Tag: Overmars

Ajax’ nightmare season

In typical Dutch form, people will immediately say: “Who is to blame?”. The answer is not very straightforward. Lets first look at the problem.

Ajax was having a decent run in the past seasons. Frank de Boer did ever so well winning titles and turning the poor Ajax into a cash rich club, with some amazing outgoing transfers putting some fat on the bone. Peter Bosz came in and turned De Boer’s boring Ajax into a free-flowing attacking machine, but Bosz ended his 1 season spell with Ajax when Van der Sar refused to work with Bosz on a reshuffling of the backroom staff.

Marc Overmars was acting as technical director, but mainly with a focus on contracts and signing and selling players. The Ajax Technical Triangle was supposed to take care of the football (De Boer, Bergkamp, Ouaali).

The two friends, Dirty Marc and “I haven’t seen anything untoward” Van der Sar

Overmars was kept out of the decision to block Bosz’ plans and allowed Bergkamp his spot in the sun.

Bosz left and not much later, Dennis Bergkamp – Bosz antagonist – also had to leave.

But Bergkamp was fully in control when he was at Ajax and ushered in Marcel Keizer as the replacement for Bosz. Not a bad decision, mind you. Keizer was successful as a coach on the second tier level at Cambuur and as a real Ajax man (his uncle was Piet Keizer), he also coached Ajax 2 and impressed with that team (which had the likes of Van de Beek, De Ligt, Frenkie and Appie Nouri).

Keizer is also a close friend of Bergkamp, so the two set out to lead Ajax. The Nouri situation – the brilliant ballplayer had heart failure in a friendly in the pre-season and due to the late response, he survived the ordeal but that is about it….the poor lad is confined to his bed for the rest of his life – made matters tough for the young coach and the whole team or even club suffered through trauma that season.

Overmars decided to take the reins back from Bergkamp and organised a coup, in which both Keizer and Bergkamp had to make way. Keizer was on title course and would later impress in the Portuguese competition and in the sandpit. Bergkamp never pursued his career elsewhere and became a bit of a football recluse.

Now Overmars was in charge and he quickly lured his friend Erik ten Hag away from FC Utrecht. Ten Hag had had success with Overmars’ first love Go Ahead Eagles and Mark had always planned to get Ten Hag to Amsterdam.

The duo was quite successful, as we know. Overmars dealing with transfers and contracts, Ten Hag dealing with the first team and the results and Van der Sar safely away from the front, dealing with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the sponsors, the board of directors and any other non-football topic.

At that time, Danny Blind was the football man in the Board and he would be an intrinsic part of Overmars little cabal.

And boy, what was Overmars good at his job. And how horrible did he behave when it wasn’t about football.

Overmars telling inappropriate jokes to Sar?

Despite being married to a former Miss Universe (or Miss Holland, not sure), he couldn’t resist using his powerful position at Ajax to bother and hassle the young ladies working at the social media/marketing department of Ajax. And it went further than texting them invites for dinner. The diminutive former winger enjoyed taking pictures of his …less diminutive mini-me and sent them to the ladies in question, who apparently were to scared to report him to the general manager. One key reason: the general manager (yes Edwin van der Sar) knew this was happening and was part of the sexist cabal at Ajax, enjoying inappropriate humor.

Van der Sar protected his powerful friend but when the news broke in the media, it was clear that the former Arsenal and Barca man had to leave.

So, many things had gone wrong already by that time. But Van der Sar took it a bit further. Instead of trying to replace Overmars with a heavyweight – but with manners – he decided to give newcomer Huntelaar and scout Hamstra the joint role of technical director (not in name though).

Oops. Exposed. But a bit too much exposed.

And obviously, both were too lightweight, inexperienced and unconnected to step into Overmars boots. And what people do forget: he is a very good negotiator. He made money playing football and but multiplied his money by dealing in property and classic cars. Huntelaar and Hamstra are definitely people with expertise and added value but they’re no Overmars.

And it showed, this season. Lisandro Martinez left for Man United. Bassey was brought in. Gravenberch left for Bayern, Austrian midfielder Grillisch is his replacement. And so on.

I believe Sar never replaced Overmars, because he hoped (planned?) to get the speedy ex-winger back after a couple of months of “distance from the club”. But it didn’t happen. And when Alfred Schreuder, assisted by his agent, started to “help” Ajax to more new signings, things turned for the worst.

Ocampos was on the wishlist and Ajax would have signed him for 30+ million euros, if the Board of Directors hadn’t intervened. They forced Ajax to take him on a loan basis. And less than 6 months later, the winger was sent back to Spain as he was never able to convince anyone in Amsterdam.

Ocampos failure

But it went further downhill, as Schreuder lost the dressing room due to several bad decisions. His treatment of Daley Blind (who left after the World Cup), his decision to protect Tadic and never sub him, his decision to not use newcomer Wijndal but try Blind, Bassey and Rensch on that spot, the list goes on.

Daley Blind’s exit had another consequence for the club: highly rated Danny Blind – sounding board for coaches and technical management – could not continue his director’s role what with Daley being pushed out unceremoniously. And again, it appeared that Van der Sar and the Board did not have a shadow list waiting in the drawer.

They didn’t have one for Overmars. Not for Danny Blind and when stalwarts like Michael Reiziger and Academy director Said Ouaali announced their exits too, it was quite clear things are a bit fishy in Amsterdam.

John Heitinga was pushed forward when Schreuder was sacked. Much like his old team mate Van Nistelrooy at PSV, Heitinga planned to build up his career with care and consideration. The former Everton defender managed Ajax 2 and was about to start as Schreuder’s assistant but was propelled into the hot seat immediately.

So now, Ajax is re-building. They were able to get former midfielder Jan van Halst in as new football director in the board of directors. They installed Heitinga for this season, with Dwight Lodeweges as he new assistant and they finally signed a technical director – Sven Mislintat –  to replace Overmars, who seems to be enjoying his time at FC Antwerp, with Mark van Bommel. I personally believe Mislintat could well be the right choice, as he has quite a strong resume and clearly adores Ajax.

So, in conclusion, I think its fair to say that after the mismatch of Bosz-Bergkamp-Overmars-Van der Sar, the combination of Ten Hag-Overmars (without Sar) worked amazingly well. There is no need for me to list the achievements of Ten Hag at Ajax.

But when Overmars had to take his leave, Van der Sar needed more than 12 months (!) to replace him. Imagine that, your key guy in the organisation. And it’s not like Van der Sar was ambushed by the dick-pics, he knew about it. So his lack of taking action resulted in a head coach (Schreuder) who was drowning from day 1. And in hindsight, Schreuder also didn’t do himself many favours with his headstrong attitude within the club.

Heitinga with new technical director Sven Mislintat

The combi Ten Hag – Overmars was replaced by Schreuder-Huntelaar-Hamstra and that combination had no chance!

Ajax’ terrible season – in my view – is another nudge of the keepers gloves of Van der Sar. His list of failings is becoming very long.

And if things turn really sour for Ajax this coming weekend – away versus in form Twente – they might end up playing conference league football next season.

The only bonus: last year, when Van der Sar was asked about having to play in the conference league potentially in the future, his answer was: I will not be with the club when that happens. And the fans will now clutch that claim to their chest. The only silver lining in case Ajax finishes 4th this season.

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Remko Pasveer: 38 years young

Signed as reserve goalie for Ajax, by Erik ten Hag. And as a result of injuries and suspensions (Onana, Stekelenburg) he became Ajax’ first goalie and even with Jay Gorter breating into his neck, the veteran goalie has snatched that role up at Ajax and potentially also in the Dutch National Team. As Wesley Sneijder commented the other day: “Pasveer is currently Holland’s best goalie and deserves to start”.

We’ll see if Van Gaal agrees. The coach is known to be headstrong and contrarian that it’s hard to know. An interview with young Remko Pasveer.

Isn’t it great to see rival goalies getting injured?

“No not really. I mean, we work as a team. And it’s just shitty for Maarten as he was doing so well and even got to the Euros with Oranje. Of course, I got my spot thanks to the issues Maarten and Andre had, but I prefer to win the spot on merit. I just hope Maarten will be well soon.”

You do seem to get along well?

“We do, we’re good together. I see Maarten as my older brother. I mean, the clubs and competitions he played in, he has a World Cup in his locker, got silver in 2010, he is a big name in goal keeper land man. And he shares his experiences and Jay and I love those stories and anecdotes. He had a terrific career, something to be proud of. And Jay is our young brother. There is quite a generation gap, hahaha and we do have fun with that. Jay is very talented but also a bit erratic and he does shoot his mouth off every now and then. The coach will say something and he will be a smart-ass back to the coach. Maarten and I just look at each other and chuckle. We were like that when we were young. He’ll learn. He’s a good kid. And you do need that passion, that will to win. I think it won’t be much longer until he pushes me out of the team.”

But now you are the first goalie!

“I don’t know, it looks like that, but I don’t worry too much about that. I just go from game to game. Do what I can for the team. The coach will pick me if I’m the best option.”

Is it much easier to be a goalie at Ajax compared to say, Vitesse?

“The pressure at Ajax is way bigger. We want a clean sheet every match. At Ajax, they’re quite serious about not conceding. At Vitesse, it was ok to lose every now and then. At Vitesse, you’d also get more work to do and that always makes you stronger. At Ajax, there are matches I don’t see a ball for minutes on end and then suddenly you need to act when the opponent is through. That takes a certain mentality. At Ajax, when we played Sporting away, I was the hero for a while when I had that massive assist on Antony. And 10 minutes later, I make an error and we concede a goal. You will be judged as a mixed bag in that case and I also felt unsatisfied after that match, even when we won. You basically don’t want to be too much in the spot light as the Ajax goalie. That means all is well.”

How do you process a conceded goal like that, the Sporting goal?

“It sucks, and I am really pissed off. I made an error in judgement. I think it was my partnership with Martinez at that point, which resulted in the error. We couldn’t communicate well enough, we were doubting. It taught me again that it’s key for us to communicate well together and to be able to know what the other guys do. We weren’t there yet at the time, I suppose. We won 1-5 luckily. You do need to pick yourself up really quickly because 30 seconds later, the ball rolls again.”

How do you deal with criticism?

“I don’t hahaha. I try not to read it or watch it. I didn’t deal well with it and as everything is so black and white these days, I decided to ignore it. A striker can miss 6 chances and people will say “he should have scored!” and that’s it. When a goalie makes 1 mistake, it’s been analysed and debated for hours on end. One week, I need to be in Oranje, the next week I’m too old.”

Interesting, how you almost signed for Vitesse and now you’re playing Champions League football and you’re part of Oranje.

“It’s amazing and I’m blessed. This is so cool, everything is bigger. The games, the stadiums, the media attention, the quality of everything… I was in contact with Vitesse about my new contract for months and suddenly Overmars called. I said: “You gotta be quick, I was about to sign for a new term.” Within a week it was all settled and I was in Amsterdam.

How is it different?

“Everything is bigger, quicker and better. The players think quicker. The players are very intelligent here, they think and talk football, they constantly scan their surroundings, knowing where the space is… At lower levels, the defenders usually think “let the goalie deal with it”, at Ajax the players want to deal with it. Guys like Daley Blind and Mazraoui or Taylor, you can always play them in. And I need to always be available to them for a back pass if need be. I also need to coach and instruct players on what is happening behind them or something and it’s not always easy. Try coaching your backline versus Besiktas away, or in De Kuip.”

You’re 38 years old. Shouldn’t you kick back a bit and just enjoy?

“Oh but I do enjoy this! Massively. My age is just a number man. I enjoy everyday, on training, with the other goalies, with the lads. I enjoy seeing Timber play, the kid is only what, 20 years old and so in control, so focused. Most people enjoy strikers and goal scorers, I can really enjoy watching Martinez or Blind play. I can enjoy it more now, when I was 28 years old I was focused on my own game, now I can take in more, my vision has expanded in a way. Van der Sar was 40 when he quit and I like that, I don’t feel 38. I am one of the lads in the dressing room and can have fun with the youngsters as well. As long as I feel good, I’ll be doing this.”

Your dad Eddie was an Eredivisie goalie for FC Twente and your daughters also play. Three generations Pasveer, that is cool.

“Yes my dad will come and watch me always, when we play at home. He’s so involved, we always analyse the matches. He’s a real mentor like that. He had heart issues and had to close his physio practice but he still works with older guys now, doing gym and keeping them fit. He used to be my goalkeeper coach you know and before his heart problems, he’d always talk to me as my coach, hahaha. Now he’s mellowed a bit and he just gives me some tips here and there. Both my daughters are football mad. They play, but not goalie. One is left back, the other left winger. They play tennis too. They really enjoy the life, and are very committed supporters hahaha.”

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Oranje Lessons for Louis van Gaal

This is LVG’s third stint. 8 years ago, we celebrated a tremendous win over World Cup holders Spain, with the 1-5 in Brazil, while earlier on – during his first stint – Louis was tarred and feathered.

How does Louis deal with lessons learned?

It was a rare situation, back in 2001. The players came out of the change rooms after the match and had to ask the journalists whether they knew what the plans of Van Gaal were, with his weird substitutions. Irish midfielder Jason McAteer had just scored for the hosts and Van Gaal took man of the match Marc Overmars off and put Gio van Bronckhorst on. Central striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was already on the pitch, but this time as a winger. No one could understand it, and the players the least! What was Louis thinking?

Overmars himself wondered… “Do you know why was subbed?” Patrick Kluivert actively asked several jounalists. “Do you know what Van Gaal was wanting? I have no clue!” Jaap Stam asked whether Van Gaal had had his press conference already. And Frank Stapleton, former striker for Man United, Ajax and the Irish National Team said: “We want to thank the Netherlands for the substitutions made by coach Van Gaal”.

In 1998 and 2000, Oranje was kicked out of the tournaments due to bad penalty series. The golden generation of Kluivert, Davids, Seedorf, Overmars and Stam was keen to get some revenge. The qualification series started in a positive way. The buoyancy was palpable with the former success coach of Ajax and Barca at the helm.

Under Rijkaard, Oranje beat Yugoslavia 6-1. According to Van Gaal, that match was going to be the norm for Oranje. But under Van Gaal, the Oranje stars never reached that level. While they did manage to get to the semi finals with a similar squad in 2004, under Dick Advocaat.

The dramatic first LVG stint was all the fault of the players, so said Van Gaal. The lads were not open to LVG’s serious, professional and intense approach. Which puzzled him, as he worked with most of them at Ajax and Barcelona before. The players used this exact stance as the reason why it didn’t work. The youngsters from 1995 had grown, developed. They won trophies and went from talents to leaders on the pitch. Players like Stam, Van Bronckhorst, Overmars, Davids had a different status. None of them were going to accept the police man’s approach by Van Gaal. No fines when the laces weren’t done properly. No reprimandes needed for when a player didn’t tuck his shirt in. The players were used to the friendly vibe of Hiddink and the laissez-fair mentality of Frank Rijkaard. These coaches could crack the whip alright, but only when they really needed to. Van Gaal approached the NT role as a club coach, with a key role for fysio Raymond Verheijen.

The players first shared their misgiving informally and off the record. Captain Frank de Boer went into dialogue with Van Gaal and the latter was flabbergasted. “They have a different idea about professional sports and management. That is disappointing. I want to rule out coincidences. I do not believe in a loose approach! When Frank tells me the players just want to be playing football volley or tennis and have a nice time, I am completely flabbergasted and dumbfounded. If that is the new norm… pff…. I expect my players to be hungry, to have ambition!”

“I expect to go back to being a club coach. I have more control and can work with my players daily.”

Louis does self-reflect and will always evaluate himself. This means, the man will develop and change over time. In 2000 and 2001, the key was attacking, dominant posession based football. But in 2012, he decided that that generation of players was not able to bring that type of football. Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie could, but they were getting older. The group of players in the mid 20s lacked the absolute world class of the generation before them. We went from Ronald de Boer, Davids, Seedorf, Cocu to De Guzman, Fer and Nigel de Jong.

When he starts in the second stint, in 2012, he starts with a group session. All players are invited to speak and deal with the issues they encountered under Van Marwijk at the Euros. Van Gaal listens and observes. He wants to see who are the rotten apples, and which players demonstrate leadership. Dirk Kuyt, Wes Sneijder, Nigel de Jong and Arjen Robben speak up. Substitutes should not be able to impact the vibe in the group. Players who can’t deal with not playing need to stay home. Sneijder: “I do not want some guy to ruin five weeks of my life again.”

“When Wesley Sneijder wins the ball in midfield, you need to cheer like this!”

After the meeting, the Brazil manifest is made up. All players sign it. Oranje wins every match in the qualification series, but Van Gaal gets a fright when playing France in a friendly, 3 months before the World Cup. Oranje loses 0-2 but worse: it cannot force their plans onto the opponent. Van Gaal instructs his analytical right hand man Danny Blind to analyse the way Juve and the Italian NT play, with 3 or 5 at the back. Van Gaal prefers to call it the 1-3-1-4-2, it sounds less defensive.

Van Gaal has a couple of big meetings planned. He needs to convince Van Persie and Robben of his plans. The former is quickly convinced, when he sees Feyenoord win in Eindhoven versus PSV as Koeman uses the 5-3-2 with success. The second big job is to get Sneijder fit. The life loving playmaker loves life a bit too much and is not longer as fit as he was in 2010. Life in Turkey is easier than life in Milan or Madrid. Van Gaal has a go at Sneijder publically and he takes the captains band from the midfielder. Sneijder is furious and starts a training program under Henk ten Cate on Ibiza. When Sneijder arrives at the prep trainings camp, his tests seem unreal. There must be a technical glitch. They want him to do the tests again with calibrated machinery. The same results. Van Gaal is gobsmacked, but in a good way!

Wesley Sneijder is considered not fit enough. When the journo asks Van Gaal what he will do when Sneijder is fit enough to tackle and win the ball, the narcissistic coach yells: “I will CHEER for him. CHEER!!!”

Sneijder: “He is a genius, but a crazy one. He annoyed me every couple of days with his antics, also during the tournament, but he did so to spice me up and it worked.”

“When will you win the ball for us?”

Van Gaal has exactly 22 days from start of prep to the first match v Spain. In those days, he’s sculpting his team into something new: the provocative press. Meaning, not too high on the pitch. But enough for the opponent to want to attack Oranje, and when that occurs, space will open up for the likes of Robben or Memphis to use. The distance between players can never be more than 15 yards. Whenever this doesn’t work out, LSV switches back to 4-3-3, he would do this a number of times during the tournament.

“Bloody ‘ell mate, win a ball for us!!”

Memphis Depay is a bit player in Oranje. He is seen as a potential game changer, like Noa Lang is now. But when the mercurial forward tricks Van Persie at a closed off practice session, the Man United star doesn’t stand for it and tackles the youngster hard from behind. When he’s writhing on the pitch, Van Persie also gives him an earful. Memphis is so angry and hurt, that he starts crying after the practice session and Patick Kluivert does what he can to calm the PSV player down. Later that night, Robin van Persie goes to Memphis’ room to apologise and hug it all out. A line in the sand.

As Van Gaal has been quite clear to his players: there is only one goal: achieving success! No man is bigger than the team!

“I am not asking again!! Win possession back!!”

The former Antwerp player didn’t just change his tactics, he also relaxed his overall management style. Van Gaal notices on the day before the Spain match that the players are tense, nervous. So on the morning of the Spain match, he proclaims that they’ll have a quiet day and he invited the wives and kids to come to the players hotel to spend half the day with the whole family.

All the players will later also explain how Van Gaal and Danny Blind have been able to give the squad a details run-down of all scenarios they can encounter in a given game. And practically everything they experience in the matches have been prepped and discussed before hand. The only secret Van Gaal and Blind have, is what they’ll do in case of penalty shoot outs. Keeper coach Frans Hoek has convinced Louis that in case of penalties, Cillesen needs to make way for Tim Krul. The Valencia goalie does not have great stats in this, while Krul has a reputation of being a penalty killer.

Tim Krul is in the know, though. And in the players’ bus, the then Newcastle goalie reserves two seats for himself. The players think he needs to stretch his legs. But he actually analyses the penalty kickers of the opponents, without the other players noticing.

Later in the tournament, Krul is the hero when he stops to pens versus Costa Rica.

Oranje has to shoot penalties in the semi finals versus Argentina as well. By then, the third sub has been used. In hindsight, Van Gaal regrets having subbed Van Persie for Huntelaar as Cillesen can’t stop a single pen and Ron Vlaar and Wesley Sneijder miss for Holland. In an exciting losers finals, Oranje beats Brazil (goals by Van Persie, Blind, Wijnaldum ) and takes home the bronze.

“Ok, so you score a goal. Fine. But I will only cheer for winning the ball back.”

Louis has demonstrated that he is able to be flexible. It does take a time span of 20 years to see this. He went from a strict drill sergeant in 2000 to the flexible and opportunistic coach in 2014 and the warm and friendly uncle in 2022.

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Oranje for your Lockdown: Part 2

With everyone in lock down (see Van Persie and son practising in their backyard above)… some entertainment for you!

This is part two of classic matches of Dutch football. Obviously, there are many more classic matches of non-Dutch clubs but with Dutch players, that are great to re-watch. Anything Van Nistelrooy at Man U. Or the three Milan icons (Van Basten, Rijkaard and Kuyt). Seedorf at Real Madrid. Makaay at Bayern Munich.

I must confess, I totally forgot the European campaign in 1988 by PSV, winning the Europa Cup.

The finals vs Benfica was a forgettable match, as were the semi finals vs Real Madrid.

Therefore, this high light video on Romario and his hattrick.

Youtube is your friend!

The Dutch National Team

So, we’re entering the 1990s. And in 1990, the WC in Italy should have been ours. But it became a deception. I’ll skip those games. There was literally nothing uplifting in that whole scenario. The qualifications were bmweh due to arguments between coach Libregts and Ruud Gullit and the tournament became a complete disaster, as Michels refused to appoint Cruyff as coach and the players – consciously or subconsciously – sabotaged the tournament, under Leo Beenhakker.

Oranje needed to rise up and re-establish itself for the 1992 Euros and did so with some fresh blood, like Danny Blind, Richard Witschge, Dennis Bergkamp and Bryan Roy. Van Basten netted 5 goals in the 0-8 thrashing of Malta.

The 1992 tournament was a fun one, and one we could have won. The Danish beach goers were called back when Yugoslavia was banned and the Danish Dynamite won the tournament. But not after Oranje impressed again. Bergkamp’s goal vs Germany was a big one and Van Basten missing a key penalty vs Schmeichel was also quite the milestone.

Note how Van Basten directs Bergkamp’s goal…

For the qualification of the WC1994 in the US, Oranje had England in the group. We played some epic games against them. Slowly more new players entered into the fray: Ed de Goeij, goalie, there was Frank de Boer but also two players from Champs Feyenoord: Rob Witschge and John de Wolf, while journeyman Peter van Vossen popped onto the radar due to his scoring spree in Belgium.

The away game at Wembley was sensational.

As was the home game…. Notice Rijkaard’s goal flagged offside while he was yards on!

You can find the WC1994 matches online no doubt. It wasn’t to be for us. The heat in Florida, the lack of leader Gullit and some bad referee mistakes cost us our progress. We went out vs Brazil.
After a great come back…

We weren’t happy with the result and Dick Advocaat’s popularity went down when he returned from the US to declare that if you’re among the best 16 in the world, it’s not that bad…

In the run up to the England Euros, Hiddink tried some different players, from Eijkelkamp to Johan de Kock, from Orlando Trustfull to Youri Mulder. The latter scored an essential late goal at home to secure 3 points vs the Belarus. This was a must win game.

It’s sub Trustfull passing deep to sub Mulder, and in the dying minutes he scores 1-0. Mulder who was called up a day before the game when Kluivert ended up with an injury.

The Euro 1996 in England was a tournament to forget. We did play some interesting matches, but overall the theme for this tournament was the rift within the Ajax squad, the insulting comments by Davids and Hiddink sending Davids home for the remainder of the tournament.

After this tournament, Hiddink fixed the rift and started his prep for the 1998 World Cup. This was a friendly in Amsterdam, between Brazil and Oranje. JP Van Gastel, recently at Feyenoord as assistant coach, makes his debut as a sub would score a late goal.

Hiddink adds more names to the squad, as the old guard, like van Der ar, Valckx, Stam, Bogarde, Van Hooijdonk and Van Bronckhorst.

Here another forgotten match, at home vs Wales (qualification game).

The 1998 WC is probably one of the most popular campaigns by the Dutch, with amazing performances by Bergkamp, Frank de Boer, Edgar Davids and Phillip Cocu. Most matches will be etched in the memories forever, as is one of the most famous Dutch goals ever…

This next one is the same goal, but with commentary of Jack van Gelder :-).

Heartbreak was huge, when Oranje was kicked out of the tournament by Brazil, in a game that we should have won. Late in the match, Van Hooijdonk is clearly fouled but the ref “forgets” to point to the spot.

As the Dutch co-hosted the 2000 Euros, they didn’t have to play qualifiers. But this friendly vs Belgium is a must see game.

Club Teams

Ajax had a spectacular run in the 90s, after having won a European trophy in the late 80s, under Cruyff, it was Louis van Gaal’s turn. Ironically, Van Gaal was once seen as Cruyff’s successor at Ajax, as a playmaker. Now he was in JC’s footsteps as a coach.

In 1992, Ajax won vs Torino in the finals, but the semis with Genoa were more epic.

This Ajax was going to be built into the world class 1995 team.

In 1996, they reached the finals again, to be beaten by Juventus.

In 1997, Van Gaal almost went all the way again. This quarter final vs Atletico is also a classic epic!

Feyenoord and PSV also competed internationally for Holland, but their European campaigns were not that unforgettable.

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Ajax’ success and the youngsters…

Truth be told, 20 years ago we would not be ecstatic and celebrating the fact that a Dutch team would make it into the CL group stages. It’s true. We sank deep so now we are delirious with joy if Ajax beats some lesser clubs and makes it in the millionaire’s ball. And, before you know it, PSV might follow suit!

The Golden Age returns, or so it seems.

But, such is reality now. After some dry years, Ajax demonstrated a panache and arrogance and quality that does remind us all of the early days of Van Gaal’s Ajax in the early 1990s. But let’s not get carried away.

The best is yet to come.

And with more good news coming on the night of Ajax’ victory (well, a draw) in Kiev, Frenkie de Jong declared before the camera not to move away from Ajax, this season. “Well, everyone would love to play for Barcelona and I hope one day I will, but not this season. I will stay for at least one more season. This will be a very fine season indeed!”, were his words. Boom!

And it seems Hakim Ziyech, the maestro playmaker will remain an Ajax player too. Good and happy times in Amsterdam, where Marc Overmars and Erik ten Hag have constructed a winning combination.

And it was Ajax’ offensive power that appeared to be their best defense. Dinamo Kiev claimed before the game to be going at Ajax from the start. That promise only came true in the first ten minutes of the game, when the fowards of Kiev press the Ajax defense and their wide backs push up immediately to create a man-more situation.

It forces Onana to some early saves and brings a couple of corner kicks to Dynamo. But Frenkie de Jong, midfielder last night, finds the response to all this huffing and puffing. He drops between Blind and De Ligt and offers himself as an option to play out of the pressure. At the same time, full backs Wober and Mazraoui push up, forcing the two Kiev backs to cover much more ground than initially planned. And they are therefore forced to make choices. Do I stay or shall I go, as the Clash proclaimed. When the backs push up, De Ligt, in this example below, has the ability to find Mazraoui, free on the right hand side (and again playing a perfect game).

It is this pattern that brings Ajax a huge opportunity, when Schone pulls one of the backs out of position and Mazraoui can steam forward. His pass finds Donny van de Beek going in behind who plays a cross to Huntelaar. All the veteran striker needed to do was lift the ball over the goalie and he could have scored.

A second tactic Ajax used was the third-man tactics. Whenever De Ligt or Blind play the forward pass or dribble into midfield, Van de Beek or Huntelaar will make themselves available. Once played in, they will bounce the ball straight into the feet of a team mate on his way to the opponent goal. This is how the penalty situation is manifested. Blind plays a fast ball into Van de Beek, who passes direct to Tadic. Wober is completely free on the left and his cross is turned into a corner.

Ziyech to take, De Ligt to attack, were it not for a Kiev player pulling Mathijs to ground clearly visible for all to see. No VAR needed.

Sadly, Tadic hits the post.

Time again Ajax finds the free man and the Amsterdam team pushes Kiev back to their own half. And as Kiev needs to take more risks, Ajax can also counter attack, allowing for loads of good opportunities. It’s actually a miracle that the end result was 0-0. And it’s not just the lack of good finishing, left back Wober had many opportunities to give a good final pass, but failed to do so. The centre back clearly had to get used to his new role, replacing the suspended Tagliafico.

Despite the misses, Ajax reached the group stages in style. Defending without the ball is still a bit of a chore for the Sons of Gods but in possession, Ajax is simply breathtaking at times. The holy trinity of De Jong, De Ligt and Blind made sure Ajax had the balance to keep the ball ticking along. With Tadic and Ziyech as the creative playmakers, it seems this youthful Ajax side gets the opportunity to prove they can do this at top level as well.

One of the key players for Ajax, is 19 year old captain Mathijs de Ligt. What a tremendous surge into the lime light for the youngster. Every top club in Europe wants his signature. And he’s one of the few players to be very consistent, both in Oranje and in Ajax.

It was more than half a year ago, when De Ligt received the band.

“It was weird. I remember it well. I was asked to see the coach in his office. I thought he wanted to give me some more instructions for the Heerenveen game. But he said I would be his captain. A big surprise. I love challenges and this was a challenge and something to be proud of. It felt weird, that first match, but now, I’m used to it.”

So he is now the leader in the team?

“Oh no, not at all. All the Ajax players have a tendency to coach and to be present. And we have some experienced players, like Huntelaar, Schone, Blind and Tadic. They are real leaders and very present verbally. I play like always, but as I’m playing at the back, I naturally can spot more and see more and use this to coach, but all the players at Ajax have this. I did talk a lot in the youth teams as well, and it’s a selfish thing. The better my midfielders handle situations, the easier for me, hahaha.”

De Ligt wasn’t always a defender though.

“I played most of my games in midfield. I think my football skills were built there. I loved playing as a midfielder. But in the B junior team, coach Peereboom pulled me a line back. I remember being off it a bit. Why? I love midfield? And he explained his reasons. The physicality needed at the back. I did notice my body changing and I started to enjoy playing centrally at the back. My technical skills helped me a lot. Ajax also worked and works on the mental side a lot. I think all over Holland, youth development is great, but I do believe Ajax is just a tad ahead with the mental side of things. You know how Ajax debutants often score a goal? I think it has to do with the preparation. You’re drilled to believe that performing is all that matters. So when you finally make it into the first team, you’re fully poised to make a difference.”

De Ligt was being guided by ex Ajax defender Barry Hulshoff but he made the change to uber agent Mino Raiola. And everyone believed De Ligt would be on his way to a big club.

“No that is not how it works with me. I am still with Barry. He coaches me and guides me more on the football-side of things. But Raiola has other strengths. But my dad is super important too. I need a good mix of people and I’m not focusing on leaving Ajax per se. I’m still young and with players like Tadic and Blind coming in and Ziyech staying, I don’t see why I would have to leave the club now? The signings have given me some peace and quiet. The level at training now is sensational. And, dont forget, I can want to leave all I want, but Ajax plays a role in it too. I want to reach the top, the highest I can, but I have time. It’s more important that I get to play football. And now, we made it into the CL so that is really cool. The podium we all long for.”

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Hot Deals! Dutch coaches available with discount!

Today, you can’t even “park” an article for a week or it has become almost obsolete. While prepping this post, Ajax unceremoniously dumped Mr Ajax Dennis Bergkamp, up and coming coach Marcel Keizer and old-hand Henny Spijkerman. The story of a hidden power struggle within Ajax.

When Cruyff’s velvet revolution was going full speed, the maestro preached that ex-players should run the club. According to his vision, Edwin van der Sar – graduate of the Cruyff Academy – was put in management. Marc Overmars came in to oversee technical affairs, and Dennis Bergkamp and Wim Jonk – once a unit on the pitch – were brought in to focus on player development and the through-put of talents towards the first team. Coach Frank de Boer, a passerby per definition, was also part of the so-called Technical Heart.

Since then, and since Cruyff’s passing to God’s perfect pitch, things have changed. The technical heart was reduced to an advisory role. Most decision making was hampered by this consensus model and since Jonk and Bergkamp in particular could never find consensus, Marc Overmars was promoted to Technical Director, and the Heart became a group of advisers. Coach De Boer left the Heart, as he was a mere passerby. When Jonk took his leave, the role of the new Youth Academy director was diminished.

Aron Winter, Marcel Keizer, Henny Spijkerman, Carlo L’Ami

When Peter Bosz wanted to structurally change things at Ajax – he wanted to have Bergkamp, Spijkerman and L’Ami replaced – Van de Sar decided against this. Exit Bosz. Bergkamp took the reigns and suggested a young, influenceable coach. His old mate Marcel Keizer was the choice. He was successful with Ajax 2. He would be the man to bring Van de Beek, De Jong, Nouri, Kluivert and De Ligt into Ajax 1. Overmars wasn’t sure. He wanted to interview a large group of candidates and was particularly keen to get Michael Laudrup. Bergkamp won.

However, with the dramatic European campaign, the shuffles made by Keizer, the lack of clarity and the inconsistent results, the board and Van de Sar/Overmars were getting more and more convinced they made a mistake. This young group needed someone with clarity. With vision and who could bring results.

Overmars and Bergkamp clashed more and more and the enigmatic former Gunner was not an easy counterpart in discussions. The board supported Sar/Overmars to relief Bergkamp from his – vague – duties. Marcel Keizer was to be replaced as well and Spijkerman – buddy buddy with Dennis – was told to pack up as well.

Dennis and Marc in better days

Now, Overmars had won.

A strange series of affairs, for the outside world. But internally, the tension had been there for a while. The loss in the National Cup vs Twente was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

All focus is now aimed at FC Utrecht coach Erik ten Hag. It was Marc Overmars who signed Ten Hag as Go Ahead Eagles coach. Ten Hag got Eagles to the top level and made a move to Guardiola’s Bayern Munich. When he returned to the Eredivisie, he impressed highly with struggling FC Utrecht. Alfred Schreuder, once the crown prince of the Dutch coaching club and currently assistent at Hoffenheim, is supposed to be his assistant at Ajax. The Sons of Gods will have to fork out close to $1mio to pay off Utrecht. Schreuder can be brought in at no additional cost.

Reiziger and Bogarde

An excellent article from AD Premium by Maarten Wijffels and Sjoerd Mossou.

Ronald Koeman was considered distant and arrogant at Everton. Bosz was considered naive and reckless in Dortmund. Frank de Boer was called rigid at Palace. In Hamburg, Van Marwijk was named lazy and oldfashioned. Even Louis van Gaal got the label boring in Manchester.

All exaggerated characterizations of course. But, it does paint a picture of the Dutch coach in 2017. Basically, they’re arrogant, rigid, lazy men who think in the same tactical dogmas as they did twenty years ago.

We do not have any Dutch football coach working in the big European leagues. Even Albert Stuivenberg, in Belgium, had to pack his bags recently.

The Dutch coach, once a renowned export product (Hiddink, Advocaat, Beenhakker, Stevens, Koeman, Van Gaal, Adriaanse) is out of fashion. Only Henk ten Cate produces results, while Van Marwijk recently helped Saudi Arabia to the World Cup.

Erik ten Hag

Chris van Puyvelde, the technical director of Belgium’s football federation: “Whenever I came in China or the US in the past, they wanted to talk about our beer or our chocolate. Now, they say: if you have all this talent, you probably produce really good coaches too. Why would a foreign club want a Dutch coach today?”

Twenty years ago, it was different. The Dutch coaches were miles ahead, tactically. Progressive, good communicators and adventurous. Peter Hyballa, product of a Dutch mother and German father, and ex-coach of NEC Nijmegen: “Oh boy, when I was a kid in Germany, I’d watch Dutch football all the time. You were trailblazers, so much further than we were. The way your television discussed football, about roles, tactics, zonal marking, a whole new world opened up for me.”

Hyballa goes on: “But the thing is, what you did, other nations started to do that too. But better. Germany, Spain, France they copied your football vision and integrated it with their strengths. Its more intense, faster, with more flexibility. Your football has never evolved. In Germany, most football experts recognise this.”

So how can be break out of this. How can the Dutch coach get his status back? Where are the successors to Van Gaal and Hiddink?

Peter Hyballa

The problem is, all the exits we’ve seen in the past seasons are all individual cases. Peter Bosz’ fate is not connected to Stuivenberg’s. And Koeman is not the same man or coach as Frank de Boer.

The KNVB has changed the coach development program this year. They want more diversity. Not just ex players but young turks and experienced amateur coaches. To break the mould and add new moulds to it. There is now room for a Dutch Diego Simeone. Or a version of Maurizio Sarri, the Napolo coach. Who used to be a bank director before he turned to coaching.

KVNB coaching trainer Frans de Kat: “We used to offer one standard course in the past. Now we turned it around. The student is schooling himself and we support him.”

Almost anything in Holland leads to controversy and discussion. Ex-international John Heitinga – he played a World Cup final! – was rejected for the training course, this erupted into a media storm. The KNVB philosophy seems contrary to Cruyff’s vision that ex pro players need to get a role in football management. Peter Hyballa: “You guys seem to stuck in this old boys network of former players, it’s institutionalised in the Dutch way of thinking about football.”

Van Puyvelde seems to agree: “Your media, the club management and even the public, they all seem to cling on to the same old names.”

Hyballa: In Holland, people are scared to go beyond their standard little club. If an outsider comes in, it’s “what has he achieved?” or “who does he think he is?”. Judge people on their work, their content. Don’t keep cooking in your own little kitchen with the windows closed.”

Van Puyvelde, who lived and worked in The Netherlands, points to another situation. “Discussing things is and has been your forte. But having a discussion is only relevant when you can couple it to a decision. If Cruyff said something to Michels, Michels would put it to use. Cruyff did the same with his players, and so did Van Gaal. They had the strength and the ability to execute.”

“Now, it seems you are debating constantly, with egos involved and “not invented here” mentality. There are no decision being made.”

Cruyff and Guardiola

Peter Hyballa uses Germany as a reference. A place where coaches without a strong professional background are picked. “We opened it up. But you need balls, people with the guts to make those decisions. You have to go for quality and let go of the past. You have to be ruthless.”

Young coaches, the so-called laptop coaches, are modernising German football. The German federation was responsible for this culture shift. “This is why Thomas Tuchel got his chance at Mainz. Or I got the Alemannia Aachen job. And then Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim and Wolf at Schalke. A good coach is someone who works hard, constantly develops and invest in themselves. Every day. It’s not about how big your name is or who good you were as a player.”

Take Hein Vanhaezebrouck in Belgium. A self-made man. Made AA Gent champions in 2015 and even got through the group stage in the CL. Now, he is responsible for the direct, modern game of Anderlecht. His style is direct. This guy would fit a club like Feyenoord. But can you imagine the commentary: “What does this fat Belgium guy do here? Is he going to coach us?”

Hein Vanhaezebrouck

Hyballa: “Players today are more ego-centric than ever. It’s about them. They’re not interested in the goal you scored against AC Milan in 1999. They want a coach who makes them better. To bring them to the top. They judge a coach on his coaching methods, his communication skills, his tools and the specific training sessions. Your career, 20 years ago? Who cares…”

He continues: “You can’t survive with the experience you had as a player, doing a practice in the morning, play golf in the afternoon and go home at 4 pm. These laptop coaches, they had to work. Year in year out. Develop themselves. You need energy. Do away with the complacency and the self-obsessed.”

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The Ajax Saga

It came as a surprise to many. Peter Bosz to leave Ajax after only 1 season! The man who brought creative football back to Amsterdam, who was ballsy enough to renovate the whole team and who brought Ajax back to the European top. How could Ajax let this happen?

Ajax followers and insiders knew what was happening behind closed doors. Throughout the season, the marriage Bosz-Kruzen and Ajax was a marriage of convenience.

Ajax needed to get a coach in with a football vision close to Cruyff’s and preferably a Dutch one. There weren’t many candidates. John van de Brom was weighed but felt too light. Jaap Stam had just gone on his own adventure. John van ‘t Schip took a sabbatical to be with his dying father.

bosz davey press

Peter Bosz: “Who? Tiju/Emanuel? Where did he play?”

Bosz needed Ajax to fulfil his own ambitions: reach the European top. As Vitesse coach, you don’t reach the shortlists of top European clubs. No matter how well you perform. His stint in Israel gave him at least a chance to get to Champions League level. Otherwise, the door to his beloved Feyenoord was closed with Gio firmly at the helm and Bosz’ history as less than successful technical director fresh in people’s memory.

Bosz was never cheered like Frank de Boer or say, Ronald Koeman in Amsterdam. Peter Bosz was an important Feyenoord midfielder and per definition suspect in the Arena.

And while the world outside of Ajax showered him with compliments for the second season half and the European campaign, the Ajax management had plenty to complain about with Bosz.

Ironically, Borussia Dortmund called Ajax for permission to negotiate with Bosz in between to evaluation sessions, Ajax was going through with Bosz and Kruzen.

bosz spijker

Hennie Spijkerman: “Dortmund is thata way!”

And it didn’t go well. Yes, Ajax was happy and proud of the European performances and the upward trend in performance domestically.

But the Ajax management (Van der Sar and Bergkamp in particular) had some serious questions about certain aspects of Bosz’ management.

On the other end of the ledger, Ajax criticised Bosz for not winning a trophy. Sure, the finals in the EL was great, but that would be a one off. Why didn’t Ajax perform better in the National Cup (early exit vs Willem II). And clearly Ajax had one draw too many to crown itself champions. Points lost in the first months of the season, months inwhich the headstrong Bosz ignored the notes of Frank de Boer. The success coach – 4 titles! – had advised Ajax to move on from Bazoer and El Ghazi, who were “difficult to coach”. Bosz ignored the advice and used the two in the start of the season. Ajax was keen to sign Hakim Ziyech but the new coach said he didn’t need him. “We have enough good midfielders”. But when Bosz lost the CL qualification game with a suicide tactics and thereby lost out on millions for the club, he quickly accepted the signing of Ziyech, who joined Ajax when they’d already had a 6 point gap with Feyenoord.

And in the first months, Bosz played Ziyech as right winger and criticised the playmaker at every opportunity. Publically.

As has been recounted here a couple of times, Bosz finally did find the balance he wanted, with Schone on #6 and Veltman as right back and young upstart Dolberg as #9 (after Traore failed on that spot), but it was a bit too late. By then Ajax had a massive mountain to climb.

dennis coach

Bergkamp: “Daley, don’t listen to what Bosz says….”

The Ajax management praised Bosz’ home performances vs Schalke and Lyon but also criticised the performances vs Kopenhagen and the away games vs Schalke and Lyon, claiming that tactical choices made by Bosz exposed Ajax to an potential exit. Sheer luck determined Ajax’ march to the finals. Both Schalke and Lyon could have scored twice early in their home games and lucky bounces resulted in Ajax pulling through.

On top of that, one of the key criticisms was Bosz’ people management with the backroom staff. Dennis Bergkamp does have an awkward role within Ajax. He wears three hats: he’s assistant coach, he’s part of the management team and he has the mystical job of Culture Guardian. And Bergkamp and Bosz did not have a warm working relationship, to say the least. Dennis the Menace sat next to De Boer on the bench during Ajax matches, but Bosz relegated the Arsenal legend to the stands on game day. This pissed Bergkamp off so much, that he wouldn’t travel to away games anymore.

Carlo L’Ami and Henny Spijkerman can be considered true blue Ajax coaches. They have been around for a spell and are considered highly valuable within Ajax. Bosz and Kruzen did not have a good relationship with them either.

So much so, that Bosz in the winter break already announced that in the next season, he wanted to change the organisation structure. He wanted Spijkerman and L’Ami in a different role and bring more of his own people in.

Bosz Sar

This appeared to be the straw for Edwin van der Sar. He put his foot down and declared that the coach needs to coach. He can bring in one assistant coach and that’s it. Bosz was adamant that his way should be The Way. Did I mention he’s not unlike Johan Cruyff?

So when Ajax was evaluation the season and Dortmund called, Van der Sar gave Dortmund permission to talk to Bosz. The former Oranje international saw this as a sign that the support for him and Kruzen was lingering and it would be better to go for the exit.

Dortmund ended up paying a 5mio euro fee for Ajax to release Bosz and it appears all parties were relieved for this situation to occur.

It became quite clear that the new man for the job was already found. Yes, the names of Ten Cate, Roger Schmidt, Erik ten Hag (FC Utrecht) and Jaap Stam (Reading) popped up, but Ten Cate immediately announced he wasn’t in the market. Schmidt accepted a lot of yuan from China and Stam was keen to finish the job at Reading.

Marcel Keizer was the dream candidate for Ajax from the start of this process.

In keeping with that amazing tradition at Ajax, that youth coaches move up when the top job becomes available. Like Cruyff was also able to bring into Barcelona in recent years (not always). Guardiola, Vilanova, Luis Enrique as examples. At Ajax, the illustrious Beenhakker, De Mos, Van Gaal, Wouters, De Boer…they all came from a stint at Jong Ajax to take the reigns and most of them were incredibly successful.


Marcel Keizer – no nonsense

Marcel Keizer is exactly the right guy to step into that role. He has Ajax in his DNA (his uncle was Piet Keizer, Marcel played for Ajax up until the senior team, together with Bergkamp and the De Boer bros). Keizer even has a Feyenoord-Ajax on his resume but didn’t play more than four matches in Ajax 1. Most of his career he played for Cambuur Leeuwarden. But as a youth coach, he impressed. His Jong Ajax finished second in the Jupiler League and he successfully integrated talents like Nouri and De Jong into his team and prepared them for bigger things.

He knows the Ajax housestyle, he’s well liked in the club, he is direct and loathes politics. And on top of that, he’s a close friend of Dennis Bergkamp.

He will need to guide Ajax through the next phase, in which players like Schone and Viergever will have to make way, where Klaassen, Traore and possibly Dolberg and Sanchez will move on. Where Keizer will be able to integrate some of his young talents into the Ajax 1 team (Van de Beek, De Jong, Nouri).

I wish Peter Bosz all the best at Dortmund. It’s exciting to have a Dutch coach back at CL level. I think he’ll fit nicely in Germany and he knows the Bundesliga and the German culture well.

I wish Keizer all the best with Ajax. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has the ability to remain at Ajax for many years, in close cooperation with Bergkamp. I wish to see more talents come through, and I like to see Tete, Riedewald, De Ligt, Nouri, Van de Beek and De Jong make it to the Dutch National Team.

I wish them the National Cup every season, as long as Feyenoord wins the title…

Bosz Borus

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Frank de Boer, Holland's finest….

Over the years, Holland produced a number of fine coaches. Wiel Coerver should most likely be named as the first one to establish a real method to the madness, even if Michels, Cruyff, Van Gaal and Hiddink are the best known names amongst the Dutch coaches. We had a number of so-called “school teachers” as coaches ( the more analytical of the bunch, such as Van Gaal and Adriaanse, although both had a long career as players in The Netherlands) and the so-called practice coaches…. The ones who applied their trade as a result of being top players. Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Rijkaard and Frank de Boer come to mind. There is also quite a large category of Dutch coach who work more anonymously than the former… Wim Koevermans, in India. John van ‘t Schip in Australia, Jos Luhukai in Berlin and Rene Meulensteen (ex Man United) are typical examples.

Every couple of years, a new “crown prince” emerges. Some stay on top, some vanish as a result of disappointing results ( Alex Pastoor, Robert Maaskant, Fred Rutten) and some simply choose to work in the background (Jan Wouters, Rob Alflen, Jean Paul van Gastel).

This season, in the Eredivisie, we saw a number of good stories emerge. Edwin van der Looij at Groningen, Marco van Basten’s resurrection at Heerenveen, Peter Bosz at title contender Vitesse, Ron Jans at PEC Zwolle and even much criticised Phillip Cocu at PSV has reasons to be proud.


Future coach of AZ Alkmaar?

Dick Advocaat did very well with AZ, particular in Europe, while Erwin Koeman might have had the best season performance at RKC with very limited resources. Little brother Ronald Koeman really should have snatched up the title this season with Feyenoord but failed at crucial times.

A name that has been mentioned a lot in recent weeks is that of Henk Fraser. The former Feyenoord and Oranje defender made his way to the top as a player via Sparta, FC Utrecht and Roda JC. The lanky player started as a striker but was quickly transformed to central defender. The shy and soft spoken player was a ruthless and hardworking defender. His killer mentality on pitch and his shyness off pitch earned him the nickname “the ghost” by Marco van Basten, who played with Fraser in Oranje at the ill-fated World Cup 1990 in Italy. Fraser played 6 caps for Oranje and scored once. The defender played nine successful seasons for Feyenoord winning the title, several national cups and reaching the semis of the Europa Cup II in 91/92.

Fraser took over at ADO Den Haag, 10 games ago, when the club was in serious trouble of being relegated. Under Fraser, they didn’t lose nine until they met Ajax last weekend.


Future coach of Feyenoord?

It looked like Den Haag, playing with typical Fraser grit, would be able to get a draw in the Arena but Ajax stepped on the gas in time to win the game 3-2.

And with Ajax, we have mentioned the club with the Coach of the Season, yet again. 43 year old Frank de Boer will win the title for a record fourth time in a row and will most likely also win the National Cup, this coming weekend versus PEC Zwolle.

Only 6 months ago, De Boer claimed he’d like to stay at Ajax for years to come, but only a couple of weeks a go he said he would entertain offers of “really interesting clubs”. And I think it would be a safe bet to say that Barcelona is most likely “a really interesting club”.

After four years Ajax, with good results, are you losing motivation?

“Certainly not. I am very intense in my approach to work. Fanatical almost and pretty demanding. But I am not blind. It’s not like I don’t see what is really valuable in life. Family and health are really key. Football is a very important hobby. But I am not an easy to guy to be with. I have daughters in their teens now and I want to make sure they live by the right values. Treat older people with respect, introduce yourself properly, thanking people when appropriate. I can be pretty tough on them, in that sense.”

Do you see a similar role towards players?

“I do expect normal conduct, in that sense, of course. I believe in dependability and accountability. On the pitch, but also off the pitch. Towards supporters, sponsors, stewards, etc… And on the pitch, dependability is key. You need to be able to rely on one another. Ninety minutes long. We make agreements, on how we play and we all need to be part of that game plan. We have strict rules regarding regaining possession. This only works when all players engage. I speak about this a lot with young players coming into the fold of Ajax 1. Recently, I spent a lot of time with Riedewald on this. All these lads know how to work the ball, to control the ball or to score a goal. No problem. But this aspect of taking your responsibility, that is something they need to learn around their 17th or 18th year…”


Is this why Davy Klaassen made such an easy entrance into Ajax 1.

“Yes. I had him in the B Junior group and you could see that he saw it all and that he had those leadership skills. He is not just a top talent, he is also a player who can read the game and take responsibility. And I am cool with young players making mistakes. A wrong through ball or a failed dribble. Players need to take risks and make mistakes to get better. But once they lose possession, they do need to turn around and try and win the ball back. Davy did not need any motivation to do this. He had that naturally in him.”

Klaassen has had some serious injuries and you decided to bring him slowly.

“I believed that to be best for him and for Ajax. We wanted Davy to be ready to be valuable in a big way for the team, as he is capable of doing. He needed time to regain his ball feeling and his strength. He played a lot of games for Young Ajax and when we needed Davy to be ready, due to Siem de Jong’s injury, he was ready.”

In this season, the big turnaround came when you moved Daley Blind to the midfielder’s role. This happened with Vurnon Anita as well, two seasons ago. That shift got Ajax the title then. Is it important for Ajax to have a real football player on that spot?

“It is a position which demands a lot from a player. First and foremost, you need to be capable of defending and of reading the game. So you need to be able to look over the ball, see what is going on around you and make the right decisions accordingly. You need to be able to defend and to make that first build up action. You need to be able to make the pace in the team and to play that essential deep ball. Daley is capable of all this. And he is still getting used to the role but he has so much football in him. More than he can display as defender. His strong suit as defender is his ability to forward press. He can do this in his current role as well. Serero is also a good example of a player who came with lots of individual skills but who needed to learn to be dependable for the team. He took some time getting adjusted, from the life in South Africa to living and playing in The Netherlands and he has really made great progress. I had to explain to him many times that as a player he will only have the ball for two or three minutes max. It’s what you do with the other 88 minutes that determine your value for the team.”

The right winger role is a difficult one for Ajax now. I guess you really wanted Narsingh? He would have been ideal.

“Well, he didn’t come. He went to PSV and we are now doing it our own way. I tried to get Eljero Elia as well. I worked with him with Oranje in 2010 and I think he is great. He will not have forgotten how to play and I thought I could get him to perform well again. Elia is having some good moments now at Bremen again. He is a on his way back. Ola John was also on my list. A real winger. But Lasse Schone is doing it his way and he has a lot of value for the team.”

staf ajax

Spijkerman, De Boer, Bergkamp

Co Adriaanse wonders why Ajax can’t deliver good wingers and strikers anymore?

“I get that comment of course, but hardly any big club in Europe uses wingers in the traditional sense. At Munchen, Ribery on the left and Robben on the right… Neymar is playing from the left at Barca. And the list goes on and on. It’s all about their contribution. I rather have a Robben style winger who comes inside then a classic winger who hugs the line. That is too limiting in today’s game. Marc Overmars could play both roles, he could come inside and he could go on the overlap outside. But those players are rare.”

Ajax wanted to do better in the CL this year but again, a tough draw made it hard this season. Again.

“You know what, I didn’t think our draw was that hard. To be honest, AC Milan is not the Milan we know of the 1980s and 90s. And Celtic is truly not as good as Ajax. I believe we should have finished second in the group. We dominated five games of the six we played. And we should be proud of that! We played to bad halves. Once against Barca and once against 10 men of Milan. That was hugely disappointing but we shot ourselves in the foot. The draw against Milan at home was unnecessary and we should have beaten Celtic twice. Simple. And we cannot play like Milan does. It’s not in our DNA. I don’t blame Balotelli for what he did. He is a pro, he wants to win. Fine. The referee determines where the line is drawn. We should not be drawn into all that drama. I believe we have the best chances if we play our own style of football. Combination play, pass and move, putting forward pressure on the opponent. We won three titles in a row with this and most likely a fourth.”

Is Ajax maybe too sweet, too kind for international success? Aren’t the current Ajax players more like the ideal son-in-law?

“I don’t think so. My number one priority is the football qualities of a player. Their personality is key too but not in the sense of screwing over an opponent or diving. I do miss some verbal aggression in the team. The coaching and the wake up calls, if you want. I need to hear that, even in a full Arena. And I don’t. We played a dreadful game against Cambuur and I couldn’t hear one single player having a go. I used to be different and more recently Luis Suarez was good at it too. He would be in your face if you were weak in the challenges.”

Is this why you are so pro-actively coaching all the time?

“Yes indeed! I feel like I still need to be coaching actively. Telling them if there is time or whether there is a player in their back.I want players to make it their second nature. Some lads try it but it is as if they’re whispering… I need to hear it loud and clear.”

bert frank

How far reaching is your influence, as a coach?

“We can offer our players a lot. But it doesn’t mean they all process it in the same way. I believe the player himself has the most influence on his career. When I was young, I would practice free kicks every practice session. Day and night almost. My dad told me to do this and I took it on. A coach can help with details, but the mentality of the player is key. And the way a coach approaches a player or motivates a player is probably also something one has to learn by doing. Typical example, Stefano Denswil was unlucky last season as I had to leave him out of the match squad often. He would train really well and he is a tremendous talent but he had to take a seat in the stands a lot. I needed a second left back as I had good central defender options already. So he was the sacrificial lamb so to speak. I never explained this to him. I expected him to see that. So after a while, he came to me and quite distraught asked me why he wasn’t given a seat on the bench. I learned from Denswil because I should have explained this and kept him motivated, instead of making him doubt himself.”

Your good friend Phillip Cocu is going through a lot at PSV. How do you see him?

“Phillip… I wish him all the best, except for the title with PSV, hahaha. Knowing him, he will simply work on the basis of his vision and he will definitely come good. They played really really well those first weeks. The whole nation was saying oh and ah. It’s hard for him, to have to handle this all in his first season, but with a young squad this is what you can get. But I am sure he will come out of this much stronger. Don’t worry about him….”

Guus Hiddink will be Van Gaal’s successor. Didn’t the KNVB call you?

“No, and I am happy that they didn’t. One day, sure… I want to do it. It’s a great honour. But I am happy here. I have much work to do still. I took over from Martin Jol and since Jol only Siem de Jong and Ken Vermeer are the only players left from those days. I say this to explain how dynamic the work is at Ajax. I have said it before, if a really really interesting club would come….who knows. But if I would have to work here another ten years I would be grateful as I am working with utmost pleasure.”



“Hahaha, I will not go into those questions. There is someone working as a coach now at Barca and it is simply not done to talk about someone else’s job, I think. But it will be quite clear for everyone that obviously Barcelona is my second club. I had a great time there and it would be the biggest job in club football, I think. For anyone.”

Wesley Sneijder and Rafael van der Vaart might want to return to Ajax. Could you use them?

“I don’t know you know…. I have all the respect for both. They are outstanding players and two of the best Ajax has ever produced. But I have seen players return to Ajax… Total legends… Litmanen, Winter, Witschge and it is hard. Everyone remembers the fit, young player. But you always return in your autumn days…. And it almost always ends up being a disappointment. Look at Van Bommel even. He didn’t have a bad season, so much,  but it also was not a great success. I am sure he will agree with me. So, can I use Wes and Raf as midfielders? I am not sure? Will they be able to pull it off? I can see Raf as shadow striker or even striker. And I can see Sneijder as a false winger, as Mancini uses him now. But I would be careful in asking them back, to be honest. I think only Cruyff, Rijkaard and Cocu had a good return to their old club…”

And lastly…the World Cup 2014… You were assistant in 2010 and you worked intensely with Van Gaal. What do you see?

“Hard to say. It’s still a way to go for Van Gaal. A couple of question marks I suppose. But Louis is smart enough to play to the strength of the team. Which means, typical Dutch style football, with flair and offensive intentions. Van Gaal will probably come up with one or two smart ideas and maybe pick some players which will surprise the general public. But all in all, it is not very likely we will have an easy road to the finals. Our group is tough and we do have some inexperienced players in our squad now. If Sneijder or Van der Vaart are fit and Robben and Van Persie can hold form, I think Holland can surprise. Spain is not that good anymore so there are chances. A World Cup is always special. There is always that outsider that does well and there are always favourites that disappoint and are sent home early. But I’m glad Louis has to make the decision instead of me, hahaha.”

sneijd raf

Potential return?

What is your ideal Oranje Eleven?

“No. I won’t go there. Won’t sit on Louis’ chair. We have a number of good goalies. We have a number of good, but young defenders. We have good midfielders and we might need to take a risk there as Strootman is out and we have pretty good forwards… I am sure Louis will come up with a solid team.”


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