Tag: Nederland

De Boer shows promise!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We fixed it in the second half and voila.

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

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

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

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

Here goes…

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

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

His main strength is: his honesty. Brutally honest.

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

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

Eat that, Joel Veltman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Italy outsmarts weak Oranje

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The issues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So now what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rusty Oranje gets solid win

The circumstances were a tad less than perfect.

No fans to cheer us on. A successful coach who bailed two weeks before the games. Four defenders (three starters) missing. A mixed bag of fitness and rhythm. Veltman hadn’t played for weeks. Memphis returning from injury. Cillisen lacking rhythm. Untested pairings.

But, the boys came through. The team tactics worked. Particularly in the second half. And clearly the players were highly motivated. Working hard. Eager to find openings. Good pressure on the ball and disciplined execution (Ake, De Roon, Veltman, De Jong).

Poland came to not lose. They were compact. Defended deep. And hoped for a counter attack. Oranje dominated but couldn’t create a lot. In the first half, we had trouble breaking them down, partly because the forward pass (behind their defense) was played too late. We saw runs by Bergwijn, Memphis, Ake and Hateboer but the back four didn’t want to play the ball. First they wanted to find their rhythm.

The first shot (not on target) was by a Polish player and the first shot on target (saved by Cillesen) was by Poland as well.

Dwight started with Ake on the LB spot, playing like his disciplined and absent colleague Blind. The more experienced Veltman took the De Ligt role and Hateboer played on the right, in an interesting combi with De Roon. Particularly in the second half, Hateboer was the false right winger while De Roon played the right back holding role. Like they do at Bergamo.

Memphis seemed to have a good chance – stopped by the goalie – but in an offside position. The second chance was for Promes, who missed the target and it was late in the first half when Oranje finally had it’s first real creative opportunity, with Frenkie’s run into the box, who got served by Memphis in perfect manner. Memphis vision, his ability to chip the ball, Frenkie’s chest control and half-volley…all perfect. But the upright thought differently.

It was clear what Dwight would want to see in the second half. That forward pass must be played quicker. Find the space behind their defence. Don’t make it too easy for Poland to defend.

Van Dijk used his deep ball to good use and even Marten de Roon started to spray some long balls. Ake was able to push up higher too, while Frenkie was taking more risks as well and took on players more and more.

For me, the outstanding player was Memphis. Everything we did in an offensive way, was through him. He hunted, he pressed, he hassled and prodded… He tricked players, went for the 1-2 combination, and was continously threatening, even if his set pieces didn’t really connect and he missed a big shooting opportunity with a complete un-Memphis like mishit. But, he might not be 100% yet, he is well on his way to get there.

He did get a massive chance to score on a great Bergwijn cross but it felt like Memphis didn’t expect the ball to pass through the first defender and as a result he mis controlled the ball.

Holland was the dominating party and after an hour we broke through their defences. Promes moved back inside from the left wing and found Frenkie. He spotted Hateboer’s run and put the ball on a plate. The former Groningen man flicked the ball back across goal, where Bergwijn was ready to tap in his first Oranje goal!

Poland brought Milik and wanted to hunt for a goal but it was Oranje that came closest to a second, it feels. Wijnaldum and Van de Beek were close to a second but it wasn’t to be. Still, the new adventure started well, after 290 days of not being together and this performance definitely gave us a good foundation for the future.

Memphis was limping in front of the camera, after the game. The startled interviewer asked him about it and he laughed: “Sore muscles man, my first full match in a long time. How great  to be back and play 90 minutes!”

Memphis was already quite successful for Lyon in the league 1, but he failed to score this time, even though he was involved in everything. He had six shots, created three opportunities and was involved in nine out of the 14 attempts on goal. He had 4 successful dribbles and was fouled 8 times. No one had better stats on the night.

The eight free kicks he won were actually a record. Since 2013, no other Oranje player was fouled as often in one match. “They were petulant, they stepped on my heel, they tried to provoke and the ref seemingly didn’t see it.”

He was not 100% satisfied. “We can play much better. But i have to say, joy is the overbearing emotion for me after such a long time. Some things went automatic, with some players you have that invisible click, but we can do better and must do better. Me as well of course, but I don’t want to be overly critical now. I was away for months and I am just grateful to be back.”

Interim coach Lodeweges was confronted with the fact that he is the first Oranje coach since Rijkaard to win his first match. “Oh, I didn’t even know that. That was a while back then? It was a tough match. Poland was here at full strength, except for Lewandowski of course. They play this way, and it was on us to break them down and we did. When you score earlier in the game, you might get a couple more, but I think we can happy with this, as the team did look rusty at times.”

Captain Virgil van Dijk spoke of a mature win. “It was not easy to predict how our form would be. One players had hardly had any minutes, other players have been full on in pre-season mode. But we managed a professional win. We let the ball go, also under pressure. And we kept a clean sheet. I think we can be pleased, even if we had to reward ourselves with a goal or two more.”

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The New Oranje Coach

No no! It won’t be Advocaat or Blind :-).

As we discussed earlier, Koeman is not to be denied at Barcelona. How different will it be for his successor at the KNVB. With Malen and Memphis fit and ready, as we hope, when the Euros 2021 start (or IF), there will be known issues for the new coach.

Koeman did an excellent job revitalising Oranje, getting the fans to love the team again and bring new talent to the fore. Hiddink, Blind and Advocaat might not have had the results we craved but during that time, some incredible talents broke through and our new coach will be salivating by the thought.

The biggest problem our new coach will have, is to find the best team out of the talents we have or to find a way to start a game with 15 players, instead of 11.

With Stekelenburg back at Ajax, it’s fair to say we will not have a keeper problem either!

So you have the key players from the past couple of seasons (Memphis, Blind, Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, De Ligt, Frenkie) and now the coach can pencil in some new names like Schuurs, Ihatarren, Gakpo, Gravenberch, Malen, Stengs, Wijndal, etc etc…

There is a debate going on in the country, as to who should be the new coach, of course. The KNVB will give Dwight Lodeweges – Ronald’s assistant – the nod for the coming games but will most likely name a bigger name coach for the job sometime soon.

The first question is: does it need to be a Dutchie, or should we go for a foreign coach?

The answer, as far as I am concerned, is: A Dutch Coach. Always.

I know it’s conservative, but I also think you don’t experiment with these things.

We did have foreign coaches before and they were quite the success too (well, Ernst Happel is the only one that comes to mind… Georg Kessler was less successful and part Dutch). But Happel worked in The Netherlands (ADO Den Haag and Feyenoord) and knew the Dutch football culture well. Even more so: Happel was more responsible for our Total Football than Michels… (see a couple of blog post earlier).

But with the typical Dutch style, the typical Dutch culture (direct in communications) and the need to finally get success at a big tournament, I would want a coach who understands all these things well… This shouldn’t be a “job” for some foreign coach to take just to up his image. This should be a mission, a real purpose of a job for a Dutch coach, who shares the football vision, gets the subtleties and dynamics of the language and customs and who can pick up on Koeman’s work and progress it.

Dwight Lodeweges

Unless, we really don’t have a single candidate who could do it. But I doubt that.

So, for me, no Klinsmann, or Rangnick, or Jardem or whoever. For starters, do we know these guys can play national team manager? Being a club coach is completely different. Pochettino is a good club coach, but does that make him a good national team manager? Who knows?

It will be easier for us Dutchies to assess this with coaches / ex-players we know. I think it’s fair to say that a guy like Cocu could do the job. He’s assisted Van Marwijk, he played for Oranje and he would know what it takes. This can be said of Henk ten Cate as well. Frank de Boer, another name mentioned, is maybe less fit for the job. He seems to need time with his players, make his hands dirty and use a highly disciplined management style (which cost him some jobs already, of course). I think Frank might fail in the football vision department (at Ajax he was criticised for playing negative, boring football) and he seems to miss the flair and people management style to make Oranje a nice place to be at… It’s my way or the high way with Frank.

Cocu won’t come back from England now, for the job, I don’t think. He might be a candidate later.

Louis van Gaal is mentioned too. I really don’t think that is wise. He got the best of the team in 2014. When we were the massive underdog. Since then, his relationship with the likes of Van Persie and Memphis deteriorated. I think the Van Gaal effect is gone now and the players matured and won’t fall for the Van Gaal antics this time around, I don’t think.

We saw this with his players in 2000, when his methods were considered “been there, done that” by the experienced players and the magic was gone.

Peter Bosz could be a good candidate, but he won’t be leaving Leverkusen now, I don’t think. Again, a candidate for later?

At this point, I would go for an experienced Dutch coach. Keep Lodeweges for the friendlies, if you must. And get a coach like Henk ten Cate in for the tournament.

Henk has worked at the top level of (international) football, with Barca, Chelsea, Ajax. He is financially independent. He is great with young talents and knows everything there is to know about football and about Dutch players. He will not get overwhelmed in a big occasion and he will have the discipline and management style that is befitting a Dutch group of players.

And don’t forget: he was team manager before. For 1 day. When Hans van Breukelen really screwed up the process of hiring a new manager. He told Henk in his interview, he was the man for the job (witnesses present). Only to go to Dick Advocaat and being pressured into signing Dick. What a mess. Henk was fuming. I hope he’ll do it now.

For me, Henk it is.

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Koeman Barca dream come true!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lets look at that history between the two football phenomena…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

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Big Move for Nathan Ake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some Statistics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Listen to the Man: soccernostalgia

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

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

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

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

Your fearless writer in the podcast…

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

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

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

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Donny van de Beek and crying

It’s probably a matter of time now, before Donny van de Beek (22) moves to a European top club. Real Madrid and Donny are in agreement already, but Real isn’t moving as yet. Man United is also on the radar for the midfielder.

Here are some statements for Donny to respond to, about his brother, about darts and being Dennis Bergkamp’s son-in-law.

After a bad game, I flee for Sjaak Swart! (Sjaak is Mr Ajax, the famous right winger from the 1970s is still always at the club, currently as player’ manager).

Donny, laughing: “Yes sometimes! He can get really emotional after matches.”

And is he always super critical to you?

“I think so. But we do think the same about things. He can be critical of the ref too. I have a super bond with Sjaak, he plays a big role in my career.”

How did that happen?

“Sjaak always watched our youth matches and he always knew exactly who was who. We got into contact this way, and as I live a bit away from Amsterdam he offered me a room in his home, in case I wanted to stay in Amsterdam. And I would do this and we would talk hours about football and his wife Andrea would make fresh orange juice and what not. I still see Sjaak a lot. I go out to dinner with him or I drop in to see him and his wife. That will never change.”

Sjaak Swart is 81 year old. Recently, Barry Hulshoff died, the football father of De Ligt. Other generation peers died, like Piet Keizer, Gerrie Muhren and Johan Cruyff too. Do you fear the future?

“Sjaak is definitely a bit afraid. Yes and me too. I spoke to Matthijs de Ligt after Barry’s passing and it was tough for him. His bond with Barry was similar to mine with Sjaak. Everyone gets older and everyone dies, but it is part of my thinking, you know. Back of the mind kinda thing? But he is top fit and still plays football. I really want him to be part of my life for as long as possible.”

It was a close call, or I would have gone to The Hague (seat of government) to protest with the farmers against the CO2-policy. 

“No I wouldn’t have, but a lot of people from my village went.”

Your mother said that when asked about what little Donny wanted to become, you would say “chicken farmer or pro football player”. So you may have been plucking a chook right now?

“Hahaha, well my dad owns a chicken farm. I was always there to help after football training. I was cleaning or packing stuff, I wasn’t lazy. Loved helping. And yes, if I wasn’t a footballer now, I would probably be working in the family business. When I was small I always said I’d end up playing for Ajax, and I was always ridiculed for it, hahaha.”

Your dad was a decent player and played top level in the amateurs.

“He was a top striker at amateur level, yes, but a totally different player than me. He was a lazy cat. He had a nose for the goal. And he always taunts me with it. Whenever I miss a chance, he’ll tell me that he would have scored that. But he’s super proud of me. He’s always there with my grandparents, home and away games. Always. Only my kid brother Rody misses games, when he has had a heavy Saturday night, hahaha.”

Do you still wrap chicken breasts, at times?

“Oh yes, my dad asks me regularly. Sometimes I need to pick up stuff from restaurants on the way home from Amsterdam. Or I need to deliver a crate of chicken somewhere. Why not? It’s fun to see people respond like …” Huh? Oh… Van de Beek, ah you are that Van de Beek!?”…

I sometimes loathe playing football

“Football isn’t always fun. We sometimes play a dreadful game… for instance, I don’t think I ever want to play Getafe again, hahaha. A very annoying opponent. But hey, they progressed and we didn’t.”

How was this season compared to last season?

“We were doing ok. We were on the right track, but after the winter break we lost a number of key players. It didn’t go our way, so much.”

First it was David Neres, then Quincy Promes, Hakim Ziyech and Joël Veltman got injured and Daley with his situation. Where did all this come from?

“I thought about this a lot… I had a hamstring issue at the start of the season, but we don’t train differently. We do basically the same thing as last season. Maybe the summer break was too short?”

What are your thoughts before the kick off?

“That is always different. European nights are the best. When I walk onto the pitch in a full stadium I think about my youth. The games I watched in the stadium with my grandparents. We were all massive Ajax fans. And now I’m on the pitch and I look up to see my family on the stands. I will never get used to that.”

How big are the sacrifices you need to make, to get to the top?

“These are huge. But I don’t want it differently. This is my dream come true. But, I envy my brother Rody at times. I always go and watch him play. He plays with his mates, relaxed, and after the game they drink a couple of beers and have fun

Are you a party animal?

“In the summer I love going to places like Ibiza and party a bit. I also love singing along with songs in the pub but during the season I keep myself focused. No parties.”

Your bond with Rody, your brother, is special, right? He was very ill at one stage, with a tumor in his back. Did this affect you much?

“Rody is one of the most important people in my life. He knows me through and through and vice versa. Whenever something is going on, I call him first. And yes, his tumor, I have learned to appreciate life more, I think. I was 12 when he got sick and I was just starting at Ajax. I wanted to perform but I also had a lot of focus on my brother.”

There is a video about you two and when Rody talks about your bond, a tear rolls down his cheek. That is a famous video now… 

“Yes, that got me emotional too. And everyone who saw the video had that. Men cry too you know. Rody loves seeing me build my career and I love sharing my success with him. I was able to give him a cool watch for his 20st birthday with his name in it. He loves it. Rody is always there for me. Whenever I had a bad match, he takes me under his wing and we go and play pool or something…”

Rody said in the video that you are a hand-full. And when you didn’t train, it’s even worse

“Yes, I think I’m annoying. I have too much energy. I will start pestering people and make jokes etc.”

Fame, interviews, photo-shoots, talk about transfers, talk about the Ballon d’Or… you are not impressed?

“I think it’s the manner of the village I am from. Do normal. And that is me too. Yes, there is a lot happening in my life, but I will always have my feet planted firmly. And if I wouldn’t, my parents or brother will remind me, hahaha. I would enjoy going to these Ballon d’Or galas, just to experience it, but I would love to go home afterwards too, to leave all the humbug behind.”

For the football future of Holland, it is important that you and Estelle Bergkamp create the new Messi

“Oh yes hahaha, I get that comment a lot lately. If the good Lord wants us to become parents, there will be some pressure on the kid, if he is a boy. Or even a girl, actually! We can’t deny our genes, hahaha.”

How did you meet and does she get football?

“We met at Ajax and then we also met a couple of times outside of Ajax and it just grew a tad… I went out to lunch with her a couple of times and our bond became stronger. It did take a while before we were a thing. She gets football a lot! But that is normal with a dad like Dennis. She loves watching it and she can really analyse the game well. But she is more intrigued with how placid I can be outside of football and how worked up I can get on the pitch, hahahaha.”

Will she come with you to Madrid? Or Manchester?

“Should I go somewhere, she’ll come with yes. We are not officially living together but I basically live with her in Amsterdam.”

But Nijkerkerveen is still your village?

“Oh definitely! It’s home. I know everyone there, my mates live there and I go watch Veensche Boys regularly. Rody plays on Saturday mornings, and Mo Nouri, Appie’s brother, plays in it too. Mo quit football, because of Appie and the care he needs. He was feeling guilty too, playing football, and I told him that Abdelhak would totally want Mo to play football and enjoy himself. So now he’s playing with Rody in my village. He’s a great player, from the top of the amateur level. And the warmth of the village immediately pulled him in. Rody and I have contact with Mo Nouri every day.”

What is with the speculations of you going to Real Madrid?

“I haven’t signed anything. It’s all open. I know what I have here, I am valued and I love Ajax. I won’t go to just any other club. It needs to be the right picture. What are their plans. Am I signed for the future or do I get playing time? I’d love to play in a country with better weather, but I haven’t started Spanish lessons as yet.”

Do you talk about transfers with team mates?

“Sure, yes we do talk about it and I talk to the lads at Oranje about how things go with other clubs and in other countries, and all this. That is always interesting to hear.”

After I’m 30, I will return to Ajax, with Frenkie and Matthijs de Ligt.

“That would be fun. Ajax is my club and it will always be, wherever I end up. Ajax made me. But you never know how things go. There are many examples of players who said they would but never did. Or players who did come back but ended up playing in the second team… But, it would be nice, the thought you know. Returning here.”

It seems like Ajax is allowing players to leave, hoping they return one day?

“I don’t know. I don’t interfere with contract or transfer stuff. I think it’s normal and logical that Ajax wants to get a good amount for me. But I also think it is good to part ways amicably. There are many great examples.”

Do you speak to Frenkie and Matthijs a lot?

“Not a lot. Every now and then. During the season, we’re all super busy but we do app. And we see each other at Oranje and we take the time to chew the fat. These are all good lads, we share that bond. We’ve had such a great year, that will always bind us I think.”

The guys abroad are all playing in a glass house. Everything is magnified.

“True, but both are strong personalities and great players. I think they’ll manage. And you what, things like that, you get used to it. And I don’t think either one of them will lose sleep over what people write about them.”

So how do you call him? Dad? Mr? Or Dennis?

“I used to call him trainer, now I call him Dennis.”

So he didn’t say”Donny, I am Mr Bergkamp for you!”

“That would have been a good joke! But I know Dennis so long already and we always had a good bond. It was strange after he left Ajax, and I hadn’t seen him for a while…”

As Ajax youth coach, I remember him saying: “Watch that Van de Beek kid!”

“I was in my second year at Ajax and they didn’t put me in D1 but in D2. Luckily, he was my coach in the D2. I made a big leap under him. He was the most important coach for me actually, and he was important for me as assistant coach too.”

So did he ever say: “I have a nice daughter!” ?

“Never! Maybe he even thought: you, I rather not see outside of football, hahaha. And it was a coincidence that we met outside of Ajax. He enjoys us being together and I enjoy spending time with them.”

How did you enjoy Dennis as a player?

“I was a bit young when he played, but I have seen many videos, I mean… everyone knows what a magician he was.”

With me, Oranje has the best midfield in Europe.

“Well, I can only do my utmost to get in the team but we have so many good midfielders at the moment… And not just us, I mean…Belgium, France, Germany, Spain….so many good players….”

Do you get agitated when you see Marten de Roon’s name on the team sheet?

“Not at all! He did a great job and so do the other lads. The coach decides and I have to accept it. I know I am giving all I have. I can’t do more. And yes, I want to play, but every midfielder has his own qualities. Koeman will need to decide what he needs. I talk to him about that a lot, and he is open about his decisions and thoughts and all this. Koeman is a tremendous coach. He brought us to a big tournament and we’re really a team again. I am proud to be part of it and I want to help the team achieve something wonderful.”

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Why Cruyff never coached the NT, part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KNVB chair Staatsen

This is the interview from 1994 with Cruyff…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wasn’t there another issue, with sponsoring?

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

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

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

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

And Jos Staatsen was ok with all of this?

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

So the power behind the throne blocked you?

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

Maybe the KNVB felt they could do it without you?

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

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

So Gullit would have been part of your squad?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Would Oranje have won the title with you?

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

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Why Cruyff never coached the NT, part 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don Leo and Ruud Gullit bickering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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