play Giroud, Lacazete, Griezmann, Matuidi. We need men, not kids. I’d love to see Leroy Fer as well. Key player for Swansea in the EPL. I think Van de Beek is a top talent. But a talent. Fer is an established entity. And with Elia or Babel, we’d have the unexpected. That might become so important, that one opportunity up front. Don’t get me wrong, I want Oranje to win, but I wouldn’t place a euro on our win. The French lost vs Sweden in their last game. They will not underestimate Holland.”

Arjen Robben is ready to rumble. “I don’t participate in all the talk of how good France is. I’m not interested. I want to know how good we are. I want to talk about what we can do. We should believe in ourselves, or simply cancel the game. If we go, we go for a win. Believe in ourselves and rise to the occasion. I’m personally not 100% match fit. But I will give all I have. Whether it’s good enough for 60 minutes or 80 minutes, we’ll see. But I’ll leave everything on the pitch. I was subbed by Ancelotti in our last match, but not because I couldn’t give more. I could have gone on. Match fitness, rhythm, it doesn’t play a role once the ref blows the whistle.”

The Bayern star welcomed his former strike partner Robin van Persie in Noordwijk. “It’s so good to see him again. I’m happy for him. It must have been wonderful to get back to Hotel Noordwijk and be part of it. He’s a born leader, charismatic and full of class. It’s good to have him back.”

wijnaldum klopp

Robben was on the bench, when France beat Van Gaal’s Oranje in 2014, which led to the 5-3-2 system Van Gaal used at the Brazil World Cup. “That match clearly demonstrated we weren’t good enough. So Van Gaal made changes. I can see that work against France again, but don’t forget: Louis had weeks to gel the system into the team. That situation is different now.”

Let’s look at the scenarios for Oranje: France and Sweden lead with 13 points, with Holland third with 10 point. The leader will go straight to the WC, the best #2s will go as well. Sweden plays Bulgaria, number 4 with 9 points. After these up coming match ups, there are 3 more games to play. With the first of the lot being played on Sunday.

Holland needs to finish in the top two, but out of the nine groups only 8 number 2s will join the winners. The worst #2 stays at home. Obviously, Holland is best served if they win vs France and Sweden drops points vs Bulgaria.

Rest of the program after Thursday:

Sunday 3 september
18.00 uur: HOLLAND – Bulgaria
18.00 uur: Belarus – Sweden
20.45 uur: France – Luxemburg

Zaterdag 7 oktober
18.00 uur: Sweden – Luxemburg
20.45 uur: Belarus – HOLLAND
20.45 uur: Bulgaria – France

Dinsdag 10 oktober
20.45 uur: HOLLAND – Sweden
20.45 uur: France – Belarus
20.45 uur: Luxemburg – Bulgaria


Defeat vs France would be a drama

Won’t surprise anyone: a loss against France would be bad. We then can only hope that Sweden loses too. We will drop to spot 4 in the group but with only two points behind Bulgaria and three points to Sweden. We play them both at home still. But a loss in Paris while Sweden draws or winst would be disastrous.

Loss Oranje, win Sweden
France 7-16
Sweden 7-16
Holland 7-10
Bulgaria 7-9
Loss Oranje, draw Sweden
France 7-16
Sweden 7-14
Holland 7-10
Bulgaria 7-9
Loss Oranje, loss Sweden
France 7-16
Sweden 7-13
Bulgaria 7-12
Holland 7-10


A draw still gives hope 

With a surprising draw in Paris, there will be a glimmer of more hope for Oranje. But merely a glimmer. Again, Sweden should lose vs Bulgaria.

Draw Oranje, win Sweden
Sweden 7-16
France 7-14
Holland 7-11
Bulgaria 7-9
Draw Oranje, draw Sweden
France 7-14
Sweden 7-14
Holland 7-11
Bulgaria 7-10
Draw Oranje, loss Sweden
France 7-14
Sweden 7-13
Bulgaria 7-12
Holland 7-11


A win is very welcome

And then the scenario where Holland takes all points from Paris. And if Sweden would lose vs Bulgaria, France, Sweden and Holland will all have 3 points, with Bulgaria fourth with 12 points. It would bring more excitement and pressure for all, as Bulgaria will have a chance suddenly too. The pressure will be on for all teams, but also on the home games vs Sweden and Bulgaria. The #2 of this group might even end up as the worst of the lot, and therefore miss the World Cup still.

Win Oranje, win Sweden
Sweden 7-16
France 7-13
Holland 7-13
Bulgaria 7-9
Win Oranje, draw Sweden
Sweden 7-14
France 7-13
Holland 7-13
Bulgaria 7-10
Win Oranje, loss Sweden
Holland 7-13
France 7-13
Sweden 7-13
Bulgaria 7-12


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The 2017/18 Season is upon us: predictions!

Well people, the waiting is over. It’s all going to go ahead again.

Let’s look in the crystal ball and see what will happen.


We will suffer the least from the summer break vs France. Les Blues have talent to spare but they are rusty in their home game vs Holland. We will hit them on the attack. 1-3. We score first (Depay on a break) and when France is fighting to get back into the game, we score a second (Wijnaldum). They get back to 1-2 but in the final stages a risk-taking France concedes a penalty, converted by Janssen. Oranje is flying high and we won’t lose any qualification game after that. We’ll go to the WC2018. We’re not going to win it but we’ll get some swagger back.



Ajax is vulnerable. A young squad, an inexperienced coach and when Sanchez and Ziyech are sold, there is not enough leadership and experience to have the time fight for the title. Like with JC’s first season as coach, this will be a “development season”. The fans won’t like it but I do believe Ajax has gold with De Ligt, Kluivert, Van de Beek, De Jong and will grow to a peak performance in the coming seasons. They’ll finish 2nd.

cocu shock

PSV has lost their spirit. The new hierarchy in the dressing room takes time. Willems is not properly replaced and something seems missing in Eindhoven. They’ll have an abysmal season. They’ll finish 4th.

Feyenoord is in the winning mood. They won’t be making waves in the Champions League but the new kids gel into the squad with ease and Feyenoord wins the title again. Quite rare for that to happen. Boetius has a super season, Jorgensen wins the golden boot again and Labayad is the coming man in Feyenoord’s midfield. Feyenoord wins the title.

dirk robin

The surprise #3 in the Eredivisie will be Vitesse. With good, neat pass and move, they upset most opponents and get to rub shoulders with the Top 3. AZ and FC Utrecht are just behind, with PEC Zwolle again impressing. VVV will drop back immediately.

It will be Kluivert’s real break through year, like Hendrix will snatch a starting birth at PSV.


Man City will win the title. Man United will again disappoint. Liverpool will do well in the CL as cupfighters. Newcastle will finish mid-table. The lads in England will have a mixed season. Janssen and Klaassen will struggle to get time. Blind, Wijnaldum and Fer will do very well. As will Nathan Ake. Van Dijk will move to Liverpool and will become their rock for seasons to come. Crystal Palace under De Boer will also impress with Riedewald and Van Aanholt on the wishlist of the bigger clubs.

wijnal fer


Cillesen will get the #1 spot for Barcelona. Lens will impress in Turkey, like Promes will do in Moscow, if he doesn’t get a transfer before September 1. Karsdorp, Strootman, De Roon, De Vrij, Hoedt will keep on delivering the goods in Italy, while Robben will have one of his best seasons. Sneijder takes Nice by the horns but will finish fourth, behind PSG and Monaco. Lyon will finish third.

Dutch football will make the comeback we all hope for. We’ll have most players at mid-level European top clubs. No more Juve, Barca, Real or Chelsea but the mid-range players will form a solid team when they wear the Orange and the squad will only grow in quality with players like Van de Beek and De Jong of Ajax joining in.

Sneijder and Robben will lead the pack and young talents like Karsdorp, Memphis, Vilhena, Promes and even Kluivert will add to the recipe. It will be all good, my friends. I’m just still sad that Appie Nouri will never wear the Orange jersey….


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Oranje gets Big Dick

And it needs it! In order to really have a go and reach the World Cup, we need good potency. I always felt Advocaat is a big of a dick, with his greed-oriented behaviour. He disappointed so many clubs and nations (PSV, Australia, Belgium, Sunderland, KNVB) and all for a bigger pay-check.

But, he does get things done and we do not have many highly experienced and willing coaches left in Dick’s age-category. Van Gaal isn’t interested, Van Marwijk is happy in the sandbag, Van Hanegem and Jansen not willing, Stevens not willing, Michels is dead… Time for a new generation (Ten Hag, Bosz, Cocu, Gio, De Boer) but all these guys are happy to work with players on a day by day basis.

Big Dick will join the squad later, with assistant Ruud Gullit. Until he does, Fred Grim and Frans Hoek will keep the reigns and manage Oranje past the two upcoming friendlies… Morocco first. Ivory Coast on Sunday.

grim marok

The Dutch squad is becoming complete today. Wesley Sneijder traveled late from Turkey, directly to Agadir. Grim already stated that he’ll give the 32 year old captain playing time. Wes only needs two more games to topple Van der Sar as the most capped Dutch player ever. He’ll get that record, with two friendlies on the roster. The Ivory Coast game is actually on his 33rd birthday. What an accomplishment for the little playmaker!

Jesper Cillesen came late to the camp too, as he had to play (and win) the Spanish Copa Del Rey with Barca. A look at three players who had an exciting but not necessarily good first season at greener pastures…

nathan marok

Nathan Ake – Chelsea:

“It’s fun to be part of the Dutch team for the first time. I’ve played in all Oranje rep teams as off under-15 and now it’s an honour to be part of the big Oranje. Marc Wilmots is the team manager of Ivory Coast, who called me as well. He wanted to know if I was happy to think about playing for the country where my dad is born. And I said, yes I will. But Holland is my first choice and I think Wilmots understood. I still have family in Ivory Coast, by the way, but I’ve never visited. My mum is Dutch, we’d go to Ivory Coast when I was 18 years old but I’m 22 years old now and it hasn’t happened. Should I get official playing time versus Luxembourg, the decision will be made. My parents support me fully.

This was a good and interesting year. I was loaned out to Bournemouth. I didn’t play a minute in the first months but I got my chance and took it. Coach Conte called me personally to say he wanted to get me back in the winter. I think I can now determine myself, what will happen. Next season, I will get my chance and I want to play as much as possible. I can play on several positions but my favorite spot is the left central position. But we’ll see whether Chelsea will offer me playing time… Time will tell.”

vince marok

Vincent Janssen – Spurs

“My first season at Tottenham is behind me now. I don’t think it was what I hoped for, in terms of playing time. That is quite clear I suppose. But I do notice I have grown as a player. Last year around this time we had an Oranje camp in Portugal as well, and I can feel I’m much stronger and quicker in my handling the ball. The last few months I was much more settled at Spurs but hey, we won 12 out of 13 games in the EPL and were in good form, so the coach didn’t have much reasons to give me more time. The team was doing so well. What will happen the next season? I am not sure. It’s not just me who determines this of course. The coach didn’t do a personal assessment with all the players, he basically just thanked the group. Individual talks is more a Dutch thing I suppose.

I hoped the KNVB would have gone on with Danny Blind. This is the first time in career I deal with the sacking of a coach. And I still owe a lot of gratitude to Danny Blind for his confidence. He allowed me my debut and he let me play ten international games. I spoke to him after he was let go. I haven’t spoken to Mr Advocaat yet, but i worked with him earlier, when he was assistant and he’s very present, dominant and had numerous tips for me.”


Jesper Cillesen – Barcelona

“I’m happy that I could finish the season with Barca winning a prize I actually contributed to. The cup tournament became my tournament. And I do like some more of that taste. It will be an interesting summer, you never know what to expect in the summer. Anything can happen now, with Valverde coming in as the new coach. It’s been really intense. The step from Ajax to Barcelona is quite big. On the pitch, but also off the pitch. In terms of tactics, mentally… I had times where I hit a wall.

But I have become a better goalie. I’m dealing with the best forwards on the planet. When I first started in practice, Messi would hit the target with a venom and precision I didn’t get at Ajax. In those first weeks I felt like I was in 2011, when I became part of the Dutch squad while still at NEC! But, I do stop shots by Neymar, Messi, Suarez on training. I am used to the pace now. I’m ambitious though, I want to become the #1 goalie here. Even though Ter Stegen has just renewed his contract, I’ll will go head to had with him. I feel good about it.”

oranje training lagos

Frans Hoek (right) amazed by Martins Indi’s haircut
Daley Blind, Davy Klaassen, Jeremain Lens, Arjen Robben, Kevin Strootman, Stefan de Vrij and Gini Wijnaldum also made it later to the squad due to obligations elsewhere.

In total, Oranje has 28 in the group to prepare for the friendlies. Dick Advocaat: “We decided on a bigger group as some players will come to the training camp later due to obligations. We don’t know how fit they will be. We need to prepare for the worst and at this stage it won’t be harmful to have a bigger group with some younger, fresher players as Oranje is in transition.”

By the way, Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) will not be part of the Moroccan squad. The playmaker who could be so potent for Oranje decided to go for Morocco but the relationship between him and the French coach of Morocco is troubled. Renard first ignored the former Heerenveen talent for the Africa Cup, now Ziyech decided to sit the NT out until Renard is removed…

grim toornstra

New boys Jens Toornstra and Sergio Padt (goalie Groningen)

Other “Dutchies” in the Moroccan squad: King Karim El Ahmadi (Feyenoord), Nordin Amrabat (Watford), Mimoun Mahi (FC Groningen), Sofyan Amrabat and Yassin Ayoub (both with FC Utrecht).

There is one player not selected who did make some headlines. Ryan Babel (ex-Ajax, ex-Liverpool) is now 30 years old and found his second wind, winning the title in Turkey (under Big Dick’s nose!) with Besiktas. The former Oranje winger tweeted: “Disappointed that Oranje doesn’t seem to need my services”. He said later: “Somehow in Holland people think my career is over. I’ve been under the radar too much probably, but I’m back at my best now. I think I am able to support Oranje in these crucial times.”

babel marok

Ryan Babel screams “Whyyyy Dick???”

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Oranje: where to now?

So Fred Grim will go into the history books as the worst team manager EVER! He lost all the games he was in charge of! 100% score in losing!!

Just kidding of course, poor fellow. But, he might be in charge even for the Luxembourg game and in that case he might actually up his score, from 0% wins to 50% wins…

So, Oranje played a friendly no one really wanted. The whole nation was in mourning. The KNVB expected 40,000 fans to come and yell abuse at the players, staff and KNVB officials. With Italy as opponent, it was highly likely that we’d lose yet again…so what was the whole fukcing use of a friendly 3 days AFTER an official qualification game?

But the reception of the fans was not as bad as expected. The fans know that now the team needs the full support. Even if it was the team that led them (the fans) down. But that is football: the coach is end responsible and accountable so the coach needs to go while the ones who actually performed lousy get to stay, play and say meaningless things after the game.

Hoek grim ital

After the Bulgaria game, more news came out about Blind’s utter and complete misjudgement of the Bulgarian tactics. He expected them to park the bus and expected to have 65% possession. His analysis and the views of the people in his team confirmed this.

The reality was: Bulgaria doesn’t even respect us anymore and they played the high-press (on De Ligt!) from the first minute. Our build-up was pathetic all day long (also with Hoedt by the way) and our positioning (Strootman!) amateuristic.

Blind wasn’t able to help the team change their tactics in that first half and the players weren’t capable of doing so either.

They kept on trying to build up from the back, with players who are not really known for these qualities. Karsdorp is great running down the channel but played his third cap so can’t be expected to bully his team mates into something else. Zoet does not have the shrewdness and experience Stekelenburg has while De Ligt and Martins Indi are simply not good enough to play out from the back.

This got Strootman to drop deeper to collect the ball which totally unhinged our team and Bas Dost was as a result very hard to reach.

stroot ital

Grim made some changes vs Italy. Still Zoet on goal, but Hoedt and Martins Indi in the heart of defence with Tete for Karsdorp. The midfield was – surprisingly – left as it was vs Bulgaria.

The desire was there, the intensity and pace was better. This is/was something that could and should have been the case vs Bulgaria as well. For me, whether Ronald McDonald, The Pope or Louis van Gaal is the coach, you always need to have this in your backpack. The days that ball skills were enough to win are over. Every team/nation (Germany, Italy, France) will have the ability to deliver this at will. Like Italy.

Robben Sneijder italy

Wes: “Arjen, whatever you do: don’t get Van Gaal back!!”

We needed a double deflection to score our goal. They needed three Oranje mistakes to get their two goals.

Losing 1-2 vs Italy while there were good chances for us to finish 2-2 is not a big drama for me, as it was a friendly.

Fred Grim: “We showed some more energy, some flair. I’m not too disappointed to be honest. We straightened our backs. It was a tough week for all of us and given all that, I cannot be displeased.” Asked about his future: “I am only here because of this game. When Danny was let go, he called me and said: make sure you stay for the team and do your utmost to right the ship. We’ve got 40,000 fans who paid money to see us Tuesday and you need to have the team respond”. I think my future is vague. I’ll find out I guess. The KNVB will have to say what they think is needed. This might be my first and last game in charge, but some suggest that the search for a new coach might take until June (when the seasons end) and I might be in charge against Luxembourg as well.”

memphis ital

I personally like the team without a Dost-style striker. I think our game doesn’t fit his strengths. It’s been demonstrated a couple of times, also with Luuk de Jong in the Dost-role, so to speak.

We are more in need of fluid, dynamic players, like Memphis, Robben and Promes with the added value of Janssen’s hold up play and ability to “bounce”.

The main topic for me, is not so much who will play where.

The main topic for me is: who will be our new coach, what does the KNVB want from that coach and how will they support him?

And on top of that: what structural / strategic changes will the KNVB make internally to allow for a bright future? Incl. development of talent, development of coaches and development of a football philosophy. For Oranje but also for Dutch football in general.


At this point in time, Hans van Breukelen is the man responsible for selecting the coach and supporting the coach. But Hans van Breukelen is also walking around like a wounded deer. Will he still be there in 5 months? Or has he suffered too much damage already? Astute coach candidates will want to know what the deal is. And who will be assessing Hans van Breukelen’s work? His coach selection? His instructions for the coach? Jean Paul Decossaux? A part time interim commercial director??

I’m sure a series of smart football people (Van Praag, Adriaanse, Van Hanegem, maybe Wim Jansen, Robben, Sneijder) will be asked for their opinions, but someone will have to make a firm decision. Judging how Hans van Breukelen managed Hans Jorritsma, Ruud Gullit and those clowns from the company he is related to does not instill a lot of confidence in me….

I don’t think a foreign top coach (Capello, Wenger, Schmidt, Klinsmann) will say yes to the job. For starters, they make 10 times more abroad than with Oranje, in terms of dollars. Secondly, they will think thrice before committing to this weak Oranje. And like I said before, the KNVB is in such a chaos that this role will have many red flags going up for any serious coach.

I also don’t believe that a foreign coach will work with our national team. Our culture, our competition, our language, etc will be a big hurdle. It’s also a prestige thing for the Dutch: we should be able to find a suitable candidate in our own ranks.


Even Dutch coaches will think thrice before committing to the job right now. It’s a snake pit.

Co Adriaanse won’t do it. Louis van Gaal already said he won’t come back as a coach, he will only consider the chair role at the KNVB (yes! Do it!). Ronald Koeman will not do it (“They had their chance. They decided differently and now we seem to be missing out on two major tournaments in a row!”). Frank de Boer wants to remain a club coach for now. Cocu and Van Bronckhorst are not ready yet. Dick Advocaat would not be a credible option after abandoning Oranje earlier for money.

So it seems Henk ten Cate and Ruud Gullit are the main candidates for the job. Ten Cate seems to have the best papers. He’s got international experience, loves attacking football, is tough and disciplined and has standing.

Gullit will have prestige to the hilt as well, internationally, but that won’t win you games. He’s a good people manager but probably not a good coach / trainer. He could do the figure head role but will need a strong field coach beside him.

Ten Cate worked in that role at Barca with Rijkaard, but Gullit is a different type of person than Rijkaard. The combination Gullit – Ten Cate or vice versa will not work, most likely. Too much similarities in their personality and I won’t be surprised if Ten Cate by now would not want to be an assistant anymore.

blind grim ital

The most important question is:

Do we focus on a short term success and aim for the World Cup qualification – against all odds- and bring in a crisis coach a la Van Gaal (De Mos, Ten Cate, Advocaat) or do we accept that the World Cup campaign is over and select a coach who can build and gel a new team towards 2020 and beyond, using the new generation of talents (Nouri, Vilhena, De Ligt, Bazoer, Tete, Memphis, Karsdorp, Bergwijn, Ramselaar, Ake). John van ‘t Schip could be considered. Alex Pastoor. Gullit with Rene Meulensteen. Or, why not Erwin Koeman? I don’t know…you name some….

memphis lion


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Dutch company goes all Moneyball on Football!

Most of us will have seen the movie Moneyball, with Brad Pitt? Based on a true story, a baseball team in the US picking and signing players purely based on specific qualities, which together would form a winning team. The club would sign a miss match of cheap or even unknown players, causing frowns in foreheads of other managers, thinking: what are they smoking? But it worked. For a spell. We do need to add that the club actually never won the World Series, so it’s not like it’s a guaranteed recipe for success, but they did get attention.

A Dutch company seems to step into the shoes of Messrs Pitt and co. to revolutionise the way we look at new players and valuable players. In these past week, clubs, managers, scouts, players were busy trying to sort deals in the winter transfer window. Busy times for Giels Brouwer as well. Who? Giels Brouwer: the founder of SciSports, a Dutch company keen to make the difference: “I believe it with all my heart: math will be the foundation of football!”.


So what do they do?

SciSports uses date to generate new insights into football. They have developed three products:

1. BallJames; allowing them to use real-time images into 3D data
2. SciSports Intelligence; develops algorythms to make this data visual
3. DataScouting is a virtual football consultant and talent scout

SciSports is located in Enschede (East of The Netherlands, where FC Twente is) and employs 45 people. Their database has stats of 300,000 players, up to the 2nd division.

He himself runs on Saturday afternoons along the sideline as left winger of Terschuurse Boys 4. “I can’t play, really”, the 27 year old says, when he joins Marcel Brands of PSV, or the Arsenal management or the technical committee of the Belgium football federation.  Or when he travels to Silicon Valley on the invite of the European Union.

His company SciSports is seen as a potential unicorn. A company potentially worth billions in the future. “It’s so surreal. On Saturday arvo, my coach benches me because I’m not good enough, the next day I’m in San Francisco with a self driving car next to me at the traffic lights, or I’m presenting my products before the board of Man United.

giel brouwer

Brouwer (left) with co-founder Babic

So please explain: Justin Kluivert is hot now. What do you know about him that I don’t?

“That’s too hard. He hasn’t played a handful of starting games. We need 15 to 20 games to make a good indication of a players’ potential. We don’t have a partnership with Ajax, so we don’t have his data from the youth academy. With PSV, we are at that point. Based on the youth data of PSV, I can tell you here and now that Kenneth Paal will be a top player for us.”


,,Haha. In our reporting, it appears that teams play better and get better results with him. He’s in our National Team of the Future. We help clubs identify players. A club can ask us: “We want a type of player like Memphis!”. Then we try to find players like Depay who are affordable. We have a database of 300,000 players and we can determine the impact of a player on a team. Not unlike Moneyball. Trying to find the new Kante or Vardy.”


SciSports offer more than data. “Clubs can also ask about negative aspects of a player. Was he drinking and driving? Has ie been suspended by his club? Did he injure a team mate. We have all these data. But it’s only a part of our service. Our core focus is the performance and statistics.”

In 2007, Brouwer commenced his studies at the Technical University in Enschede. Joop Munsterman, CEO of FC Twente opened his eyes during a guest lecture. “He told us about Twente’s technical management and how they did their transfer decision making. I was flabberhasted! I was a big player of Football Manager and I thought this was how it went in the real world. But Munsterman said it was all intuition! There are so many ways to scout a player, but FC Twente was doing it all in 1920 style. So I thought, I’ll build a Football Manager system, for the real world.”

In 2012, it all started for real. “I was in Ukraine for the Euros and I got a text message from a Twente scout. “Do you know a good player for us?”. And I thought, fuck it, I’m going to do this!”

Last year, SciSports assisted with 13 transfers, for Sparta, Vitesse, Twente, Heracles and Genk. At Heracles, they’ve installed 14 3D cameras which collate data for SciSports. “It’s all so basic still, but we’re moving fast. I hired 3 more people last month.”


What was the first big name player you found?

“Wout Weghorst. He was told FC Emmen didn’t want him anymore. But based on our data, he was excellent. Always scoring important goals, always on the right spot. The rest is history. SciSports brought him to Heracles and now he’s the new striker of AZ and no one misses Vincent Janssen. AZ is not his final station, I can alert you to that now.”

So the Dutch Eredivisie has a lot of potential still?

“Without any data to support this statement: Kasper Dolberg. But if you check the data results, Joey Groenbast of Go Ahead Eagles, the right back. And El Azzouzi of Sparta has potential. But the most influential player in the Eredivisie is Joel Veltman.”


“You wouldn’t think that, but yes, based on his stats. I would not have expected that either. But when he plays, Ajax doesn’t concede a lot and he’s always involved with the build up leading to goals. Our main question is always: what is the impact of a player on the team. That is key. Data will never replace the usual football processes of course, it doesn’t say anything about group dynamics. But it helps with generating insight to improve the game. It supports the coach. We help clubs by taking the noise out of the stats. It’s also confirming the ideas of scouts or giving them the devil’s advocate angle. I do believe that math can be the foundation of success in sports. It’s not perfect, but it’s less imperfect that the eye of the individual.”


Any tips for clubs?

“If any club is looking for a winger, I’d go watch SV Eupen in Belgium and sign Henry Onyekuru. A top player!”

SciSports is going like a rocket. But only a couple of years ago, it looked bleak. Two co-founders decided to leave the company and go for a job while Giel realised his savings account was as good as empty. In 2015, the turnaround came when Rapid Wien came and needed help finding a player. That made the penny drop. “We were focusing on the Dutch market but now realised we could easily expand internationally.”

Today, SciSports works for 50 clubs, from Heracles to Valencia, from Besiktas to Lazio Roma. SciSports offers monthly subscription for data reports and analyses to more than a dozen clubs, and counting.

“The Big Clubs such as Man City have their own data teams. They don’t need us per se, but lots of clubs can’t afford that so they are our target market.”

The Dutch National Team of Tomorrow (according to SciSports)

NT future

Then there is the captain of Heracles, Mark Jan Fledderus. He visits SciSports regularly to analyse the qualities of his direct opponent of the up coming match. The BallJames service focuses on details. Like the first touch of a player, or the power of the player’s headers, or the running patterns of teams… Ball James is still an infant, and a loss making activity. “But that will change, I’m sure. The potential is amazing and we are getting so many requests. all football clubs I talk to want it.”

Brouwer is now a player in the world of football. He has lunch with Bryan Roy, has weekly phone calls with Mark Overmars, receives signed jersey from Robin van Persie and rubs shoulders with Silicon Valley based investors.

“I didn’t start this to become a millionaire. It’s nice if it happens, but my aim was and is to make the football sports more beautiful….”

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Gini Wijnaldum: I feel stronger than ever…

Next month Georginio Wijnaldum will celebrate 10 years on the highest level as pro football player. But the Liverpool midfielder is only 26 years old! He might have another 10 years ahead of him, who knows. The AD interviewed him on Mersey-side.

The interview is executed at the Hilton Liverpool. The waiter comes checking on him again. Every couple of minutes. “Is everything alright sir?”. Wijnaldum has a wry smile. “Yes, I’m fine, thank you…” It’s probably Wijnaldum’s life motto.

It’s almost 10 years since we saw Wijnaldum make his debut. The 2006/2007 season. Feyenoord vs FC Groningen. Coach Erwin Koeman allowed the youngster (16 years and 149 days old) his debut. Now, he’s active in the top of the EPL (like his former Feyenoord coach, who’s assistant coach at Everton). He looks at a photo from his debut, in De Kuip. “Hey look, it’s Karim Saidi! And there is Lindgren…wow time flies!”

gini debut

Making his debut for Feyenoord at 16

We’re 10 years further now. And between the first coach – Erwin Koeman – and current coach Klopp there were a number of other coaches of repute. Still, you feel Klopp is the best?

Wijnaldum: ,,Yes he is. He is so intense, so passionate. And he’s real. Authentic. He does make players and teams better. Not one or two. All of them. The way we play, with lots of movement, high press, creating space, the pace of the ball, you need to be top top fit! Our practice sessions are seriously tougher than the match. Literally, everything we do, we do at match-intensity.”

You worked under Louis van Gaal as well. But Klopp is better?

“Yes, but I didn’t work with Louis van Gaal at a club. It’s different. His practices were very good too. But I work with Klopp on a daily basis. They’re both real people, they both love their players. You can feel it. Van Gaal is simply amazing. When we started our WC campaign in 2014, he said: Gini, you might start in a controlling role in the team. Danny (Blind) says you are able to do it. I’m doubting it, but we will give it a go.”

Is that not a bit too honest?

“Why? I think it’s cool. He says what he thinks. And you could always debate him. I never saw him angry or pissed off. The WC in Brazil was special, unique. Before the match for the 3rd place against Brazil he called me out. He said “Shouldn’t you get on the score sheet now?”. And I did! I spoke about this with Leroy Fer. We grew up together. We’re very close. And we both scored at a World Cup. That is pretty special.”

fer gini oranje

With buddy Fer in Oranje U17

You say Klopp and Van Gaal are top coaches, and you immediately talk about their honesty?

“Well I have not worked with any coach that I couldn’t deal with, to be honest. And I am proud of the coaches I worked with: Erwin Koeman, Bert van Marwijk, Gertjan Verbeek, Leon Vlemmings, Mario Been, Dick Advocaat, Fred Rutten, Phillip Cocu, Louis van Gaal, Danny Blind, Steve McClaren, Rafa Benitez and Jürgen Klopp. Not bad eh? When Advocaat was coach at PSV, he once put Toivonen on my spot, the #10. I was pissed off then. I still am, hahaha. And I told him last summer at Oranje. But Advocaat followed his truth and was honest and open about it. I can accept that. Mario Been put me on the #10 role, that was special. Everyone in Holland said I didn’t have the vision, I was too individual but he saw it. And he took the risk with me and Leroy. Fred Rutten is like Klopp. The way he organises training sessions, patterns etc. But no one has the passion Klopp has. Wonderful.”

He’s German. Does this mean training really hard?

,,I think of all the players in Oranje, Vincent Janssen and I train the hardest of all. I spoke with Pochettino of Spurs before Liverpool came. It was a really good talk, lovely man.”

The Rotterdam-born midfielder chose Anfield over White Hart Lane in the summer, although strictly speaking there was no choice as Tottenham Hotspur did not meet Newcastle United’s £25m asking price, and has settled seamlessly into a team of increasing substance.

“I had great conversations with Pochettino and Klopp,” says the Dutch international. “But in the meeting with Jürgen we had a laugh and did not speak only about football. He was interested in my personal life and that was good for me. He was not only interested in Wijnaldum the footballer but Wijnaldum the person. When you’re not out on the football field you have to communicate as people and it is good if you know something about how the other person is. It makes things easier. So I didn’t really get an offer from Spurs, but I do speak with Vincent a lot. And he has had barely a day off at Spurs. I don’t think I had one day off from December 21 till end of January. I hardly give interviews, simply coz I don’t have time for it.”

So no comparison with Holland?

“No! In Holland we don’t really train. We simply maintain our condition. I didn’t realise this when I was in Holland. At PSV I sometimes complained but our physical coach Kiesouw said it always: you don’t train hard at all. If you go abroad, you’ll find out what training is.”

Could it be that some players will decide not to want to play for these types of coaches?

“Well, if you don’t want this, you should not want to be top. Then you need to play at a lower level. If you want to reach the ultimate, this is the way.”

Some people say: Liverpool and Tottenham will collapse in March/April. Injuries, fatigue. You guys didn’t start well in 2017 because you’re too tired?

“I don’t agree. I never felt this strong. Sometimes we have to run a kilometer in 3 minutes and 50 seconds. Then directly we need to go and play a match on a small pitch and immediately after that, another kilometer in the same time. And that goes on for the whole session. Trust me, you’re dead after that. But you need to be able to find a way to remain tight in the passing, to play the right ball, to pass with precision. Klopp tells us we can manage to control the last stage of the game.”


Things are looking up for you at Liverpool. How’s the National Team going now?

“I didn’t watch the Euros, I only watched the final. I wanted to spend time with my family and friends instead but, to be honest, I was done with football for a few weeks because everything had gone wrong. Personally it was a great year but when you don’t achieve things with your team, and especially if you get relegated (with Newcastle), it is hard. I was a little bit done with football but Moussa [Sissoko, of France] is a good friend of mine so I thought I should watch him in the final. The Euros was a really big disappointment but relegation with Newcastle was for me even bigger. Before I went to Newcastle I spoke with the manager and the people there and they had big plans to bring good players in and play for titles. I was really disappointed because I wanted to achieve something with Newcastle. Even if it was not a title I wanted to help the club get back to fifth-to-10th place to start with, and maybe get the club back into Europe again. Unfortunately it didn’t go that way. It went totally wrong. That was the biggest disappointment for me last season.”

Wijnaldum talks more Oranje: “I am quite confident we can build our national team up to a good level. We might not longer be the dominant force, or a title candidate, but with players like Robben, Strootman, Van Dijk, Blind and other, I’m sure we can make it hard for any opponent. We just need to have our key players fit. There is so much young talent coming through. And I know what Memphis is capable of. He’ll get back to good form, I’m sure!”

gini messi
Four months into his Liverpool career and Wijnaldum has rediscovered the feeling he had during his final season at PSV Eindhoven when, as captain, he led Phillip Cocu’s team to their first league title since 2008. He will not say whether Liverpool can end a much longer wait for a league title this season. To do so would run contrary to everything Klopp demands of his players, indeed the entire club, in his quest for constant improvement, although the midfielder admits Liverpool have confidence they can win every game at present. “There is no chance of us getting carried away,” he says. “That comes from the manager. Even if we have played a good game he still wants to work on the things that didn’t go so well. Every time you have to give 100%. It’s the same every week and in every training session. Every exercise we do he asks us to do it at 100% and never less.”

Wijnaldum adds: “I feel like I did at PSV. The most important thing is to enjoy football because you don’t know how long your career is going to last, but it is difficult when things don’t go well. It was difficult to enjoy last season. You are losing games, everything is going bad, you don’t play well and in the end you get relegated. That was hard.

“This season I started to enjoy it as soon as I knew Liverpool really wanted to sign me, especially after the meeting with Jürgen. I came away from that with a really great feeling that I could train with a good manager, a really good team and make myself a better player. I’m probably enjoying it now more than I did before because I have seen the other side of football where I was losing a lot of games and got relegated with Newcastle and didn’t go to the Euros. These are better days.

debuut gini oranje

Scoring on his debut, for Oranje
“Every training session we do is to improve you as a player. That’s different to what I’ve experienced before and I’m really happy with it. The manager gives you confidence. He’s not a manager who yells at you or gets angry with you whenever you make a mistake. He will only get mad if you don’t do the things you are good at so, for example, [Sadio] Mané is a good player who can dribble, [Philippe] Coutinho is a good player who can dribble and if they stop doing that there’s a chance he might get mad and upset because you are not using your quality. Against Southampton last week he wanted me to make a run. I did it but it was too late and he said something about it. But sometimes, if I lose the ball easily, I expect him to be angry and he’s not. You can hear his voice easily enough – he’s quite loud. He is really passionate and not only in the game. People might see him during a game and think that’s an act. It’s not an act. He’s like that in training. For me that’s a good thing because it keeps you sharp and, from his side, he is doing everything he can to make the team ready to win games. That’s a good thing.”

The Holland international has a more defensive role at Liverpool than at Newcastle, where he operated out wide or as a No10, but Klopp did not outline a specific role when they met in the summer. “He explained his way of playing and said that I would fit in. From that moment I was very excited,” says Wijnaldum who, for his part, neglected to mention inspiring Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat of Liverpool at St James’ Park in December. “At the time he still had to make me an offer so I thought it is probably best to say nothing about that game, although it was a good one for me.”
Wijnaldum admits that “in different circumstances” he would have “loved to have worked longer” with Benítez. “But I had my plans in my head and we both went our own way. He said he wanted to keep me to get promoted and that the right offer had to be made before I could leave. Once everything was done he said Liverpool was a wonderful club and that he hoped I’d enjoy it here.”

gini psv new look

Big money move to PSV (to aid fledging Feyenoord) and with new look

A more formative influence currently resides across Stanley Park. Erwin Koeman, assistant to his brother, Ronald, at Everton, was the Feyenoord coach who gave Wijnaldum his debut in April 2007; the midfielder became the club’s youngest debutant, in a team featuring Pierre van Hooijdonk and Angelos Charisteas, Greece’s European Championship-winning striker, against a Groningen side featuring one Luis Suárez.

“The game was on the Sunday and he told me on the Wednesday that I would be playing,” he recalls of the elder Koeman. “That was a really special moment. I realised that not every trainer has the balls to let a 16-year-old play in the first team and things were not going so well for the team at that time so they didn’t want to take the risk with young players. I was 16 years and 148 days old. That is why I always respect him as a trainer, because he made a decision that other trainers would have been scared to make. He told me I could tell my grandma, who I was living with at the time, but asked me not to tell anyone in school. I was still at school and he wanted to keep it a secret. You know how it is with reporters. It was very difficult to concentrate on class.”

While Wijnaldum is effusive in his praise of past and present coaches, it is his grandmother Francina to whom he owes the greatest gratitude. As he explains: “I wanted to be a gymnast when I was young, I used to do backflips and all those things in the street and at home, but my grandma said it was dangerous and made me stop. Now my daughter is doing gymnastics and I’m a little bit jealous of her because she is doing all the things I wanted to do when I was young. I had to stop and concentrate on football but I’m happy about that now.”

First senior goal Wijnaldum

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Robin van Persie is back!

We’re smack in the middle of one of those generation gaps. It happens with smaller football nations. Belgium’s gaps are longer than their peaks. Denmark had a trough but seems to be coming back. Hungary is been missing in action for 50 years. We have had them before. Right after the 1970s golden years was the biggest one of course. NT coach Danny Blind did not pick an easy road. After two World Cup top 4 spots and the Golden Four entering their autumn (Robben, Sneijder, Van Persie) and winter stages (Van der Vaart),

We discuss our current top players (a utility player of Liverpool, a box to box player at Swansea, a make shift center back at Watford, a bench warmer at Man United, an inconsistent right back at Feyenoord) and even throw some players in the mix who hardly played a handful of top flight games for their Euro sub top club (Nouri, Diks).

Robben and Sneijder are the two old hands who help Blind carry the load. Robin van Persie should be the third world class player to return to the fold, in my honest opinion. He’s been in the cold for a couple of seasons now, but Robin is back. Fighting fit and motivated. His story…

robin smiles

Currently, Robin van Persie (33)is in his best period in years, as the Fenerbahce striker. Blind still doesn’t give him a look in at Oranje. Robin’s views… “The team manager makes the decisions. Not me. It’s that simple. But, the team is in transition and why wouldn’t I be able to help?”

His wide open mouth, the near insane look in his eyes. These images are still everywhere in Istanbul. On the front pages, posters and Turkish tv. Even in commercials. Robin van Persie, wild with joy, scoring against arch rival Galatasaray (2-0).

Even now, weeks later, this is still the topic that matters. “Oh man! The joy I felt. It was a serious explosion. Everything tried to get out. Literally, everything. I needed that!”


Robin van Persie clenches his fist when he says this, in the relax room of the Fener training complex, in the Asian part of town. Historical black and white pics on the wall. “A few days before the match I visited a Turkish friend, and he told me: as long as you haven’t scored against Gala, you are not really a Fener player.” And he meant it. All supporters think like this. You can play well, you can score a lot, all well and good, but what really counts here is being the decider of the derby.”

And we see it a day later in the Sukru stadium, when Van Persie plays versus Besiktas (0-0). His difficult first season at the club, it hasn’t had any negative influence on his popularity with the Blue-Yellow fans. He is the first player they cheer and call to the fan-zone behind the goal for a crazy cheering ritual. An ear deafening roar comes into the stadium. Dick Advocaat: “Robin is the most popular player here. But, that already was the case before the Gala match.”

robin fey

Advocaat has said it before. His striker is top fit, fresh in his head and pretty darn good. Against his old club Feyenoord, Van Persie didn’t shine but he played a solid role in service of the team. And in mid week games, his coach tends to rest the old fox. He’s not 22 anymore but he is the number one striker for Fenerbahce. His statistics are clear in the months October and November. The player starts to look more and more like his old self.

“Fun, just pure fun! Fun in playing, the matches, the practices. Carefully prepared passing and finishing practices. Sharp games. Even a good warming up is something to cherish. When expectations are high, I can perform at my best. I missed that drive, to be honest with you. Last season was no fun. My last season at Man United wasn’t great either. It was a struggle in many ways. And you only notice this when the joy is back. That gives you a mental boost. It’s liberating and I think it also affects your physical strength and fitness.”

You were presented as a super signing, but you couldn’t deliver on that promise. At all.

“I know what you mean. Things didn’t go the way I wanted it. There were several factors at play. I personally think the “he is not fit” element wasn’t even that big a thing. The media and the outside world made that more important. There were other things too. I am not the kind to look back in anger and say nasty things about people, but lets just say that things turned around very positively when Dick Advocaat came. However, I did score 22 goals last season, so it wasn’t that big a drama I don’t think.”

“Crisis? What Crisis??”

How was Advocaat turning things around?

“He makes the difference, with Cor Pot and Mario Been. The way we train, the way we play, the discipline in and off the pitch, the clarity in the vision. We had a good meeting, when Dick came in and he was honest, sharp and critical. He said “I have high expectations of you. I want you to carry the team, to lead”. I enjoy that Dutch directness. That is what we need.”

You did have a personal trainer working with you for months. He even lived with the family. Did that work?

“For sure! I needed to do more in that period. I felt that, but I couldn’t fit it into the usual practice sessions. I have now ended those personal sessions but it has strengthened my foundation, that is what it is. The last percentages of progress I booked through playing matches.”

When Dick Advocaat came in August, he was sceptical about the striker. Again, Robin was injured. The former Zenit and Sunderland coach wanted to see what Robin could do. Advocaat: “I had my doubts yes. No team can carry a player who can’t reach a certain level anymore. Not in the big games. But, when you saw his fitness return, you could easily see what an incredible player he still is.”

Dick RVP

Still, a return to Oranje is not happening. When Vincent Janssen and Luuk de Jong demonstrated to lack form and rhythm, against Belgium and Luxembourg, Blind still didn’t make that call. Dick Advocaat decides to pass on this topic. “It’s sensitive in any situation for a coach to make a comment about that, but I assisted Danny for a spell so it’s not appropriate for me to comment. But, I am happy that I don’t need to make those decisions.”

Van Persie takes a breath and moves around a bit when the subject is broached. “I want to pick my words properly but I don’t want to beat around the bush. But, for starters, it’s the coach’ decision. That is how it works. But, I think I have earned the right to say something about it, based on my history with Oranje? And why wouldn’t I be able to give my viewpoint?”

And how do you see it?

“When I see Vincent Janssen play, I can see he is a good striker. For real. He’s got the intuition, the work ethics, he has courage and confidence. But, I can also see little things in his game that can improve. It’s details, I know, but I am sure I can help him. This is how Ruud van Nistelrooy worked with me. Obviously, Vincent needs to be open to it, but I’ve played eleven seasons in the EPL and scored a couple of goals for Oranje so I think I can help in this process. Obviously, it’s weird to be saying this knowing that Luuk de Jong and Bas Dost will not be too happy with me talking myself into the squad… I do respect them as players as well.”


Could you live with a role as second striker?

“I probably couldn’t four years ago, haha, but when things are made clear and there is communication and the first striker is the man in form and better than, why not? And you can make decisions based on the game at hand. I can play in four roles upfront. Here at Fener I play the #10 role as well at times. If there is a will, we can find a way. And I’m no fool! I know the generation Sneijder/Robben/Van Persie/Van der Vaart is phasing out. That is only natural. The Dutch NT is in a transformation stage and Janssen might well be the striker for the next ten years. But that will not happen within a day or week or month. Why wouldn’t I be able to support that process?”

It seems that Blind doesn’t recognise this role in you?

“It’s quite possible we don’t have a click personally. And that’s ok. But I do hope the professional will win against the personal. It’s not about him or me. It’s about Oranje. That is the main thing.”

Things happened between you and Memphis on the training pitch, among other things. Could the past play a role?

“I don’t know. I can be quite direct, I know. But in some case it is needed. It’s part of top sports. If you want to be top and perform to the max, you need to be able to tell each other your truth. And a clash, sharp, head to head, it’s ok. It’s not always a bad thing. And then you need to be able to let it go. I actually saw Memphis at Man United some time back and asked him: Memphis, you still pissed off at me. And he said no. So that’s it. Done. And I have always put a lot of energy in young players. I love that. Talking, helping, feel free to ask them.”

RVP Memphis

Can you imagine Blind might think: Van Persie in a secondary role, that’s not going to work?

“No idea. He might think that. But, it’s a matter of management, isn’t it? That is important in being a coach, apart from coaching. It’s managing the personalities in a team. I scored twice against Gala, but for the next game against Zorya, three days later, Advocaat told me: you won’t play. And I said: What? I feel great. I want to play! But Advocaat said he felt the next competition game was more important. End of story. And that’s cool. It’s clear and open and honest. I’m now 33 years old. I’m starting to wisen up a bit.”

But in all seriousness, the last couple of years, the coaches of Oranje would not have a lot of reason to select you. You didn’t play great and you weren’t fit

“I hear what you say. I sort of lost the fun in the game. And I have to blame myself for this. But not every period is the same. People will say I am biased, but I did have some good periods as well.”

Like right before this last international break, for the Luxembourg and Belgium games?

“Yes exactly. And I do get Oranje is in a process and Blind is looking for consistency and all that. You want to grow and develop towards the World Cup. That is the way to do it, but at the same time, football is also today. Now. You need to get results now as well.”

RVP oranje

Did Blind ever call you or ask you about this other role in the squad?

“No he didn’t and to be honest, that puzzles me a bit. I mean, if he doesn’t want to select me, fine. That is his prerogative. He is the coach. But Danny worked with me in his time as assistant of Van Gaal and I think we worked well together. We’ve known each other for years. Why wouldn’t you just pick up the phone and talk about it? You don’t have to go with my ideas, but why not talk about it? I can be a reasonable guy, hahaha.”

And if Blind calls tomorrow, would you come? Or would you want a firm meeting before deciding?

“I always maintained, that playing for your country is a true and huge honour. I don’t have any reason to view that differently now. That talk will come anyway. But I will never say no to Oranje. It’s too valuable for me.”

Van Persie played 101 caps for Holland. When a player reaches 100 games, he usually is presented with a beautiful scale. The KNVB decided to simply mail the thing out in October, using regular post, to Instanbul. No one at the KNVB took the trouble to visit him, take him out to dinner… Or invite him as guest to an Oranje game. Van Persie had himself and wife Bouchra photographed with the thing, sitting on his sofa, with a grin on his face. And what a contrast with the welcome he received at Old Trafford or in De Kuip last Thursday. He was subbed in the 75th minute and received a tremendous applause. In Manchester, he even got a standing ovation when he scored against Man United. “Those were goosebumps moments. Really, the warmth and respect in England. The moment I got off the plane in Manchester I felt it. It was great. We lived there quite a while and I feel good in England.”

VP 100 club

But the pics on Twitter of you with that KNVB scale? That was a subtle statement? We are not that good in Holland in honouring our top athletes.

“But I do feel the respect and acknowledgement from the Dutch fans. Of course, receiving this in a stadium, with fans in the stands is much more fun and valuable, but that chance might come one day. I am proud anyway.”

In Turkey, the adoration goes beyond what we believe to be normal. Have you gotten used to that?

“We really enjoy life here. The people, the city, life in general. We feel at home and the kids too. I think I’ve become a bit of a Turk myself. I love Tavla, a sort of Turkish backgammon game. Amazing game. And I bought a special table for it, hahaha. My Turkish team mates love it too. But I can win against them now, so they don’t enjoy it too much anymore.”

And do you feel safe here? A lot has happened recently, with even a political coup?

“True, and people do talk about this. We do feel connected to the nation and we try to follow the news. We talk to people about it. Bouchra is always busy helping asylum kids from Syria, with other players wives. A lot is going on in the world, not just here. It’s frightening at times. Sure. And we do see security as a big theme. We will take that into account when we take our next step.”

robin bouchra dinner

Do you feel safe here?

“Yes I do. The last months are quiet. Istanbul is not unstable but listen, we are privileged. 99% of the other people have bigger worries than we. I’m a well payed player, I live in a beautiful home in a secure compound. I don’t think we would be the first to complain about feeling unsafe.”

(Note JR: and just this morning the news broke of a bomb exploding at Istanbul train station 🙁 )

Life was different last August. You weren’t happy with coach Pereira, there was the coup, I’m sure you must have considered leaving?

“We discussed all options, yes. And there were opportunities to consider and good offers. And we weighed everything, the football, family, security, etc. In that stage, only Wesley was here in Istanbul, as a Dutchman. But within weeks, we saw Nigel de Jong at Gala, Jan Olde Riekerink was here of course. Van der Wiel came to Fener, then Hoek as keeper trainer at Gala. Dick came here with Cor and Mario and then Lens showed up to play here. Really incredible. It all happened so quick and fell into place.”

So if Advocaat wouldn’t have come, would you be playing elsewhere?

“Hard to say, but it was a big factor in my decision. And pretty soon it all clicked. And I started to feel good and settled. I think I was fortunate that it all went as it went.


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Oranje on record run vs Luxembourg

The Dutch need the three points against Luxembourg. Period. All the other story angles are fluff. There is a record to be had as well though. Oranje has won 9 times in a row from Cyprus and Hungary before and can do the same with Luxembourg now. We played each other 16 times in history. With 13 wins for the Orange Lions.  Twice, the Dukes won. In 1963 Luxembourg beat Holland in De Kuip, 0-1. The last victory they had over us. The last two games we played against them though, we only scored once in every game too. In the 2008 Euros qualifications, under Van Basten, we won at home thanks to a Mathijsen goal and in the home game, it was Danny Koevermans who got us the goal and famously, Edwin van der Sar even played for time in the home game, to get the needed win across the line.

Koevermans pre lux

Luxembourg is seen as a football minion but they managed to be despicable in this WC series. They lost against Bulgaria in injury time, only lost 1-0 at home vs Sweden and got the draw vs Belarus! Former Willem II and RKC Waalwijk striker Joachim already has 3 goals to his name.

Jeffrey Bruma remembers the name, vaguely. Different than Griezmann, Gameiro, or Berg and Guidetti. But still a danger. Is Bruma capable of keeping his concentration vs Luxembourg: “Well, this away game will be different than the France or Belgium fixtures of course. Now it’s us who need to make the play. But we’re still Oranje. We are obliged to beat Luxembourg and we will!”.

The Belgium press was clear, after the Holland – Belgium derby. If Belgium could get two players in their team from Holland, they’d pick Van Dijk and Bruma to replace their modest players at the back, Kabasele (Watford) and Ciman (Montreal Impact).

v dijk bruma pre lux

Van Dijk and Bruma turn into a fine pairing at the back. “Well, if Stefan de Vrij is fit, it will still be a battle for a spot,” says Bruma. “But I did play every game under this coach. But I believe in competition. We need to fight for our spot, and I want to make it hard for the team manager.”

The former Chelsea prospect has 24 caps now, but his debut was already back in 2010. Finally, he believes he can be a mainstay. “I came from far. I had to miss a couple of tournaments. Even with Young Oranje. But I will always fight to come back. Same with Wolfsburg. I had a weak start but competed and battled and I’m back at level. I know that mentality is the key.”

Bruma played 11 internationals with Van Dijk at his side and is comfortable. “We do have a good click, on and off the pitch. He’s in the EPL, I’m in the Bundesliga. We both are up against top strikers every week. Luxembourg might be a minion, but watch it. They do have players who are with Schalke 04, Gent, Olympique Lyon, Metz… The time that these guys couldn’t play is over. Joachim is not an amateur. But even without Janssen and Lens and Schaars… we’ve got Robben back. And when Robben is on the pitch, you feel more confident. And the opponent knows what time it is, you know what I mean. They’ll always fear him. He alone can decide matches.”

nl pre lux

Joel Veltman and Marten de Roon

Lens would most likely not have played against Luxembourg. Which is why the Fener winger opted to go for a full match vs Belgium, despite not being 100% fit after a hamstring scare. And after  1 hour of play, the former PSV man got injured again. With the Turkish club furious for the risk Danny Blind took on him. There’s even talk that Blind ignored Dick Advocaat’s wishes to get back at him for leaving Blind high and dry as assistant coach, when he chose the money over loyalty. Danny Blind: “I heard these accusations too and it’s rubbish. I spoke to Dick and he told me Lens had an old knee irritation from his Sunderland days. I told him I wanted to use Lens vs Belgium and not against Luxembourg, and Dick was like “fine”.”

lens pre lux

Arjen Robben is happy to play against Luxembourg. It’s almost exactly one year since his last cap for Oranje. Robben: “I recently heard I have missed almost as many games due to injury as I have played. Incredible. But I’m happy to be fit and hope to stay fit for a long time. Every time I get injured I have to dig deep to come back, but when I do return, it feels like I’ve never been away.” The Bayern star shows confidence with his feet and lips: “It’s not about winning vs Luxembourg for me. It’s about winning with lots of goals. It will help us to create more confidence and moral support from the fans. It was painful to see so many empty spots in the Arena vs Belgium. We need to do better and against Luxembourg we can not allow them to breath even. Grab ‘m by the throat and keep on working them.” When asked if a 10-0 was possible, Robben laughed. “Well, those days are over. Not because we are not capable but the football dwarfs are not that easy to beat anymore. The gap between top and second tier is getting smaller and smaller.”

What does remain a big difference between top and second tier is the quality of the pitches. The Luxembourg pitch was used for a rugby match mere days ago and looks like a potato field. Robben: “We knew this and went a day early to check it out. We’ll be fine.”

virgil pre lux

Danny Blind: “We know the pitch isn’t great, but that will never be an excuse. You simply adapt. You can’t keep on wishing things to be different. It is how it is and we deal with it. We like a pitch that allows for nice passing play, but if it’s not like that, we can’t hide behind that. We’ll deal with it.”

Daley Blind will most likely play his 41st cap for Oranje and will join his dad Danny on the list of most capped internationals. Danny Blind made his Oranje debut against Luxembourg, interestingly enough. Other players to make their debut against the minions are Clarence Seedorf and Pierre van Hooijdonk. Marvin Zeegelaar could well be another one. For Sneijder, there is also a nice record up for grabs. Two actually. He played 125 caps for Oranje and is on his way to beat record international Van der Sar (with 130 caps). Should Wes score against Luxembourg, this would be the 25th nation he will score against. Only Huntelaar and Van Persie are ahead of him on this list.

blind 2 prelux

In the final presser before the game, Bind said he’d return to 4-3-3 for the Luxembourg game. “They will let us have the ball. We will dominate and attack and we’ll do so with three offensive midfielders.” The coach hasn’t released the line up but it seems that Dost will play for Janssen, Robben for Lens and Ramselaar will make his full debut in place of Schaars. It’s also highly likely that the weak Veltman will be replaced by Joshua Brenet, who is a much more attacking option on the flank.

Should Holland win vs Luxembourg (oooh… exciting!) it will jump to the 2nd spot in the group. Blind: “It was disappointing that Sweden couldn’t hold on to the 1-1.  We would have had a good view on the lead in the group. But, whatever France does, we simply need to win our games. And we’re all very aware.”

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Oranje draws, but takes a loss…

Or actually: three losses…

Friendlies are there for coaches to try things out, test the team, build confidence, let players gel together and for federations to make money….

However, prestigious friendlies against rivals might do the opposite: a loss will not build confidence and as Oranje already had to make so many changes, letting players gel together was a big ask.

And typically for the bigger mess we find ourselves in, Danny Blind loses three key players in run up to Luxembourg! Stijn Schaars: calf. Vincent Janssen: concussion. Jeremian Lens: hamstring.

Sure, it’s only Luxembourg, but again Blind needs to re-shuffle and again we will miss an opportunity to build on a new foundation.

Danny is almost able to field a complete team of players not available due to injuries or not available coz they don’t get playing time…

lens ham

The good thing is: Arjen Robben will be back.

Watching Nederland – Belgie was watching a team of top class players playing against a team of rookies, with one top class player: on the stands. And it was a boring ass game. Belgium didn’t seem to want too much, Holland couldn’t do too much.

Belgium is stacked with players from the big leagues / teams who clearly didn’t want to put too much into the game. As a result, they had nice dominance, nice possession, some flowing passing but no end product. Not having a real striker but Dries Mertens as a false nine didn’t serve them too well.

Defensively Belgium was vulnerable and looked off the pace at times but I don’t think they will have been too shocked with the Dutch attacks.

They have sensational players and I’m sure they’ll do well.

As for Oranje: yes we have injuries, yes we lack team composure and automatisms, but it was definitely not the sort of performance that instills confidence in the average fan (like me).

hazard sneijder

It was poor. Team tactics were fine and to see us go 5 at the back in the second half with young Brenet coming in was actually refreshing. At the WC2014, it worked at times. In the friendlies (Van Gaal, Blind) it didn’t work at all (France at home!) but against this Belgium it did. Veltman in particular was dramatically exposed on the right flank in the first half and the fast and hard working Brenet, playing fearlessly, add some spice to the team in the second half.

But on all other aspects of the game, we looked second-best constantly. The result is ok (if you care about this), but the performance was poor. No creativity, lack of speed and sense of urgency off the ball and poor passing.

Joel Veltman would be the first player to take off the team sheet for me. Defensively weak, build up play even weaker. He had several opportunities to launch the fast Lens with a ball over the top and he hardly used those.

Virgil van Dijk was the only player for me who stood out, with Vincent Janssen second best, purely because of his hustling and ballsy duelling. Van Dijk is becoming the real deal. Plays like a leader. Will make a big move this summer.

janssen baalt

Stijn Schaars started well but got knicked twice in a midfield duel and had to go off with a bad calf. He actually got the knock last week in the Eredivisie game vs Sparta, and might have agitated the muscle by changing his movement a little to avoid that knock. A dependable player. Low in risk taking. But not moving too gingerly anymore with his 32 years on the clock. He might not wear an orange jersey anymore, once the suspended and injured players return.

Lens was good on the ball but it was visible that he hasn’t been part of Oranje for a while. A lot of miscommunication between him and the midfield/defenders.

Janssen is able to make something out of nothing. Goes for everyball and will happily clash into goalies if the game needs it. Reminded me of Huntelaar eating grass at Wembley a couple of years ago, in a friendly.

I think he should have had two penalties for the two clashes with Mignolet, to be honest. The first one he knicked past Mignolet – ok, foot was high – and the Pool goalie grabbed him. Second clash, Janssen was there first and Mignolet crashed through him with his elbow hitting the Spurs striker on the head.

Lens did well to create the pen for us. On the ball, he looked solid. Sad to see him leave with a hamstring.

In typical fashion, Janssen played on for a spell – refusing to go off – but a concussion is not something to fool around with, and he’s out for Luxembourg.

janssen klap

For me, most players were average to poor. Clasie needed time to find his feet and rhythm and had some poor balls. Daley Blind didn’t reach his usual level. Wijnaldum still can be wrestled off the ball to easily for me. And to top it all of, sub Memphis Depay was not able to shake the cobwebs off and do something special.

Joshua Brenet has clearly put himself on the radar though. After 1,5 years of “not talking to each other”, Danny Blind and Brenet made peace. The PSV defender once said on tv that he thought Danny Blind only selected Ajax players, which is why he was ignored for Oranje. A gutsy thing to say. But also stupid.

Obviously, it isn’t true. And secondly, you don’t make the coach select you quicker. Brenet was ridiculed in Holland for these statements, as he was playing average in those days. Like many Dutch defenders: good on the ball, good going forward, but shocking defensively.

Brenet and Blind had their pow wow last week, shook hands and move forward. I’m sure he made an excellent impression and he could have had an unforgettable debut with an unforgettable goal, with a massive counter-attacking run when Belgium was out of position. Sadly, he missed the target.

Marten de Roon and Leroy Fer are called up for the Luxembourg game. I don’t think Blind will add another striker. Surely, Dost, Luuk de Jong and Fer as pinchhitter should be able to do the business.


It will be nice to take some rest from Oranje and hope for the likes of Elia, Bazoer, Willems, Janmaat, Memphis, De Vrij, Karsdorp…

Danny Blind said after the game he was happy with the result and the defensive performance. I can’t agree fully. The Belgiums didn’t really try. We were not really tested. The center backs did ok. The defensive mid did ok. The work rate of the team was ok, but parking the bus and stopping attacks is not “defending well”. Our out ball was poor and we had many chances to play out from the back only to dwindle too much on the ball and losing it again.

The key difference for me, and not just in this game, is the running and positioning off the ball by Belgium. As opposed to our play. Our defensive mids (Strootman, Schaars, Clasie) simply sit in that space. Not enough dynamics. Our midfield runs to support the striker (Sneijder, Wijnaldum, Klaassen) are lacking. The change of position up front and diagonal runs (De Bruyne/Hazard versus Janssen/Lens) was absent. It is not so much a quality thing, but more a sense of urgency thing, if you know what I mean.

Klopp, Conte, Pep, Pochetino, Ancelotti, Simeone…these are the coaches demanding this from their players. And players like De Bruyne, Hazard, Dembele, Vertonghen, Carrasco bring this to the team. In our team, only Wijnaldum has it (at times). Sneijder doesn’t have the legs. Lens doesn’t have the wherewithal and I think Clasie/Strootman/Schaars are simply not allowed…

Unless we don’t adapt to this new level of play soon (Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Oranje) we will slip and keep on slipping…

Iceland, Wales, Portugal, Leicester City… These teams do not have amazing quality players. Still they beat England, Belgium, France and the whole EPL last year…

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