It’s tough to be a coach. Imagine, if Robben had lifted the ball an inch higher, Bert van Marwijk would have been an amazing coach! If Malen would have scored vs the Czechs, who knows… Frank might have won us the Euros. That is how tight it can be.
But… Malen didn’t score. De Ligt did handle the ball. And Frank has been lost in his own convictions.
Back in 2019, Oranje was in the finals of the Nations League. Now, we can’t get past the first knock-out round, vs a mid-tier European football nation. The only consolation: we did as well as France, Portugal and Germany. Yay!
De Boer has evaluated his own performance and has concluded: it’s not working. And if he wouldn’t have had this insight, the KNVB would have confronted him with that.
Where is the drive, the quest for attacking football, for creative solutions, the positioning play and the swagger? The ambition to have the ball, to create, to dominate? Everything what makes Oranje Oranje was melting before our eyes.
The Czechs brought their team of mid-tier players: they are with Hoffenheim, Brescia, Hellas Verona, Leverkusen and West Ham. Our team? Two Barca players. A Juve player, an Inter champ, a player of PSG, several Ajax players… So, if your players are better, in terms of level, how come your team doesn’t reflect this?
The Frank de Boer Evaluation.
The System: a Fat Minus. Sure, systems and bags of money won’t score goals, or handle the ball. But why did Frank want the 5-3-2 system so rigidly? Koeman tried it and quickly went back to the 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. “This is more like us, how we play and this is how our players know how to play,” was what the current Barca coach said. De Boer decided to call some colleagues. Ex national team managers. He talked to Van Marwijk, to Van Gaal, Koeman and potentially also to Gullit, Rijkaard and Van Basten. His questions: What will I be confronted with? Which issues do I need to tackle? All these people felt in that conversation that De Boer had his mind set on a 5-3-2. Why? His response: it’s easier to press forward, with this system. The only benefit it had: a 5-3-2 would allow the coach to play all his top defenders. When Van Dijk is back, we can play a back line with Blind – Van Dijk – De Vrij – De Ligt – Dumfries. Not bad.
And, Memphis can have his free role. He doesn’t need to be stuck to the left flank ( 4-3-3) or be the lone striker (4-2-3-1).
However, only two players play this system week in week out: De Vrij and De Roon. And De Vrij said in an interview recently, that it took Conte 2 years (!) to work and practice with the team day in day out, to perfect the system. De Boer had 3 weeks.
At the same time, Memphis, De Ligt and Wijnaldum all three expressed their doubts after the first friendlies playing this system, but De Boer was steadfast!
The Execution: A Fat Minus. Which match did we play above average? The North Macedonia one? A match that didn’t really matter anymore. And still, the opponent scored twice (off side) and hit the post.
But while Frank De Boer told everyone that he saw improvements, game after game, the first knock-out game was an implosion felt all the way in Atlanta, London and Milan. Sure, we had some bad luck: Malen could have had a better touch. De Ligt should have cleared the ball after the first bounce. Stekelenburg dropping a ball and turn it into a corner kick. But is it just bad luck?
The Choices: a Fat Minus. Mathijs de Ligt might now be the personification of the bad decision making of Oranje. He lost control over the situation, over the ball… Allowed it to bounce twice, then he slipped and then he decided to handle the ball. Wow. It’s remarkable how vulnerable he was on his two feet. Just like it seemed other were also digging very deep. Memphis could be seen out of breath, after an hour of play, while Frenkie and Wijnaldum complained they had “heavy legs”.
De Ligt was one of the players quizzing the coach about his choice to play 5-3-2. There were more questions: why did he not use De Vrij and De Ligt in their usual roles: De Ligt right CB and De Vrij centrally, like he does at Inter? De Boer never answered that. He decided to invite Donny van de Beek into the squad, while the ex Ajax player barely had any game time. He sent Cillesen away after a positive corona test, while Spain was happy for Busquets to take some time off and wait for a negative result.
There’s more. Van de Beek got injured but De Boer decided he didn’t need a 26th player. Why? First, Ryan Babel was considered essential and right before the Euros he dropped him. He could have invited him back in, but he didn’t, just like he didn’t want to replace Luuk de Jong.
And Donyell Malen, the most dangerous attacker v the Czechs was subbed off, because “the data said he couldn’t go on.” Malen himself had other ideas about that! And by taken Malen off, he took the only penetrative threat away, giving the Czechs even more comfort in playing out the final 20 minutes of the game.
Result: a Fat Minus. It was under his management that we missed the finals for the Nations League. Ok, it wasn’t all under his spell, but still. The first qualification games for the World Cup ended up with damage, after the 4-2 beating vs the Turks. And what was the end result of the system change for the Euros?
We have not made any progress under this coach. There is no foundation for the future. Take the matches in June: Scotland, Georgia, Ukraine, Austria and North Macedonia. Even the Czechs, we haven’t played against any top nation and still we got in trouble. Oranje hardly ever shone, maybe apart from Dumfries!
Frank de Boer abandoned Koeman’s success formula, because it would give us more defensive certainty. Well… It didn’t pan out. And we will be watching Denmark – Chech Republic while the Oranje players are at Ibiza.
The worst thing: he would do it all over again! “Yes, I think the 3-5-2 is a great system for us. We were more dominant against the Czechs, we didn’t give a lot away. Until Malen’s miss and Mathijs’ hand ball, we were fine. This is not due to the system. Our wing backs did well, our midfield knows how to play this, but you need to be sharp and focused at all times.”
De Boer thinks it’s bad luck and some players lacking form. But if you can’t dominate with this system and end up with zero shots on goal against the Czechs, something is wrong.
Still, it’s too easy to blame it all on De Boer. The people who put him there also need to be evaluated. Eric Gudde, general manager of the KNVB, is on his way out, towards retirement. Nico Jan Hoogma, the technical director, will be in his role for a bit longer, one would expect.
And one of the baffling quotes he came up with today, was “We are going to look for another coach, type Koeman!”. What the F!! if you want a type like Koeman, then do all you can to get Koeman! If he’s not available, you should stop naming his name. Any coach (Zidane, Wenger, Low, Ten Hag) will think: Ah… ok. They want Koeman. That is not me.
It’s time to act, to talk to the different coaches available. Dutch, Italian or German, who cares. I’d follow Van Hanegem’s advice and I would call Zidane. Why not? National Team coach is a very nice job. You travel, you watch football and you work at a leisurely pace. And when the Euros or World Cup are there, you’re thrown into a pressure cooker. Perfect job! I’m sure many big name coaches would pick up the phone, with a chance to lead Oranje and its amazing potential of top players (Frenkie, Memphis, Malen, Gakpo, Rensch, Timber, Gravenberch, Dumfries, Wijndal, Koopmeiners, Stengs, Boadu, Simons, Ihattaren, Bijlow, Malacia, De Ligt, Van de Beek, Teze, Schuurs) to a World Cup title.