Tag: Van de Beek

UPDATED: Oranje impresses vs Euro champs

My dear friends, I will again start this post with pointing out that a win in a friendly normally doesn’t mean that much. Coaches will usually look at the progress, the style of play and whether it becomes 1-0 or 0-1, well… But not in this case!

Ronald Koeman lost his first game in charge. The Oranje squad has been on a losing streak basically since 2014. The media have been all over the Dutch. Even last Saturday the English media called us a disgrace. And our loyal fans all need a win too.

So this game did matter. Against the reigning Euro champs. Against our angstgegner. Against the culprit of the Battle of Neuremberg.

I personally believe the criticism on Oranje after the England game was uncalled for. Yes, we weren’t too good going forward, but we played compact and didn’t give a lot away. England didn’t create much either, did they?

But when Koeman announced to make 7 or so changes, I was worried a bit for this game. We know Portugal does have quality, they have confidence, they all play for big clubs, etc etc.

Sure, Portugal didn’t play as disciplined as England. And Portugal didn’t play as if their lives depended on it. All true.

But no team wants to lose 0-3 in the prep run for a World Cup. Don’t forget, some Portuguese players will need to demonstrate to their coach that they’re deserving of a spot on the plane, in summer.

So Oranje impressed me. Given the changes, given the lack of Robben/Sneijder/Blind, given the loss on Friday… They impressed really muchly.

Our midfield was a completely unrecognisable. Van de Beek impressed with his composure, his runs, his smarts (he’s still a young kid!) and Propper has grown a lot in England. He used to be a bit lacklustre, complacent. Not any more. Turning into a beautiful playmaker. Elegant on the ball and with that visor aimed forward. Always looking for the opening.

Even Wijnaldum, much maligned in Oranje, did well. Mr Risk-free, in his position, tends to square the ball a lot and take a lot of touches- and I do hope he’ll improve in that area – but he was strong on the ball and worked well with the rest of the midfield.

Babel also showed why Koeman selected him. He’s gotten some criticism on this blog, from me as well, but he demonstrated his value with his runs. Weghorst and Dost can’t play like this. In what was a 3-5-2 set up, Memphis and Babel did what they had to do. They were a threat, they worked the space and held up play well.

Tete was decent, Vilhena could well be the right wing back on the left for us, and the three central defenders were excellent yet again.

For me, Cillesen also demonstrated to be the number one. He oozes composure. Has great reflexes and stopped some good attempts while his footwork is just much better than Zoet’s…

The goals were great, in particular Babel’s header on right winger for the occasion De Ligt’s firm cross, and Van Dijk’s goal was a tremendous training ground goal. Deep cross by Memphis, cushioned header De Ligt and composed movement and finish by our skipper.

There is hope, people. With the likes of Blind and Frenkie de Jong coming in and some time as well, we should be able to compete. To qualify. And once we qualified, to be that dark horse again.


A bit more in detail now. Oranje changed some details in the way they executed the tactics.

England was too smart for our midfield on Friday, with the deeplying Henderson dropping back and Sterling coming into midfield. Our 2 men midfield didn’t cope with that. Koeman basically tried three different systems vs England. The starting 3-4-3, the change to 5-3-2 to deal with aforementioned midfield issues and later in the game, chasing it with 4-3-3.

For this Portugal game, he went with a mix of 5-3-2 and 3-5-2, tilting the team based on where the ball was. If the Portuguese left back had the ball, Tete would push forward which would mean De Ligt would drop to the RB spot and Van Dijk would tuck in too, with Propper dropping deeper (and vice versa).

The three in midfield meant we always had a spare man and the two forwards had more space to operate, not as bound to the wing as per usual. In particular Memphis had space he could work in. When he’s a real winger, he’s confronted with double markers and lack of movement in front of him. Now he could find the gaps and drive forward.

It seems Strootman has to worry about his spot. The Brighton midfielder Propper played an almost perfect game, finding space and finding the forward pass when he could. His controlling play before our centre backs was excellent.

Ronald Koeman was pleased: “We worked hard on this in the past days. We knew these were the accents we had to change and we practised it well. It’s great to see this result. But, one game, it doesn’t mean we’re there. I wanted to use the four friendlies for our new system and we might find it sooner of course. Portugal did come back strong in the second half though. I think we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t take advantage of the man-over situation in the second half.”

Justin Kluivert and Guus Til broke their duck for Oranje, as debutants. Kluivert had one good run to goal in which he wanted to offer Til the chance to score. If this had happened in an Ajax game, he would have cut inside and curl the ball in the top corner, no doubt.

Kluivert: “This is the happiest day of my life. I’m really proud, but I know I have a way to go if I want to be as good and important for Oranje as my dad. I’m on the way though and it tastes like more.”

The international media were highly positive about Oranje: “This Holland team looks like it is in good World Cup form.” The Portuguese media: “The only positive about the game is that we will go to the World Cup and Holland won’t.” The English media realised that two so-called EPL flops (Memphis and Babel) secured the win for Holland. The Belgium media: “What a demonstration! At times, Oranje dazzled like in days past and beats European Champs Portugal 0-3. C Ronaldo’s only contribution of the game was diving, crying to the ref and taking selfies with fans who came onto the pitch.”

The Italian press focused on Dutch defending: “C Ronaldo destroyed. He didn’t do anything and eventually got subbed. That tells the story.” The Spanish AS focused on the battle between Barca goalie Cillesen and Real forward Ronaldo: “The Dutch goalie kept his goal clean and was the man of the match for Oranje.”

The Dutch “experts” about the game.

1974 and 1978 phenomenon Arie Haan: “We have enough quality but we need to stay grounded. There is enough positives, like Van Dijk, a European top player. And De Ligt is probably the biggest defensive talent in Europe currently. And Donny van de Beek is going to be important for the team. Dynamic, great passer and dribbler and he can score as well.”

Denny Landzaat (ex Ajax and AZ): “The backline deserves the credits and kudos, but I want to mention Ryan Babel, with his speed and his ball control and hold up play. I’m sure the whole team will play better with a guy like him up top. And Jesper Cillesen is a strongholder too. Great feet and tremendous reflexes.”

Aad de Mos (ex Ajax, Mechelen and Anderlecht coach): “This win is not coincidental. Koeman is a shrewd tactician. And there’s enough quality in the squad. The back four is strong. I would definitely use Daley Blind as left back when he’s fit, but Davy Propper deserves the spot in midfield. Perfect two-footed. The only thing we lack is a good striker, but Steven Bergwijn could fill that role. I want to see him too.”

It seems Mathijs de Ligt missed out on C Ronaldo’s jersey. “I think seven others beat me to it. Not sure who has it.” In 5 years C Ronaldo will lament the fact he missed the chance to get De Ligt’s jersey….

You can watch the full game here. Download links in the comments on that link.

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Buckle up! Oranje starts again!

We had our time, for crying, for mourning, for self-obsessed analysis and for memories…

Now is the time to look forward again. As our EC2020 campaign will start now basically!

Huh? I hear you think… no, the campaign doesn’t start until the qualifiers? But Koeman is quite clear: we will take every minute moving forward serious. There will be no “friendlies”, we will not have Wesley Sneijder being carried off the pitch as a sentimental gesture.

Koeman made his intentions clear from the start: no more Hotel Oranje, no more press in the hotel, no more visits to cafes and restaurants and beach walks… We work behind closed doors now and we work.

Koeman bring a level of urgency to the job. Impatience. But the former Barca skipper also has a bit of humour. When an English reporter asked him at the press conference why his statue wasn’t among the statues in Zeist of Oranje legends (Cruyff, Michels, Bergkamp, Gullit) he responded: “Well, I wasn’t good enough clearly. But in two years I might get a statue…” Followed by a wry smile.

When players or guests walk onto the Zeist complex, they’ll see several photos. We can see the Oranje 1988 group, photos of the Big Four in South Africa 2010 (in case you forgot: Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben) and the last photo on the wall is the current generation: Memphis, Wijnaldum, De Vrij, Dost…

The world class player has left the building for now, and Koeman will have to replace these players by building a solid team. “The reality is, that team spirit and playing style will be more important than the individual quality we can muster.”

Koeman and Dwight Lodeweges

Koeman stepped into a record low situation before. He joined Feyenoord in 2011, when the proud club was number 10 in the Eredivisie and had lost 10-0 against PSV only months before. He came in and created clarity. He developed a simple playing style, he gave the youngsters his trust and he demanded one thing: sharpness. Focus. Commitment. (That’s three things, Ronald!)

At his first training session, they did a rondo (circle of players with 1 or 2 in the middle having to take the ball from the others). Koeman joined in and never spent a second in the middle. He was still the best player. Last Monday, with Oranje, he did the same thing. He joined in the rondo and showed them who he was. “Sometimes you need to demonstrate why you are the Boss.”

At Feyenoord, he said: “My door is always open. If you don’t get something, just come in and ask me.” No player ever did. Not because they were afraid, but because he was crystal clear in what he expected.

Koeman is happy with the move to Zeist. “In Noordwijk, they would take 15 mins to go from car to the lobby, due to all the media and friends. Then they’d shake hands and go to their room to come out later for dinner. Now, it’s different, we close the door behind the complex and we’re free to roam, we hang out, some players check the gym, some starting to play table tennis. Its more intimate for us. Less distractions.”

Koeman spent his weeks before the coming together of the Oranje lions with a plethora of people. Former coaches Hiddink, Blind, Van Gaal. Ex players Robben, Sneijder. Coaches Van Bronckhorst, Van de Brom, Cocu, Ten Hag and others. “I want to have a clear and broad picture. You only have one chance to prepare for your first weeks.”

One of the things he heard: Oranje needs more discipline. “I think we will work hard now and in May (Italy and Slovakia friendlies) to create clarity. Once we start with the Nations League, we need to be ready. Players need that clarity, but so do I.”

What can we expect for the England game? Koeman: “You can expect to see a team with an attitude, with a will to win. A team that will play for a good result.”

Dost, Hateboer, De Roon

Asked about the potential return of Van Persie, Koeman says this: “He never retired from international duties, like Robben and now Sneijder. And I’m not interested in age. I’m interested in quality and you can see even in his short runs in the Feyenoord team that he still has that quality. So, when he’s fit and in form, why not?”

A new system also seems to be way to go for Oranje under Koeman. New hotel, new training complex, no more dominant superstars and also a move to the 3-4-3 or 5-3-2. Hans Hateboer, the right wing back of Atalanta: “Yeah, I guess that is why I am here.” Stefan de Vrij of Lazio: “I am feeling comfortable in the 5-3-2 system and I think most players do, these days.”

A lot of smiling faces, but Bas Dost’s face predicts a storm. “Well, I came here to show my worth, dammit. I’m getting sick of being told that I’m good enough to be top scorer in Portugal but I can’t do shit in Oranje. I’m sick of it.” Dost never made a dent in Oranje. “I made my debut in a friendly, in which we played 5-3-2. After that I had some sub turns in different systems, with different players around me. I was never sure what was expected from me. After the Sweden at home game, I was done with Oranje. I had had it. But that was then. I’m feeling super fit, I’m good in my head, I really want to be part of it again, under this new coach. And I do hope we will get clarity. If Koeman tells me he wants to use another player, fine. As long as I know.”

Guus Til

Memphis is very aware of the clock ticking. The former worldclass talent is now 24 years old and still not a certain starter for Lyon. Ronald Koeman is convinced: “I wanted to sign Memphis for Everon. So I invited him to my home in England and we spent some time together. I actually think he’s a great prospect. Sometimes I see things of him in the media and I think: you should have done that differently, but he’s definitely a great kid with the potential to be our future leader on the pitch. He has above average qualities. But it’s up to him too. I’m willing to do what I must to get the best out of him, but it takes two to tango.”

The Oranje team vs England will probably look something like this:


De Vrij    Van Dijk   De ligt

Hateboer   Wijnaldum   Propper   Van Aanholt

Promes    Dost    Memphis

Strootman and Berghuis will most likely play the second friendly vs Portugal. The choice of goalie is still a question mark but I think Koeman will go for the PSV goalie, who is in good form and plays regularly, with Cillesen as #2.

The last decision to be made: the new skipper for Oranje.

Strootman was in the hierarchy before. De Vrij skippered Feyenoord under Koeman and Van Dijk seems to be a strong candidate as well, with Daley Blind on the short list as well, once he’s fit and playing regularly again.

Below, photos of the new Oranje home at Zeist.

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Ruud Gullit’s football vision

Ruud Gullit aimed to bring Oranje to the World Cup alongside Dick Advocaat. It didn’t work out. Gullit’s story, on his time with Oranje, the crisis in Dutch football and the hope he feels inside him.

When Gullit walks into the lunch restaurant in Amsterdam, he’s got a big smile on his face. As per usual. He just had a body-scan, a preventive medical examination. “Man, I had to be all empty for that. You can’t eat for 24 hours and anything that is left in your body, got to go out. They put tubes in your mouth, in your ass, in every body-opening a tube, hahaha. Well, they tell you afterwards what’s going on and in my case: all clear. Super healthy!”

He orders a soda water and a salad. “Now I’ll do a bit more even to stay this way, hahaha.”

So, when did you – uber positivo – lose faith in Oranje’s chances for the World Cup?

Ah, the night Sweden thrashed Luxembourg… My faith got a big blow. We were in the bus for our Belarus game, towards the Johan Cruyff Arena. And we heard ping after ping on the mobile phones. That was a big downer.”

So how can you then motivate the players to have them play with confidence?

“That’s hard. But we stayed positive. Look at yourself, focus on the tasks at hand. We have quality and we will beat Belarus! This is also how we approached the Sweden game. But we didn’t make it. The series we played weren’t too bad. With normal rules (the results between rival Sweden would normally be the decider instead of goal difference) we would have qualified. In the CL, it’s about the result between the two clubs who finish at the same level of points. Our results vs Sweden were better but still we’re out. That is wrong!”

Did you do enough though, to get our goal difference up?

“I do believe so. It’s so easy to say you gotta start with four attackers. We played against Belarus with four, at some stage and we gave away chance after chance. You can’t just say “now we’re going all attack!”. The contrast is crazy, we needed control first and we actually did well considering the circumstances. And while we were trying to get more confidence in the team, the people and media around us had all this negative energy going out way. It becomes really hard to overcome all that.”

When you and Dick were presented, it wasn’t about the Dutch School, but all about winning. That was a conscious decision?

“No not really. Dick and I have a similar vision and approach. Winning is all that matters. I get annoyed with all that talk about attractive football. We are not in a position to want to play attractive. I played for AC Milan, which was at that time one of the most attractive teams on the planet. But seriously, three quarters of all our matches were won ugly. Just get the points. And I’m talking absolute top! And yes, Pep Guardiola spends 500 mio euros to get the football he wants, but we believe we can play like that with our national team? Don’t make me laugh!”

Have we been too much focused on all this, in Holland?

“For sure! We see ourselves as the inventors of modern football. I will never forget Carlo Ancelotti’s words, whenever Dutch reporters would come to Milanello. “Ah, there are the Dutch football professors again!”. And that still is our image abroad. A couple of know-it-alls who talk about tactics as if it’s some holy topic, but never winning trophies. And its our own doing.”

Is that why we don’t see top coaches from Holland in the big leagues anymore?

“Partly, yes. And it’s no surprise to me. Dutch coaches stay in their bubble too long in other leagues. And we go into another football culture and tell them they’re doing it wrong. But adapting to other circumstances is key. There is not just One System, there are more ways leading to Rome. And sometimes we get a shock and wake up. Like, when Dutch clubs are without a hope in the world in European competitions. Or when a coach gets fired. We all start yelling how is it possible that we are so far behind, but then we shrug our shoulders and keep doing what we were doing.”

You couldn’t make it happen for Oranje though.

“We did turn the results around. But it wasn’t enough. We don’t need to be all dramatic about it. It’s like the economy. There are waves of talents and periods with lesser talent. When we won the EC in 1988, we hadn’t performed at 3 major tournaments. In 1988, PSV won the European Cup, KV Mechelen with a couple of Dutchies won the EC II. A year prior, Ajax won that. Marco and I were at AC Milan. But when we were younger, we didn’t qualify either. And Robben, Van Persie and Sneijder also needed time to become the world class players they ended up becoming.  And we’re in one of those phases now. But we still ooze talent.”

So how hard will we miss those big name players going forward?

“You will miss Robben for sure. He was a top player for us, and a role model. And in the last matches, Sneijder was there and he did ever so well. A fantastic mentality. He was on the bench, and usually a player like him can’t handle that too well but he is no fool. And he wants to keep on fighting for Oranje. He really pushes the quality up at practice. And after the friendly against Scotland, he got me in stitches. He wasn’t used by Dick and he walks into the dressing room after the game and says “Wow, I didn’t know you can only sub two players in a friendly!”. Typical Sneijder. And you could wipe me of the floor. Others will have to step up now.”

How is it that top players like Wijnaldum and Strootman are vital for their top clubs but are so disappointing in Oranje?

“Good point. The good thing is, these players know this too and they’re working on that. It’s a first step. I have visited Kevin in Rome and discussed it with him. The contents will remain between us, but it’s too easy to just point at the difference in teams they play in. There is more to it. The meeting I had was good, open and honest and Kevin thanked me afterwards. Players need to look in the mirror first. I also spoke with Wijnaldum about it. And they’re top players and smart too. They now have the experience and status to be the leaders. Like Virgil van Dijk, that lad has everything to be world class: length, speed, strength, a good build up pass, but he can be a little complacent at times. He needs to focus. Once he focuses for 100%, he will be a top top defender. Daley Blind, he is a super player in the role we used him in, just in front of the back four. Tonny Vilhena is also a player I rate high. I expect him to grow once he makes his move from Feyenoord. I think he’s ready for it. And Stefan de Vrij is top at Lazio, Memphis is reborn in Lyon, I think we have amazing players. It’s not all bad news.”

Which young talents do you see emerge?

“I see many. Matthijs de Ligt, he copped criticism after Bulgaria, but I told him not to worry about that. See, he’s developed at Ajax, and at Ajax they are used to have the ball 70% of the time. At Ajax, you have the ball. I told him, in Oranje it will be different. The focus needs to be on what you do without the ball. His attention needs to be 100% when we do not have possession. Anticipate what can happen when the opponent wins the ball. What are his tasks when we lose the ball, his positioning, etc. You need to be mentally and positionally ready for that. The other 30% in Oranje, is easy. That’s when we have the ball. It’s another mindset. In the Eredivisie you can pass the ball nicely, but against France or Denmark or Portugal, you can’t. He is like a sponge, he loves that input. Like Donny van de Beek. They want to learn. Justin Kluivert has massive potential. He now needs to be more constant in his game. These lads need time. Dennis Bergkamp wasn’t extra-ordinary when he was 20 years old. He started to become super good at 24 years of age. Paul Pogba, same story. Talents who are world class at 19 years old are rare.”

Our talents leave Holland too soon?

“Yes, I would advise them to stay longer. It’s better for your development, you will play more games and the scouts will find you anyway. Look at Lozano and Neres, they’re in the Eredivisie for a reason. They want to learn here and use Holland as a stepping stone. In the top leagues, you either need to be top notch already otherwise you are on the stands or loaned to a lower club on a lower level. Look at what happened to De Bruyne at Chelsea. Or Salah at Chelsea. Or Loftus-Cheek. If these lads have trouble initially, it’s not strange that our talents are having a hard time there as well. So don’t leave too soon, even despite the artificial pitches.”

What is your biggest problem with that?

“If I tell people abroad that we have so many clubs playing on artificial surfaces, they think I’m pulling their leg! It’s something you can’t explain. No one does this, only Holland. You get different types of players, the football is different. When will people act? When will the licensing requirements change? Clubs with artificial pitches should not play top level football. So, simply don’t sign that right back from Slovakia, but fix your pitch. Make the right choices. Same with youth academies. If a club does not want to invest in youth academies, then don’t let them compete at the top level. Full stop. You can’t just look at your own interests. The new KNVB Technical Director has a big job fixing all these things. I wish the guy all the luck in the world.”

How is your relationship with Hans van Breukelen?

“It’s fine. I forget and forgive. I can get pretty angry, but it goes away quickly too. That is my personality. Swallow the turd and move on. Don’t keep on walking around with a turd in your mouth! I told Hans in his face what I thought about it all and that’s it for me. He should have told me that Marco was about to leave for FIFA. Easy. And Marco agrees with me. All that silly stuff of secrets and hidden agendas. But, it’s not an easy job, he had. I wonder who will step into that role now. Because you get the blame for everything.”

What do we need to change at youth level?

“Kids are being told everything. It’s all made so simple for them. So stop with those positioning games and those pre-programmed methods. Most youth coaches kick the creativity out of the player. You can hear them yell at the players. They need to pass, they can’t have a failed dribble activity or all hell breaks loose. Let those kids play! This is how they learn, let them develop their technique. And let them sort out things themselves, let them choose teams etc. Ger Blok, who was our youth coach at the time was good at that. He would always ask us: so what is your idea? What do you think we should do? Forced us to think about it. My son plays in the AZ youth. They get it there. They make the talent responsible for his development. You create independent and intelligent players like this. Because on the pitch, players need to make the decisions.”

How can you make this part of the training?

“It’s important to use match situations in training. Even at the highest level, this is lacking at times. Typical example with Oranje. After the training, some players took time to do some finishing. Memphis, Promes, Vilhena and some others. So they were on the edge of the box and someone would play the ball to them from next to the goal post. And then they’d hit the ball on goal. Good fun! So I asked them: How often do you get a pass from next to the goal post, in a match? The answer is clear: eh..never… Ok, so why practice this? So I said,  we’ll do this different. Stand with your back to goal, with a defender – me – in their back. And then you get a ball played into you, which is not perfect. At hip height. At knee height. With a bounce, to the wrong foot. The first touch needs to be so that they create space, turn and then shoot on goal. Those are the situations you get in a match. These are the details I’m talking about.”

Was that your role, typically?

“Yes, Dick said: just work with the players and that is a good role for me. Take Locadia. I asked him: what are you, a winger or a central striker. He said: I’m a striker. So I said: but you run so much. All that running… That is easy to defend for a defender. He didn’t believe me. So I called out to Rekik and asked him: What do you think is harder to defend: a striker on the move, or a striker who basically leans into you and you don’t know when or how he’ll run? Rekik said: a striker running is easier to defend, you know where he’s going, he won’t surprise you that much. You should have seen Locadia’s face! I want to make players aware of their job. Take Daley. Blind is a tad introvert. So I asked him: what playing style do you prefer? He said: I’ll go with what the coach wants. I said, no I want you to think about it and express it. It’s important that players are accountable and they need to learn to communicate this. Some players started to give their opinion and wanted zonal marking. I’m personally not a fan, but hey… The players need to do it, and I’m not a dictator.”

Is this something that happens enough between players and coaches?

“I think it can be done more and better. I think players with an opinion are being told to shut it. But you need to cherish those, these kids think out of the box. The cherries on the cake. A talent needs to be a bit difficult. All good players have their weird things. I was a bit crazy too. In Holland, Hakim Ziyech is one of those. He’s “difficult”. He’s got an opinion. But he dares to think differently and play differently. And he has the skills to execute it. He can be the difference. And as a coach you need to find the balance, of him playing in service of the team or the other way around. And he will need to find that too. It all starts with the material you have, as a coach.”

Do coaches make their vision too important?

“I think so yes. They play and act as if they invented the game. The game is evolving constantly. It’s faster, more physical. So you ask yourself, how do I get the optimal result from this team. How to create a man more situation. How to pressure. How do you avoid being taken out by a counter? Now suddenly, the 5-3-2 is being heralded as the new thing. Nonsense, I used that at Chelsea already, 20 years ago. And Liverpool played like that back then too. The system is just a starting point. And Louis van Gaal apparently made a wonderful discovery for the WC2014. So he did it for Man United too but that never worked and he went back to four at the back. It all depends on the material you have. You find the system that fits the players, in particular with the National Team.”

Is Memphis potentially the best player we have?

“He has tremendous qualities. He’s now making some good steps. But it’s not about playing. A top player needs to be aware of off-pitch things as well. These guys are like rock stars now and the world has you under a magnifying glass. And you can’t let that distract from what it is about. Memphis is a totally cool lad. A very sweet guy. And a fantastic player. We see this in Lyon and now we see it at Oranje as well.”

Did you discuss his performances vs his image?

“Absolutely. I had many really good talks with him. He has his own view on things. He feels people should leave him be. His private life, is his. And I get that. But, he does put private pics on Instagram and social media, and you can’t have it all. If you do this, people will judge you. So, either you don’t care what people say about you, or you don’t give them ammunition. No matter what you do, you can’t change other people. And it all comes down to results and performances. But, he’s doing well now at Lyon, and guess what: people talk about his performances again. That is what he needs to keep up.”

And how about your social media exploits with that little film you published after the Bulgaria game?

“Yes man, much ado about nothing. Neymar does this all the time, and in American sports it’s also very common. People love a little look behind the scenes. Everyone had an opinion about it, well fine… Whatever. It’s not the most important thing, is it? And you know what, we had just lost 4-0 against France. We had to get the players’ chins up in 4 days. And they did, and we won. Well done and I felt it was a rightful thing to do and say, to support the players. In that sense, it was a fantastic game.”

Would you have wanted to go on with Dick, with Oranje?

“For sure. If I was the top man at the KNVB, I would have said: “Dick, it’s going well, why not keep it going?” The results were good, the players responded well to us, Frans Hoek and Fred Grim are top professionals. Why not keep it going? No idea…”

Dick Advocaat even suggested you as the national team manager….

“I loved that. Dick believes in me, but he is not the decision maker. And it’s like, every coach that gets fired in bigger leagues is suddenly a top candidate for Oranje? Is that a recommendation than? Being fired? Well, if people think they’re better qualified, so be it. And I would love to remain as assistant of course, but it has to come from the new coach. I think any new coach needs the freedom to pick the assistants he wants to work with. I will not push myself forward. I have ambitions and want to coach. At a club, a country, whatever works. I will respond to what comes on my path.”

Thanks to VI Pro

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The Problem with Frenkie de Jong….

He’s probably the most talented young player we have. Forget Vilhena, Hendrix, Bazoer. It’s Frenkie de Jong. When Rob Janssen (uber agent to the top Dutch players) launched his book “Deal!” a who’s who of Dutch football gathered and one of the key topics was Frenkie de Jong. Everyone, from Henk ten Cate to Kees Jansma, from Dennis Bergkamp to Edwin van der Sar, they all talked about “how good De Jong is”. But… the only problem: he doesn’t play too much for Ajax.

He was developed at Willem II. He was on the scouting list of Ajax and PSV for years but wanted to wait with his big move. Once he did, he picked Ajax. That was his only choice really, and along side Appie Nouri, Justin Kluivert and Donny van de Beek, de Jong developed into one of the Dutch hot properties.

Within a year, all the pundits and analysts recognised his “specialness” and in times of Oranje troubles, some even wanted him to wear the orange jersey already. Frenkie de Jong, the saviour…

But, we’re well into the new season and it’s still Lasse Schone playing in midfield for Ajax. The veteran Dane is keeping De Jong out. Ajax has played around with a 3-4-3 to accomodate a midfield of Ziyech, Van de Beek, Schone and De Jong but not with convincing success.

The saviour turned into the problem. Where does Frenkie de Jong need to play?

Some opinions:

Peter Bosz (former Ajax coach): “When I analyse Frenkie de Jong, I see a number 6 in him. Like Schone does it. He’s a modern midfielder, who can turn opponents so easily. He’ll start at six but move into the number 8 or 10 role. He’s got amazing qualities, anyone can see this.”

Dick Advocaat (former NT manager): “I see De Jong playing in Young Oranje on #6. But that is a position for a passer of the ball. You want that player to play in the forwards quickly. That’s why I used Daley Blind there, to give Oranje more build up quality. Daley takes two touches max and progresses the play. Frenkie is a player who can pass well, but he prefers the dribble. Taking players on. He’s not a #6. A player like him should be an offensive midfielder, playing higher up the park.”

Kenneth Perez (ex Ajax player): “I think he’s a number 6. The class oozes out of him. He can go far. But he needs to improve still. I think he lacks the ability to score. He’s the creator. I’d like him on #6.”

So everyone recognises his talent and everyone wants to see him play. But where?

It seems the strength of the opponent could well be a decisive factor. The number 6 in Ajax is the dreh-und-angel-punkt. The player who turns defence into attack. The pivot. He’s good at finding space and being available as an option. His eyes always looking forward. Once De Jong has the ball, he strides forward, usually taking on an opponent and creating the man-more situation and being important in the final third. When he came on against Roda JC in the second half, he created three goals and got himself positioned between Ziyech and Van de Beek and at times amongst the forwards.

When Ajax played the 3-4-3 vs Twente, he played as the forward libero. A number 4. He started next to Mathijs de Ligt and moved into midfield when able. But he’ll always take the risk. Even on his own half, he has so much confidence in his abilities that he’ll take on opponents, where the risk of loss of possession is high. He’s not a physical player and in a defensive role, he could get into trouble. Should the Ajax coach require him to be a simple passer of the ball, his best qualities are unused. It’s a continuous debate around the player.

Other experts believe De Jong should be play on the #8 or #10 spot. His actions are key in the third half. His risk will be diminished when he tries players on high up the park. He will not panic in the tight spaces and can play himself out of trouble to open up the opponent’s defence. But he likes the ball in his feet. He’s not the man to make penetrative runs into the box, like Davy Klaassen did. Donny van de Beek has this quality more and more, recognising the moment to dart forward and become the leader of the line.

This is the season for De Jong to establish himself. He lacks the legs for the #8 position (Van de Beek) and has too many footballing qualities for the #6 role. It seems Ziyech’s position is ideal for De Jong, but the Moroccan playmaker seems to have a tight grip on his spot. The former Heerenveen playmaker is destined to leave Ajax at the end of this season, which could be perfect for Frenkie.

He is aware of the interest of big clubs, like Chelsea, Man City and Bayern Munich but will need to have at least one great season in Holland to have the reputation that will allow him a nice spot in the dressing room there and not come in as another young prospect (De Bruyne > Chelsea, Salah > Chelsea, Douglas > Bayern, Memphis > ManU).

He himself is quite adamant and fiesty in interviews. “I’m generally happy at Ajax. This is my club now. But, I do need to play. I believe I should be in the team. As long as I’m not playing regularly, I’m not happy.”

As a youth player, Willem II and Feyenoord wanted his services. Tilburg and Rotterdam. Frenkie’s home town was smack in the middle. His parents were Feyenoord fans and hoped he’d go to Rotterdam. But after a training week at both club, headstrong Frenkie chose Willem II.

This character trait is part of who he is. His first youth coach Robbie Hendriks: “He is the type of player that doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t have a fixed plan when the ball comes to him, which means he can improvise. If the defender steps in, he turns him, if the defenders drops back, he’ll take him on. He senses the movement around him and acts instinctively. But he is not easy to coach. You tell him to go left, he’ll probably go right.”

Jos Bogers, the youth coach at Willem II’s under 16 team. “Some players are made players. They practice and practice to get a certain touch right, or a move or a shot. Frenkie is a natural. That velvet technique, it’s all God given. I have never seen a better talent in my life. And he’s a dominant leader too. Don’t make a mistake. He looks like a kid, and he smiles sweetly, but he can be dominating off the pitch. With a glance, a word. The players always listened. It’s what Cruyff had. When he was 17 years old, he directed the older players already and it was accepted. I see the same with Frenkie.”

Jos Bogers checks his notes. “Frenkie always played at #10 in my team. Always the playmaker / false striker. I sometimes played with two of them. That is a hard thing to do, because they need to be very smart in their movement and positioning. But he can pull that off. We played at tournaments against Ajax and heaps of German youth teams. We’d totally hammer them. Frenkie looked the smallest of them all but he dazzled and bamboozled them constantly.”

Marc Overmars, Ajax’ technical director, is convinced. It was him who scouted De Jong in a game of Ajax under 16. “I’m no scout. That is not my role. But obviously, when I watch games, I can spot talent and special players. He came on in that game, 5 years ago, as a sub. But it took three touches for me to see his specialness. He was small, thin with really vulnerable legs. But his skill. The way he took on the ball, first touch, the turn and the follow through passing. He had “it”. Anyone could see. When I see a player like him, he becomes a project for me. I sink my teeth in it and won’t let go.”

And four years later, Frenkie de Jong became an Ajax player.

Ali Dursun, the father of another youthful talent at Willem II and youth coach, recognised the special player as well. “Whenever my son played, Frenkie usually played for another team on the other pitch. I realised more and more that when I went to watch my son, my eyes would drift to the other pitch to see Frenkie play.” Dursun would become Frenkie’s mentor. He would introduce himself to Frenkie’s parents and committed to being Frenkie’s manager. “I would sort everything out for Frenkie off the pitch, so he could focus on the game. I became his trusted advisor. Many clubs courted De Jong and all had to talk to Dursun who could cut through the promises and offers and made sure Frenkie kept his feet solid on the ground.

Presented at Ajax, with Ali Gundur

Frenkie: “I was overwhelmed. Suddenly all these people want to talk to you, and the local media started to want attention and these agents would show up… I trust Ali. I asked him to be at my side, also when we would play abroad, he’d travel along. He knows exactly what I want and he’ll take care of it. I don’t want to go to another country. I want to succeed at Ajax. And be important there. We’ll see what happens after.”

Frenkie’s dad John: “We sometimes have to nudge him to spend some of his money. He’s not interested in cars, in fashion, in iphones… He came home with a Mercedes Benz, an Ajax lease car, and he parked it in another suburb as he was embarrassed to drive such a car. His mates shop at the PC Hooftstraat in Amsterdam, Frenkie goes to H&M. I even remember him winning the Player of the Tournament trophie one year. After the tournament, we went to see him grandparents, and guess what? He leaves the trophy in the car. Too humble to show the thing to his grandparents. He’s very modest.”

Ajax made an impression on Frenkie. “I always liked Ajax. The arrogance, the self consciousness, the football, that long list of tremendous talent that they produced. It’s the top, in Holland. And when I went there to talk, with Ali, we got all the big guns in the room, which was amazing. Dennis Bergkamp came to introduce himself, Marc Overmars, Frank de Boer, Jaap Stam… That made an impression on me.”

He had a cameo in the EL finals against Man United and also impressed playing on artificial grass where most players struggle. Even Football Oracle and legend Willem van Hanegem felt De Jong could be the missing link in Oranje. “I’ll be honest, when someone like him says that, it does do something within you… It’s great to hear that, but at the same time, it’s not relevant. In Holland, young players are being praised very early and when it gets harder everyone drops you like a stone. I try to focus on my game. The rest is noise, really.”

The youngster made his weakness – he was quite small and tiny until he turned 17 – and used his technique and skill to play himself out of trouble. “I stayed at Willem II longer than most would. And it was good. We were never the top team, we were always getting a lot of resistance and we had to battle and be strong to survive. It helped me a lot. Also, I read about Johan Cruyff and his ideas of playing with a smaller ball to improve your ball technique. This is what my mates and I did, we got a size 3 ball instead of 5 and played with that. After that, using the senior size ball only made the game easier.”

De Jong also has an opinion about the crisis in Dutch football. “I need to be cautious here, but I think the youth development system isn’t great. I see youth coaches instructing players to touch the ball twice and pass it on. And to not lose possession. So obviously, players look for the easy option. The square ball. Or back to the goalie. I never listened to that. I play on intuition. I will take on a player wherever on the pitch, if I can see that I can create a man more situation this way. I think the positioning game we like in Holland has been over-exaggerated. It’s all about possession. I like risk. I like the forward pass. I like adventure. And at Ajax, it’s stimulated and I notice the fans like it too. And sure, when it works, I hear that people like my grace and elegance on the pitch. But when it doesn’t, they tell me I look arrogant, uninterested and complacent. But it’s the same me, hahaha. But, I am a very positive and optimistic guy. I look forward to great things, with Ajax, with myself and I think life is great.”

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The 2017/18 Season is upon us: predictions!

Well people, the waiting is over. It’s all going to go ahead again.

Let’s look in the crystal ball and see what will happen.


We will suffer the least from the summer break vs France. Les Blues have talent to spare but they are rusty in their home game vs Holland. We will hit them on the attack. 1-3. We score first (Depay on a break) and when France is fighting to get back into the game, we score a second (Wijnaldum). They get back to 1-2 but in the final stages a risk-taking France concedes a penalty, converted by Janssen. Oranje is flying high and we won’t lose any qualification game after that. We’ll go to the WC2018. We’re not going to win it but we’ll get some swagger back.



Ajax is vulnerable. A young squad, an inexperienced coach and when Sanchez and Ziyech are sold, there is not enough leadership and experience to have the time fight for the title. Like with JC’s first season as coach, this will be a “development season”. The fans won’t like it but I do believe Ajax has gold with De Ligt, Kluivert, Van de Beek, De Jong and will grow to a peak performance in the coming seasons. They’ll finish 2nd.

cocu shock

PSV has lost their spirit. The new hierarchy in the dressing room takes time. Willems is not properly replaced and something seems missing in Eindhoven. They’ll have an abysmal season. They’ll finish 4th.

Feyenoord is in the winning mood. They won’t be making waves in the Champions League but the new kids gel into the squad with ease and Feyenoord wins the title again. Quite rare for that to happen. Boetius has a super season, Jorgensen wins the golden boot again and Labayad is the coming man in Feyenoord’s midfield. Feyenoord wins the title.

dirk robin

The surprise #3 in the Eredivisie will be Vitesse. With good, neat pass and move, they upset most opponents and get to rub shoulders with the Top 3. AZ and FC Utrecht are just behind, with PEC Zwolle again impressing. VVV will drop back immediately.

It will be Kluivert’s real break through year, like Hendrix will snatch a starting birth at PSV.


Man City will win the title. Man United will again disappoint. Liverpool will do well in the CL as cupfighters. Newcastle will finish mid-table. The lads in England will have a mixed season. Janssen and Klaassen will struggle to get time. Blind, Wijnaldum and Fer will do very well. As will Nathan Ake. Van Dijk will move to Liverpool and will become their rock for seasons to come. Crystal Palace under De Boer will also impress with Riedewald and Van Aanholt on the wishlist of the bigger clubs.

wijnal fer


Cillesen will get the #1 spot for Barcelona. Lens will impress in Turkey, like Promes will do in Moscow, if he doesn’t get a transfer before September 1. Karsdorp, Strootman, De Roon, De Vrij, Hoedt will keep on delivering the goods in Italy, while Robben will have one of his best seasons. Sneijder takes Nice by the horns but will finish fourth, behind PSG and Monaco. Lyon will finish third.

Dutch football will make the comeback we all hope for. We’ll have most players at mid-level European top clubs. No more Juve, Barca, Real or Chelsea but the mid-range players will form a solid team when they wear the Orange and the squad will only grow in quality with players like Van de Beek and De Jong of Ajax joining in.

Sneijder and Robben will lead the pack and young talents like Karsdorp, Memphis, Vilhena, Promes and even Kluivert will add to the recipe. It will be all good, my friends. I’m just still sad that Appie Nouri will never wear the Orange jersey….


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Ajax back in European top!!

Oh my Goodness, where to start!!?!?

Well, with that comment from a blog guest the other day, saying Ajax isn’t getting enough airtime here. If they reach the bloody finals a bit more often, I can write more about them! Just kiddin’ of course ;-).

However, I did check the past posts and I don’t think Ajax fans have anything to complain about. The majority of posts is on Oranje, of course. Other than that: Johan Cruyff got a lot of exposure, as did Piet Keizer, Marco van Basten, Ruud Krol and even a recent Peter Bosz interview… So…. Just sayin’!

But now Ajax deserves all the exposure here, until Feyenoord wins the title coming Sunday. Or next season. Or sometime in 2034…

I have been heavily enjoying Ajax’ development this season. It was like a perfect machine being made by Dr Frankenstein (Peter Bosz). Very clunky and rusty in the start of the season, and amidst the groans and moans from the dissatisfied players (Gudelj, El Ghazi, Bazoer, Tete) slowly the ideal Ajax team emerged. For me, Tete still is much better than Veltman as RB and I do like to see more of Riedenwald too, but boy, Bosz got his boys swinging!

Bosz blij

Ajax has been nothing short of spectacular these past weeks/months. They surely have Feyenoord worried. The football machine from Rotterdam has been winning games based on their power, strength, mentality and will and quality to simply kill games. Ajax has been winning games on class, speed and skill. The youngest team ever to reach the EL finals.

The irony is, that a number of years ago, one Johan Cruyff – you may have heard his name before – went to Amsterdam with velvet gloves on to preach another footbal revolution. His words: “If we want to compete with the best and have more European successes, we need to go back to our football vision of Total Football and develop classy youthful talents and build a team around them!”

He was ridiculed by most. “A Dutch team will never win a big European trophy anymore” everyone said. Cruyff put people like Overmars, Van der Sar, Bergkamp and Jonk into the Ajax management structure and Wim Jonk was charged with developing talent. The revolution didn’t go too well. Frank de Boer appeared to be a pragmatic coach, and despite winning titles, his Ajax was heavily criticized for being dull and boring. In Europe, De Boer never made the grade.

So Cruyff was basically pushed out of Ajax with velvet gloves, and poor Wim Jonk became the sacrificial lamb.

Kort geding Cruijff en jeugdtrainers tegen Ajax

Jonk and Cruyff (Stam and Overmars behind them) taking on the Ajax Revolution…

Now, almost two years later and one year after JC’s passing, Ajax did exactly what Cruyff/Jonk stood for.

They are in the EL finals with a young team brimming with Academy prospects (Tete, Riedewald, De Ligt, Van de Beek, Kluivert, Dolberg, Nouri) and some older players developed at and by Ajax (Klaassen, Veltman) and some stray cats (Traore, Neres, Viergever). Cruyff will potentially turn in his grave or smile in his grave… I am sure Wim Jonk will look at this success with a smirk. He had to go, while doing El Salvador’s work at the Future (“De Toekomst”, the name of Ajax’ youth grounds).

But even though Cruyff, Van Gaal, De Boer, Bergkamp, Overmars and Jonk all had a big hand in this success, it took an Ajax outsider to actually make it all work. The ingredients were there, the chef had yet to find the best combination for the tastiest dish.

Peter Bosz, ex-Vitesse and ex-Feyenoord. The man with the armband, when Feyenoord won the title under Van Hanegem in 1993. De Kromme got frequently annoyed with Professor Bosz who already demonstrated traits of a coach when playing as a defensive mid in the Feyenoord team. He had his time in France, Japan and in the Bundesliga before returning to Holland, where he coached Heracles, was Technical Director at Feyenoord (not too successful I might add) and took the coaching reigns again at Heracles, Vitesse before leaving to work in Israel with Jordi Cruyff. Bosz was always a Cruyff adept and had a lot of time with both Jordi and Johan when working with the “son of”… His teams, whether Heracles or Vitesse, always played attractive and at time suicidal offensive football. The match Bosz – Ajax was an obvious one.

bosz mourinho dick

Peter: “You have as much chance to beat us as the length of your willy!”

In typical Cruyff style, Bosz forced his vision onto the team, with the risk of getting it wrong. When Ajax played in the CL qualifications, it simply had to beat Rostov to progress in the CL but Bosz refused to be pragmatic, as a result, Rostov tore Ajax apart.

He took it on the chin. Copped the criticism and the fact that his tactics cost Ajax millions of CL prize money. He seemed unphased. He even said he didn’t need to get Hakim Ziyech, but succumbing under the immense pressure of the fans, the Ajax management decided to sign the wizard of Twente. Bosz made a statement by declaring “Ziyech wasn’t ready for Ajax yet”. He took the fight to the strongwilled Moroccan playmaker and benched him a number of times and criticized him in public.

Bosz won the battle. Ziyech had to be taken off his high horse and with Gudelj and Bazoer going through the exit, Ziyech would grasp the spot in midfield, alongside Lasse Schone, the man who can do it all (but play 90 minutes on full speed) and Klaassen. The Ajax Duracell man. Bosz struggled to get his team going on a consistent basis but in the Europa League games, Ajax impressed.

bosz ghazi

Peter Bosz butted heads with some players

Celta de Vigo was brushed aside, and a B-team took care of Standard Liege. Celta, not a bad team. They ended up playing the other semi finals and ex-Feyenoord striker (and ongoing legend) John Guidetti almost exited Man U from that finals in the last second of their match. That would have been something!

The secret to this Ajax? 1) Great youth development and therefore amazing skills. 2) No fear, the Amsterdam arrogance, if you will. 3) No pressure, being the underdog suits Ajax. 4) tactics. Bosz has it spot on. From the choice of Stanley Menzo-ish goalkeeper Onana to the mercurial and ice-cold Dane Dolberg. And then there is the 5 seconds rule. Like JC, like Pep, like Simeone, Bosz expects his team to hunt like wolves when the ball is lost. Schalke couldn’t deal with it, Lyon couldn’t deal with it.

It was clear that whenever Ajax dropped the intensity (whether due to fatigue or simply not executing the tactics), it would get in trouble. Domestically and internationally. Schalke got 3 goals against Ajax. And so did Lyon. That is a risk. But Bosz is from the school of “whatever happens at the back, as long as we simply score one more”.

pen lyon

De Ligt with a teenager mistake

With Ajax playing Man United in a 1 leg tie for the title, I feel they have a massive chance to get it right.

Yes, Man United has more money. Yes, Man United has the big name players and the big ego coach. But Ajax might well have the best team. A team with nothing to lose!

The key for Ajax in the coming years is to try and keep the top players in Amsterdam for a while. Should Ajax win the EL, they’ll qualify for the CL immediately. What an income stream. This might definitely help Overmars and co. to keep the likes of Dolberg, Sanchez and Klaassen one more year. Klaassen was said to be on his way out, but with this European title and another run in the CL, he might well be convinced to add one more season. Ziyech might also stay on. He’s not too keen on an overseas adventure. He picks his career path well. From Heerenveen, he could have gone to Feyenoord, but the Rotterdam club didn’t guarantee him a starting spot. So he went to Twente first. I can see him add one more season to Ajax at least.

Dolberg would do well to stay a bit longer too. He’s only 18 years old. Other players flirting with a move: Kenny Tete. For me, another outstanding performance vs Lyon when he came on for Veltman. I hope he’ll stay, I can’t imagine Veltman keeping Tete out much longer. Sanchez might be a problem though, the phenomenal Columbian – another MOTM performance by him – is on the short list of the PSG’s, Barcelonas and Man Uniteds of this world…

dolberg scoort

Dolberg scores

The games vs Schalke and Lyon will have warmed a lot of hearts internationally and nationally for Ajax. In particular, the home games. Away, they were a tad vulnerable. Overwhelmed maybe. Out-challenged at times physically and some players do still make silly decisions under pressure. Yes, De Ligt is in his right to make a couple of mistakes. He’s 17 years old. You take the bad with the good. Same for Dolberg and Kluivert. But Nick Viergever, the hero of Gelsenkirchen, is no spring chicken anymore and he was the zero this time. The second goal was the result of a weak clearance from him. The third goal went via his knee but can’t blame him for that, but the two yellow cards were downright stupid. Ridiculous. No need for him to do what he did.

Bernard Traore moving back to London is not a bad thing either. Yes, he works hard for the team in that right wing back role and impresses at times, but he’s also quite blind once he’s on a roll and he lacks the real goalscoring desire. There were two or three situations where he should have gambled and make a run into the goal area, when a cross came in meant for Dolberg. He could have had two tap ins. Time for an Ajax lad to take his role. Why leave Kluivert or Neres on the bench and prefer a loan player?

klaassen nouri

Davey Klaassen and Appie Nouri: “We gaan naar Zweden toe!” (JR: “We’re off to Sweden!”)

Anyway, Dutch football is suddenly giving us some excitement! Last season, PSV got the shivers into Atleti, this season Feyenoord returned to the fore again as domestic challenger (fingers crossed for Sunday!!) while Man United’s scalp was seized in a European campaign cut short by a ridiculous decision in an away game (unfair penalty and sending off of Boteghin).

With players like Karsdorp, Vilhena, Berghuis, Elia, Toornstra, Kongolo and the likes of Lammers, Hendrix, Willems, Propper and talents like Tete, Van de Beek, Kluivert, Riedewald, De Ligt and others (Ayoub, Ake, Hoedt, De Roon, Memphis) the future isn’t that bad…

Ajax made it to the finals of the Europa Cup in 1969 for the first time and lost that match. A year later Feyenoord won it and Ajax followed suit three times in a row. With Oranje lagging behind in 1974 with a memorable turn at the World Cup.

Good times ahead!! Big congrats to Ajax for their totally unexpected campaign. JC is dead, love live JC!

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