Tag: Nederlands Elftal

Prelim Squad announced for Oranje

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My two teams:

 

 

Tell me your fave line up in the comments….

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Epic win Oranje

This is not a long post, people. I am still reeling behind my computer, not capable of creating a well balanced review, as the adrenaline is racing through my body. We needed a win, in this Group of Death we’re in.

Beaten 4-0 versus France was tough earlier on and having to play heavyweights Gibraltar after only 4 days of rest and recuperation is tough.

When you do win the Gibraltar game, with the vintage 3-0 scoreline, it’s cause for celebrations!

3-0 is that heroic end result we all know and remember from our game versus Peru in 1972 or Poland in 1975. People still talk about that 3-0 versus Iran in 1978 or the 0-3 versus Greece in 1987. Oh, and who doesn’t remember the 3-0 versus Canada in 1994.

The Football Gods must have interfered.

The stress in the Dutch camp was high, of course, having to face up against defending behemoths Gibraltar. Luckily, Holland had the home advantage.

We saw the team fight, battle, dazzle and being unlucky too. With Weghorst pushing the ball past the wrong side of the post, as we see him do so often for Man United. We saw Wijnaldum playing the ball back mostly and Berghuis zipping balls blindly into the box, to no one in particular.

Veteran Mats Wieffer was the best man on the pitch, as per usual and a big header by Memphis got us on the score sheet in the first half, finally beating Man of the Match [name of Gibraltar goal keeper].

But it took until Daley Blind finally came on to the pitch to make a difference that Holland put it’s stamp on the match with some brilliant individual performances. Blind and Klaassen led the Dutch to an epic history, which will no doubt result in mad parties in the street and fire works till dawn.

If you can keep France at 4-0 AND beat Gibraltar at home 3-0, it’s clear that a new generation of football geniuses is prepping to win maybe another friendly game later this year as well.

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Ronald Koeman interview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough! What can we expect?

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

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

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

What was the reason? Van Gaal?

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

How do you think you can overcome this?

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, so no LB role for him anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we now have a strikers problem?

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

And the goalies?

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

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

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

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

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

So Geertruida versus Mbappe? 

“Yes why not. Or Timber.”

How do you see this qualifications group?

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

Are you positive about our future? Talent development?

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

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

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

How do you rate Xavi Simons?

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

What do you expect from France?

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

My eleven for the France game:

Cillesen

Geertruida  –  Timber – Van Dijk – Ake

Marten de Roon – Daley Blind – Wijnaldum

Xavi Simons – Weghorst – Memphis

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

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King Kenny finds his balance

Kenneth Tete came into Ajax 1 at a young age. What is good, comes quick they say in Holland. And Ajax has the tendency of using their talented players from a young age (Cruyff, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Van der Vaart). But for any of those, there are also Riedenwalds, Bazoers and El Ghazis, who take a longer road to success (if any).

He made a name for himself as a young and un-Ajax like player: no frills, no circus skills but dogged defensive work. I remember a typical game of Tete (at Olympique Lyonnais) against Neymar of PSG. “Keep looking at the ball and take it from him.” He didn’t display the attacking prowess of his rivals (Karsdorp, Veltman, Janmaat) and was considered a top defender but lacking in the attacking department.

This season, at Fulham, he made his way back to the EPL with a debut match vs Liverpool. An assist on his striker Mitrovic displayed a Kenny Tete who had developed into a rebel rousing wingback.

And it didn’t stop there. The 27 year old had assists versus Spurs, Nottingham Forest and Southampton and is one of the first on the Fulham team sheet.

“i want to be a modern full back. I worked hard to get there. I was always the only real defender at Ajax and it gave me a status, if you like. They didn’t have many players like me, until Tagliafico came along. At Lyon, under Bosz, I was forced to add more to the attack as Bosz wants his teams to defend and attack as a unit. My move to Fulham made that even more important. In England, the game is also way more physical so I had to work even harder, both on my physical strength and on my football skills. I could have had more than four assists. I mean, you’re depending on the guy who gets the ball to score. If they would have scored, I would have had more assists.”

In this heat map, you can see how Tete indeed covers the whole flank, but also assists his central defenders where needed.

More and more forwards realise they’ll have a tough day in the office, versus Tete. He played new Chelsea signing Mudryk from the pitch. “I tell you, I never heard of this guy before. But I did hear he cost Chelsea 100 million euros. So then I thought, hmmm, he’s probably pretty good and that motivates me even more!” Mudryk didn’t get any thing going against King Kenny and remained in the dressing room at half time.

“My first big encounter against a super star was my game against Neymar. I was super nervous, but I decided: just do what you normally do but stay 100% focused and don’t start to think “oh my , I am facing Neymar”. And ever since that match, I feel secure and confident. And yes, when a guy like Mudryk gets hooked, it feels good but at the same time: at Chelsea they’ll put another top player opposite you and you have to go again. You know, Sterling or Mount or Havertz, they’re all top players.”

Tete ended the match vs Chelsea with the Man of the Match trophy.

Football players are never “safe”. Coaches want at least two players for any spot so Tete got competition from a new signing, Swiss international Mbabu. The talented defender hasn’t had a peak, so far. Tete: “I used to overthink things, you know. What if this, what if that. And I made myself anxious and lost confidence, by not controlling my mind. I’m different now. I take things step by step. I am not thinking about the matches in April, or next season, or the new signing. I am working hard on training and go from match to match. It serves me.”

“When I was at Ajax, playing in the first team at 19 years old, there were rumours of Real Madrid having an interest. And that screws with your mind a bit. You start with fantasies and with dreams and you play with the idea in your head that the next game might get you that transfer. I mean, many players made big moves in those days, and I too wanted to reach high. I ended up with Fulham and got relegated! But I stayed, I love this club and now we’re number 7 in the league! I am focusing fully on Fulham as I love it here, I love living in London and my family loves it here too. If I have to finish my playing career here, I wouldn’t not mind a single bit.”

Marco Silva’s team has found the way up and has the best season since a long time. “We didn’t lose too many players and were able to bring in some good new lads and it just clicks now. We are playing with flair, with passion, with joy and it works. And we played Arsenal twice, the number 1 in the league, and we lost to them by goals in the last minute. This does mean we are not 100% there yet, but it also means we’re getting close.”

In the past years, the Dutch National Team was a no fly zone for King Kenny, but it might well be that a mainstay in the Premier League gets another call up. Dumfries doesn’t play a lot at Inter. Rensch doesn’t convince. Karsdorp only just started playing again, Geertruida plays as a central defender… Any thoughts? “Well, I was on the prelim list of De Boer’s squad, but I wasn’t a part of the squad for a long time. I missed the Euros, missed the World Cup so I’m not a go to guy at the moment. And I will not claim I should be. But sure, playing well in the EPL does mean you’re reaching a good level, so if the invite comes, I will be ready.”

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Oranje: how are we doing?

The month August is a terrible month for Dutch football, usually. Our teams usually struggle so early in the quakification games for European places. We also do not have the world class players who usually would be signed the earliest in the season (Raphina, Lewandowski, Haaland), which means Dutch players/clubs usually get to know their future in the final week of the transfer period. In this season, the Eredivisie will be already 4 games in.

Lets have a look at the Dutch NT players and where they are.

Goalies

The usual suspects are Cillesen, Bijlow, Pasveer, Flekken, Krul as I see them, are all doing ok, but not great. Flekken and Cillesen had some howlers already. Pasveer just got back to fitness and the coming man Bijlow also had a couple of mistakes already. But, I think we’ll find 3 goalies to come to Qatar with us.

Defence

Van Dijk is doing what he does best. Lead the defence at Anfield. Ake is getting quite some games now at City, Dumfries came of the bench to score a dramatic winner with the last touch, De Vrij is playing, Rensch is impressing, Wijndal is doing ok with Ajax, as is Blind. Malacia has yet to play a real series of matches with ill-fated Man United. Hateboer and Karsdorp are getting games in, as does Tete. Botman got his first start as well, while Pascal Struijk is a regular starter at Leeds again. Geertruida also impressed at Feyenoord.

Mathijs De Ligt is the only player yet to start from the beginning, but he’ll be fine.

Midfield

Our midfield is ready for a bit of an overhaul. Wijnaldum has to find a way to get back, while Klaassen and Van de Beek are also still waiting for ample minutes. It seems Steven Berghuis might also lose out now Schreuder seems to enjoy Tadic on the #10 position. Frenkie is not a starter at Barca (yet) but every time he comes onto the pitch, he lifts the game. It feels like – like Cruyff – the midfielder is strengthened by conflict situations. We do see some exciting new names, though and we might see a changing of the guards. Xavi Simons is impressing with everything he does. He’s a real player, great touches, speed, vision, he can score and assist and off the pitch he comes across as a fun, focused and humble professional. I hope LVG takes him to the World Cup. Quinten Timber is another player to keep tabs on.

Another name that established himself in my book is Joey Veerman. In the holding role (next to Frenkie) he can be really good. I love his side-footed finishes, which gives him a lot of control and shows the icy blood in his veins. I think he’s improving positionally as well, so time to give him the nod.

Forwards

Luuk de Jong does what Luuk de Jong does best, at PSV. Bergwijn is shining at Ajax, while Memphis works hard to be a factor again. He impressed me in the pre-season and if his deal with Juve comes off, he’ll be our leader of the line, as per usual in Qatar. Gakpo is going through a difficult spell, while Noa Lang is also not yet settled. These two are typically players who might find a new club late in the window. Malen is yet a bit invisible (for me) while Danjuma is injured (ankle). Weghorst is playing in Turkey and will find the net, but I think it might be a toss up with Brobbey who has been really good in his hold up play as a #9.

Problem cases

I think we all know by now that Ihattaren is going through a really difficult time. His connections with a gangster family is not helping and Ajax, apparently, is ready to move on. Sad. I don’t think Frenkie and Memphis are probem cases, they are too good to be stopped. Malacia though, might have some issues getting into the Man U side, as Ten Hag does well to protect the lad in this tough period.

I do believe he’s way better than Shaw and will make his mark, but is it in time for the World Cup?

My current squad of 27 would look like this:

Goalies:

Cillesen, Bijlow, Pasveer

Defenders:

Dumfries, Karsdorp, Timber, De Ligt, De Vrij, Van Dijk, Ake, Blind, Wijndal/Malacia

Midfielders:

Frenkie, Veerman, Simons, Koopmeiners, Berghuis, Klaassen, Gravenberch

Forwards:

Bergwijn, Memphis, Danjuma, Luuk de Jong, Brobbey, Gakpo, Malen, Lang,

Who do I miss?

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Oranje keen to polish tactics

Louis van Gaal is leading the way in our Nations League Group but for him, it’s not about the Nations League. It’s all about prepping for the World Cup. And with difficulties, as the playing calendar means he has to shuffle the pack in order to keep players healthy.

The Oranje tactics work. For LVG. The two training sessions of the past days were defined as “fantastic” by the 70 year old. He is quite happy with the Oranje progress.

It seems the questions are being answered. Not necessarily in a positive way, but still.

De Ligt as left centre back is not something we’ll see Van Gaal do again.

I believe Hateboer and Teze will have to be concerned by competition from Rick Karsdorp and who knows, Devyne Rensch should he make that spot his at Ajax.

Koopmeiners is put on notice by Van Gaal: “I want to see the dominant Koopmeiners I know from Atalanta. He hasn’t played like that in the orange jersey yet and Van Gaal needs to see more.

When asked about the system change in the Wales match (when the 3 forwards changed positions in the 20-something minute): “That also hinges on how the opponent plays. The way we started versus Wales can work, but Wales didn’t play the way we expected them. So in that case, it made sense to switch it. We played Noa Lang on the #10 role and our game improved as a result.”

LVG now calls the system, the 3-4-3 and the wingbacks/midfielders are key in creating triangles everywhere on the pitch. And thus it’s possible that forward Bergwijn is playing deeper than wingback Malacia, who was on hand in the final seconds to cross the ball to the striker.

Van Gaal kept his cards close to his chest re: the starting line up versus Poland. It’s certain that either Ake or Blind will play on the left centre back spot. I think we’ll see Cillesen again and as Lang and Vincent Janssen will be on the stands, it seems Klaassen or Berghuis will start, as will Memphis, who will captain the team. This might indicate that De Vrij will start on the bench, and De Ligt will be the central defender, with Timber to his right.

I hope LVG gives Gakpo another go, as the youngster drowned a bit versus Wales, amidst a team of fortune-seekers. With the more settled players around him (Frenkie, Memphis), we can expect a better Gakpo. He was voted the best player of the Eredivisie last season and I’m convinced he can do better than he did last Wednesday.

Janssen made an impression at training, becoming the top scorer at practice in the 5 v 5 matches, scoring some beauties with his left and right foot. Still, Van Gaal will treat him like he did Schouten and Martins Indi. “He is part of the group, so he is with us pre-match, in the dressing room and he can experience how we do things and what he can expect. Once he has that experience, he will be part of the squad. Vincent will play versus Wales, coming Wednesday.”

Vincent Janssen, standing on the right, celebrating his goals at practice

The Polish counterpart of Van Gaal has used his top players versus Belgium and some – like Lewandowski – might be rested for the Oranje game. It seems the coach wants to use his big guns in their home game next week against Belgium.

There is quite a lot of murmur re: the players from Young Oranje and the wish of many to see players like Brobbey and Geertruida in Oranje. Geertruida has indeed made amazing progress under Arne Slot and deserves a call up. He can play central as well and he can play as a defensive midfielder even. Geertruida is definitely a better option than Hateboer.

Brobbey is a real fan favorite. He scores goals, he has an impressive physique and he’s a funny guy in interviews. But is he ready to solve our #9 issues? Is he the killer in the box? According to the experts, Brobbey is not ready yet to play the full 90 minutes at top level and simply needs to play, week in week out first.

It seems Brobbey might be a better “Oranje striker” than Vincent Janssen, but it feels right that LVG tests Janssen now and allows Brobbey to hone his skills at a lower level. Should Brobbey get playing time in the coming season and if he keeps on finding the net, he’s most likely in the WC squad.

Poland is not a bad opponent to have for Holland. We played them in the previous Nations League and beat them twice. The last time we lost against them was in 1980, some 42 years ago! Dennis Bergkamp is Holland’s top scorer versus the Polish, with 3 goals.

Memphis can make further steps up on the Oranje all-time topscorers list. One goal vs Poland and Memphis equals the tally of one Klaas Jan Huntelaar. The Van Persie record of 50 goals might be crushed by Memphis before the World Cup starts.

Brobbey, lamenting a missed chance

The Poland match is in De Kuip, in Rotterdam. Traditionally, Oranje’s bunker. Since 2007, Oranje won all their games in Rotterdam. The players love playing there because of the vibe and the perfect pitch. The only thing is: the VIPs have to use dirty old toilets….

Turkish ref Halil Meler is officiating the match. Feyenoord knows him well. He was the referee in the Slavia Prague game, where he showed eight yellow cards, of which five for the Feyenoord players.

The line up I expect:

Cillesen

Dumfries – Timber – De Ligt – Blind – Malacia

Frenkie – Berghuis

Klaassen

Bergwijn – Memphis

With sub turns for Gakpo, Schouten and Weghorst.

Oranje will win 3-0: Memphis, Klaassen and Berghuis scoring.

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Van Gaal: stronger dan ever…

He was retired. But can football animals like him ever retire? “I had my fill of club coaching. It’s very intense. And when you coached Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern and Man United, what is left? I never seriously considered Italian or French clubs, as I strongly believe one needs to be able to communicate in detail and I don’t speak Italian or French. But I had a list. Whenever a national team on my list would become available, I would consider it. Truus (Louis’ wife) knew this.”

And The Netherlands was on the list. “Well, initially not. Because I had coached Oranje twice already and it felt like they were on a roll under Koeman. When he left for Barca, the KNVB came to talk to me but I felt it wasn’t the right time. Some players expressed their doubts about me, so I decided not to meet with the KNVB. When Frank de Boer quit and the team was already 2 points down in the World Cup qualifiers, well… I decided I’d do it, if the players would accept me.”

That was a key point for Van Gaal. The former AZ title winner wanted to speak to the key players before he’d come to the table for formal negotiations. “Everyone knows I can be rigid and stern, when it comes to rules. Off the pitch, but also on the pitch. Can they handle me. Do they want this?”

Louis van Gaal looked forward to doing his trick one more time. Despite having to come back from behind in the campaign, Van Gaal managed to win the group with Oranje, even though it had to come in the final match vs Norway.

He had done it so often. Riding the bike after practice, and then swinging his leg over the saddle, to dismount while still moving. The classic way Dutch people are learned to dismount their bike. “But this time, it was slippery. The path was wet, there were wet leaves. I did my usual swing, only to slip dramatically on the surface and I fell. Hard. And I couldn’t get up. There was some panic and two people were needed to lift me up. A small hip fracture, directing the practice sessions from a golf buggy and coaching the final game from a wheel chair. No matter, Oranje qualified.

Looking back, Louis doesn’t want pity. “I fell off my bike. It happens. There are millions of people with way more severe issues. It’s part of life. Like dying is also part of it. The older you get, the more issues you will have, physically. And you need to learn how to deal with it. And if you can’t deal with it anymore, you take the exit. Euthanasia, yes. I have organised that for myself already. I don’t think I fear death, at least… not now. But I might, once it comes closer, I guess.”

Van Gaal’s death is probably still a way ahead in time. He feels fit. Top fit, despite the hip issue. “I am so looking forward to the World Cup. It will be amazing. Despite the fact it is in Qatar, which is a problem. All these deaths and accidents with the labourers there, it’s terrible. But despite this, I still look forward to it. I don’t think player and coaches should be used to make waves about this. That is lazy. I think the FIFA, the suits, the media need to address this.” But the former Bayern meister-macher realises that his name and face are more impactful than that of Gijs de Jong (who? Gijs de Jong). “What is happening and has happened there cannot be justified. It’s terribe. But I am not the man to start a movement. We might participate in a social project in Qatar, yes, but not more. It’s sad, because there are way more countries where one couldn’t play if the human rights are taken seriously. I mean, China? Turkey? Even the United States!”

The Dutch team in Qatar. We have a hungry squad, but we also lack top quality. “Maybe individually, but we need to find the solution in becoming the strongest team. Just like we did in 2014. That is a really cool process to manage and I know how to do it.” He did say he was the ideal candidate, after De Boer quit the job. Megalomaniac? “Apparently, it’s not done to say this. But I say it. You know why? Because it’s the truth!”

Ever since he started, he is enjoying himself immensely. “It’s quite simple: this is a very professional squad. I don’t think I ever worked with a group this self motivated and professional. I applaud them regularly. In 2000 and before, football was a hobby turned serious. Now, the players see it as their craft. They focus on statistics, on nutrition, on mental aspects. I am deeply impressed and being their coach is way easier than I expected. They also manage that group feel, themselves. They plan stuff, activities and are very inclusive. They have a large lounge, with multiple tv screens, they talk, they play games, they watch sports. In the olden days, I noticed some players would always find the solace of their private room. That is happening less and less.”

“Normally, I would be too old for this job. But I am fit, which is a gift. Then I see the fact I was asked back as a the second gift, but the biggest gift of them all is the mentality of this squad. Their accountability, their openness and professionalism.”

“They” say that Van Gaal has mellowed. Maybe gotten a tad more emotional. “I was always emotional. I was better at hiding it, in the past. I would focus my attention elsewhere. You could see some wet eyes, but no tears. Now, I am less focused on covering it up. I am also less agitated by the media. I mean, I still see and hear things that make me cross, but I tend to let more go. But in my vision, I am still super sharp and edgy.”

Enjoying the B-squad before Montenegro

After the unfortunate 2-2 vs Montenegro, he wasn’t angry or negative about this team. That seems like Van Gaal has indeed softened. “Well, you need to look at the circumstances. Does it work in my benefit when I scold the players publicly? And blame them? The players were all gutted. Do you want me to add to their woes? I wouldn’t have done that in my first year at Ajax, back in the early 90s. That would be bad management.”

The Norway game, the final one, was supposed to make it abundantly clear: Oranje is the best in the group. But the first half was a chore to watch. “Tactically phenomenal! That is what I told them in the break. We played ever so well in controlling the match. The only problem: we couldn’t score. The goals came in the second half, though and thus we qualified. I came in and the rules and ideas of Frank de Boer were still implemented. I wanted more clarity. The players asked for this as well. And not just the principles for on the pitch, also off the pitch. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s with tough love and discipline. For me, these values and norms are normal.”

How can you monitor that? “You can see it in all their behaviours. Will they be on time, for a session with the physio or the doctor. Or with me. My approach is and has always been the total human. I have my vision but I also look at the impact I have on players. My vision is unchanged but it has evolved, like me. I think I have become softer towards the outside world, and yes, also the media. And in real life, I hear this a lot… “Oh, I thought you were bossy and arrogant, but you’re a nice man”, hahaha. You see?”

You never cared much about what the media said… “But I do, and did. I always hear I am arrogant and dictatorial. But I’m not actually. I’m the opposite. But I do have an opinion, and I’m not stupid. In some cases, with some media, yes, I have thought “how on Earth do they come up with this drivel” but I won’t change who I am for that. I just put it aside and get on with it.”

With second wife Truus…

What are your thoughts now, regarding the Oranje system? “I will make some changes. One thing I always get, when I mentioned the 1-5-3-2 is that it is defensive. I don’t agree. But to make it easier on the media, I will from now on call it 1-3-4-3 which is the same, depending on the emphasis. It sounds more attacking.”

One of the trends he spotted is the more and more defensive tactics from teams playing against Dutch opponents. “Take Ajax in the Eredivisie. If a coach from the opposing team plays attacking and open football, he’ll lose 7-0. If the coach plays compact, Ajax gets into trouble. While Ajax has a top team with top players, but it’s hard, even for a well gelled team like Ajax. At the World Cup, it’s about winning. We will play the tactics that will give us the best odds to win. Look at our defenders! We have 5 or 6 top defenders! I rate Ake, Timber, Blind as top notch defenders too, and you can add Schuurs, Struijk, Botman and more! So why wouldn’t I use three of our top centre backs? I want my squad to play to its strength. We have world class defenders and world class midfielders. We don’t have a true Van Gaal striker (Kluivert, Lewandowski) and we lack wingers who can take on defenders inside and outside. So my choices are logical. And Berghuis, he was a key player for us. At Ajax, he plays on the 10 spot now. If he does this all year long, I might have a problem on the right wing. I don’t think a player should play on a position at a World Cup where he hasn’t played all year. And so on and on….”

Talking about Oranje’s chances at the World Cup. “We will go for the title! Of course we will. We are not going to the World Cup to be happy with a quarter final spot. We want to go all the way. It’s my biggest ambition, after everything I have won in my career. And I have demonstrated I can win trophies. We need to be aware that at the World Cup, the best team will win. Not the best individuals. How many World Cups have Messi and C Ronaldo won? Right. So we need to forge the best team. And then you need a bit of luck with your draw and you need the top guys to be fit and in form. If we can have all that, we can win it. But I am not saying we must win it. You cannot say that. For me, as a coach, it’s about two things: you have to have leadership / managerial skills and you need to understand the game. I think I have both. All the ingredients are there. Now lets hope our key ingredients: our players, will remain fit.”

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Denzel Dumfries: a proud bull!

We all know the story. A 17 year old Barendrecht player watched the adventures of Oranje in 2014 Brazil with his mates in Amsterdam. And at some stage, the athletic and extraverted lad says: “I am going to go for this. I am going to be an Oranje player one day!” And so it went. Made his way to Sparta Rotterdam that year, where he thundered on the right flank in the second tier. Heerenveen swooped him up after two seasons and it took only one season at Heerenveen for him to land a transfer to PSV, where he got his first invite for Oranje in his first season.

His secrets? Dedication, mental strength, focus, physical strength and speed.

Sure, his basic skills, his touch, his vision… All lacking a bit mainly due to a lack of solid foundational work in his early days at Smitshoek. He grew up in a small town club, not much pressure, and Denzel played as a striker. His new club Barendrecht (top amateurs in Holland) got him switching to defender. Feyenoord tested the lad in these Barendrecht days (it’s a village close to Rotterdam) but Feyenoord decided he wasn’t good enough. Well…

And here were, looking back at 2021, a watershed year for the tall Dumfries. He was Oranje’s danger man at the Euros, he made a big transfer to Inter Milan and sired his second kid.

Denzel is just settling into his new apartment in the city centre of Milan and when the interviewer asks him why he decided to live smack in the middle of the city, Dumfries smiles and says: “Look around you…”. And yes, Milan at night, in Xmas times, looks amazing indeed! Christmas markets, candle lights, music…

Dumfries is still living at the Milan Hilton, but not for long. “I love walking through the city. It’s such an amazing city, and the people… I am never hassled, or stared at. Sometimes a photo, ok, but that is cool. And I’m happy because yes, I came here to play football, but I also like to enjoy my life. And the food here, the fashion, the lifestyle, it’s amazing.”

His start was not so easy. He had to prove his worth and fight himself into the starting line up, but in the Serie A and in the CL: Dumfries is the go to guy. He scored his first goal with a diving header and his joyful celebrations in front of the fans shows how much that goal meant. “I could understand my bench position with my head, but not with my heart. I knew it was going to be a transition… I mean, moving to another country, another language, different team mates, coach, systems and principles. I was prepared for that. But I did expect more game time. However, they had a plan with me and they needed to bring me step by step and in a way, I felt less pressure this way. The step from parochial PSV to cosmopolitan Inter is a big one. And it wasn’t all complete for me, I was living in a hotel room… Now we have the apartment, now I can really settle and focus on football.”

The language is still a challenge for Denzel, but the weekly intense lessons do pay off. “The Inter football, or actually, Italian football is very tactical. Completely different for me. I play on intuition. I want to leave everything on the pitch, but here it is not needed, not even desired. I am the wide back in a 3-5-2 and I actually play more like a midfielder. Perisic helps me a lot, he plays in my role on the left. And all these guys, they’ve been in Italy for a while now, they all understand the Inter tactics to the T. It helps me, all the players can explain to me what is needed.” The typical decisions a wing back are dealing with? “When to squeeze inside, when to stay away. In Holland, when the ball is on the left flank, you squeeze inside. I have been doing that for 20 years! Now, in Italy, they want me to stay wide. Don’t come in. I am working hard with the assistant coaches to get my decision making right.”

The Inter games and tactical plays are all based on patterns. “We practice this to the nth degree. Is it boring? Sometimes yes. We sometimes practice with eleven versus zero. It’s almost computer-directed football. You know exactly where to play the ball when. Every player is programmed like this. It’s totally different to the Dutch approach and I will have to adjust. I do notice I am getting smarter in situations, I do have more ease on the ball and that is the way they want me to play.”

So when are the training wheels off? “Hahaha, for me, I think after the winter break. I want to present myself fully. I am now used to the team, the tactics, the coaches, the opponents… I feel I am ready to be the number one right winger for Inter. And I want it like that. The first months: adapting to the new world, but now I’m there.”

Asked what Denzel’s high point of 2021 was: “Ha, the Euros of course. I was in such a flow. Like a dream come true. My first goal for Oranje was against Ukraine. I had missed a sitter in the first half, so my winner was like orgastic wonderful, hahaha. I was so focused on success. I realised that 7 years before, I was in Amsterdam cheering them on and I remember thinking: this is what I want! I didn’t know it was going to be so amazing. I am playing with top notch players, like Gini, Frenkie, Memphis… so playing in Oranje is made easier because of this. And I am not of their level on the ball. But I have something different. I have my energy, my will and personality. I can help the team with that.”

Is getting ousted by the Czechs on that so favourable side of the draw still an open wound? “Ah no, I can talk about it. We noticed on the pitch that we weren’t playing our usual level. It was tough, hot, the pitch was slow and we didn’t have it. But we were in the game until the red card. I don’t blame De Ligt, I mean… we failed as a team, really. It’s such a waste, but what is there to say. We played in Budapest, a Euros match and literally 5 hours later I am standing in my living room again, thinking… “And now what??”. It just crashed dramatically, no one had expected this.”

And so Frank de Boer resigned. “Yes, and I get that. What he had to endure on social media and in those football programs… Lower than low. I thought it was terrible. He is very experienced. I thought he was a great guy. Crazy about football and very focused on the mission. He is a good man.”

And then Inter. “Yes, but it didn’t go smoothly. I was also talking to Everton. Also a top notch team but for me, Inter was the top. The best option for me. Champions League. Historical club. Those colours. The San Siro. Milan, Italy. I mean the whole package. But I had to call my agent (Raiola) daily at a certain point to push because I was getting a bit anxious. And then I was sitting in the Inter dressing room before the derby vs Milan and the roar of the crowd… I realised then and there: this is why I am here…. And to walk onto the pitch, where greats like Gullit, Rijkaard, Van Basten, Seedorf, Davids, Van Bommel, Bergkamp have played… goose bumps.”

And now, onwards and upwards with Oranje and Louis van Gaal. “Yes he is different. Unique, probably. He’s open, honest and truly interested. But he can be tough too. And that is needed. The qualifications went well, bar that away game against Montenegro. Up 2-0 and conceding two goals at the end of the game, I mean…those matches, you might play one of these in 20 years. And it happened to us right then and there. And we knew, it has to happen now versus Norway. The pressure was on and we felt it. I mean, Van Gaal in a wheelchair, Bijlow out, De Vrij out…. The signs were not good. We were vulnerable. I sat next to Frenkie in the dressing room and after the match we realised it was still a close call. We left it late. But now we can look ahead and prep for even bigger things.”

Denzel Dumfries: 30 international games. “Yes! And I’m only 25 years old! I mean, this is all a dream.”

Qatar, the World Cup. A dream too but for some a nightmare… “Yes, I am very aware. We all are. We have made a statement and we will speak out when we want to. We have a role model function, I get that. Other than that, I believe we can really do something at the World Cup. In terms of age and clubs represented, we can be proud: Inter, Juve, Barca, Liverpool, PSG, Ajax, Feyenoord, PSV, Spurs, Valencia, I mean… that is the level of players we can bring to Qatar. I’m super excited. But my biggest joy will actually be happening in the winter break: we’re expecting our second child, a girl this time! I want a big family, so yeah… we are well on our way. On all levels, hahahaha.”

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Wilson’s questions re: Oranje

Hi all, most of you will have noticed some dynamics on the blog… There are some people who seem to want to bag the Dutch attempts to glory by putting emphasis on the negatives. It usually comes down to harsh criticism on the coach and on some of the current players.

Usually resulting in a strong call for untested players to come in, players who haven’t competed consistently at top level mostly. Like Joey Veerman and Zivkovic, as two examples.

I noticed that a number of Oranje fans here agree that it’s all a bit too easy, too negative and too repetitive and diminishes the positive experience of the blog, while a lot of the arguments used are typical arguments of people who have no clue how to manage a football team or how to kick a ball.

I called Wilson out earlier, he’s one of the vocal ones and he responded with some comments and questions.

I do need to applaud Wilson for the guts he demonstrated to stand up for himself and come out with his criticism and comments. He dares to be vulnerable and that is great. I do not wish him any disrespect and I am glad we can have this conversation. I hope you don’t mind reading this.

This photo is fun. This Jong Oranje team won their Euros. Typically, these would be the players to make it big in Oranje. It will be fun to walk through the tem to discover which of these lads actually made it big. 

Boy Waterman, Gianni Zuiverloon, Arnold Kruiswijk, Ryan Donk and Daniel de Ridder had decent, average careers. No big trophies, not the top of their class. Erik Pieters, Hedwiges Maduro and Ryan Babel reached the Big Oranje. Pieters disappeared courtesy of Jetro Willems and later Daley Blind. Maduro fell away due to injuries and Babel made a comeback late in his career. Rigters and Drenthe both had a remarkable run but despite bit transfer (Rigters played for Blackburn, Drenthe for Real Madrid), theirs will go into the books as onorthodox career. Other names from that squad: Luigi Bruins, Julian Jenner. Roy Beerens, Calvin Jong-a-Pin, Tim Janssen… Only Tim Krul and Ron Vlaar had a consistent Oranje career, with Ryan Babel.

So you know, being a talent doesn’t mean you can join the big guns. It’s frighteningly difficult.

I promised to respond to the criticasters. I would love for this to be a healthy and respectful thread. And any opinion is welcome.

Next post will be an analysis of Louis van Gaal’s tactics. But first this….

Wilson: What has evolved for NT in the last seven years?

Well, a lot! it is important to realise that the KNVB and their management play a super important part in all of this, more so than any coach or player.

We can all remember how Bert van Oostveen, the General Manager of the KNVB back in the day came out of the 2014 World Cup thinking Oranje was world class. And he decided to ignore the advice of many and installed Hiddink in the NT manager role, with as charter: bring Dutch football identity back!

Bert van Oostveen and Guus Hiddink

The second mistake was to already promise Danny Blind the job once Guus was done. Those things are never smart to do.

The biggest problems were born there.

As for the football, we need to go back a bit. In 2010, Bert van Marwijk was criticised for not playing 4-3-3. That system was sacred, according to many. When the 4-2-3-1 failed in the 2012 Euros, Bert was told to leave and Van Oostveen went straight for the messiah Van Gaal. But he concluded that 4-3-3 will not work for this squad of his in 2014 and he decided to implement the 5-3-2.

Again, there was some push back but reaching the semis has stifled the criticism and not much later, it was Ronald Koeman who also started to play 5-3-2 at Feyenoord, while other clubs (Ajax under Bosz) also started to deviate more and more.

But Hiddink was instructed to go back to 4-3-3 and he was unlucky to have to suffer the post World Cup blues (a lot of high performing teams at a World Cup have a disappointing follow up year in qualifications), the absence of big names and the burden to find new player.

Abandoning the 4-3-3 was sacrilege in the past, but in the past 7 years, Dutch football has accepted alternative systems. That is a big step forward.

It might be too late in the eyes of many, but at least it has happened. Now, PSV plays 4-2-2-2, as does Young Oranje!! Ajax plays 3-4-3. Vitesse plays 5-3-2 and coaches like Slot and Ten Hag have come up with innovative variations on the theme.

The result is that Oranje too can now play 5-3-2 without anyone making dogmatic complaint-noises.

Another aspect we evolved in: back in 2010 the idea was that we didn’t develop good defenders. We had multiple strikers/forwards but hardly any decent centre back. Hence the use of a couple of Feyenoord central defenders (Martins Indi, De Vrij) and a CB of Aston Villa: Vlaar (relegation candidate back then).

Today, we ooze top notch Central Back. De Vrij, Van Dijk, De Ligt, Schuurs, Botman, Timber, Geertruida, Van Beek, Struyk and I am pretty sure I am forgetting a couple… That too is a change, I would say?

Ron “Concrete Ron” Vlaar

I believe the KNVB has added further insult to injury by sacking Hiddink right when he was turning things around, and the way he was sacked (stabbed in the back by team manager Jorritsma) will have deflated the squad and technical staff and Danny Blind was placed in the role too early. He couldn’t fix the Euro qualifications and started his World Cup qualification journey as a wounded animal.

What a way to treat two Dutch football legends!

Ronald Koeman was able to pick things up give the nation some pride again by reaching the Nations League finals and by introducing some exciting new talents to the mix (one Frenkie de Jong would be the biggest plus for us all).

Wilson: *You tell me what has being the highlight of NT in the seven years?

Definitely the games we played in the Nations League, beating France and Germany. As you know, we didn’t play a big tournament in the past 7 years. Qualification game wins usually don’t count as highlights.

But the upsurge of players like Frenkie, Virgil, Memphis, Malen, Dumfries and more recently Bijlow will give many people a big smile on their face.

Funny story. Back in 2016, when we didn’t make the World Cup, Rene van der Gijp was asked: what is needed for this Oranje to get back to the top? He answered: “We need to pray that right now two people are getting it on in bed, in Gorinchem or something, and make a baby who will grow up to be the new Messi! That is all that can save us.” Ironically, Frenkie de Jong appeared a couple of years later to take Oranje by the hand. He was born in Arkel, just outside of Gorinchem… ( Don’t bother commenting on the fact that Frenkie is now 23 and not conceived in 2016. I know.)

Me: “Every coach in Holland would play Daley Blind as CB replacement for Van Dijk. You need a CB with passing and build up capabilities”

Wilson: Not every coach. You know which coaches will and which coach wont.

I actually don’t. This was taken out of context as I’m sure it was said in relation to a particular match / opponent.

Re: Daley Blind

Me: Every analyst or expert in Holland thinks Daley Blind is excellent

Can you name them for me? Is there any in there from outside of Ajax soccer fraternity.

Wilson: * Above all and again What has this yield in the last seven year? Has the team struggled in his absence if he such a intrsumental/important player?

Like any player, Daley Blind had good and bad games. But mostly good games. His World Cup campaign in 2014 was great. Spain’s Azpalicueta didn’t have a chance against him and he has a Man of the Match worthy performance with two assists in the 5-1 win over Spain.


He would play mostly good games for Holland, as left back, and as midfielder. The last game Robben played vs Sweden (3-0), was played with Daley Blind in the Frenkie role and he played impressive.

Analysts in the Netherlands as well as (ex) coaches have hailed him. The list is long: Johan Derksen (not an Ajax fan, ex player, ex chief editor of biggest football magazine), Rene van der Gijp (ex PSV), Wim Kieft (ex Ajax), Ruud Gullit (ex Feyenoord, ex PSV), Kenneth Perez (ex Ajax), Youri Mulder (ex Schalke 04), Jan Boskamp (ex Feyenoord), Arnold Bruggink (ex PSV), Ronald Koeman (ex Ajax, ex PSV), Aad de Mos (ex Ajax, ex PSV), Willem van Hanegem (ex Feyenoord)…. etc

Also ex players like Danny Murphy (ex Liverpool) called him “an unsung hero”, Gary Lineker hailed his vision and maybe the most impressive piece of praise: ex Man United legend Paul McGrath… The Irish defender was asked: with which Man U defender from the past or present would you want to have played alongside. His answer? Yes… And why? “Because it would be nice to play next to a guy who has good feet, has vision and the passing ability he has. He never panics.”

 

Wilson: Im also shocked to here Ake is not a passing CB. He has all the attributes of Blind including the ariel threat which he always brings in set pieces and which Blind doesnt. 

Me: You are not right. Ake is a great player. He is good at everything and exceptional in the air. His passing is ok. Not great. Good enough for a centre back. Probably better than average. Blind’s passing is beyond that. Blind’s passing is a combination of vision and passing skills.

Wilson: Thats also a very silly argument which you gave,” Van Gaal picks the team which he thinks will win”. In other words you are implying if Ake had started,NT would have lost.

Ok, I may have not said it correctly. “Van Gaal picks the team he thinks has the most chances of winning.” Of course we can win with Ake. We also won with Malacia. There will be a day when Daley Blind retires and we will be fine without him. But Van Gaal will not hesitate to put a fit Blind in there, because Blind is the brain on the pitch, alongside Frenkie de Jong. He is by far the most football-intelligent player, alongside Frenkie.

This is where I feel like taking my gum out. Also look at Van Gaals selection of Timber at RB vs Norway. Its all contradictory and like I always say they keep hitting the fork in their own foot.

How is this contradictory? You lost me. Timber has played well at Right Back before. The reason why Van Gaal sticks to Timber is because Timber was part of the squad at the Euros. Bringing in Karsdorp could have worked but again, if you do the analysis between Timber and Karsdorp, you have the following aspects to consider: Timber’s positions where he can play (3: centre back, central midfielder, right back) versus Karsdorp (1: right back). Secondly, Timber was part of the Euros campaign and Karsdorp wasn’t. So Louis picked Timber. Timber is also used to playing with Berghuis and Klaassen. Also a factor. I am a big Rick Karsdorp fan, but LVG’s decisions made sense to me.

Wilson: I also dont understand, how you conclude from training you are not good enough to start. Then why are you there in the first place.I have long said this the backup players need to have a strong grip and be on the same par as the starting 11 so when there is major injuries there is no disruption. In contrast this has always been the case for NT, when ever there is being a major injury, the team is in disarray. Ake has already played vs big teams like Italy, Portugal, Belgium, France, how on earth you can tell from training he is not good enough to start vs a team like Montenegro is beyond me.

My dear Wilson, this is what makes a coach a coach. Louis has 26 players. But he can only play 11 players. So he cannot play them all. So how do you think he chooses his best eleven? Do you think he picks cards, blindfolded? Or do you think he reads tea-leaves? No! He does the following: 1) what is my preferred system, 2) what are the job descriptions per position, 3) which players do I have available who are top fit and have match rhythm, 4) which player is the best suited for the role and 5) how does this player “work” with the others around him.

This is exactly what a coach does. If you don’t understand this, I am now clear on why you sometimes have those odd comments about football. At training, you can see if a player is focused, whether he has form.

No one is saying Ake can’t play against big teams. He is in the squad isn’t he?

Wilson: I will also say providing arguments with factual contents is not negativity.

There are not a lot of factual comments. It’s all opinion. Most people (you as well) follow the ball and will judge a player on how he plays with the ball. That is never more than 3 minutes per game. Only Messi will probably have the ball more than that, and Frenkie probably too. But a player like Dumfries, Klaassen, Bergwijn will not have the ball for more than 3 minutes. The other 87 minutes are not relevant for most fans, but coaches take these very seriously. Positioning, offering himself up as an option, making runs for the team, covering the positions, etc. Kuyt copped so much criticism, as did Nigel de Jong, and then it was Strootman and now it’s De Roon or Klaassen. It makes me sick. Because these lads represent Oranje and deserve support. And if Van Dijk, Frenkie, Memphis and Van Gaal are happy with De Roon in the team, who the F are you to pour that negativity over them all? Have some respect and accept that you may not see it properly.

And it also applies to the criticism on Hiddink, Danny Blind and Frank de Boer. It’s what Adriaanse calls: Scoreboard analysis. If a coach wins, he’s great. If he loses he is a dik, he is a loser, he needs to go and more of that. In The Netherlands, there is respect for these guys. Hiddink did well with PSV, Real Madrid, South Korea and The Netherlands. One bad spell doesn’t make him a loser. Danny Blind is one of the most awarded player we have. Won everything as captain. And worked in all sorts of roles in football. Considered one of the best analysts and scouts. Yes, he was not able to qualify for the World Cup but he doesn’t deserve the treatment he gave. He tried. He did his best. He didn’t have an inch of luck.

Frank de Boer, same story. Great player. A Dutch Legend. Wins title with Ajax four times! And don’t tell me that it is easy, because it is not. Then he goes to Inter, where he is stabbed in the back. Three successive coaches were not able to turn Inter around. Conte was able to, won the title and guess what: he is also gone!! Crystal Palace: same story. Frank was hired to change things. Four games into the EPL, the owners feel the heat from the fans and quickly sacrifice Frank de Boer.

If Malen would have scored his chance vs the Czechs, Frank would probably still be NT manager today.

Wilson: Sometimes the timing is such there is continuation of comments from previous blog it intrudes contexts of the new post but that doesnt mean we dont appreciate what you write.

I write this blog because of my love for Dutch football. I write it for others who feel the same about Oranje. When people like yourself only pour their hatred and disappointment and anger into it, I cannot see how you appreciate me, the blog or Dutch football. We are supporters. Not cricicasters.

When you feel a player misplaced a pass, or missed a sitter, simply say: this guy played a bad game. But don’t say: “this player is bad, he can’t play, he’s in the team because of daddy/Ajax/whatever, he needs to be sacked”. That is negative. That is vinegar pissing. What you could say is: he missed three passes, I wonder why that is? Is he the best option? Those are comments and questions we can work with and which will result in a positive thread of comments. Negativity leads to conflicts.

So, lets stay critical and lets call a spade a spade but lets try to be civil and supportive. “Malacia is a headless chicken” should be “Malacia played alright, except for one bad pass”. I want to see some love for the players, coaches and the game. Because they all work their asses of and deserve support. Even the “bad” players.

Your thoughts?

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Dutch NT Managers – pt 2

And as the KNVB is closing in on a deal with a certain Louis van Gaal for his third stint as NT manager, the time seems right to focus on Part 2 of Dutch NT Managers… 

And on we go, into the era that most of us you will remember more vividly…

European Championships 2000 – Frank Rijkaard

The tournament was in our own country (and Belgium) and as a result, we needn’t play any qualification games. Only friendlies, with the 5-5 vs Belgium a truly fun one (with an outstanding Davids). The Euros themselves were fine. We grew into the tournament. We got lucky vs the Czechs but demonstrated our great form later on in the tournament. Playing Italy in the semi finals was something to look out for. The team in form got Italy a red card early in the game and with the tremendous domination we had, it seemed only a matter of time, before…. but no. We missed all the chances, including two penalties and also went on to miss more of those in the shoot out. A crying Rijkaard was seen sitting in the bus after the tournament. He immediately resigned from his duties and disappeared to Spain via Sparta Rotterdam.

Frank may not have won anything as a coach with Oranje, but the dynamics in the group were great and we did play some exciting football. Once can only imagine what would have happened if he stayed on…

World Cup 2002 – Louis van Gaal

It wasn’t easy for Louis, to pick up the disappointed and somewhat ageing squad after the Euro2000 debacle, also with heaps of injuries and absent players, but the experienced coach should have done better. He failed to qualify with a top notch squad and really overplayed his hand in the Portugal away game, where he ruined our chances. The press antics of the man are a disgrace too, with his pathos and drama and crocodile tears. He’d go back to Barca and would eventually leave there with a lot of commedia dell’ arte as well. 

Based on this tournament alone, Louis would be the worst NT coach ever.

Euros 2004 – Dick Advocaat

Someone felt it was best to pick an experienced coach to pick up the team and work with it towards the Euros in Portugal in 2004. As we did have older players retiring and a bunch of new kids (Sneijder, Robben) getting into the limelight, an innovative and young coach would have made more sense.

There was a lot of push back in the media: why pick another former NT? Why not a younger coach? Dick reluctantly took the job and immediately picked Willem van Hanegem, his good friend, as assistant coach. The idea was to use the highly popular legend to deflect criticism away from Advocaat, who is famously suspicious of criticasters and media.

We ended up going with an impressive squad: Sar, Stam, Cocu, Davids, Kluivert, Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart, Makaay, Sneijder, Overmars, Robben, to name a few. And Paul Bosvelt, yes.

Advocaat didn’t want to use too many new talents. Robben (returning from injury, of course) and Sneijder were benchwarmers. Van der Meyde and Zenden, to name two lesser players, started. We ended up losing the semis against the host country Portugal. That didn’t hurt that much. We had just beaten the Swedes on penalties (finally!!) which was great, but the main damage was done in our second group match vs the Czechs.

The story is famous by now. We drew against the Germans and the second match vs the Czechs, we had a recovered young Robben on fire. He was unstoppable by the opponent. But Advocaat decided to stop him. He took Robben off after an hour of play, at 2-1. The Dutch, incl Robben, were dumbfounded. A controlling mid (Bosvelt) for an attacker in fine form. 30 minutes later, Oranje had lost the match. Everyone wondered why Dick made that change.

Advocaat decided to let Van Hanegem do the press conference, fearful as Dickie was for criticism. When Van Hanegem was asked about the change, he also expressed bewilderment as to why Advocaat would have done it. Asked what Willem would do next time Dick attempts to do something like this, Willem responded: “I will knock him unconscious!”.

That caused a rift between Dick and Willem and a rift between players (who all favoured Willem) and Dick. The game vs Latvia was won and because Germany beat the Czechs, Holland went through. The loss against Portugal was not necessary but on the day, it was justified. The biggest talking point was and still is: Robben’s substitution.

Dick again demonstrated to be less “Dutch” in his coaching than his players or assistant. Lack of courage, lack of tactical insights. He will never really do something overly stupid (like Van Gaal did in the 2002 campaign vs Portugal) but he will also never dazzle. This can be seen even today, as he currently is Feyenoord’s coach.

World Cup 2006 – Marco van Basten / John van ‘t Schip

When another experienced coach disappointed, the KNVB this time did go to see Cruyff for advice. By then, JC had retired and suffered a heart attack before, so he wasn’t going to pick up the baton. But he did have some advice. Like he presented Rijkaard as a candidate to the Barca board, he now opted to have his other protegees (Van Basten/Van ‘t Schip) to take the job at the KNVB. Quite interesting, as both never coached a first time at that stage. Van ‘t Schip and Van Basten, in that order, were head and assistant coach at Young Ajax, and were impressing there. So JC decided that these two could manage Oranje. Based on San Marco’s name and image, it was decided that the roles would be reversed: Marco was to be head coach and Johnny was going to assist him.

Initially, the duo impressed. We won the qualification (12 matches), only dropping four points. We drew vs Macedonia in the last game, when we were already qualified and we drew against them early on away from home too.

The player selection was typical Van Basten: he basically didn’t select Clarence Seedorf because “he didn’t like him”. That was not the official reason of course, but Marco did mention many times – with a wink – that Clarence was “too much work”.

The Group stages went well. Bolstered by youngsters like Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie, the NT won their first two games vs Serbia and Ivory Coast, leaving the final game in the group of Death as a non-decider: losing or winning vs Argentina, it didn’t really matter. We ended up drawing which meant we finished second. And suddenly we realised it did matter: now we had to face angstgegner Portugal! And we got ousted after what was called the Worst Game Ever in a World Cup! Refereer Ivanov (retired after this game) couldn’t handle the battle of Nuremberg and ended up showing 16 yellow cards and four red ones! Overall, the opinion was that 1) shenanigans in the Dutch squad between Van Nistelrooy/Van Bommel and the coaches had brought an edge to the Dutch players and 2) the referee made some early mistakes which allowed for this game to explode even further. Boulahrouz had an early kick onto C Ronaldo’s knee and should have been red-carded immediately. The ref didn’t pick up on it and his yellow fuelled the anger of the Portuguese. Portugal won 1-0, while Cocu and Kuyt had huge opportunities to score, but missed. The rift between Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark van Bommel and Van Basten overshadowed most of this World Cup for us, and we were tarred and feathered by the international media.

Van Basten did come up with some positives, besides the afore mentioned clashes. His relationship with Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben and other young talents was very good and during the qualification matches for the Euros 2008, he patched things up with Van Nistelrooy (not with Van Bommel though). The qualification matches didn’t go that smooth this time and we placed second after Romania, having lost points versus Belarus, Bulgaria and Romania…

We ended up in another Group of Death, with France, Italy and Romania. The latter was stronger than us in the qualifications, while France and Italy were the recent World Cup finalists. We tend to do well under pressure.

We impressed with stunning wins over Italy and France, with the usual suspects delivering big time (Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Nistelrooy). Van Basten played a compact, fast counter attacking game with the speed, guile and technical skills as main weapons.

Khalid Boulahrouz played an interesting part, this Euros. He wasn’t part of the pre-prelim squad. But while Maduro, Emanuelson, Jaliens and Koevermans were axed from the pre-lim squad (and Seedorf decided not want to be selected), Van Basten did select Boulahrouz in his pre-lim squad. He would be the last player to be dropped from the group. However, when Ryan Babel got injured and had to miss the Euros, Van Basten didn’t call another attacker but picked Boulahrouz again.

His wife, pregnant in her sixth month, would deliver a still born baby, only a couple of days before the quarter finals vs Guus Hiddink’s Russia. The bond between the players (Boulah was close to Van der Sar, to Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart and others) was hurt, as the players spent hours with Khalid at the hospital and were in mourning. The game against Russia was a heavy-legged affair. Oranje lost its spark and the shrewd Hiddink was able to bamboozle Holland with his tactics. We lost in strange circumstances, as the ref decided to red card a Russian player for a foul, but he decided to cancel the red card and allow the player on the pitch. After 1-1 in normal time, the Russians were fitter than the Dutch in the extra time and beat us: 1-3.

Van Basten / Van’t Schip gave us memorable games. Some of them for good reasons ( WC 2006 vs Serbia, and Ivory Coast, all group games in the Euros) and some of them for bad reasons (Portugal 2006, Russia 2008). But overall, the experience was good. Van Basten decided he wasn’t a head coach, many years later. He blamed the pressure and media stuff. Part of the problem was Marco’s lack of man-management skills. He could act and communicate as a cynical player does, calling out players who make mistakes publically. His relationship with Van Bommel never really recuperated (as it did with Van Nistelrooy).

World Cup 2010 – Bert van Marwijk

Van Bommel’s future in Oranje suddenly looked positive when his father in law Bert van Marwijk was the shoe in for the NT coach job.

Van Marwijk had impressed as coach of Fortuna Sittard, a lowly club usually at the lower ranks of pro football but with the likes of Bert at the helm and young talents like Wilfred Bouma, Kevin Hofland and in particular Mark van Bommel, they did ever so well. Bert was a talented left winger whose career got stalled due to a terrible knee injury. He made his way from the local amateurs, to Fortuna, than Feyenoord at a certain point the Dutch NT. Bert is a no nonsense manager. He loves creative football but he absolutely adores winning. He further perfected Van Basten’s 4-2-3-1 and with Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel as partners in the engine room, Oranje did lose some magic but they gained grit. And after a record breaking qualification series with some amazing football, Oranje went to the World Cup in South Africa. That generation was at its peak but for some reason, the tournament started for Oranje with some figthing games more than actual creative, dazzling play. The Denmark game was a typical example of how we had to battle for results and somehow we forgot to play good football but turned into a street fighting team, almost. Rafael van de Vaart and Eljero Elia were subbed for gritty players like Kuyt and De Jong, but hey…we kept on winning. The low point being the finals vs Spain. We never got into our groove and disgusted the world with our aggro play, symbolised by Nigel’s flying kick on Xabi’s chest. Yes, it was an accident, but it looked terrible. Robben could have turned it into a victory story though, but Casillas’ toe had other plans.

Bert won silver with Oranje which puts him right next Michels and Happel.

Euros 2012 – Bert van Marwijk

This tournament ended up being a footnote in our history. Van Marwijk declined several offers from clubs to move on with Oranje with the aim to win this trophy. Gio van Bronckhorst retired after the World Cup and Mark van Bommel got the armband (he was skipper at Bayern at the time as well). The qualifications were a dream again, with wins over San Marino, Finland, Moldavia, Hungary and Sweden. We did lose the last qualification game but that was without any consequence. The home game vs Sweden (4-1) is considered one of the best matches Oranje played under Van Marwijk. 

That team had Rafa van der Vaart as one of the holding mids, a spot he should have had at the World Cup and at the Euros. Afellay was also impressing in these qualification matches as was Erik Pieters as left back. Some other names used by Van Marwijk: Hedwiges Maduro, Vernon Anita, Emanuelson, Stijn Schaars and Edson Braafheid.

We won that qualification tournament easily. But at the Euros, we came crashing down. The reasons were quite simple. Both Van der Vaart and Huntelaar felt they belonged in the team. Huntelaar had scored 12 in the series and Van der Vaart was amazing as holding mid. But at the Euros, Bert went back to his trusted engine rooms with two defending mids, while the more talented Van Persie was giving the #9 role. 

Erik Pieters got injured before the tournament and Van Marwijk opted to take the 17 year old Jetro Willems. The young PSV player who joined the club from Sparta only a year before would become the youngest player ever at a Euros. Vlaar played for the injured Mathijsen and Huntelaar and Van der Vaart started on the bench vs Denmark.

The crazy thing: we played Denmark off the pitch, but we didn’t score. RvP specifically seemed to have the boxes still around his boots and when the Danes scored, we couldn’t turn it around. 

For the second game, Bert started with the same eleven but had to sub his captain in favour for Rafael van de Vaart who couldn’t hide his disgust for being left out again. Same as Hunter. The rifts were becoming clearer, the second match was lost as well, vs Germany and we have one more game in which we could salvage our tournament. Both Van der Vaart and Huntelaar started and it was the former part Spanish, part Dutch midfielder man who scored the first goal, but C Ronaldo on fire turned the game around. Holland went home, with zero points on the tally. Forgettable.

Bert didn’t manage this team well enough, overall. After the World Cup, the team needed something different. But how, what and when is a different matter.

Bert deserves a statue in the Zeist statue park of Oranje, he got us silver, but he was also responsible for one of the worst Euros we ever played…

World Cup 2014 – Louis van Gaal

After Bert, in 2012, a number of players were slowly losing their spot in the team. Louis van Gaal got the job as a more disciplinarian was needed, the KNVB felt. Louis introduced some new players, such as Martins Indi, Luciano Narsingh, Jeremain Lens, Ruben Schaken all along the players who did remain, such as Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Robben and Van Persie.

Louis coached us through the qualifications without a worry. One draw, the rest wins. With Robin van Persie as top scorer in the qualifications, with Rafa van der Vaart and Jeremain Lens as runners up. Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij, Jonathan de Guzman and Stijn Schaars were other names that made their way into the squad.

After a friendly, Louis realises that the traditional 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 wouldn’t work with the issues we were facing. Robben, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Van Persie were still super key, but lacked the legs to play a modern game of football in a swelty Brazil. Our back line was futhermore quite inexperienced and had a certain Daley Blind as key build up man, but as well know, Daley also lacks speed.

So Van Gaal introduced the 5-3-2. The Dutch purists, still recovering from Van Marwijk’s “anti-football” in South Africa, got their panties in a knot but Louis used the pre-World Cup period to perfect the 5-3-2. Overall, it wasn’t always successful but beating Spain the opening game 1-5 resulted in the silencing of the criticasters.

Not without luck (Australia, Mexico), Oranje sailed through the tournament and Van Gaal further made name for himself with the smart goal keeper change in the Costa Rica match, when penalties needed to decide the winner. Krul came on for Cillesen, not because Krul was a recognised penalty killer so much (Krul has more reach than Cillesen) but as a psychological move. The Costa Ricans immediately thought that Krul was brought in as a cert to stop penalties and guess what: he did stop two, and Oranje went on to play Argentina in the semis.

Van Gaal ended up bringing the bronze back to Holland, after a good win over hosts Brazil but the 5-3-2 criticism did prompt the KNVB to bring a more fatherly coach back who was instructed to bring the Dutch school back in to play.

Louis didn’t qualify for the 2002 World Cup, which was a huge embarrassment. But he did win us the bronze medal, so he’s now on even keel with… the other 15 million NT managers in Holland. He will need to win something now, in order to top this list!

Euros 2016  / World Cup 2018 – Guus Hiddink / Danny Blind / Dick Advocaat

Well, this must well be the worst period in Oranje’s existence. Worse than the drought in the early 80s and the miss of 2002… Because those misses were all related to lack of quality, motivation and emotional intelligence of the players and coaching staff. Back then, the KNVB was a hands-off kinda admin office. But after the bronze medal in Brazil and the tremendous criticism on Oranje’s playing style by icons like Van Hanegem and Cruyff, the KNVB decided to step in firmly with some strong directives! 

The KNCB Ceo was on top of the world and made some “technical” decisions he should have left for others to make: 1. Guus Hiddink was to return to the NT because “the players needed a soft touch, after dictatorial Louis”, 2. Danny Blind would be his assistant and his replacement after Hiddink would retire, 3. the NT was told to return to 4-3-3 and 4. the KNVB would install a technical director and work on a strategy moving forward (the “Winners of Tomorrow” report).

Well, we are six years later, that KNVB Ceo has been promoted away to some vague job somewhere. Hiddink was fired, just like Blind after him. TD Hans van Breukelen was tarred and feathered after his abysmal handling of the selection of the coach to follow Blind and the Dutch missed two major tournaments.

Yes, we lacked quality maybe in that post WC 2014 period, but I still believe that even with a younger squad with Janssen, Blind, Wijnaldum, Dost, Strootman and De Vrij we should have qualified for both the Euros 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

The World Cup Blues set in, right after the successes in Brazil which cost us points in the first qualification games. The injury woes and aging of Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie didn’t help. Strootman’s post injury form was pretty bad and some of the decisions made by both Blind (De Ligt v Bulgaria) and Advocaat ( Sneijder and Van Persie vs France) were atrocious. As was the decision by the ref in the Sweden away game, to cancel Dost’s header, which would have seen us go to the World Cup 2018. A horrific time.

Guus’ wonderful 1998 campaign got tainted by this. Danny Blind was already a question mark as he does have limited head coaching experience and resorting back to Advocaat was also a debacle as everyone knows Dick doesn’t deal well with stress and is a defensive coach. 

Nations League 2017 and Euros 2020 – Ronald Koeman

Koeman did something that should have pushed him straight to the top of our list. He brought swagger back. He relocated the Dutch back to the private forests of Zeist in stead of the beach promenade in Noordwijk. He tested the 5-3-2 and abandoned it swiftly and most importantly, he let the team win games again. Sure, the entrance on the big stage of Frenkie de Jong did a lot for the team as his confidence and skill pushed the Dutch forward, as did the leadership of Van Dijk. We almost won a trophy (Nations League) and qualified without too much issues for the Euros. Well done Ronald.

And then he decided to jump another train. He left PSV for the Valencia train (and that train crashed) and he did the same now for Barcelona. Do we sympathise with him? I guess we do. But surely, if he won the Euros with Oranje, Barca would still have been an option for him. But him running to the exit a mere 9 months before the Euros has tainted his name (for me) and Koeman will not make it to the top spot. 

Euros 2020 – Frank de Boer

He cut a sad figure. Imagine, you’re a winner. You won a lot as a player. You were a leader. A warrior. Gifted with a magical left and a strong header of the ball. You played for Ajax, Barcelona, Oranje… You are a legend. Then you become the Ajax head coach. And in tough times you win the domestic title 4 times, almost 5 times… 

You go to a big Italian club. And you fail. Then you got to the EPL. And you fail again. And sure, he was lured in with the request to bring “Ajax style continental football” to those clubs, but he wasn’t able to persevere. It took Inter three coaches before they got it. Atlanta was a better choice for him, at least he won trophies and stayed long enough to unpack a fresh pair of socks. His return to Oranje was not a good one. He was not candidate #1 (he was #5 or so). He was also told to be “like Koeman” and he was told that he had to work with the existing backroom staff. Louis van Gaal would have declined.

He decided to place all his chips on zero (meaning: 5-3-2) and go down in flames or up in a blaze of glory. After a series of guffahs and mistakes (Cillesen, Donny’s statistics, El Ghazi’s sms message) and underwhelming friendlies, Oranje did manage to win the group games and end up as group leader. The road to the semis seemed relatively easy for the Dutch, but they tripped dramatically in the first knock-out game against a sturdy and tough Czech Republic. Did we lose that match as a result of wrong tactics, or the wrong players? I don’t think so. We lost due to lack of quality, lack of execution of the tactics, sluggish players and personal misses/mistakes. But the overall picture was clear: Frank failed to ignite this Dutch team. He failed to imbed that new playing style and didn’t find the solution in the squad he needed. The role of Memphis, his striking partner, the use of the left wing back, the choice of goal keeper… too many questions. Before the KNVB was able to do a proper evaluation with De Boer, he resigned.

Conclusion:

Well, it seems every coach we had has either failed or has succeeded AND failed. 

Hiddink, Advocaat, Michels, Van Marwijk…they all had glorious days, followed or preceded by debacle. Yes, Michels won us a trophy and a World Cup silver medal and a Euros bronze medal (?) but he also stopped us from getting Cruyff as national coach – twice- and he was responsible for the atrocious 1990 World Cup. So no, Michels is not my all time best NT Coach.

Frank Rijkaard is the man. He coached Holland to what seemed to be a sure fire Trophy in 2000, only to be outfoxed by….. Frank de Boer (missing two spot kicks).

The football under his leadership was pretty good fun and open and deserving of applause and kudos. Frank is my main man!

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