In a period within which Dutch clubs are making their massive come-back onto the European front! Sure, everybody knows Ajax and PSV has also had some recent smaller successes in Europe with Feyenoord lagging behind. But this time around, Vitesse and AZ have also found their way into the group stages of the various European cup competitions and that is great news for us! Well done.
Ajax is placed in the Champions League by virtue of their title, last season. And the Sons of Gods are lucky once again, this time with the draw. By all means doable, and with heaps of jealous glances from Paris, Manchester and Liverpool of course.
PSV had a real chance of getting there too, but after some impressive games vs Galatasaray and Midtjylland, Benfica appeared to tough to handle, despite a tremendous second half in Portugal and despite playing 10 men for 60 minutes or so. But the Philips team choked and their coach might not have made the proper chances when needed. Still, Europa League is their League and they will have a chance to go far.
Feyenoord impressed under coach Arne Slot with some impressive attacking play, and they sailed through the qualifications for the Conference League, with their easiest (but first) game vs FC Drita their toughest! Vitesse had some hurdles to overtake, in particular against Anderlecht, but they did it in the end. AZ Alkmaar wasn’t able to beat a mediocre Celtic for a spot in the Europa League but they will compete in the Conference League now, which is still a feat for a coach who had to say goodbye to a couple of mainstays (Stengs, Boadu, Midjo, Bizot).
Guus Til back in the squad too
We can prepare for a special season, both domestically and internationally.
Lets focus on the NT again, as the first matches under LVG III will commence sooner than you think.
Van Gaal presented the final squad selection and was happy to be able to welcome back Denzel Dumfries and Steven Bergwijn. The latter has had a good run in Spurs’ matches recently and impressed. Van Gaal really wants to have more options on the wings and with Bergwijn, he has a player who can play left and right wing.
We’ve spoken enough about Louis and his side-kick Danny Blind. Lets look at Henk Fraser. Who the H is Henk Fraser?
The older football fans will remember him as the tough-as-nails centre back of FC Utrecht, Roda JC and Feyenoord. He started out as a striker at Sparta Rotterdam, in the same time that Danny Blind and Louis van Gaal played there. Interestingly, Louis couldn’t remember it! The Sparta skipper was on his way out and Henkie was a shy sub who never got onto Louis’ radar. He never made it as a striker, was transferred as one to FC Utrecht, though, but his coach there immediately turned him into a very good centre back. You could compare him with Adri van Tiggelen (lanky, lean, mean, tough, fast) or with Portuguese defender Pepe. Fraser could also get red mist in front of his eyes. Mr Yellow was his nickname at FC Utrecht.
When at Roda JC, he got selected for Oranje in 1989 and made his debut vs Denmark, alongside Bryan Roy and Stanley Menzo. He played against Brian Laudrup and got the compliments from skipper Gullit after that game. Ajax, Real Sociedad and Borussia Dortmund wanted him but an injury and family circumstances put a stop to that.
A year later, Feyenoord would sign him, with a massive signing fee on top. Fraser would become Feyenoord’s most expensive signing at that moment.
He played 9 seasons for Feyenoord and in 1993 he won the title under coach Van Hanegem, with whom he’d build a strong relationship. His time at Feyenoord was successful but Fraser also suffered multiple injuries ( torn ankle ligaments, broken leg, and knee injuries). Officially he was also part of the 1999 squad that won the title, but he wouldn’t play that season. Not long after, he would retire from football. He won 4 National Cups, 2 titles, the first Johan Cruyff Shield and reached the semi finals of the Europa Cup II in 1991/92.
Fraser would end up playing 6 games in Oranje, as he was also part of the NT squad for the World Cup 1990. He would play 30 minutes in the last group match, subbing Richard Witschge. He would be called up way more, but never played any more in orange.
His nickname Ghost came from Marco van Basten. During the 1990 World Cup, the three AC Milan stars and Ronald Koeman were the four dominant forces. Fraser, being new to the squad and one of the few Feyenoord players, stayed well in the background, shy as he used to be. He was so quiet, that Marco van Basten called him “The Ghost”. But at training, Fraser would play against Van Basten. Initially, Henk didn’t want to be too tough and Van Basten taunted him constantly with elbows and little knocks and nibbles. To the point where Fraser at some stage lost control and hacked Van Basten down. The AC Milan striker smiled and said “that is how you do it!”. But coach Beenhakker immediately stopped the session and scolded Fraser for endangering his top striker!
After the World Cup 1990, sometime in 1992, Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard were interviewed and were asked: who is the ideal defender in your eyes? They looked at each other and said in unison: “Henk Fraser is the perfect example of the most complete defender”. High praise indeed.
Fraser: “I think I haven’t gotten all out of my career, like many players… That emotional thing in me has not helped. I was not able to control myself. If I was ok, I would jump over a player who slid on the ground, but I was not my happy self and that opponent had kicked me or something, I would sneakily plant my studs on this thigh, you know? That sortathing. I learned all this later in life.”
About the World Cup 1990. “I never felt settled in Oranje. There was the Ajax – Feyenoord thing, of course. Back then, the rivalry was insane. Today, Ajax and Feyenoord players go on holidays together. In those days, unthinkable. I also didn’t have a click with the other players. I knew John van Loen, from Utrecht and Roda. Also Wouters and Winter were good guys, but the other players… they were happy with their own clique and never opened up to the lesser players. But that was how I thought back then. I might well have been very wrong, but I was a bit insecure and didn’t feel it. I was the room mate of Danny Blind, now my colleague at Oranje. We didn’t have anything together. Not that we didn’t like each other, or something. We simply didn’t have a relationship. It was probably as much me as him, or probably more me, even. I had the same issues later when playing for the Suriprofs (players born in Suriname), and I realised I was the problem. I need time to settle in, to find my comfort zone.”
Ruud Gullit mentioned Fraser recently, saying he never expected Henk to become a successful coach. Too quiet. “I had to learn to lead, learn to be vocal and speak my mind. Clarence Seedorf had it when he was 16 years old. With me, it came later.”
After his career, he became a successful youth coach at Feyenoord, hailed by the players but eventually needing to leave due to clashes with the club management. He went on to coach the PSV youth and worked extensively with Memphis. When he became assistant coach at ADO Den Haag, he got the chance to step up when Maurice Steijn – the head coach -was fired. He had to overcome his biggest fear: public speaking. “I had to learn to be comfortable and to have something to say. I learned a lot from my KNVB mentors, but Leo Beenhakker was also an inspiration. After his tactical talk, I was foaming at the mouth and ready to run onto the pitch, hahahaha.”
And after winning the first and only prize with Vitesse – the National Cup – everyone expected Feyenoord and Fraser to find each other again, but before Feyenoord could make a move, Sparta beat them to it. Last season’s play-off ticket was another calling card Fraser dropped and this time around, he did make it on the Van Gaal Radar.
It is funny: Louis didn’t remember having shared a dressing room with you?
“Hahaha, that was pretty confronting. But Louis is direct in his communication, eh? I was not a starter in those days. I did play in that infamous Europe Cup match vs HSV Hamburg, but probably not so good hehehe. But with a career like his, it’s impossible to remember all the youngsters you’ve met.”
One of the best Sparta squads, with Fraser, Van Gaal, Blind, Lengkeek, Olde Riekerink and Rene Eijer
How was he as a player and colleague?
“You could recognise the coach in his playing style. He loves players with a good orientation and feel for the position and space. Louis was a highly intelligent player. Not the quickest with his legs, but fast with his brain. He was definitely the leader. And he’d only have to look at you at training and you knew: ok, I’m carrying the ball bag today… He was very social. We went on an international trip, to Spain one day. I was 17 years old and Louis took us under his wing. We went out and he gave me a Lumumba. A chocolate milk with rum cocktail. I have never been so drunk in my life.”
And then, 35 years later, he calls you up: do you want to be my assistant?
“He first messaged me: is it ok for me to call you? I thought I was being pranked, so I checked and double checked if this was indeed Louis’ mobile number. But it was him and he was very serious and to the point. I actually asked time to consider. A reflex I guess. I never take a decision just like that. I called my dad for advice and he’s like: mate! Be proud. Say yes. He was all emotional and that was the confirmation I needed.”
So how will you work week look now, in your double role as Sparta coach and NT assistant?
“Simple. I don’t have any days off anymore. My free day is now an NT day. I will not take any time away from Sparta of course.”
How will you divide the roles?
“I will focus on the Eredivisie players. And that is a bonus for Sparta too, as I’m constantly scouting and watching games, so Sparta will benefit from these insights too. We will do our meetings online, as Louis will work from his Portugal home. And he’s as impressive via Zoom as he is in face to face meetings, hahahaha.”
And were you offered the NT job after Louis leaves?
“I read that everywhere, but it’s not the case. I have not been informed, at least. Lets just focus on qualifying first and then we’ll see how things go. For all I know, Louis might not be happy with me after a couple of games, who knows?”
Van Gaal recognises the potential of this Oranje. Do you think the quarter finals goal for this past Euros was realistic?
“Yes, if Holland is in a good form, we can beat anyone. But it’s not an automatic thing. There are at least 10 great football nations on the planet. At least. And countries like the Czech Republic, or Mexico or Uruguay can also make life hard for any of those 10 nations. But yes, Louis sees potential but also because Louis knows that he can make the sum of the parts better.”
As assistant of Cor Pot at the Under 21s in 2011
Where are you in the playing system debate?
“I think realism is needed. There are still experts in Holland who think that 4-3-3 is the only way to play attacking football. That is baloney. We can play attacking football with any system. You can press high with a 3-5-2, why not? But hey, at the World Cup, all you want is win games, right? We are good but not that good, not so good that we can force our way onto any opponent. The coach will take into account our form, our strength and weaknesses but also the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. And then you pick your best tactics.”
It seems you will be the assistant who will be closest to the players?
“Probably yes, that will be my role. I worked with Memphis, Wijnaldum and others before. I have worked with some of these players at the Euros Under 21 in Israel and I think I have a good contact with players, usually. It’s all about them, really. They need to feel good. I look forward to working with them again.”