Tag: Nigel de Jong

Big Four are history now…

Arjen Robben, after the last WC qualification game vs Sweden: “The man of glass went on the longest….”

The Big Four are no more. Sneijder might play a fringe part for us in the future, but Van der Vaart, most likely Van Persie and Robben are no longer going to wear the orange.

We didn’t just lose a couple of world class players, the Big Four, we lost our self-esteem.

It’s 2010, Oranje up for the semi-finals vs Uruguay. Sneijder is being interviewed, but the cocky Utrechter turns the tables. He asks the question: “Do you believe we can win it?” The sports reporter hesitates… Sneijder: “Ok, you doubt me? I will convince you. Not with words.” And he pointed at Robin van Persie. Then he pointed at Van der Vaart. Then at Robben. He looked the reporter in the eye and pointed at himself. “Tell your wife you’ll be coming home after the finals.”

Sneijder got up and walked away. And raised both arms in triumph, with two fingers up on both hands. Four.

Two days later, Oranje made it to the finals.

Earlier that year, he did the same. He asked the question of the sports reporter: “Is there a name for it when you win the treble AND the World Cup?”. He just won the title, the national cup in Italy and the Champions League. He played against Robben and Van Bommel. These three would get to the national team training camp late, but brimming with confidence. Robben and Sneijder talked at the trainings camp, about their mutual debuts for Oranje against Portugal. “We never made it far in 2006 and 2008 because our aim was to survive these groups of death. Getting through was the key thing. This time, it’s different. This time we want to go all the way. We told each other constantly: we are not leaving until we played the finals. We will go to South Africa to win it!”

Those were the days. Not just because we had these four Top Guns. But because we had personalities in the team. Think Nigel de Jong, Mark van Bommel, Dirk Kuyt. Players with a voice and an opinion. In 2010, the players wanted to win it. In 2014, Louis van Gaal squeezed it out of them.

The development process of the Big Four was fascinating. And also because of their temperaments. When self consciousness and top quality meet, ego is lurking. And in particular, when certain players are going for the same position. It was never a thing, for Sneijder and Van der Vaart. Best mates since their youth. And they still are close. Bert van Marwijk demanded it: mutual respect and acceptance. Trust each others qualities and skills and cover for the weaker aspects. A collective consciousness. And all this got processed and came to the fore in 2010. If it wasn’t for Casillas toe, Holland would have had the cup.

They shared their talent and confidence, but the Big Four also never forgot their roots. When Van Persie scored that phenomenal header vs Spain, in 2014, he credited his old youth coach Aad Putters, at Excelsior, as the man who taught him to head the ball. And every year, Robin participates in the youth tournament carrying his name. Just like Rafael van der Vaart visits his own youth tournament in Beverwijk, with his dad behind the bar counter and his mum selling entry tickets. Arjen Robben recently produced a video tape to ask the fans of FC Groningen to support his old club, even in these dire times. And Sneijder financially supports an entourage of family and friends, to make them part of his success. They’re multi millionaires but in their hearts they’re still street players.

Robben, the dribble king from Bedum, Sneijder the focused leader, Van der Vaart the old-fashioned virtuoso and Van Persie the elegant artist, who’d do the grocery shopping in Kralingen with a ball glued to his left foot. They love the game, from their youth right to the highest level.

But after that failed tournament of 2012, in the run up to the World Cup Brazil, the rust started to show. Van der Vaart was already out. He played his last international game in 2013. Van Gaal harassed Sneijder about his fitness. Van Persie admitted he played with constant pain. Only Robben, with him was it the opposite. The injury prone winger was in the form of his life and carried Oranje through the World Cup 2014. Sneijder and Van Persie just made it. When Wesley Sneijder had himself tested by the Dutch squad medical team, Van Gaal thought the equipment was faulty and ordered a re-test. That is how fit Sneijder was. Van Persie withstood the knee complaints and had his most productive tournament ever: 4 goals. In that sensational 1-5 win over Spain, all three players were involved: two goals Van Persie, two goals Robben and Sneijder with two assists. Robben: “Whenever Sneijder gets played in, I’m on my bike. Even if he still has work to do. Because I know he’ll find the gap to pass the ball exactly where I need it.” It’s how it went in Salvador, with Sergio Ramos crawling on all fours, watching how Robben scored. And in Johannesburg, when Robben was thwarted by Casillas’ toe.

In the years post-Brazil, the rust took over. Robben remained the Oranje leader. But his body didn’t agree and in 2015 and 2016 he only played 166 minutes in Oranje. The exact same period in which we failed to qualify for France 2016. Van der Vaart got sidelined by Betis Sevilla and later at Mitdtjylland. Van Persie and Sneijder had the support of Danny Blind and Advocaat after Blind betted one more time, heavily, on the two mavericks. To no avail. Sneijder got subbed for Vilhena and Van Persie ended up with a bad knee injury. Not much after, the WC Russia disintegrated for us and with that, a proper send-off for our Top World Class players. Only Robben was there, when we clutched at straws vs Belarus and Sweden. Robben had an assist on Propper against Belarus but fired a free kick into row Z later on. He had a wry smile on his face… Against Sweden, Robben was man of the match. With two goals, a lucky pen and a smashing strike from outside of the 16. His swan song.

The demasque of Oranje is a fact now. Sneijder: “At Galatasaray, some players asked who were in the Dutch national team. I named them and all I could see were question marks in their faces…”

Sneijder wasn’t present for the last qualification games. Robben was the only one left. When asked about it: “I’m not going to lie. I find it tough to be here without him. I think he could have had value for us, he’s very important. But, it’s the coach who decides, not me. But yes, it’s a wake-up call for me.”

What rests us, are the memories. Two years ago, this sentimental journey got it’s prologue. Three of the Big Four are in the bar of the Amsterdam Hilton. The Dutch team stayed the night there. Clarence Seedorf, ex-international, came by to say hi. Sneijder, Van Persie and Robben sat down with Seedorf and shared memories of the times that Oranje was a shoe in for the semi finals at big tournaments. Life was good, jokes all around, sipping drinks in front of the fire place. Sneijder grabbed his phone and said: “Let me call Raffie, ask him to come down. We’d be complete again.” They laughed and toasted. Proud and melancholic.

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Wesley Sneijder: Mr Oranje Record Breaker

Phillip Cocu passed the ball into him. A quick turn and a shot on target: goal! He jumps laughing into the arms of Pierre van Hooijdonk, at the side of the pitch. On the bench, coach Dick Advocaat. Oranje team manager, but without hair from front to back and Willem van Hanegem next to him as his assistant.

Ajax’ total management team was on the pitch. Marc Overmars on the left wing, Edwin van der Sar on goal. Sneijder was just a kid, gel in his hair and a somewhat oversized Orange jersey.

He walked and laughed like a teenager, that day. A school boy, but he played the match of his live. November 2003, Holland-Scotland: 6-0.

wes debut

This was not his debut, but it certainly was his breakthrough. Just watch in the first 30 seconds of the game. Sneijder demands the ball, creates space from his own box, sprints across the length of the pitch, gives an opponent a knock at the half way line and walks away, chin up and chest out.

The Agassi-style walk, a bit pedantic, with the high raised elbows. The look saying “no one can touch me” and his fabolous kicking technique.

When Sneijder walked onto the pitch of De Kuip – one of his favorite venues – for his 131st international game, he doesn’t have that mercurial dynamic anymore. It was 14 years ago. His muscles are less agile, he’s got more tattoos, he bridges the distances with a bit more effort, but he is still Wesley Sneijder. Pure player. Bravado. The Man. Proud like no other.

He gave Oranje venom, will, class and bravado. But also a smile and a cheer. The many interviews, in the dark underbelly of a stadium, sweat dripping of his face. Or at the sideline of a windy practice pitch on Katwijk. Sometimes long and philosophical conversation, other times short soundbites. In hotels across the globe, at the training camps of Inter or Real Madrid, or at airports or amongst 1000s of insane Turkish fans.

wes raf scot

Sneijder Superstar but always himself. Good mooded, positive, opportunistic even. For some an annoying alpha male but usually a happy-go-lucky larekin. Always good for a story, an anecdote or a fierce debate.

The World Cup 2010 in South Africa was the pinnacle of what would be his most successful year on the field. But also off the pitch. In South Africa, in Johannesburg, he would share stories about his faith, about love, about the talismans he brings on his travels, about his son, God, about him mother and life as a public persona.

Sneijder is streetwise. He may not have been educated too well, but he’s incredibly intelligent, and his emotional intelligence is a gift. He never lost his Utrecht dialect, but turned an ego-centric punk into a mature man, with an eye for the less fortunate. He is always happy to help old friends, will always give the young Oranje fans the time of day and is always available to the press.

lvg wes

In March, the last international game under Danny Blind, Sneijder had a speaking engagement before a conference hall with parents of young cancer patients. Sneijder knows how to: warm, upbeat, spontanious and will a good feel for timing and atmosphere. Whether he’s speaking with Princes Maxima, or the sick kid in the wheelchair, he is always at ease.

But it didn’t all go smoothly. Sometimes, Sneijder behind his mask of manliness could be unhappy and vulnerable. During his time at Real Madrid, he divorced his first wife and drowned himself in the Spanish nightlife, with a mediocre spell at the club. Self critical as he can be, later on he said “I was completely shit” about that period.

His love for life was a stumbling block a couple of more time. He didn’t always live like a pro. It seemed he almost missed the World Cup 2014 when Louis van Gaal attacked him agressively and forced the proud Sneijder to shape up or ship out. Sneijder took the bait. He was insulted. Humiliated. Angry as hell at Van Gaal. And he trained himself insane with kickboxer and personal coach Gokhan Saki. He was ignored for a while by Van Gaal but he kept at it. At the WC in Brazil, Sneijder was to play in service of the artists Van Persie and Robben and accepted the role. He had his value for Oranje with a killer game versus Spain and the equaliser against Mexico.

wes yo

Glory embraced him in 2010, the year he won the Champions League with Inter and headed Oranje past Brazil at the WC. Or that pass through the eye of the needle on Arjen Robben, on his way to meet the toe of Casillas. One inch away from world gold.

It would not get any better than that. And this is another point of criticism: he seemed to settle to easily for Galatasaray. It might have been a couple of years too early. He became a demi god in Instanbul but as a club player, he said goodbye to the European top.

“He still is the best player of Galatasaray, hell, maybe of Turkey!” said Dick Advocaat this week. Sneijder took that quote and taunted the media: “You guys don’t follow the Turkish competition, but maybe you also want to make a judgement about me?”

wes dick lux

He now has the record which he has been chasing fanatically. On his birthday even. 131 caps. And Sneijder even hinted at staying on after the WC2018. “Why not? I really value it, playing for Oranje. Every time again. Wesley Sneijder, figure head of Oranje in good and bad times. An Oranje legend in his active playing days. Worth a standing ovation.

April 30, 2003: Oranje – Portugal 1-1

There is a first for everything and this was the first for our record international. The young Ajax upstart came on in the second half to replace Phillip Cocu in a friendly vs Portugal. Dick Advocaat was his coach here as well and Arjen Robben made his debut as well.

October 11, 2003: Holland – Moldavia 5-0

The second international for Sneijder was a good one. Advocaat allowed him a starting birth and he got his first goal in the 51st minute, on a Kluivert assist. Signs of things to come.

wes scotl

November 19, 2003: Holland – Scotland 6-0

After being absent at the 2002WC, Oranje couldn’t afford to miss another big tournament. The qualification was not a smooth ride and we needed a play offs game vs Scotland to get to the Euros. We lost the away game 1-0. Oranje needed to set things right in the Amsterdam Arena.  The 19 year old Sneijder took the reigns and led Oranje to a big win. Wesley scored the 1-0 after 14 minutes and allowed Ooijer and Van Nistelrooy goals via his free kick delivery. Van Nistelrooy also scored the 4-0 after which Sneijder delivered a corner-kick onto the head of Frank de Boer: 5-0.

June 9 2008: Holland – Italy 3-0

After another difficult qualification campaign, Oranje found itself in another Group of Death, with Italy, France and a strong Romania. The openingsgame vs Italy was on Sneijder’s 24th birthday. The world champions were played off the pitch 3-0, with a goal and assist by Sneijder.

wes 2008 ita

June 13, 2008: Holland – France 4-1

A couple of days later, the World Cup runner up was the opponenent: France. Sneijder again dipped in with an assist and a sensational goal in injury time. A wonderful no-look distance striker pregnant with spin. His goal was choses as The Goal of the Tournament.

July 2, 2010: Holland – Brazil 2-1

A weak Oranje had to play cat and mouse with Brazil. With Oranje as the mouse. Robinho scored already after 10 minutes and Brazil was actually playing with Oranje. If Stekelenburg wouldn’t have stopped a marvelous Kaka effort, the game would have slipped away. But Bert van Marwijk was able to bring a totally different Oranje onto the pitch, with Rafael van de Vaart as holding midfielder. In the 53rd minute, a free kick by Sneijder remained untouched and found his way past Julio Cesar. Fifteen minutes later, the little playmaker scored a surprising header in amongst the Brazilian defense. 1 meter and 70 centimeters and the header was the winner. Oranje in the semis!

wes head bra

July 9, 2010: Holland – Spain 0-1

Uruguay was the next scalp in the semis, with another Sneijder goal (and Gio’s Goal of the Tournament). The finals vs Spain was supposed to be to ultimate. Just before the break, Sneijder released Robben with a pinpoint pass but Casillas toe came in between Sneijder and the World Cup. There were a number of goal opportunities but no goals. Nigel de Jong scored the biggest upset by kicking Alonso in two (almost). Oranje was headed towards penalties after Heijtinga was sent off and Van der Vaart took his place as man market. In the 116th minute, Iniesta decapitated Holland. For the third time, a runners up silver medal for Oranje.

September 2, 2011: Holland – San Marino 11-0

One could say any international game vs San Marino should be a footnote and nothing more. The question is not: who wins, but with how many goals will we win. But it was a benchmark game. The first time Oranje got double digits. Sneijder scoring two goals and an assist.

wes xavi

July 13, 2014: Holland – Spain 5-1

The openings game for Oranje at the WC2014 was Sneijder’s 100st cap for Oranje. The Spanish Seleccion had won three major tournaments in a row and was favorite versus a – alleged -weak Oranje. Xabi Alonso scored the first goal from the spot kick. Just before half time, Van Persie scored the equaliser on a deep pass by Daley Blind. After the break, Holland scored 4 more, with two assists for Sneijder. Oranje’s revenge. Spain would go home after the group stage.

wes score

29 juni 2014: Nederland-Mexico 2-1

Oranje qualified with ease for this tournament and actually sailed through the group stage after finishing of the reigning world champs. In the first knock out game vs Mexico, it almost went wrong. Dos Santos scored the first goal in the first half and it took till the 88th minute before Oranje could salvage the game. A loose ball fell on the gifted foot of Sneijder who finished the ball emphatically. Not much later, Robben was awarded a penalty and Huntelaar hammered the ball home. Mexico went home, Oranje moved into the quarter finals.

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Ruud Krol: Royalty in Naples

Holland produced tremendous talents in the 1970s. We all know the names, and the memories. Johan Cruyff, of course. Van Hanegem, Neeskens, John Rep, Wim Jansen, Rob Rensenbrink… The right footed Ajax player morphed into a left back – and later central defender – Ruud Krol was part of that generation and grew out to be a super star, first as captain of Ajax and Holland and then through his time and impact at Napoli.

The now 67 year old cosmopolitan would turn into one of Napoli’s most popular players ever.

Elegance, duel strength, speed, heading capabilities, a phenomenal long pass and personality. This is the story in the VI Italy special.

This version of hero worship is new even to Ruud Krol. In the belly of the Stadio San Paolo, Krol is confronted with a man who’s eyes and mouth are wide open once he sees Krol. He makes a deep bow and mutters “Mama mia!”. And followed with another deep bow. With typical dry Amsterdam humour, Ruud quips: “Hey mind your back my man!” This is not just an old fan. This man happens to be current Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri. Earlier today, his team lost the match vs arch enemy AS Roma, but that all is now forgotten. “What a tremendous honour to meer you,” the coach adds. “Grande Rudy, you are a Napoli hero. You are Napoli!”


And a day earlier, Ruud Krol received a huge hug from his former right back from that team, Guiseppe Bruscolotti. They haven’t seen each other for 32 years but they always stayed in contact. And now they are reunited, two tough guys, with teary eyes, touching each other fondly, as Italians tend to do. Guiseppe puts his hand on Ruud’s belly and on his own and says “Rudy, you need to eat more! You probably missed the food here, come on, let’s get some seafood.”

Driving through Naples, Krol is in his own thoughts, taking in the roughness of the city. A city with issues, sure, but also a city which is taking care of things. Scaffolds around old buildings, fountains are being cleaned and horse and carriages are colourful and waiting for tourists to take them for a ride. “This city really grabbed me by the throat, ” Krol whispers. “And it never let me go.”

Once Krol and co enter the restaurant, a pandemonium ensues. The restaurant owner, his staff, they’re all there to meet and greet and within 5 minutes a reporter enters the space for some questions, while the maitre’d joins with a phone, explaining the local radio station wants a live interview. No one gets how this news spread. Bruscolotti: “This is Naples. Don’t try and make sense of it. Won’t work.”

krol napoli

At the border of the Gulf of Naples, with Vesuvius in the background, Krol delves into his memory. “I wanted to leave Ajax, for a while already and there was more interest from Italy. In the 1980s, that was one of the major leagues in the world of course. But there were issues with the Italian federation and the possibility for Italian clubs to sign players from other countries. I even had a pre-contract with AC Milan but that was null and void when the approval didn’t come for this. And AS Roma wanted to sign me and that bounced for the same reason. Torino wanted me too but I didn’t feel it with them. I did tip them to see Van de Korput and he ended up playing there.”

But it was time for Krol to move on. He’d won everything he could with Ajax and played two finals in the World Cup for Oranje. Ajax ruled in Europe and of that golden generation, Krol was the last to leave. In earlier seasons, Real Madrid, Paris St Germain and Arsenal made him offers but Ajax refused to let their captain go. “In hindsight, I stayed with Ajax too long. I had this ambition to repeat our successes with a new team and boy did we get close. We reached the semi finals of the Europa Cup 1 again but were beaten by Nottingham Forest. That was a blow. I was always fully motivated for these big matches, but I lost my drive in the Eredivisie. And would you believe it, just when I signed a 4 year deal with Vancouver, the Italian federation gave permission for foreign players. I thought an adventure to Canada would be cool. And I was hardly there for a week or so and suddenly a Napoli director – Juliano – was on my doorstep! This was on a Monday. He said “Rudy, you gotta play for Napoli on Wednesday. I’m here to get you, we’re flying tomorrow. He said he’d go and sort it with the Whitecaps. So I went. To the airport, waiting to board. No Juliano in sight until the last call. He came running and a deal with Whitecaps to sign me had failed. They allowed a loan deal for seven months.”

Stands Krol

Ruud returns to Naples and is hailed as a club icon

Juliano, Napoli and Vancouver Whitecaps would get in strife with another, seven months later. Vancouver wanted Krol back but Napoli didn’t wanna let Krol go back. Juliano flew back to Canada and eventually returned with a deal.

With a journey of 27 hours in his legs and jetlag, Krol made his debut on Wednesday for Napoli against West Bromwich Albion. A week later he played first competition game for Napoli vs Pistoiese and since that first game Krol-mania ensued in Naples. In the last minute, he demonstrated his speciality, with a pass over 50 meters, reaching sub Pellegrini who scored the winner for Napoli. From that day on, Ruud’s life had changed. “The next day I was strolling through the city, and entered a fashion store. I adored the Italian fashion, and within minutes I was crowded by a shop full of people. The shop owner had to call the cops to get me safely out of there. Later I strolled to the harbour and a boat full fishermen returned that moment. And what I learned then and there: Napolitans show their affection pinching your cheeks. So within minutes, I had dozens of fishermen’s hands on my cheeks and I stank all afternoon of rotten fish, hahahaha.”

ruud cover

Krol continues: “Since then, it only became worse. I became a celeb. I was doing tv-shows with Claudia Cardinale, I wasn’t able to walk through the city, I had police escorts where ever I went. This adoration was embarrassing, I had a great life, made good money while all these people gazing at me were poor as… I got presents and food and free stuff from people who’d have nothing to eat… I received for a full year of pasta and wine from a complete stranger. It made me so humble and small. I thought “what the f is happening here…”.

The language barrier was there in his first season. Bruscolotti almost chokes on a piece of squid thinking about the coaching of Krol. “Whenever I wanted the defence to push up, I would yell FIORI but the proper terms is FORI”. Fiori means “flowers” so you can imagine their bemusement whenever I wanted to press… So I went to study Italian a bit harder.”

Once Krol got the language he went to talk to his coach Marchesi. “We were conceding too many goals. We conceded 6 goals in two matches vs Ascoli and Inter and we needed to change our game plan. I suggested to use a wing back on the left with a false left winger who’s join in midfield to form a block and a more defensive role for the actual midfielder. I started to coach this on the pitch myself, like a typically vocal and headstrong Dutch guy, hahaha. But it started to work, we started to play so well that we became a title candidate. The people here didn’t know what was happening. I can remember training sessions with 30,000 people watching!”

Ruud_Krol_2 tunesia

Ruud coaching Tunesia

By then, Krol also demonstrated his typical rigid mentality to Napoli by almost committing sacrilege. The jersey numbers in those days in Italy were fixed. The full back had #2 and #3. The #4 was the defensive mid and the libero had #6 (Baresi, Scirea, Picchi) and the man marker was the #5. But Krol was superstitious. The Jersey #5 had always been his and he demanded to play with his lucky number. It took some debating, but Napoli gave in.

Krol also experienced the other side of life in Naples… In 1980 the city was hit by three earthquakes: 2,500 dead, 8,000 people injured and 250,000 people homeless… “We played away in Bologna when it happened. When we returned I couldn’t believe what we say. As if a huge bomb was dropped on the city. Despair, grieve, destruction, pain…it was terrible.”

“I followed my instincts and went into the city. It was immense, 1ooos of people on the streets, working, clearing, helping others. Everyone pulled their weight. And I will never forget our first home game, a weekend later. I figured no one would be bothered to think about us or football. But boy was I wrong, the stadium was fuller than ever, they literally broke down the fences to get in. The people needed us, the football, to process all the grieve and pain.”

This balm for the soul worked better and better as the season went on, as Napoli was competing with the Old Lady Juventus (with Zoff, Bettega, Tardelli, Gentile) and with AS Roma with Bruno Conti and Falcao. Napoli ended third that season and Ruud Krol was voted as the Best Player of the Serie A.

Bruscolotti: “It was huge that a player with his reputation would play for us. Two World Cup finals, three European Cups. And when he actually lifted our club up to the top, the whole region became under his spell. You’ll see tomorrow how important Krol is for us. Still. What Cruyff was for Barcelona and George Best for Man United, Beckenbauer for Bayern, Krol was and is this for us!”

Zola De Laurentiis Krol

Ruud Krol, Napoli chair De Laurentiis, Gianfranco Zola

The next day, off to Stadio San Paolo and Krol wonders what to expect. He hasn’t been back for 32 years. “I think the old fans and the old hands at Napoli will remember me.” How wrong he was. When Krol gets out of the car, the crowd on the square is moving in, there’s whispers, people pointing, his name is being chanted. The first fans fall in his arms and hug him. People come from all angles, no matter how big or small, or what age, they want a hug, a handshake, a touch. Even the local cops join in. People press their toddlers in his arms for a photo-op. When Krol can finally make his way into the stadium he mutters that he can use a bit of peace of quiet now, but no rest for the wicked(ly talented). Another ex-Napoli player is in the stadium, waiting to meet Krol: “This day is awesome already,” says Gianfranco Zola. “And believe it or not, I was just talking about you! Someone asked me what kind of player would be needed at Manchester City, and I literally said: the City of today would need the Krol from Napoli, hahaha. True story!” Krol smiles and responds: “Ok Gianfranco, it’s a deal, but I’ll start with 45 minutes ok? Not sure about the knee.”

The Napoli chairman has arrived and Krol is directed on, towards the presidential offices of De Laurentiis where the mayor of Napoli joined the party. Big hugs, smiles and flashes of cameras. And then the next directive: “Ruud, you are required on the pitch!”

Krol and Zola walk to the tunnel to enter the pitch. Napoli’s current star, Marek Hamsik is standing in the circle and the 1000s of fans on the stands chant his name “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy”… There is a massive sweat spot on his back and goosebumps on his arms. Hamsik offers him a current Napoli jersey, with his number 5. Krol puts the jersey up in the air, with his right hand on his heart and walks off the pitch with a big grin. On the touchline he mutters “this is just too good to be true…” But then he lands back on Earth and says to the coach “And now it’s time to give Roma a cookie!”

Krol street

Stopped in the streets for handshakes and hugs

The result of the Roma game, in any season, will determine how the weather will be in Naples. After a win, the sun shines, the world is beautiful… After a loss, it’s gloomy, misty, autumn… Grey. “We had games here that we lost. Once 1-4 vs Roma, well you had to run for your life. They’d find whatever was loose in this stadium and throw it at you… I used to drive past this laborer every day I returned from training. I’d stop if I’d saw him to give him a free ticket for the next game. He loved it. But when we had lost, he’d see me and turn away. Gesticulating me to piss off. “Come back when you play well!”.

Krol ended his career at Napoli in a painful manner. The last game of the 3rd season, Napoli was fighting relegation and got seriously injured. His knee. The next season, Krol missed for three quarters as a result and when he was finally fit to play, it took him a while to find his usual level. In the last weeks of that season the technical director wanted to talk to Krol. “He visited me at home. And he was direct and straightforward: we want to take that next step to the top. And we want to sign a marquee a player, another superstar. We want to sign Diego Maradona and as a result we don’t think we can afford you anymore. That was a blow. But in hindsight, a wonderful decision for them. I had to swallow it but they did what they had to do.”

Krol has another anecdote about that last season. “We lost away, 4-1 at Udinese. The normal Italian response is: trainings camp. But the coach had a different idea. He wanted us to see this entertainer. And he was some sort of magician. A whole thing and lots of talk and suddenly he grabs a pair of scissors and starts to take cuts of hair from several players. Including mine. And then he started to have personal conversations with us. To me, he said I was not vocal enough anymore. He said: the players need your leadership. And I actually thought about it and thought, he’s right! I stopped doing it because by now the players should know it all. But they needed it. So in the next game, this magician was there and at the start of the game he walks to both goals and flicks the hairs he collated from us in the goal! And we won that game, vs Torino. And we started to climb up and it flowed again. Crazy. But I used similar techniques myself later in my coaching days in Egypt and South Africa. This was the first time I experienced it though and I just allowed it all to happen.”

Hamsik Krol

Current star Hamsik with former star Krol

His time in Italy changed him. Enriched him. The adventurer in him was awoken. Krol lived like a nomad ever since, playing in Cannes for two years in France until his knee forced him to quit. Then a coaching career which led him to Belgium, Switzerland, Egypt, Holland (Oranje and Ajax), France, Egypt again, South Africa, Libya, Tunesia and Morocco. “Of all these adventures, the one in Naples is dearest to me, in all honesty. This is God’s city, with all the trials and tribulations and this is God’s people and the football club offers a temple in the midst of it.”

When we drink something in the hotel bar in Napels, Rudy starts to hum along with an Italian crooner. The waiter grabs his chance. With trembling hands, the youngster comes to the table. “Mr Rudy, is this really you? I am fan of yours from when I was little. My dad, he is a huge fan and stuck a poster of you on my wall in my kid’s room. I didn’t even know anything about football but I grew up having you as an icon on my wall. I never saw you play, but you were a part of my upbringing. I will tell my dad I met you and I served you a drink. He’ll never believe it!”

Krol goes back inside, re-hashing memories… He sits up: “Oh! You know who I remember now… The kit man at Napoli. What a guy. He’d wait for me in the morning and first thing he did was serve me up an espresso. He knew how much I loved it. And he’d prepare my boots. The way he treated them, his fingers on the leather. As if it was the cheek of a little baby. That image is symbolical for Naples.

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Dutch company goes all Moneyball on Football!

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

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


So what do they do?

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

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

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

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

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

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Brouwer (left) with co-founder Babic

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


What was the first big name player you found?

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

So the Dutch Eredivisie has a lot of potential still?

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


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


Any tips for clubs?

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

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

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

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

The Dutch National Team of Tomorrow (according to SciSports)

NT future

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

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

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

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Gini Wijnaldum: I feel stronger than ever…

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

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

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

gini debut

Making his debut for Feyenoord at 16

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

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

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

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

Is that not a bit too honest?

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

fer gini oranje

With buddy Fer in Oranje U17

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

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

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

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

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

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

So no comparison with Holland?

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

debuut gini oranje

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

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

gini psv new look

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

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

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

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

First senior goal Wijnaldum

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Robin van Persie is back!

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

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

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

robin smiles

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

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

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


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

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

robin fey

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

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

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

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

“Crisis? What Crisis??”

How was Advocaat turning things around?

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

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

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

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

Dick RVP

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

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

And how do you see it?

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


Could you live with a role as second striker?

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

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

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

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

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

RVP Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

RVP oranje

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

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

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

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

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

VP 100 club

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

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

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

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

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

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

robin bouchra dinner

Do you feel safe here?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Oranje adds character to its armour

For years, the Dutch national team was synonymous with class. The passing of Sneijder, the dribbles of Robben, the trickery of Van der Vaart and the wonderful goals of Van Persie… In a somewhat more distant past: the guile of Van Basten, the touch of Bergkamp, the elegance of Rijkaard… Or maybe the magic of Cruyff, the intelligence of Van Hanegem and the unfathomable solos of Rob Rensenbrink…

And sure, we had grit. And fight. In midfield or defence, there was always a Johan Neeskens, Edgar Davids, Jaap Stam or a Nigel de Jong. But these players would be in service of the protected prodigal sons.


Jaap Gladiator Stam

We still develop great talents, but all nations around us have developed their technical and tactical skills while keeping hold of their specific national “traits”. Defensive strength of the Italians, the mental strength of the Germans, the physical strength of the English and of course the all round athleticism of the French… Playing shrewd can also be seen as a quality aspect, as the Portuguese have taught us many times over.

Holland needs to add some character, some intent to their game and at times we have been able to. Van Marwijk used 6 players in service of the Big Four, with Van Bommel and De Jong offering grit. Van Gaal did it with his tactics and bravado.

Under Danny Blind, a new chapter seems to be in production, trying to incorporate the best of all worlds… Technical skills (Promes, Sneijder, Wijnaldum, Blind), tactical smarts (Blind, Strootman, Sneijder), guile (Janssen, Karsdorp, Van Dijk) and…character…

Rick Karsdorp, Vincent Janssen, Kevin Strootman… They had to acknowledge that beating France at this stage was basically a bridge too far, but with courage and character thrown into the mix, we can go a long way. Again.


Johan El Torro Neeskens

Let me take you back: it was an icecold wintery Monday evening in March 2015 when a livid Karsdorp pressed his forehead against the face of referee Stieler. The German ref gave Young France a third penalty for a foul on super talent Benzia. Young Oranje is being taken to the cleaners and Karsdorp loses it. He would tell the Dutch media days later “never to have been played off the pitch in his young career as on that day, by the frickin’ French (4-1)”.

We’re 1,5 years down the track. The impatient Benzia decided to play for Algeria, as the French coaches overlooked the youngster for the senior team (hello Hakim Ziyech). And Rick Karsdorp? He was one of Holland’s best players in the senior game vs France in Amsterdam.

Karsdorp’s story is one of falling and getting back up again. Showing character when things turn bad. Biting your lip, instead of giving in. In that Young Oranje match, there was another youngster who doesn’t know the words “giving up”. Vincent Janssen, striker of Almere City, was a sub on that night in North France. He was looking to stake his claim after Feyenoord told him he didn’t have what it took to make it at Feyenoord.



And Janssen was also impressive, against the French at the highest level. Every time, people would say he was too light for the top. Karsdorp and Janssen are currently the role models for technical director Hans van Breukelen, who keeps on emphasizing the fact that Dutch football “might have the best technical skills, but is lacking the winning mentality”.

After Karsdorp’s clash with Laurent Koscielny, the medical staff of Oranje urged the Feyenoord back to come off. Joel Veltman was warming up already. But Karsdorp wouldn’t think about it. “I couldn’t even lift my arm up, but leaving the pitch? Never! I really wanted to finish the game.”

“Of course I know Dimitri Payet. I saw him play for France at the Euros and when he was subbed, I felt even stronger. Against Belarus, I felt my legs cramping up, 20 minutes before the end. But now, I could have played three more matches. Despite my shoulder.”

This month, it’s actually two years ago when Karsdorp was in tears in the Feyenoord dressing room. His first sub turn at Feyenoord and his mistake led to Rijeka’s goal in Croatia in the Europa League. It seemed his career for Feyenoord was over before it began. Fred Rutten, then coach of Feyenoord, was responsible for taking Karsdorp from Feyenoord 2 – the playmaker! – and putting him on right back in Feyenoord 1. Not only that, Rutten predicted that Rick would be the next right back for Oranje! A day after the match, Rutten talked with Karsdorp: “It is up to you. If you now succumb, yes… you career is over. But if you stand up and straighten your back, you will have a big future ahead of you.”

Karsdorp grows when others run for the exit. “After two years since that situation, I know what I have in me”.

janssen boos

Janssen doesn’t take shit from nobody

Vincent Janssen will be able to empathise: “I can find the positive in everything. Like this match. Yes we lost. That is a disappointment but we are a team again. All noses point in the right direction. We can build on this!”.

In recent months, apart from the likes of Janssen, Karsdorp and Berghuis, Quincy Promes emerged. Developed at Ajax, sent away by Ajax, back in the lime-light at FC Twente and after one year transferred to Spartak Moscow. Where he is a star. Since last week, he now also is a man to reckoned with in the orange jersey.

He had the misfortune of flipping his ankle early in the France game, but Promes lives up to his promise, finally (apologies for the pun).

When talking to Promes (24) you know there won’t be a silence in the conversation. The Spartak forward talks as fast as he takes on Russian defenders. He renewed his deal this summer and will be with Spartak until 2021. “It was a conscious decision. I’m not ready for a step up. I’m developing well in Moscow and there is more to come. Making the right move is not going to be easy. In terms of price tag, I’m expensive now. The mid-tier clubs in the bigger leagues won’t just buy me like that. Should I go to a big club, I run the risk of coming for the bench. I rather make more of a name here at Spartak.”

promes work

Promes vs France earlier on

This career path is remarkable for a lad who left Holland after one season at Twente. For an adventure in Russia? “I never wanted to leave Twente. But they were in financial dire straits. They called me in and said there was a massive deal on the table for me. They needed to sell me. I was pushed out.”

Scoring 18 goals in his first season, he did have to take a hurdle before scoring in Oranje. “I’m simply not the key man in Oranje. I play in the number 10 role for Spartak, protected, and the ball comes to me a lot. In Oranje, I’m more a winger. But listen, I know I can score. I wasn’t in doubt. The key thing is not me scoring, though. It’s Holland winning. Who ever scores. It’s not about me, it’s about Oranje making it to the World Cup.”

And the fact that the World Cup is in Russia is special for Promes. “Sure, it is. I’m happy to be on the team sheet always in Moscow. That makes it easy for the coach to select me. And I’m super proud to play for Oranje. Whenever I pull on my jersey, I get goosebumps. And I want to go to the World Cup.”

You are a very proud lad. And there is always that line in interviews or articles saying “sent away at Ajax”…

“I was a very difficult lad when I was young. I won’t lie about that. Super selfish. I played in Ajax youth and the arrogance comes with that. You think you are da man. But in all honesty, you’re not. You only sniff at the opportunity. At Ajax, at some stage, they had enough. And I could leave. I am grateful to them though. It changed my life. It opened my eyes. I should not be praised, I should always be pushed to fight. Then, I’m able to give my best.”

quincy interview

So what happened after Ajax? “I went to Haarlem but they went bankrupt almost immediately. FC Twente came and Patrick Kluivert was my coach in Twente 2. That man did something to me. They loaned me to Go Ahead Eagles and (current FC Utrecht coach) Erik ten Hag was there. He gave me the key to success. He was super strict. I didn’t get that at all. Until I suddenly realised he did it to help me. He turned me from a piece of coal into a diamond. I started to score goals at the Eagles and I was off. Next season, it all happened at Twente and now I’m with Spartak.”

So Kluivert and Ten Hag made you what you are now? “And Alfred Schreuder at Twente. I also became a dad at Go Ahead. Seeing that little one changed me tremendously. For the first time I realised I had responsibilities. I stopped living just for myself, I now work and live for my wife, my daughter. Well, daughters, we have two now.”

promes ten hag

Quincy at Go Ahead Eagles with mentor Erik ten Hag

How is life in Moscow? “I don’t live in an apartment anymore. Moscow is really a cool city, just very cold in winter. I will never get used to that. But Russians are typical people. They’re not very open or social, but once you break through that veneer, they will do everything for you. It’s not like in Amsterdam, where you can just borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbours. In Moscow, they won’t open the door even.

Would Spartak Moscow win the title in the Eredivisie? “Hmm, don’t know. PSV and Ajax are strong teams. But I don’t think Spartak would finish lower than 3rd or 4th. We are no Utrecht or PEC Zwolle, with all due respect.”

Speaking about Ajax, it was always your dream club. How is that now? “I’m from Amsterdam. Which means you want to play for Ajax. But, I’m not sure whether that’s ever possible. Probably not. But…you never know.”

And to finalise our portrait of winners… Kevin Strootman is renowned for his mentality. And in typical Strootman form, he was very angry at the player who made the mistake against Sweden, allowing them to score. This player was Strootman himself.

“The will to win is strong in me. Very deep. Fighting for the team. I have always done that. Friendlies, practice games… I find it hard to deal with mistakes that cost us points. And when I’m the one making the mistake, well….”

protest ref

Strootman came in front of the cameras after the Sweden game and was super critical on himself. He came to the Oranje camp for Belarus and France with a thigh injury but played a decent game vs Belarus. In the France game, he was again partly at fault for the goal conceded.

Did the Sweden mistake play around in your head? “Well, yes, for a couple of days. Sure. But once you’re at the club, there is that rollercoaster ride of games and you can put it aside. But when I came back to the Oranje camp, it immediately popped up again. We looked back at the Sweden game of course and that blunder was on the big screen again. I looked away. This simply cannot happen.”

This self criticism is part of your personality. Did you have this in the Sparta youth as well? “For sure. But listen, you have a job. If you make a crucial mistake in your job, you’d take it home with you. I think every player has this, but maybe not all players show it.”

Really? I doubt it. “No, I am telling you. This was an obvious howler. A pro player who’d try to talk his way out of this would be ridiculed for days. I made a decision against France. The Pogba goal. It was the wrong decision in hindsight. But it was calculated. I didn’t think that was a blunder. We were out of position. If I bite, and Pogba goes past me, he’s in on goal. I rather have him take a shot from 30 meters than from 15 meters. I forced him to go to Maarten’s right, which is his strong side. Sadly for all of us, the ball was too good. In hindsight, yes, I might have done better to close him down, but that’s all irrelevant now. You make a quick decision and sometimes you’re wrong. With the Sweden mistake, I could live with that better if Bas Dost’s goal would have been allowed. Making a mistake but winning is not that dramatic.”


Strootman is skipper in the absence of Sneijder and Robben. He was positive about Oranje’s development. “We controlled the game versus Sweden and Belarus, bar 20 minutes. The France game, we knew it would be tough to control them. But overal, it’s more stable than – say – 5 months ago. We seem to be able to execute all the tasks the coach puts on us. We don’t give a lot away, we coach each other and work hard. The way we defend dead balls is also much better. Everyone is focused. These are key moments in top football. You got to “stand right” as they say. I remember the Iceland away game. Two moments of loss of focus and we’re 2-0 down.”

The only way is up. “We can play much better even. I think the vibe in the group is excellent. We are a team, we fight for each other. I am sure the rewards will come. And you know what, I think it’s a good thing that we can’t be certain to beat Sweden or Belarus, like we did in the past. We now know we have to give everything against so-called smaller nations. Holland used to qualify with ease. That is behind us. I actually think it’s a good thing. Sneijder said recently, “There was a time when we got out of the bus and said to each other: let’s win this 3-0. That time is over.””

Louis van Gaal allowed Strootman his debut four years ago, against Andorra. He got the skippers band at 22 years old. And everyone thought: Strootman will have 50 or 60 caps when he’s 26 years old and will have played three or four big tournaments. The 2018 World Cup will be his first big tournament, should Oranje get there.


Edgar Pitbull Davids

“Well, I was at the EC2012, but I didn’t play a single minute. The World Cup 2014, I watched on TV as a result of my injury. And we missed the last Euros. I really want to experience a World Cup now and play. It’s a huge motivation. I’m 28 years in two years time. It’s about time I start to present myself on that stage.”

Strootman’s massive injury problems started with a game vs France. Did this play in his head? “Well, I did get a slight knee injury in that game and was subbed. But the real injury happened in a game vs Napoli a week later. So, no. It didn’t cross my mind. I now was troubled with a muscle injury, but the knee will always demand attention, for the rest of my career. I need to work through a schedule constantly, but when I do I am free in my head to play the match. And the more I play, the stronger the knee will get. Your whole body, basically. And the more confidence you build.”

training poland 2

Do you experience the game differently now, post injury? Do you look differently at your career? “With regards to the game, no. And it’s not so that I am less serious about my game, or less frustrated from mistakes. I don’t think I’ll look at my career until it’s over. No time to do that now, hahaha. And football life in Italy doesn’t allow it. You need a top mentality in Italy. In Holland, when you’re injured or a sub, you still get guidance and attention from the coach and the club. In Italy, if you don’t play, you need to make sure you stay fit and that the coach keeps seeing you. It’s tough.”

Is Kevin Strootman the leader of this new Oranje? He shuffles on his seat uncomfortably. “I am one of the players. I’m not bigger or better or more important. I’m a player in service of the artists. I won’t dribble past 5 players to hit the ball in the top corner. Sadly. My qualities are to keep the balance. Fill the gaps. I will lead by example, not with words. I will fight and battle and go into challenges with all I have. I want to win. That is deeply engrained in me.”

But, there is a chance that in a year or so you are the first captain of Oranje? That surely is an honour?

“But do you know what that means? That Arjen is still not fit. That Wesley isn’t available. That is not something that would make me happy at all! It wouldn’t be good for Oranje, nor for me. No no, please let me be the third skipper for  a while, behind these two. All good!”


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Oranje getting ready for World Cup 2018!

The first two games in the Eredivisie are behind us and the EPL has commenced while the more Southern nations will start their competitions shortly.

Too early to tell where we are, but that is international football these days. Some teams have been playing CL qualification games already and the national teams are gearing up to start their World Cup qualification games.

First, a friendly. And then Sweden awaits. Sans Zlatan of course.

Rafael van der Vaart of the Netherlands, center, is challenged by Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ola Toivonen, and Pontus Wernbloom of Sweden during their Euro 2012 Group E qualifying soccer match at ArenA stadium in Amsterdam, Netherlands, Tuesday Oct. 12, 2010. The Dutch won the match with a 4-1 score. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
Rafael van der Vaart, center, is challenged by Zlatan Ibrahimovic

The transfer window is still open and as long as that’s the case, all is still in flux. What’s going to happen with Janmaat? Memphis? Siem de Jong? To name a few. And Sneijder? Van Persie, how are these guys doing?

It is very positive to see some moves made by the young and up & coming. Vincent Janssen impressing on his EPL debut, almost scoring even. If not for man of the match Stelelenburg. Wijnaldum had a good second half versus Arsenal and an assist. But at the same time, no minutes for Clasie and an annoying hamstring injury for De Roon…

The news from the Eredivisie is not too depressing though. Feyenoord started well, with Vilhena, Elia and Berghuis impressing, while young left back Woudenberg presents himself as a potential mainstay for the club from Rotterdam.

Davy Propper is still making steps and might well be too good for Holland very soon. The move of Ramselaar to PSV is a good one, of course just like Siem de Jong reuniting with brother Luuk will make the Dutch competition more interesting.

de roon injured

De Roon injured in his first EPL match

At Ajax, Riedewald is back at full fitness and playing well, while Klaassen and Bazoer can be seen as surefire Dutch internationals. Even Daley Sinkgraven, hugely talented but underwhelming in his first period at Ajax made the headlines.

As it stands, against Sweden – not too difficult one might say – I think we should be able to get the result we need, even without Sneijder and Robben.

I won’t go into systems so much, but if we actually want to play to our strengths, I think we need to field Promes and Janssen up front. Elia might have been a sure bet but he’s out with a shoulder injury, while Memphis is most likely not match fit (and lacking form).

Both Janssen and Promes like to drift and Promes should play from the right, as you right back options (Tete, Veltman) are not the natural channel runners. Dijks is an option of course but he hasn’t really played a string of games at his new club so this game might be a tad too early for him.

elia finger

Elia, here with his broken finger, out with shoulder injury

In midfield, Strootman is a fixed starter on the left, with Bazoer sitting deep in the holding role. I’d play Propper on the right with Wijnaldum in the #10 position behind Janssen. Their link up play should be enough for us to transform the 4-4-2 into a 3-4-3.

As I would field Willems any day, he can use the open left flank for his rushes forward. Bruma, Bazoer (as holding mid) and Tete can cover defense while center back Blind can move into midfield Danny-style to support the build up play. Bruma and Tete and Willems have the speed to cover the space behind us and with players like Blind, Bazoer, Propper and Strootman our passing capabilities should be more than enough. I have faith in Janssen and Wijnaldum and Promes to be on the receiving end of those balls, to put a couple away. That’s how I would do it. 3-0 win over Sweden. Thank you. Next.

I do believe there will be a place for Sneijder and most certainly Robben in the team, given that they do become fit. Robben for Promes of course. Sneijder might have to get used to a bench role, with a more prominent part for him in games where we will have to sit a bit deeper and play more compact. His legs won’t allow him to play in our new modern style but versus France or strong opponents at the WC2018, he might still have a role to play.

riedewald ajax

Impressive center back Riedewald

Huntelaar, for me, is a good option on the bench (if he can handle it).

Vilhena is a good understudy for Strootman. Good duellng power, great legs and magic in that left foot. Klaassen can play in the Wijnaldum role, Ramselaar can play in the Bazoer role (as can Clasie of course) and Berghuis can also sub Propper in midfield or Promes on the flank.

Not bad. De Vrij will make his comeback at some stage and even Vlaar will be in the picture with me. As is Van Dijk and even Feyenoord’s Van Beek and Ajax’ Riedewald.

propper scores

Propper, only scoring beauties

With players like Hendrix, Karsdorp, De Roon, El Ghazi, Sinkgraven, Kongolo, Toornstra, Van Ginkel in the mix, the future looks bright, even if we don’t seem to have world class players right now. But like I said before: many people didn’t see it in Strootman, in Nigel de Jong or even Robben when they were younger… Time will tell.

Leicester and Atletico Madrid have shown us that you don’t need a team full of big name players. Spain disappointed at the Euros and so did England. While Wales won hearts and they basically had three great players, with 8 mediocre ones. But they had a team! As did Leicester City. Vardy, Mahrez and Kante being top notch, the rest all decent but not special.


Ramselaar off to PSV (with club legend Willy van der Kuylen)

I can see Robben, Propper, Strootman and Blind as our big name players, with the rest simply doing their job. And who knows, the likes of Memphis and Berghuis might still end up becoming world class. Stranger things have happened. Vardy demonstrated that one is never too old to make it to the big stage.

In terms of goal keepers, we’re still spoiled. Cillesen (on his way to Barca?), Stekelenburg, Vermeer (now injured), Zoet and Krul (still injured) are top goalies. Hahn of Feyenoord is on his way too.

There is no reason to get depressed.

GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN - JULY 30: Jan Olde Riekerink, head coach of Galatasaray and Wesley Sneijder of Galatasaray during the pre-season Friendly between Manchester United and Galatasaray at Ullevi on July 30, 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden. (Photo by Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello via Getty Images)
Jan Olde Riekerink, head coach of Galatasaray and Wesley Sneijder of Galatasaray 

What did get me depressed though, was the treason of Dick Advocaat. Who now wants to be called Dirk (when abroad) as he realises Dick is not a nice name to have. But his recent actions prove to me he is actually DICK. What was he thinking? He has a habit of abandoning teams he’s committed to, for a bigger pay-check. Dick is all about the money. Ask the Australian federation, the Belgium Federation and Sunderland. And now Oranje.

Three months ago, he told Blind he was ready to serve Dutch football and he wanted to get out of the limelight. He was presented to the media, he did his thing, the players loved to have him on board and guess what: the first club from some second rate football nation – where human rights are even less valuable than Dick’s signature under a contract – wiggles a bag of euros and The Dick runs to the exit. Shame on DICK!

Danny Blind and Marco van Basten do need a third coach to complement them. Someone with energy, with passion, warmth and experience.

Dick dick

Rene Meulensteen would have been a top option, but he decided to sign for a club (he was available three months ago). I would not know any other option to be honest….

Danny Blind responded hurt and annoyed when asked about Advo’s antics and KNVB technical director Hans van Breukelen was gobsmacked.

Anyway, the team managers have picked a decent prelim squad. The names you’d expect.

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 14: Daley Blind of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Manchester United at Vitality Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Bournemouth, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Daley Blind of Manchester United in action during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Manchester United 

I just hope that prior to September 1, we’ll see some movement in the transfers still. I particularly would like to see Daryl Janmaat make a move, while Bruno Martins Indi has also been put into a blind alley at Porto. Not that I believe we’ll need BMI in the future.

Good to see we keep on producing talent. Up to Danny and Marco to make them all play nicely as a team.

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Danny Blind focusing on life beyond Euro 2016

We’ll look at the Euros a bit. But first this: Henk Fraser to coach Vitesse. Zjelko Petrovic to coach ADO Den Haag.

And Tonny Vilhena said no to offers from Italy (Inter), Greece, Turkey, Spain and England to stay two more years at Feyenoord! Yay!

Which probably means he’ll go next summer for a limited fee, but at least Feyenoord will get some money + one more season of his game.


While Albania, Slovenia, Wales and Iceland dazzle Europe, while Belgium feels the pressure and Italy surprises, while Zlatan will exit the Euros sans glory and Germany, Spain or France will snatch the title….our focus is on life beyond the Euros.

And this is the cool thing… Now, every Dutch fan will feel frustrated on a daily basis not being part of this tournament. But in three weeks time, this Euros is history and Holland will be able to start sharp and solid with the WC2018 preparation.

Forget about Bert van Oostveen’s 2026 plan. It’s a disgrace. Let’s just get to the WC2018 and like Van Marwijk and Van Gaal before, let’s just play our way into the top 4. Why not?


Brows are frowned in Holland with the appointment of Hans van Breukelen as the KNVB’s new technical director (and boss of Danny Blind, San Marco and Dickie). The man does communicate well, presents well and was a popular keeper… But that’s all one can say about him. Goalies traditionally are not too successful as coaches (Dino Zoff is the only one that comes to mind for me) and De Breuk has not had any significant accomplishments in football since he retired. Sure, he helped FC Utrecht and PSV in non executive board roles but what exactly did he do?

Blind and Co. couldn’t care less I’m sure.

For me the focus should be on the following 7 items:

1. Set the goal for 2018

Van Marwijk and Van Gaal made it clear to the players once they started their WC campaigns: We are going to the World Cup! So goal 1: qualification. And when we are at the World Cup, we will go for gold. Goal 2: try and win it.

bert beker

Blind needs to clearly articulate what this means for the players, in terms of conduct and focus. For instance: nutritional plans, updates on fitness levels and programs (in conjunction with clubs)… but also…the rules. If you don’t play for your club, forget about being selected. Codes of conduct are part of this as well. If you’re part of the squad, you will talk to the press and represent your nation. No mobile phones in the dressing rooms and no Xboxes in the rooms, only PS4s. Van Marwijk said in his first speech to the squad: I want to win the World Cup! Blind will need to make his ambitions clear and maybe come up with a slogan. “The March to Moscow” or something….

2. Use the negatives!

The fact that we are not at the Euros is currently viewed as a terrible thing. But, in true Johan Cruyff style: Every disadvantage has an advantage. Take Sweden. They’ll go home soon, pretty deflated I’m sure. Zlatan will say his goodbyes as will many other players from the squad, including their coach. They’ll have one week to prepare for the Holland game. New coach, new players, maybe some Euro hangover. We need to use this to our advantage. So that in September, after the game, everyone will say: “Wow, a good thing we didn’t go to the Euros!”

oranje team

3. No more world class players? How about a team?

World class players don’t win you the trophies. Look at C Ronaldo. Lionel Messi. Gareth Bale. Arjen Robben. None of these lads have won a Euros or a World Cup. But in terms of quality, they could have. But they didn’t… In 2004, a mediocre Greece did. In 1996, a mediocre Germany did. Leicester won the EPL. Atletico has done alright in the last years. What is the common denominator? Yes… TEAM!


Spain has used the core of the Barcelona team to good effect. Germany falls back on Bayern and Dortmund. In Holland, PSV is the most solid team, with players like Bruma, Zoet, Van Ginkel, Willems and Propper. Add Wijnaldum, Memphis, Daley Blind, Janssen and some others and we might be able to use PSV’s core as the foundation for Oranje. Should Robben and Sneijder show up next season, great! The ingredients are there. Use the communication and automatisms that are developed at PSV and bring some additional talent and intelligence from afore mentioned players and we could be well on our way.

PSV team

4. Solid defence

One key element that stuck out in our Euro qualification games was the fact that we conceded first. In most games, we needed to fight ourselves back into it. Meaning we got more and more exposed at the back. Under Van Marwijk, we were solid (mainly due to two holding mids). Whatever system Blind wants to use, the focus should be on a solid defence. With players like Janmaat and Willems, Van Aanholt or Veltman being considered for full back spots, this means we need a cracking holding mid to shield the defence. Strootman seems to be the logical choice, although I really like to see him as the box to box man, personally… Clasie might be the man? Or will Fosu Mensah be ready for this already? Probably not, but he will definitely get himself on the radar in the coming years…


5. A new hierarchy

For years, Van Bommel, De Jong, Van Persie, Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Van der Sar and Robben were the core players of Oranje. Of those, only Sneijder and Robben seem to have clout and respect in the current squad. Van Persie will need to regain this if he ever comes back. The way Blind used Huntelaar says enough to him as well, I’m sure. We need a new hierarchy. Whatever Sneijder and Robben can add, is a bonus. We need players to step up and assume this role. Danny Blind can’t just appoint them. That is not how it works… Of the new crew, Strootman surely has “it”. I don’t see any of our goalies at this stage as leaders, but Tim Krul comes close. Virgil van Dijk and Ron Vlaar as defenders, for sure. Clasie had it at Feyenoord, but at Southampton I don’t see it as yet. Van Ginkel, Fer, Wijnaldum, Klaassen, Propper… all devoid of that charisma. Maybe Bazoer? Very early days… Luuk de Jong has it at PSV, but too lightweight for Oranje. Vincent Janssen might have it. Daley Blind is developing nicely, but Wijnaldum isn’t so much.


6. The Manifest

Louis van Gaal loves discipline. He introduced a strict regime and Sneijder felt it most. He pushed the player to total commitment and Sneijder did well for us in Brazil. Hiddink used it to great success in 1998, after the Euro England drama. But this time around, Hiddink allowed things to loosen up. Danny Blind claims to want to get back to a more rigid approach, which works well with a man like Advocaat in the staff. Using younger players, it will be more easy for Blind to use his authority. A player like Memphis might want to watch his steps.

7. Technical Staff

With young Van Nistelrooy making way for old hand Advocaat, it seems the staff is stacked nicely. San Marco for the details. Dick for the mental aspect and Blind for tactics. These three games / 10 days in Portugal will have set the foundation for Oranje New Style.

dick dan

We will need to live through these next weeks to shake off the hangover of this Euros.

Then, after July 7, it’s a clean sheet for everyone.

And we will support our Oranje Lions on their next journey!


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Dutch football needs make over. Fast!

My friends, I would like to start this post with expressing my support and sympathy to the Greatest Football Player Ever, Johan Cruyff. The Catalan Salvador announced that he is battling lung cancer at the moment. Johan was a chainsmoker most of his active life and quit in 1991 after serious heart problems. Johan is a fighter and will do what he can to win this match as well, I’m sure. Still, our thoughts are with him and his family….

Johan Cruyff smoking on the touchline - 06 Dec 2006

Historically, we have had numerous amazing quotes from famous people that were so completely wrong, it isn’t funny anymore.

In 1962, some Decca head honcho didn’t sign The Beatles. “Guitar bands are out. The Beatles have no future in music.”

Some banker in 1903: “The horse is here to say. The automobile is a fad. Don’t invest in Ford Motors.”

Variety magazine in 1955 on Rock & Roll: “It will be gone by June.”

Politician in England, 1969: “Never will we see a female PM in England!” (Margaret Thatcher, anyone?)

Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer in 2007: “The iPhone will not succeed. They will not get marketshare.”

William Orton of Western Union at Bell’s presentation of the phone, in 1876: “This telephone has too many shortcomings to be ever considered a serious means of communications.”

Now we can add: “This qualification group for Euro 2016: it will be harder for Oranje to not qualify, than it is to qualify…”

oranje fans balen

So let’s analyse…

1. Inheritance of Louis van Gaal

I think Louis is partly to blame. Halfway through the qualifications for Brazil he already said he didn’t like the job and basically only did it for his own ego and resume. He would only do the job for 2 years and when Oranje was done in Brazil he ran to the exit, which took him to Man United. He never did any knowledge transfer, neither has he taken the responsibility to hand over the team. Any team that worked and played under Van Gaal has been forced into a straight jacket. Any successor to Van Gaal will find a team that is used to being told exactly what to do. His club teams usually consist of mature players already fed up with him when he leaves (Barca, Bayern, Ajax) but this Dutch national team owed a lot to Van Gaal and his way of working. De Vrij, Blind, Depay and BMI all made lucrative transfers thanks to LVG. Some players will have had a breath of fresh air when he left (Robben, Sneijder, De Jong) others were probably a bit at a loss without Louis (BMI, De Vrij, Depay).

blind verliest

2. Installing Guus Hiddink as LVG successor

Bert van Oostveen is responsible for this decision. It would have been perfectly acceptable to pick a coach to follow up Louis van Gaal who understands the Van Gaal vision and can work on that basis. Co Adriaanse was an option. Danny Blind would have been a good pick as well. Unknown Joachim Low took over from Klinsmann after 2006 for Germany, in the same vein Blind could have taken the baton from Louis. But no, the KNVB selected the one and only Dutch coach who is totally opposite of Van Gaal. Van Gaal is in your face, intense, tactically disciplined and driven… Hiddink is arms length. Loose, not really strong tactically, “come on boys, enjoy!” kind of coach. No wonder Blind and Hiddink couldn’t see eye to eye. On top of that, Hiddink lost his swagger a bit. He became soft and a doubter.One match, Nigel de Jong was the “captain in midfield”, the next game Nigel wasn’t selected… The worst decision, picking Hiddink. Too big a change for a young and not so incredibly talented squad. What Louis did in Brazil worked, but somehow the KNVB wanted to break the trend…

oranje qual

3. Instructing Hiddink to play “Total Football”

The biggest joke. Total Football. What is it exactly? Bert van Oostveen doesn’t know… Is it playing a right footed player on the left wing? Probably not. Is it playing square balls in defence at a slow pace? Probably not. Van Oostveen describes it as “attractive”, “dominant”, “attacking” and “using wingers”. And it is being translated as “4-3-3”. Hellooooooo… If that is Total Football or Dutch School, it appears that many nations play this. And probably not because of some egotistical “Dutch School” brand, but because they 1) have the players to do so and 2) because all the other terms are subjective… The only time Holland won anything was playing 4-4-2. We tend to forget we had a lot of luck against the Irish, against the English (off side goal Van Basten), against West Germany (our penalty was not a penalty) and against the USSR in the finals (the first 25 minutes were for the USSR). It is being sold as if Total Football in 1974 was the result of strategy. It wasn’t. The center backs were picked by chance due to tremendous injuries (Hulshoff, Israel, Laseroms, Drost and Mansveld were all out) and we happen to have two amazing world class players in Cruyff and Van Hanegem. Oh, and in case you forgot: we played Total Football but we lost the finals… Playing 4-3-3 when you don’t have the players is silly and suicidal. Playing 4-3-3 for the hell of it with a right footer on the left and a left footer on the right is different from the 4-3-3 we played in 1974. Which may have been 4-3-3 on paper but one Johan Cruyff was always everywhere on the pitch, except for the center striker position. Van Gaal picked 5-3-2 for a reason. Finishing third at the World Cup did not change the reasons why he went for 5-3-2.


4. Overestimating our qualities

We beat Spain at the World Cup, but not because of our great play, but because they let themselves down. Re-watch the first half. They were cutting through our defence like a hot knife through butter. We got lucky with that super goal by Robin van Persie. Spain only has one game plan, so they kept attacking and we kept counter attacking. Australia deserved to win against us. The Chile game was less relevant and Mexico was hard done by. A close game, if there ever was one. Costa Rica simply lacked quality but held us at 0-0. Argentina tried hard but didn’t succeed. And Oranje was putting it all towards Robben who couldn’t find the gap between Argentina. Obviously, by then, Brazil was already in severe depression and it wasn’t hard for Oranje to rob it in, nicely. But it didn’t mean a thing. But we came back with Bronze. We silenced all criticasters. Some of us went to play for big EPL or Seria A or Portugal Liga clubs. And we were the Kings of Europe (Germany was the Emperor).

spelers balen

5. Frail Foundation of Players

After finishing third it can’t be helped that players (and staff, and fans, and media) believe we are really something. The start of the campaign – seen as an easy one – was devoid of real desire. It took two games or so for people to slowly “wake up”. In the meantime, trouble had hit the squad, in the form of injuries and form issues (Vlaar, Van Persie, Robben, Janmaat). We suddenly realised that without the 5-3-2 and without some players in top form (Vlaar, De Vrij and Robben in particular were outstanding in Brazil), we are not that great. During the qualifications, we lost a number of important players to injuries, and the frail foundation of Dutch talent came to light when others didn’t get the playing time we hoped (BMI, Huntelaar, Van Persie). The tremendous gap between 30+ year old top class players (Sneijder, Robben, Huntelaar, De Jong, Van Persie, Van der Vaart) and the potential top class players of around 20 years (Depay, Rekik, Willems, Klaassen, Berghuis, Veltman, Van Beek) wasn’t filled with leading players in the age-group 24-28… Daley Blind, Georginhio Wijnaldum and Darryl Janmaat are probably the only ones fit (Strootman being the only real top class midfielder, and his return to that level is questionable) and they are probably nothing more than good team players, nothing more, nothing less.

RVP zit

6. Defensive qualities

LVG noticed it in his qualification campaign. The Dutch don’t have strong defenders. The problems started already in 2008. Ooijer, Mathijsen, Heitinga…they were criticised from the off and a lot of people never expected Holland to do well in the WC2010 with those defenders. Van Marwijk needed Van Bronckhorst as left back and replaced him with 18 year old Jetro Willems for the Euro2012. We used to develop good ones. From Krol and Israel and Laseroms, to Spelbos, Van Tiggelen,Wijnstekers to Jaap Stam, Michael Reiziger and John de Wolf but around 2004 the qualities started to fade. We do develop them. In spades actually. Bruma, Vlaar, Rekik, Veltman, Denswil, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Gouweleeuw, Viergever, Kongolo, Van Dijk, Van der Hoorn, Van Beek…. but none of them (maybe Van Beek) has the ruthlessness and commitment we see in Italian and English defenders. Is it lack of defensive DNA? No, it is not. It is lack of development.

hunter buik

7.  Lack of desire

It is a given that mental strenght, focus and desire can add a significant level of quality to any team. The Greek national team in 2004, the Germans in 1996, Atletico Madrid, Leicester City, Liverpool 2005… There are so many examples. Barca and Bayern have it. Last season, Chelsea had it. Oranje had it in 2010. It was mistaken for “ugly football”. You have to really really want it. Today, in modern football, football skills is not enough. Barcelona demonstrates the work ethics and discipline needed to really rise up. Our Oranje doesn’t have the football skill and finesse of Spain. If we do not match the desire of the opponent (yes, Iceland away, Czechs at home, Turkey away), our lack of quality means we will lose the game. It is again, something that needs to be added in the development of teams and talent. It’s youth development, but also scouting and selecting. Over the last years, Holland developed lots of tantalizing talents, who can play football, but don’t seem to have the desire, the iron will to succeed. Adam Maher, Royston Drenthe, Ryan Babel, Ricardo Kishna, Ibi Afellay, JP Boetius, Eljero Elia….

Wesley Sneijder said something telling, only a week ago. When a reporter asked an innocent question about Playstations, Wes said something profound. “In my time, when I came to Oranje, the older players played cards. As young players you were taken in to the game and you created a bond. Today, players come to the hotel with their PS4 and go to their rooms to play FIFA. A bit childish, I think. You won’t see me doing that.”

Oostveen czech

Who is responsible?

Obviously, the man who appoints the coach and the man who instructs the coach is end responsible. Going from LVG to Hiddink was a big mistake that someone with football expertise would have spotted. The decision to go back to “4-3-3” or Total Football was pedantic. A proud Dutch national team wanting to show the world that the rest of the world is doing it wrong. On what basis? Van Oostveen needs to be replaced by a more football savvie experienced CEO. Gaston Sporre (ex PEC Zwolle and ex Heerenveen) is an outstanding candidate. As would Ruud van Duyvenbode (former Ajax and Feyenoord defender and long time Ajax board member). Or Toon Gerbrands, former AZ Alkmaar and current PSV general manager.

toon lou

Toon Gerbrands and Louis van Gaal

For talent development and overall KNVB football strategy, the KNVB need to appoint a Technical Director. Someone with extensive development and football management experience. Wim Jansen might be too old, but someone like Co Adriaanse would do. Foppe de Haan comes to mind. Martin Jol, maybe? Once the KNVB establishes the direction to take, the coach can be appointed…

I personally believe Danny Blind is a good man for the job. I don’t buy the “he lacks experience” rhetoric. Blind was captain of the best Ajax of the last 40 years and has worked in football in every role thinkable, incl head coach of Ajax and assistant to Van Gaal at Oranje. Joachim Low of Germany and Prandelli of Italy did not have big coaching jobs prior to their national coaching jobs. A national team manager coach is a totally different role than club coach. As Louis van Gaal blatantly put it. “I hate this job.”

Blind is a good builder, I think. Great with young players, a good and steady personality, strong communication skills and an eye for talent.

jan and jc

The two iconic Dutch football legends: your humble blogger and JC


In terms of development, the Dutch have always focused almost exclusively on ball skills. If you control the ball, you control the game, was a motto often heard. But these days, the game has changed. Every player on top level now has excellent ball skills. A workhorse midfielder these days can play like the best of them. Polyvalent players is the term. The Strootmans, the Pogbas, the Busquets, the Pastores and Modrices of this world can do it all. Score, assist, tackle, pass, run… Physical improvements have been made. Tactical improvements have been made. By all nations. The Dutch don’t lead on skill or tactics anymore. What will be a key differentiator, as said before, is the will to win. The ability to focus fully. These are elements that need to be brought into the development program. Venom on the ball and off the ball. The intensity that we see in C Ronaldo, Messi, Thomas Muller, Lampard, Eden Hazard and Yohan Cabaye. Furthermore, we need to focus more on playing without the ball. The Dutch grow up wanting the ball and when we do, we are not bad. But once we lose the ball, we are horrific and all over the place.


Young talents at Varkenoord (Feyenoord)

We have been forcussing too much on playing with the ball. The youth teams of Ajax, Feyenoord, AZ, Vitesse, Sparta, NEC…they know how to win their games in the Dutch leagues. But as soon as the Bazoers, the Berguizen, the Klaassens and Vilhenas are confronted with international opponents (for instance in Europa League games, in CL qualification games or Euro or World Cup tournaments for rep teams), eventually they “run into the knife” as the expression goes.

Financial Fair Play

The situation at European / Global level has impacted football life in smaller countries. The Bosman ruling is another aspect. As long as Dutch clubs get a fraction of the tv income that other nations get (England, Spain, Germany) it will be hard for Dutch clubs to compete on quality. On top of that, in Spain and England, clubs can have negative equity on the balance sheet. Whereas Dutch (and German clubs) have to balance the books. This means that Ajax – Real Madrid is per definition not a game played on an even playing field. If the UEFA really aims to produce a “fair and equitable” European competition they should make sure the rules are the same pan European.

uefa money

Johan Cruyff made a strong case, not just for Holland but also for Spain, England and other national teams to have a rule that forces clubs to field at least six homegrown players (as in: born and raised in the home country). This will put countries with strong development cultures on a more even keel. It will force countries with an overflow of import players (England!) to develop more “own” players and as a result strengthen their national teams.

High horse

Clubs, like the KNVB, will need to get off their high horse. Ajax in particular. They have the so-called Ajax house style. That house style is still held as sacred although it has been forfeited years ago. But no one wants to admit it. The Ajax style is: fast ball circulation, pass and move, wingers (Keizer, Swart, Ling, Van ‘t Schip, Roy, Overmars), a number 10 behind the striker (Bergkamp, Bosman, Litmanen) and a libero (Vasovic, Krol, Blind, De Boer)  who moves up to midfield whenever possible.

That is not how Ajax plays today. Co Adriaanse was sacked for abandoning the “Ajax style” but every coach after him has done the exact same thing.

ajax tactics

The Ajax Housestyle

Ajax (and the others) need to determine what their identity is. Do they want to dazzle and impress (which they fail to do in Europe)? Do they want to showcase great players and sell them with a fat profit (which they do)? Or do they want silverware? Because the way Ronald Koeman played with Feyenoord and copied by LVG for the WC2014, I am talking a fortified defence to deal with stronger opposition, might well be the only way for the weaker Dutch clubs to present themselves in Europe.

Lots of work to be done.

And it should be led by the KNVB. With a clear strategy for football identity and development. We need to stop allowing a lawyer to determine that. We need wise men to come together. We need to get a development strategy to support the clubs and we need to learn to use systems in our teams that are based on the player material we have.

In my view, we need to go back to 5-3-2. It worked. And with reason.

We have weak and inexperienced defenders, so we need some more bodies back there. We have good players for the flanks, good passers in midfield and some exceptional talents upfront.


Co Adriaanse suggests 5-3-2 with Groningen right back Hatenboer

No problem with goalies. I’m a Krul fan, but Cillesen, Stekelenburg, Vorm and Vermeer can do the job too. Zoet for me is too unproven.

At the back, I like De Vrij – Blind – Van Dijk. Bruma, Rekik, Van Beek, Veltman are candidates as well, as  will be Ron Vlaar and Martins Indi, if they show their strength.

Wide on the left, Willems is key. But Pieters, van Aanholt, Kongolo and Riedewald normally should be able to manage as well.

Wide on the right, Janmaat is my man. But a Van der Wiel with rhythm or a Tete or Bacuna can play there too.

The three man midfield needs either Sneijder or Clasie. Great passers of the game. I’d use players like Wijnaldum, Strootman, Fer, Klaassen or Van Ginkel as the other two midfielder. Some length, some legs/lungs and some power is good to have. Upfront, I’d use Robben always, and pair him up with the man in form. Could be Van Persie. Or Memphis. Or Promes. Or El Ghazi. Or Berghuis. Or Sneijder even… (with Clasie behind him in midfield).


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