Tag: Wim Jansen

Slot’s new Feyenoord

The price of success. When you do well, as a Dutch top club with money needs (AZ, Feyenoord, PSV), bigger clubs will come and rob you of your top players.

Feyenoord is slowly climbing out of a deep abyss. Financially that is. In the past season, Feyenoord was able to perform well thanks to two loan players (Dessers and Til), among other things. Sure, Slot is a top notch coach, we know this, and Aursnes and Trauner were great signings while Sinistera, Malacia and Kokcu played the season of their lives.

But Dessers and Til left. Sinistera and Malacia made big money moves and now Marco Senesi has joined Bournemouth (…). I think Wim Jansen will turn around in his grave knowing that the Argentine CB thinks a move to newly promoted Bournemouth is a step up. No international tournaments for him and potentially a relegation. And before we know it, Aursnes is off to Benfica.

Sad to see this top class player go. Bought for 450k, leaving for 15M

Nice for the Feyenoord CFO, to see the millions come in, partly to cover the debt and partly will the money be spent on new signings.

Arne Slot can be seen as the man who created all this value. Kokcu was a question mark for long. Malacia was considered to wild and not good enough on the ball. Sinistera was struggling with fitness. But Slot brought confidence, joy and a positive playing style to Rotterdam and the players embraced it.

Can he do it again. Because with more than half the Feyenoord team from last season towards the exit (Linssen is now at Japan, while Raymond Hendriks is seriously injured… Jorit Hendrix never convinced Slot), the Rotterdam behemoth is on the look out for new blood.

New blood

Santiago Gimenez is only 21 years old but the Mexican has already 4 years as a pro under his belt in Mexico. The sports reporters in Mexico compare the tall striker with Graziano Pelle, the Italian striker who mesmerized the Feyenoord legion. He is a left footer, tall and strong. A good target man, but he also has depth in his game and he’s quite skilled too. The madness in Mexico around him is such that ESPN will broadcast every Feyenoord game live in Mexico.

23 year old Danilo Pereira already made an impression. The 11th player in history to go from Ajax straight to Feyenoord. Feyenoord lost 39 goals from last season and needs players who know what scoring is. Danilo is that player. He is effective, threatening and direct. He scored 17 goals in one season for FC Twente and the Brazilian was also on a free, so hardly any risk involved with him. Danilo scored twice in the first game versus Vitesse, last weekend.

Oussama Idrissi is back at the club where he started his career. The Moroccan international worked with Slot at AZ where he had a tremendous time. He’s a right footed Robben, once could say. Threatening to go on the outside, cutting inside with his light-footedness and then curling the ball in to the far corner. He is on loan from Sevilla (which paid 12 million for him but he never played the full 90 for the Spanish club).

Maybe the biggest signing for Feyenoord, Quinten Timber. Also a player who is returning to his old home. He played 6 seasons in the youth academy but moved to Ajax where his twin brother was (and still is). He impressed at Utrecht last season and was on many a scouting list. The youngster finds 21 years too young to make the move abroad. He will definitely make that jump one day – like his brother – but will hopefully spend two good seasons in De Kuip. He would be the natural successor to Fredrik Aurnses. Timber is really multfunctional and reminds me of Edgar Davids. He has grit, he can tackle but he’s also very skillful and has the ability to ghost past opponents Frenkie-style.

Mats Wieffer caught my eye when I saw him play with Excelsior against ADO Den Haag for the promotion game from the lower division to the Eredivisie. A game Excelsior – and Wieffer – won. The 22 year old playmaker was developed at Twente but never broke there. Via Excelsior he’s now a Feyenoord midfielder. As a creative player, he did have the most ball winning actions in the second division. Another multi functional midfielder. He can play the 6 and the 8 role and his former coach used him as a central defender at times as well.

24 year old Javairo Dilrosun has a promising CV: Ajax, Man City, Hertha BSC, Girondins Bordeaux… But he never really settled anywhere. In three seasons in Germany, he only played 29 matches. He will probably do well in Rotterdam, where his speed, his guile and his skills will be too much for most of his opponents. He is a one time capped international and will have the ambition to show himself to the NT manager as well. He scored a tremendous goal versus Vitesse for Feyenoord.

Sebastian Szymanski would normally never play for Feyenoord. The 23 year old is one of the biggest Polish talents and he seemed in the right place at Dynamo Moscow, with 6 goals and 8 assists in 27 games. But the Ukraine situation helped Feyenoord, as Seb is able to play elsewhere on loan as a result of the war. Szymanski is a real left footed #10 but can also play on the 8 position or even as a false right winger, Steven Berghuis style.

The last signing and least exciting one, is 25 year old Jacob Rasmussen, who came in on loan from Fiorentina. The Dane went to the Italian club for 7 million euros and never played a single game there. He played for Empoli, Vitesse and Erzgebrige. His key assets: passionate defending and taking-no-prisoner defending. Rasmussen impressed at Vitesse alongside Bazoer but might lack the speed needed to play in Slot’s system.

Tactical differences

How will Slot’s preferred eleven play? No one knows. Not even Arne Slot. After the last pre-season game versus Osasuna, he muttered he needed to study mathematics, to sort it out. Too many moving parts still, with players still leaving (Senesi, Aursnes) and players still coming in.

Arne did sign a new deal this summer yet again and has commitment towards the club and the process. In the last season with Til as #10, he played with two controlling midfielders behind the current PSV player. With Slot, it’s the players who determine the shape. With Toornstra and Kokcu, Slot plays them side by side. With Aursnes in the team, Kokcu is pushed further up, as the Norwegian midfielder has the legs to control the space in front of the defenders. Til’s exit has a big impact on the Feyenoord structure as the former AZ player was the first player to press. The wingers usually benefitted from Til’s press. There were no other Eredivisie players last season with the many touches Sinistera and Nelson had in the final third. Now, it seems Slot wants his wingers to be the first to press, allowing the midfielders to take control of the ball. It’s basically the same principle Slot used previously. Control the axis of the field and create a man-more situation on the wings. The execution is different, though.

This is already outdates, with Aursnes going to Benfica and Senesi off to Bournemouth. There is also interest in Kokcu and Pedersen…

This season, Slot expects to have more variation in his game. He wants to be able to make subtle changes per match, if the opponent “asks” for it. For this, Slot will need more width in his squad. For the coming weeks, it’s all still wishful thinking. Slot does not have that much to choose from, due to late signings, visas not yet done and injuries.

Still, their first Eredivisie game versus Vitesse tells you they will yet again be a force this season. That is also the expectation the legion has, as they hold Arne Slot in high esteem in Rotterdam.

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Wim Jansen: coach with principles (part 2)

Johan Cruyff famously said: “There are four people on the planet I will listen to if it’s about football. Wim Jansen is one of them.”

He was head coach for only a brief spell, but he made a big impression in that role. Just google how Celtic honoured him after his passing to understand the impact he made there.

In Rotterdam, there are stands named after Willem van Hanegem and even after club masseur Gerard Meijer. There is a statue for Coen Moulijn, but there isn’t even a toilet named after Wim Jansen, the man who gave everything for the club as player and coach.

He wa honoured recently with a biography, called “Mastermind”. This was not a title Wim Jansen would have picked. He did collect a lot of football intel, but always simply to share it with whoever wanted to listen. And people did listen to him. Where other grandmasters of the game, such as Cruyff and Van Hanegem, enjoyed the spotlights, Jansen decided to limit his knowledge transfer to the insiders, the youth coaches, the interested clubs and football developers. He didn’t need to be on TV or leading first teams as a coach, per se.

Two football professors…

Jansen doesn’t like the limelight and when something doesn’t work for him, he’ll grab his coat and leaves. He won’t raise his voice, or start an argument. At Feyenoord and Celtic, he decided to leave it all behind. His wife Coby didn’t even ask about how that would work out financially. Wim Jansen always took mental independence over financial independence (but don’t worry, Jansen was able to invest himself to riches with shares).

When you look at his career, it’s a bit of a hotchpotch. Started at Lokeren in Belgium as head coach. Then SVV. Made his way to Feyenoord obviously, spent six weeks in Saudi Arabia, a few years in Japan and 10 months Celtic. And some 10 years or so, he wouldn’t do much. Just walking about at the youth academy of Feyenoord, where he’d mentor youth coaches and scout talents.

Rinus Israel, the concrete defender who won the European Cup and World Cup with Jansen, asked him as assistant in 1986 at Feyenoord. “I knew all about Wim’s loyalty and about his books full of know-how. I only had to tell him briefly what I needed for a practice session and Wim would grab sheets of paper from his files and work out amazing practices.”

Wim Jansen and assistant Geert (not Gerard) Meijer at Feyenoord

Wim Jansen takes the reins after Pim Verbeek almost kills the club. Legend Jozsef Kiprich – cult hero #1 in Holland – plays his first match in 1989 and has to run for his life when angry supporters took the field. That season would result in a terrible 0-6 loss versus PSV. Only 1,5 years later, Feyenoord is heading towards relegation. Wim Jansen takes over from Verbeek and coaches Feyenoord to a 0-1 win in Eindhoven for the national cup. They’d win the cup that season. Jansen always compared his work with the work of a builder. You got to start with a solid foundation. And with John de Wolf, Ed de Goey, Henk Fraser and John Metgod there definitely is a foundation. With strongholders Peter Bosz and Rob Witschge in midfield and the mercurial forwards like Taument, Regi Blinker and Jozsef Kiprich.

Jansen introduces a 5-2-3 system and turns the team into a winning team. Ulrich van Gobbel: “It was all about football. All his practices were with a ball. Under Verbeek, it was a lot of running. Jansen didn’t care how much you slept, how many beers you drank or how often you had sex. All these things control freak Verbeek wanted to know about.”

Gaston Taument: “A famous saying about coaches is “you are as good as the material you have”, well… Bengtson and Verbeek had the same squad and didn’t get anywhere. Jansen made a difference. He was the man of the details. I remember I was often with my back to the opponent’s goal. The first thing he did was telling me to be side on, so I could see more and I was able to spin easier and go forward. It sounds like a detail, but it changed everything for me.”

Jansen takes the club from the 16th position to the 4th in the table and wins the Cup. He wants to step back, take the Technical Director role and selects Hans Dorjee as the new coach. In March, Dorjee has to step back due to health issues and Jansen comes back in. And again Wim Jansen wins the National Cup with Feyenoord. Another season later, he selects his friend and former team mate Willem van Hanegem as head coach. Jansen will focus on the Feyenoord Academy.

Van Hanegem and Jansen visiting their mentor Ernst Happel for the last time…

Jansen works at Feyenoord on a handshake. He’s not a man for contracts. “That is how I like it. If I don’t want the job anymore, or if Feyenoord doesn’t want me, it’s easier to walk away.” The interview had as headline: “I could be gone in two seasons”. Nonsense, of course. Wim Jansen would be with Feyenoord for life. Or would he….

In 1993, Van Hanegem wins the title with Feyenoord again, at long last. With a squad composed by his neighbour and friend Wimpie. But there is something brewing. Jansen is a highly disciplined man and football coach. Willem van Hanegem is an intuitive and unfathomable man and coach. The reins are loose. Willem doesn’t require discipline in his squad. Jansen wants to discuss it. Willem doesn’t get it. Chairman Van de Herik refuses to join in the discussion and Wim Jansen knows enough. He shakes hands, grabs his coat and is off. He has been feeling agitated for months and can’t handle it any longer.

Wimpie and Willem in better days

Leo Beenhakker is Saudi Arabia NT coach, for the WC 1994 in the US. He decides to call Jansen: “Would you know a good assistant for me?” And to his surprise, Jansen says “I want to come!”. But things pan out differently. The draw puts Oranje with Dick Advocaat in the same group as Beenhakker’s Saudi Arabia and when the two coaches have a somewhat comedic tv interview about it, the Saudi Arabia football federation wants to make some changes. Beenhakker: “We were at trainings camp somewhere and we’re playing cards in the evening. Some assistant of the prince enters the room and wants our attention. Wimpie actually had a great hand, and turns half to say “hang on mate, I have a great hand, we want to play this game first.” And the guy shouts “You are all fired!” We did finish the game, of course.

Jansen missed his opportunity to coach at a World Cup but he does decide to leave his old stomping ground to go to Japan. When Celtic needs a new head coach, somehow Johan Cruyff is asked for advice. Without a blinking he mentions Jansen’s name. The Scottish media believe Arthur Jorge will be the new coach. The ex manager of Porto, Benfica, PSG and the NTs of Switzerland and Portugal is a marquee name. But when the new coach – Wim Jansen – is presented in Scotland, the media are puzzled. “Wim who??”. Only a handful realise that this is the goal scores in the 1970s semi finals which would put Feyenoord opposite Celtic in the Finals. One of the newspapers describe the new coach as “a man with the charisma of a shy librarian who is absent mindedly trying to find his pen.”

Some of the media are ruthless and shameful, saying things like “The worst thing to hit Hiroshima since the atom bomb”, a reference to Jansen’s Japanese employer Sanfrecce Hiroshima.

High point in his short Celtic career

Jansen realises Celtic hasn’t got any money and a squad in need to refreshing. He is able to bring Henke Larsson to Scotland, up until today he is the best Celtic signing ever. And after a breathtaking competition, Jansen wins the title after 9 straight Rangers’ wins in the last game of the season. Skipper Tommy Boyd would say: “Wim Jansen is the father, the architect and inspiration of this title. We need some time to get used to him, but what he does works. May he stay here with us for a long time!”

People buy green-white curly whigs, shirts with “10 in a row” with a strike-through the zero and in the last weeks, the fans sing a Wim Jansen song. “There is only one Wim Jansen, one Wim Jansen, One Wim Jansen… he’s got curly hair, but we don’t care, walking in a Jansen Wonderland”.

Two days later, Jansen decides to leave the club. Usually, you need to stay for many years at a club to become a legend. Jansen manages it in one season. When he visits Scotland in 2017 and happens to drive past the Celtic stadium, he’s surprised to see a huge banner with his face on it.

His last coaching job, as assistant at Feyenoord

In 2005, he would return to Feyenoord in the role of technical advisor. His work in the background is shelved when he decides to assist Gert Jan Verbeek for the 2008/09 season. The head coach is fired seven months in and in typical fashion, Wim Jansen remains loyal and leaves as well.

But he never really left. He simply went across to the Youth Academy, to watch the talents and to chat about football. Back to basics, where it all started. Wimpie will always be simply Wimpie.

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Feyenoord Legend “silent” Wim Jansen passes…

Boy, what a sensational team they are developing up there… Van Beveren on goal. Now Van der Kuylen, Cruyff and Rensenbrink up front. Nico Reinders has been there for a while of course. Wim Suurbier as right back and now Wim Jansen joins in to anchor the midfield.

75 years is way too young, but Wim Jansen was struggling with Alzheimers for a while now and he was deteriorating really swiftly.

Wim Jansen is one of those unsung heroes of Dutch football. And that was mainly because he didn’t like being an “ununsung” hero…

But a hero he is. They’ll remember him fondly in Japan, in Glasgow, in Washington DC and in Amsterdam but mainly in Rotterdam (where the fans and the club will hold a memorial for him this coming Saturday in front of De Kuip Stadium).

He started his career like so many kids. But as opposed to most: Wimpie (little Wim) was not your typical rebel rousing streetwise rascal. His parents didn’t enjoy sports. And Wim was a fan of billiards and would always be in time home for supper. His personality was perfect, the ideal son-in-law. Feyenoord doctor Arbarbanel knows it for sure: “He’s a good kid but he will never make it at the top”.

Big Willem of Xerxes versus Little Wim of Feyenoord

When he is 13 years old, he is diagnosed with a knee problem. A “weak knee” is the diagnosis. And he was never to play again. Feyenoord even sent him away. And Wimpie decided to just play on the street, with his mates. Wim lives in the Old North of Rotterdam, where Feyenoord icon Coen Moulijn, the Messi like left winger of Feyenoord, lives. And Wimpie and his mates see their hero drive to the Kuip regularly, all in awe. But a year after Wim’s medical diagnosis, he returns to Feyenoord! He has grown and became stronger and his knee holds it all together well. Wimpie is captain of the C youth team and signs his first semi pro deal at 16 years old. He works the day in the office in the Rotterdam port and in the evening and in the weekend, he makes 30 guilders as a semi pro ( 12 euros). He usually goes to the match with his buddy Jan Boskamp (who would also make it to the NT squad for the 1974 World Cup) and Joop van Daele (who would become world famous for a week or so, as the match winner in the Feyenoord World Cup for teams win).

Wimpie belongs to the Feyenoord inventory, almost. He’s always there and he’s everywhere. When the president is asked in 1966 when a home grown player will make it big, he points at Wim Jansen: “There he is! That lad will be a big player one day”.

And he does make it into the first team, as so-called left inside forward ( in a 3-2-5 system). Coen Moulijn is still with the club and loves playing with Jansen: “I remembered him from the street where I lived. He was a real creative player but that disappeared when he got older. He’s the ultimate team player. A passer of the ball. I loved playing with Jansen more than with Van Hanegem. Wim was the master of one touch and would always launch me. Van Hanegem was harder to predict. And Wim is a nice guy, you know.” And Wim was in awe that he was actually playing the same team as his big idol.

Feyenoord youth team wins title, with Wim Jansen below far right. Next to him Jan Boskamp. Second from left, sitting, Joop van Daele, the later matchwinner of the World Cup match

Jansen would play for Feyenoord 1 for 15 years and he would form the core of the new Feyenoord, with Ove Kindvall from Sweden, Ruud Geels and Rinus Israel. When Willem van Hanegem is signed a year later, the perfect midfield couple is born. Jansen would become the first Feyenoord full pro and would develop what he called “blind communication” with Van Hanegem. The two acted as twins and even bought homes practically next ot each other in my home town of HI Ambacht.

Feyenoord and the players realised that now, the game was about the results. And about winning points so the players would make more. Rinus Israel became Jansen’s mentor. “Could I ask for a better one?” With De Kromme, Jansen developed this telepathic bond. Willem van Hanegem: “He was so good. Wim could play anywhere on the pitch. He couldn’t be a goalie, though… too small. But Wim would always pass the ball with intelligence, with purpose. In today’s game, you’d probably compare him to Paul Scholes, or Jorginho or Kimmel. Smart, effective… always passing and moving.”

In the 60s, Georg Kessler selects him for the Dutch NT where he plays next to Cruyff and Willy van der Kuylen. Kessler: “Wim Jansen should be the role model for today’s youths. Not Cruyff!” The 20 year old midfielder is not too comfortable in the Dutch midfield, as he is surrounded by Ajax players, such as Bennie Muller, Henk Groot, Piet Keizer and Johan Cruyff. When Oranje fails to qualify for the Euros in 1968, Jansen loses his spot. The 1970 World Cup and the 1972 Euros are also missed by the Dutch and Jansen would only play two internationals in those early 70s. The coach – Fadrhonc – usually picks a midfield with Neeskens, Van Hanegem, Gerrie Muhren or Theo de Jong.

Jansen is not happy but will focus his efforts on his club. In 1970 he wins the European Cup and the World Cup and Willem van Hanegem and Wim Jansen (big Wim and Wimpie) conquer the world.

Against his friend Johan, when Barca met Feyenoord

Ernst Happel, the Austrian former star and current Feyenoord coach, becomes his mentor in tactics. Jansen realises that the pass and move game is the key game. “Taking on players and dribbling is nice but it does result in loss of possession. The ball is always faster than the player, so by passing and moving you can outsmart any opponent.” Happel calls Jansen the accelerator in the team. Where Van Hanegem sometimes slows the game down (on purpose) or waits for the perfect timing for a cross, Jansen is a one-touch player who moves the play relentlessly.

Wim Jansen is the King of Playing Simple. As JC once said: football is a simple game, but to play simple is the hardest thing there is. He is also the King of Silence. He loves anonymity, he loathes publicity. Famously, Johan Derksen once traveled the world with him, visiting famous youth academies and Jansen would go on and on about football, share investing and The Beatles (his three passions) but when Johan needed to interview him formally, Jansen would not be able to answer more than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. A very private man.

When Feyenoord plays their semi finals against AC Milan in 1970, Jansen completely nullifies star player Gianni Rivera and scores a Ziyech type goal. Feyenoord would go on to beat Celtic for the trophy and Jansen’s name is internationally settled. In 1974 he’d win the UEFA Cup with Feyenoord, beating Spurs.

When Oranje travels to the World Cup 1974, coach (supervisor) Rinus Michels is plagued by injuries. When Drost, Israel, Laseroms, Mansveld and Hulshoff all fall away for the CB role, Michels (Cruyff?) picks Arie Haan. And this is the impetus needed for Jansen, as he is picked as the third midfielder, next to Van Hanegem and Neeskens (Gerrie Muhren is also injured). “I am grateful to be part of this and if I can make minutes, it would be awesome.” Well, Wim
Jansen played every minute and was one of the outstanding players – with Van Hanegem, Cruyff, Rensenbrink and Rep – of this magical Oranje team.

In that fatal WC 74 finals…

Through his games with the NT, Jansen struck a deep friendship with Cruyff. The late master of the game said repeatedly in interviews that Jansen was the only player he knew that shared his football insights and ideas about football tactics. Even Willem van Hanegem famously said that when JC and Wimpie start debating football, he’d go to the bar for another glass of wine, as it became hocus pocus for him!

Four years later, Jansen is also part of the squad managed by Ernst Happel winning silver again (losing gold…?) in Argentina.

Back in Holland, Feyenoord’s management is making (financial) mistake after mistake and the one richest club on the planet (!) is fading. When Jansen gets into conflict with the board and coach Jezek, Jansen decides to move away.

When his buddy Cruyff moves to Washington Diplomats, Wim Jansen decides to follow him.

The news drops like a bomb. “Shocking Farewell” is the headline of the AD newspaper. “I am maybe a bit quiet, but I have an opinion and I’m headstrong. I can’t stand for what happened. I am gone and I don’t think I’ll ever come back here.” When asked about the media mayhem that ensued, he said: “Don’t worry, in 2 weeks time, I’ll be forgotten.”

He wouldn’t last more than one season. “Life in America is wonderful, but the football here…they simply don’t get it.”

Juan Lozano, Johan Cruyff, Wim Jansen

So now what? Well, Johan Cruyff has the answer. He is now technical coordinator at Ajax and he advises the club to sign Jansen. Ajax has a number of great young talents – as per usual – but defensively, it’s like Swiss Cheese. Ajax is 8th in the table with a tremendous number of goals conceded.

Jansen made his debut for Ajax in December 1980. In De Kuip. Against Feyenoord. And the most famous ice-ball ever takes the headlines as an angry Feyenoord supporter throws the iceball towards the players when they start their warming up. The ice-ball hits Jansen in the eye and damages his cornea. He would try to play, for 15 minutes but was subbed when he wasn’t able to see what was happening too well. To put insult to injury, his future son-in-law Stanley Brard decided to take him out with a fierce tackle as well and that was it. Wimpie went from Mr Feyenoord to “dog-dick” (hondelul) in a heartbeat.

Jansen here right after being hit by the ice-ball

But Jansen is no push over. He would stay another season and mentor youngsters like Frank Rijkaard, Vanenburg, Kieft and Olsen. In that second season, the maestro himself puts his boots on again too and with Soren Lerby in midfield, Cruyff as false 9 and Jansen managing it from the back with Rijkaard, Ajax and Wim Jansen won the title.

Wimpie tried it for 15 minutes in his debut vs Feyenoord

He starts to think about life after his active career and he starts to collect information. Intelligence. He’s basically a collector. He collects shares, stamps and now he started collecting information about training practices, about nutrition, the working of the mind, and more. His database and archives become famous and more and more coaches and reporters find the way to his home to dive in Jansen’s footballing brain. When Feyenoord contacts him to come and coach the youth, the love for his club is re-kindled and Jansen would start a whole new phase in his career.

More in part 2…

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50 Years ago: Ernst Happel invents Total Football

In the late 60s, Ajax had a first stab at it, but they lost their finals, vs Internationale, 4-1. The still playful and naive Ajax players vs shrewd and ruthless Italians…

The next season, Feyenoord led the way. And Coach Ernst Happel and his key players Moulijn, Van Hanegem, Jansen and Israel created the template which Michels, Cruyff and Co would perfect in the ensuing years… Dutch football was never the same.

Coach Ernst Happel is famous in Holland for his typical quote: “Kein keloel, fussball spielen!”. Which translates as “Stop talking, just play football!”.

He was a no nonsense guy. A tremendous football player himself, for Austria and Rapid Wien and Racing Club Paris. As a coach, he immediately won the respect when at the first training, he placed several empty bottles on the cross bar, and placed  balls outside of the box. And he then hit the balls which would all hit a bottle. The Feyenoord squad has just seen that their coach knows how to hit a football.

In Austria, Happel was never seen as a potential top coach. He loathed theory and was never part of the incrowd. But after he won the European Cup with Feyenoord, the Austrian federation invited him for a presentation at some seminar. “The people in the room were silent and hung onto every word. It was just fantastic. His pitch was just incredible!”.

Happel was the first coach to win the European Cup with two different clubs: Feyenoord and Hamburger SV. He did reach the finals again, with Club Brugge but lost. He won titles in four different countries and the national cup in four different countries. He reached the finals of the World Cup 1978 with the Dutch national team.

His biggest issue was his lack of language skills. He spoke German. That’s it. So he never did long tactical talks. He would observe, say something here and there and use simple commands like “Geh ma raus!”, which translated as “Move forward!”. The training and practice sessions, however, were such that the players didn’t need to hear longwinded tactical talks. “He could communicate to every single player exactly what he wanted. But he didn’t do it with words, but with practices.”

Should Happel have had the same audacity as other coaches to write a book about his methods and vision, he would have been an international guru in the same vein as Michels, Mourinho or Sacchi. But he never did. He wasn’t interested in becoming a guru. The following three topics form the foundation of Happel’s football sacraments.

The Off-side Trap

Maybe to clear this up first: Happel didn’t invent Total Football as a mathematical formula. He was a man of the pitch, not a theory guy. He would create solutions based on the players he had at his disposal. With him, it was an organic process. Former Ajax back (and part of the Feyenoord squad when they won the Cup in 1970) Theo van Duivenbode: “Michels was great in developing a tactical plan at the start of a game and he’d try to hold on to it. Happel was different. Happel was capable of seeing where things didn’t work in a match and he’d tweak it while we were playing. I think Happel read the games way better than Michels.”

The Off-side trap, a mechanism that would impress the world in 1974 when the Dutch successfully used it at the World Cup 1974 was something Happel came up with in 1949 (!). He was the main man in the Rapid Wien team, one of the best teams in Europe. Rapid went to play in Brazil vs Vasco da Gama and was played off the pitch, trailing 3-0 in a short spell. After the break, the Vasco manager told his players to take it easy. The end result: 5-0.

The 22 year old Ernst Happel couldn’t sleep and decided to analyse the game that night with his coach Pesser and technical director Franz Binder. Pesser: “We were humiliated. We had never had this before. We spent hours jotting on pieces of paper and analysing what they did. Their coach Flavio Costa was an innovator, who laid the foundation for Brazil’s flowing tactical style of play. That morning we decided to abandon the Austrian school. We needed something new. And one new thing we introduced was Ernst Happel as central defender, the playmaker from the back.”

And as central defender, Happel was able to use the off-side trap. He was the last man and could recognise the ideal moment to move forward and complete out think and out manoeuvre the opponent. He used this in all the teams he coached. German legend Gunther Netzer played for Borussia Monchengladbach and faced Feyenoord in the European Cup: “We couldn’t live with them. I saw one head after the other slumped down. We had no idea how to deal with this and I looked at the bench, I wonder who their coach was…”. Ernst Happel of copurse.

In 1981, Netzer would sign Happel as coach for Hamburger SV.

The 4-3-3 system

Feyenoord played a 4-2-4 system in 1969, with deep striker Ove Kindvall and playmaker Willem van Hanegem as two strikers and two players in midfield. All Happel did was drop Willem back to midfield and add Franz Hasil (Rapid Wien player) to the midfield (with Wim Jansen) and the rest is history.

Rinus Michels copied what Happel did. He used the 3-2-5 still, the traditional offensive football style in Holland, with one central defender, 2 back, two controlling mids and 5 attackers: 2 out and out wingers and two “inner” players and a striker. When Ajax drew 3-3- with Feyenoord in April 1970, Michels decided to go with 4-3-3 as well. His old style was simply too vulnerable against strong teams. A year later, Ajax would win the European Cup as well.

When watching the finals between Celtic and Feyenoord, it is remarkable to see how patient Feyenoord is… Celtic is constantly playing the long ball forward and hopes on some creativity from the four forwards. Feyenoord plays like a collective. Patient build up play with short passing from the back. When Feyenoord played against teams using the 4-2-4, they always had the extra man in midfield and getting a free man using the man-more concept is more an Austrian invention than a typical Dutch one…

Some of the Feyenoord legends: goalie Eddy PG, central defender Rinus Israel, Guus Haak and mercurial winger Coen Moulijn, next to Happel’s statue.


Again, a lesson learned in a country far far away gave Happel the necessary insights. Rapiud Wien is the first team post World War 2 to travel to the USSR. The teams there played a collective style of football. In Western Europe and the UK, teams relied on the dribbles of the individual, but Russian teams worked on playing pressing football as a collective. Viktor Maslov (not the dog guy), who was the mentor of one Valeri Lobanovski, was an innovator. He was the one stating that one had to take time and space away from the opponent. In those days, it was normal to allow defenders some space so they can move forward dozens of yards. Willem van Hanegem: “I can’t remember any time where Ajax put us under pressure. It was Happel who was innovative in Holland with this concept, using fast, hardworking players on the wings. They were the first defenders. We had Henk Wery at Feyenoord and he used Rene van de Kerkhof in the 1978 Dutch team. He created the ideal circumstances this way, for a team that could grasp the opponent and never let them go.”

Again, Michels took notice and decided to let more static players like Henk Groot and Bennie Muller go for marathon men like Johan Neeskens and Nico Rijnders. Ajax never played that aggressive, actually, it was once Michels had players like Jansen, Van Hanegem and Neeskens in one midfield (World Cup 1974) when he started using the aggressive press. The label Total Football was given to Michels’ team, but it was Happel who led the way.

Rinus Michels promoted the concept, with his trusted lieutenants (Cruyff, Keizer, Krol) at his side, but if Happel would have been a better promotor and had written some books about it, he would have had more respect internationally… The off-side trap, 4-3-3 and collective pressing might have needed way more time to find Dutch football. Michels copied it smartly and deployed his tactics with a better team than Happel could…

Winning the European Cup also meant Feyenoord was going to compete for the World Cup for club teams. Argentine club Estudiantes was the opponent and it was a completely new experience for the Dutch side. Willem van Hanegem: “We didn’t know much about them. Basically, nothing. In today’s world, you can find out everything about opponents, stats and what not. We did think their football was going to rought, but how rough… We played in Argentina and we got a corner kick. When the ball was played in I felt this sharp pain in my side, some Estudiantes player had a little needle in his pocket and when the ref wasn’t paying attention, with dead ball situations, he’d prick me right when the ball was coming in… This was beyond “wanting to win” and I realised we were schoolboys compared to them!”. Feyenoord drew 2-2 in Argentina, with Van Hanegem and Kindvall on the score board. In Rotterdam, sub Joop van Daele was the unlikely match winner with a distance pile driver. The anecdote everyone remembers about this game, is that the glasses worn by goal scorer Van Daele were taken of his head by an Estudiantes player and trampled! During the match. “By accident”. Yeah right.



Van Daele wants his glasses back!

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Farewell Snake Man Rensenbrink

He was one of my heroes. Robbie Rensenbrink. And he went on to join that tremendous Dutch team up in the heavens, alongside the likes of Cruyff, Keizer, Moulijn and Van Beveren. He was 72 years old. A terrible disease took his life.

He wasn’t a player that is named often in the same vein as Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Swart, Keizer, Neeskens… But a legend he was, for sure!

The reason he was a bit overlooked, was because he left DWS in Amsterdam at a young age, to play in Belgium! Feyenoord was about to sign the dribble king on the left wing, but Club Brugge was a tad more aggressive (and in those days, Belgium was fueled with laundered money and the Belgium clubs paid very well!). So Robbie left for Belgium and in those days, we hardly got to see any games on telly… Only when Club (or later Anderlecht) would play in Europe, would we get to see highlights.

So, when I was 12 years old and in front of the tv to watch Holland play the World Cup in 1974, I was puzzled as to why Piet Keizer didn’t play as left winger?? Keizer, Cruyff, Neeskens, Krol, those top Ajax lads all together, with the hot shots of Feyenoord (Van Hanegem, Jansen, Rijsbergen). Where was Keizer? And who the F was Rensenbrink?

Well, he demonstrated who he was quite immediately in the tournament. And when the commentator called him The Snake Man it was clear. This was a tremendous player. He looked like Cruyff (from a distance on telly) and he could dribble like Cruyff. I was gobsmacked!

The first match vs Uruguay was an easy win, with two Rep goals (the second on a Rensenbrink assist). Neeskens, Jansen and Van Hanegem ruled the midfield, while the fast Rep from the right took the striker role whenever Cruyff was wandering about on the pitch. Rensenbrink played as a real left winger, with chalk on his boots as we said.

I knew JC was the best in the world. Neeskens was the favorite of many, due to his relentless working, tackling, battling and harassing while Jansen was the unsung hero, reading the game, interjecting passes and presenting the ball straight to playmaker Van Hanegem or super star Cruyff.

Rob Rensenbrink, Ruud Krol, Jan Mulder

Cruyff was the eye catcher, the symbol of this Oranje. Rep the pretty boy with the goals while Van Hanegem was the brain of the team. When you rewatch the games they played, you’ll agree with me that Van Hanegem played a faultless masterful tournament, doing everything right. The highlight of his career and in the eyes of many an expert, the man of the tournament. But I knew all this. I knew Jansen and Van Hanegem personally (they lived around the corner from me in my hometown). I knew Cruyff and Rep like every kid knew them. But Rensenbrink was the unknown factor and he blew me away.

And I saw in that Uruguay match why Michels (and Cruyff) picked him over Keizer!

The snake man.

And I developed a keen interest in the man. It appeared he played in Belgium from 1969 onwards. First two seasons at Club Brugge, but he got signed by Anderlecht and that is where is rise to fame really began. He got his nickname Snake Man there, due to his tremendous dribbles. He won a plethora of silverware… Belgium titles, two European Cups, two Super Cups and in 1976 he was crowned best player of the year. He actually got voted the best player of the Belgium League Ever.

In 1974, he was instrumental in the Oranje team but not as prolific as Rep or Cruyff…

Training with Willem van Hanegem

When the 1978 World Cup commenced, Cruyff and Van Hanegem opted not to go. Long story, maybe for some other time. So we knew, as fans, that we had to rely on the old hands Rensenbrink, Neeskens and Krol to pull us through, and boy did they deliver!

Rensenbrink got injured in the 1974 finals and couldn’t finish the game.

In 1978 however, it was his last attempt on goal in the 90st minute, at 1-1, which would end up being the most talked about football event in Dutch football history!

Holland played Argentina, in a finals that should have been between Holland and Brazil. In hindsight, Argentina’s win over Peru might not have legit. But anyway, Argentina dominated the game. They played with pizzazz and felt the support of almost 100,000 crazy fans on the stands, and 3 fans on the pitch, wearing black referee outfits.

But Kempes’ 1-0 and Dick Nanninga’s 1-1 made for a spectacular finish.

With Ruud Krol playing a signature pass over 40+ yards in the path of Rensenbrink who hit the post with his final ditch attempt… It remained 1-1 and Argentina would clinch it in the extra time: 3-1.

The Famous Shot on the Post

Rensenbrink’s career was a series of high lights of course, but that one particular shot on the upright would almost define his career. Every day. Every single fukcing day, someone would ask him about it. Remind him of it. He would get really agitated with it.

After his playing career, he immediately retired from football. He didn’t become a coach, or a youth coach, or a scout or an agent or even a tv pundit. He spent his last 40 odd years focusing on his second passion: fishing!

When JC died in 2016, the Guardian placed an action photo of Rob Rensenbrink on the sports pages, by accident. Sitting in his garden, with a cigaret in his hand, Robbie said: “I’m still here guys. But hey, Moulijn died, Keizer is gone, Cruyff…I’ll be next probably.”

In 2012, he was diagnosed with PSMA, a muscle disease. “I never had issues with my muscles during my career, but now I can’t even hold a fork in my hand… I heard that this disease has struck a lot of Italian football players… Maybe it has something to do with stuff we were given by the doctors…”. In one of his last interview, that final shot on the post has to be mentioned. The long pass by Krol, Bertoni defends weakly and Fillol misses the ball. But the post didn’t miss. “The moment of my life, I suppoe. But I keep saying, it wasn’t even a real chance. The pass almost bounced passed me, I stuck my foot out. Closed my eyes, so to speak and the ball hit the post. I couldn’t do more than that. It ‘s not like I missed for open goal or I missed a penalty. Just like Robben in 2010, he did everything right, but was unlucky. It happens.”

From another angle…

He went back one, after that 25th of June match. “With Johnny Rep, for some tv program. We were standing there, next to that post. But I had a better memory of 1978 than I had of 1974. In ’74, it was all about Cruyff, Michels and Total Football. When Cruyff decided to drift to the left, I had to make way. I played better in 1978. I took the penalties and scored 5 goals. It was all good. I don’t see any of the old players anymore, except for Rep, Jongbloed and Rinus Israel. Rinus went to Feyenoord from DWS and they wanted me too. DWS wanted 450,000 guilders. Feyenoord balked and Club Brugge came with a cheque. I signed for Anderlecht for 7 seasons. Boy did I regret that! Real Madrid and Inter Milan wanted me. Faas Wilkes came to negotiate on Inter’s behalf… But Anderlecht refused to let me go. I did go to the KNVB coaching course, but I couldn’t stand it. Some no-name educator who never played football was going to instruct me how to take a corner… I don’t go to the matches in the stadiums, I don’t even stay home for most matches.”

“They made a book for me in Holland, for my 70th birthday. But I already had a biography in Belgium. That tells the story.”

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Oranje Fail: “Winners of Tomorrow”

Another disappointing weekend for Dutch football. Ronald and Erwin Koeman sacked at Everton. Ajax and Feyenoord in a less than average Klassieker. Where fouls, tackles and bad passes reigned. And Ziyech and Berghuis were invisible. Terrible. Enough of that!

I saw some posts here on and some questions about the KNVB’s infamous “Winners of Tomorrow” report.

Some people seem to think this is the dogs bollocks and anyone who means anything in Dutch football has contributed to that report…

Sadly, the truth is different.

Every year, the KNVB organises a seminar for professional coaches to cover topics that are current in World Football, coaching, tactics, preparation, etc.

Back in 2012, we got humiliated in the Euros2012 and the KNVB decided to get some more meat on the bone. The round table discussions that followed were attended by many big names in football. Ex players, journalists, coaches, youth coaches, you name it… And everyone got their say in. Marco van Basten, Louis van Gaal, Wim Jansen, Martin Jol, Henk ten Cate, Co Adriaanse, Marcel Brands, Wim Jonk, Mark van Bommel etc etc.


The KNVB, most likely led by Jelle Goes, produced this report some time later, called “Winners of Tomorrow” with a vision and roadmap towards renewed Oranje success.

That report had some issues though… For starters, it was a report focused on how to proceed into the future – from a KNVB angle – and it used the names of the people mentioned above as co-authors. But the problem was: they weren’t. They all contributed their thoughts, but someone like Wim Jansen read pieces in the report that he supported (the stuff he brought in) but also heaps of stuff that he couldn’t endorse (brought in by others).

Wim Jansen’s rant against all this was documented on this blog earlier in two parts… In case you are wondering: it was called Part 1 and Part 2. Just click on the link to read Jansen’s vision.

And he’s just one example. As a result, the likes of Adriaanse, Ten Cate, Jansen and many others publicly distanced themselves from the report. Yes, they contributed. Yes, they were at the meetings. But NO: they did not fully support the report as it is.

Secondly, the new (and now also ex) Technical Director of the KNVB, Hans van Breukelen, was instructed to “sell” the report in the media and among the stakeholders, but poor old Hans used the report – or bits and pieces – to promote his own little agenda: “We need to develop players who are mentally strong and physically strong!”. This, and Hans van Breukelen in general, came across as out-of-touch with the real world and as a result, the report became toxic.


But analysing the report, you’ll find (if you could read it and had the 2 hours to throw away) that the contents is rubbish. It’s the design of a bike or an elephant by committee. Even if you would want a solution for – say – implementing clean energy in a certain city or so and you’d invite 20 experts, you’d probably end up with a report full of discrepancies, controversies, illogical combinations, etc etc.

Sometimes, one simply has to watch football to see what’s going wrong.

Take the France away game (0-4 loss, in case you forgot). There was the problem in your face: France relied on 18 year old MBappe, their future, while Dick Advocaat played Robin van Persie. Basically our past.

It took one sprint between Van Persie and Umtiti to see that Robin is not the same Van Persie of 2010 0r 2014 anymore.

Using Van Persie is a symbol of what is wrong with the Dutch: we cling on to the past!

In this post, we’ll listen to Wim Jonk both analysed the report Winners of Tomorrow and they have published quite thorough analyses.

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Wim Jonk listens, JC lectures…

Wim Jonk was head of football development at the Ajax Academy (after an impressive career at Ajax, Oranje, PSV, Inter Milan) and one of Cruyff’s disciples in the Velvet Revolution. When JC decided to turn his back on Ajax, after an internal conflict with a certain segment of the Ajax clan, Jonk and others decided to exit as well. Jonk, Jongkind and others decided to team even more with Cruyff, and started working for Cruyff Football, supported by Jordi Cruyff.

They guard the football philosophy of the Number 14 and spread his wisdom far and wide.

Far and wide, as the Dutch KNVB decided – again – to stay away from Cruyff’s teachings, just like they ignored Wiel Coerver in the 1980s (and with him Rene Meulensteen). Now, Jonk and Co are dealing with partnerships in Belgium (!), China, the US and Portugal.

Jonk: “We did talk to Van Breukelen and Jelle Goes though. We were about to plan a second meeting and they seemed genuinely interested but they cancelled the meeting as a result of the internal chaos in Zeist. The rest is history.”

Jonk: “You’ll have the start at the bottom. The structure of the new youth competitions. Then you can work on the youth coaches to make sure they are up to speed with what’s needed at that level. There is so much to be gained with good practices and individual coaching and training. Johan oozed ideas of how to create attacking and dominant players in the youth system. He’d just start talking! But he never wrote anything down, so it was up to me and Ruben to turn all these gems into something workable. And that’s what we did.”

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Jonk is organising courses and workshops now, for interested clubs and federations. “At Ajax, when you work there, you’re caught up in politics and operational matters. Now, we simply turn up for parties that are actually interested and open to it.”

The media always focused on the political battle at Ajax’ senior department, but Jonk maintains that the real revolution happened on the youth pitches. “IF you want to improve football, you have to start with technique. Ball skills. And creativity. When we started in 2011 with Ajax, they let the under-11 players play on a big pitch and usually against physically stronger players, so they could “build resistance”. But that’s wrong. At that age, you need to offer them a “street football” alternative. They need to be able to use the ball, develop skills. You can’t on a big pitch and definitely not against players who basically run you off the ball. So our message is: small spaces, lots of ball contacts. And preferably six against six. And without knowing it, they’ll learn a lot about positioning. The ideal pitch size is the same as the Cruyff courts, of course.”

Cruyff also learned from the lessons out of the book “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. “He showed us how kids in a certain year are not all the same in development. A kid born in January is seriously much more developed than a kid from the same year, born in December. So we used to create teams of “January-June” kids and a team of “July-December” kids, and they played against their own “half year” peers.

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“Those physical changes are huge when you’re 13 years old and these all fade away once they reach a mature age.”

The KNVB has adopted some of the ideas, but not the further finetuning of the age groups within a year. “That’s a missed opportunity. It’s logistically easy to do. You basically have two teams of the same club on a half pitch playing matches next to each other. The early ripened kids, and the later ones…”

Jonk: “Youth coaches also have the tendency to act and scream as if they’re Conte or Klopp. That is the last thing you want to do. Imagine, playing street football in the 1960s with some adult constantly yelling at you…. Let them dribble, let them make mistakes. These lads need to learn to make their own decisions. It’s also important that we stop chewing everything out for them. I want the youth players to coach themselves, to start correcting each other. This will stimulate creativity and leadership.”

Everyone speaks about how Germany changed things after the Euro2000 tournament, but Belgium did as well. Bob Browaeys was the man in charge, as technical coordinator of the Belgium Federation. Wim Jonk: “They changed their junior football structure and they designed special youth teams for the less strong and tall players, like Dries Mertens. Look where he plays now. And it’s not just the top, at Ajax, the youthful teams were regularly played off the pitch by the Anderlecht youth. It’s changing back again, as we made some big changes at Ajax years ago, but Belgium has surpassed us. And when I met Bob, we actually said the same things, we spoke the same language. I asked him, who his inspiration was… Guess what: Johan Cruyff!”


Jonk and Jongkind traveled the world to look into the kitchen of other countries. “In Spain, the youth training has been documented methodically. They have their football vision and translate that directly into the youth Academy. Barca, Valencia, Villareal…very impressive. While in France, they use youth institutions to work with the lads from 13-16 years old. Players arrive late at the pro clubs. They work intensively on skills. Skills and tactics. They’re being driven to perfection and only then are they released to play for Lyon or Monaco or Brest. Pogba and Mbappe are prime examples. They played at amateur level for a long time. In Holland, players are being picked up by the pro clubs when they’re seven or eight years old! And you see this pattern in England as well. While in Germany, their big shift was the scouting and the parameters used. Now, the emphasis is on skills, not athleticism. And their biggest talents work once a week together in national DFB centres across the nation.”

So what do we need to do in Holland to make key changes?

Jonk: “First you need to accept and acknowledge you have a problem. Then you need to point your finger on the spot where it hurts. The Report Winners of Tomorrow seems to think it’s about mentality, physical strength and defensive capabilities.  And yes, these things are vital, but those are not the key elements. These things come to the surface, because we fail to do the real football aspects badly. People in Holland still say we’re so good in technical and tactical areas. We’re not! There’s eleven Key Topics in the report and not one of them is about skills. We keep on overestimating ourselves. We currently have one player who can dribble in the vertical direction. One! And he’s 33 years old: Arjen Robben. We need to fix this and we fix it at youth level.”


“Physical strength is not important at that level. Motoric potential and physical agility are. You don’t want slow and sluggish defenders like we develop now. The more agile and late ripe lads are not getting a look in now. They’re overlooked. The Dutch attacking school of football should be called Naive Football. That’s what we do. You need to understand how and when to play pressure. How can you block the counter-attack. You don’t need physically strong players per se. But players who can read the game, switch quickly and anticipate. You need the perfect mix. The Dutch NT of 1974 and the Brazil NT of 1982 are named as the most exciting teams ever. But they didn’t win a thing. Germany is now capable of mixing result with attractiveness. Well done! Who had thought we’d ever sit in anticipation to watch Germany play?”

What system works best for Holland?

“I don’t believe in systems. These should change constantly. I believe in football principles. And you can deploy these with 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 or 3-4-3… Or whatever. The princinples are about forward pressure, when and where? The first pass, deep or square. How can you get your forwards one v one? How do you make sure the distances between players are correct? That is what Johan and I worked on. We never talked 4-3-3 vs 4-4-2. It’s about the intention. If you don’t have a strong central striker, why not play without one? Look at Spain. When you have a Van Basten or Van Nistelrooy, it’s not that hard to determine what to do but if you don’t, than it would be my plan to use Robben in the one v one as much as possible. And you need to build your team around that.”

jonk holland

Jonk continues: “The interesting thing is, that most of these aspects are naturally done by the youngsters. The 3-second rule is what they want to adhere to. They love hunting in packs to get the ball. They love playing their first pass vertical. They simply want to score goals. It’s the youth coaches that try to take that out of their game.”

The KNVB’s football practice models work either for defensive or either for offensive situations. In Cruyff’s vision, it’s the same thing. Jonk: “Cruyff loved the third runner. And people think it’s an offensive move, but it also works well for the defensive side of things. Because if the pass fails, your third man is already in position to play pressure on the ball.”

Jonk’s conclusion: “Obviously, you need talent. You can’t make gems from rubbish. But we do have talents coming through. Everywhere. But it’s key to make them aware of the use of their talent and the way they deploy it in a team, with others, and in time and space. The solution for the Dutch football crisis is to found at the start of the process.”

pep lecture

Former FC Twente and PSV striker Arnold Bruggink (currently tv analyst): “We do not longer have players that are top, in technical skill and tactical intelligence. Today, it’s players like Wijnaldum, Van Drongelen, Karsdorp, Van Dijk and Strootman that are able to make a step up. In the past, it was the more creative player. The ones that are in big competitions and big clubs are not the ones making the difference. We have Arjen Robben. Then, there’s nothing for a while and then maybe Memphis. But Memphis has a lot to prove still. And it’s quite simple: look at France – Holland. All their players are faster, stronger and taller than ours. You can only compete when you are simply better on the ball. Quicker. Technical skills comes down to the handling speed. And being able to take in what’s going on around you.”


Arnold Bruggink with a young Arjen Robben

“Guardiola has been playing different systems with the same players at three different clubs! So it’s possible. He did it at Barca, and people thought “well, yes, at Barca you can do this…” But then he did it at Bayern, with mostly different players and now again at City. It’s trainable. Feyenoord got hammered by Man City and you could see the weakness of players like Toornstra, Vilhena in those games. But it’s ok. They need this experience. And in three days time: away to Heracles. Which suddenly becomes a much tougher match. But Feyenoord will grow as a result. As for Ajax and PSV, they’ll miss that and in the long run, it’s not good. If Keizer plays one striker or both Huntelaar and Dolberg, or maybe even no striker at all…they’ll win most of their games anyway in Holland. Our top clubs and players are not really being tested anymore. And as long as the KNVB thinks our players are still top notch in the technical and tactical department, nothing will change….”

Arjen Robben shows how it’s done:


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Wim Jansen: revolutionise Dutch football – pt 2

This is part 2 of the Wim Jansen story on the KNVB strategy “Winners of Tomorrow”.

A big number of football “experts” were engaged in this big think tank platform for the KNVB, but funnily enough, a number of them have asked to have their names removed from the report. Dutch football wants to go back to the top of the world, but Wim Jansen thinks we’re taking the wrong exit on our way.

Wim Jansen was also invited to join in on the broader debate for a new model for the Eredivisie. Wim asked if the number of clubs was on the table, as a discussion point. He was told “No”. The number of clubs – 18 – was fixed. For Jansen, having debates about a new format were useless if the KNVB wasn’t open to debate that. Wim Jansen doesn’t take prisoners. He might have been the quiet one on the pitch, off te pitch he only lives his own truth and is happy to tell people about it. Jansen: “I have no personal ego or agenda in the game. I want to do what’s best for football in Holland. But if I share my thoughts with the a bigger group of people, with vested interests, it will become chaos. If you really want to improve the quality, the first decision needs to be: no more artifical surfaces! Real grass. It seems Holland is the only “major” football nation allowing artificial pitches. You don’t see it in England or Spain. And we have around 4 clubs in the Eredivisie with those artificial pitches and they’ll need to either redo them or leave the competition.”

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Success at Celtic but Jansen left the club due to difference of opinion on future

But that’s not all. “I also want to propose a 10 club competition and I would like to see clubs play each other four times instead of two. Four Feyenoord – Ajax classics, four PSV – AZ Alkmaar fixtures, etc. This means every week you play a tough game and every week players need to step up.” He realises this plan is seen as a bomb by the general assembly. “Of course! The boards of Roda and Excelsior and Go Ahead Eagles will be devastated. I get that. But if you want to reach for the top, you need to start creating resistance at domestic level. All other solutions are compromises. People doing their best to please other people. That is not what a top league needs.”

With an eye out for the new top leagues the European top clubs are contemplating, Holland needs to prepare for this new future. The Oranje midfielder goes on: “It’s alarming that the best youth of the country in the under 13s and under 16s are not in the same competition! It’s ridiculous. In particular in our little country. Now, PSV doesn’t meet Ajax and Feyenoord! No wonder they win their regional competitions all the time. The D pupils and B juniors (first years) of Ajax and Feyenoord also don’t compete against each other. All three top clubs are in separate competitions. Sometimes the coaches organise something amongst themselves on a Wednesday afternoon. Not good enough! The biggest talents of the country need to compete amongst each other! Then there is the national cup competition. The winner of that competition plays Europa League football. Why do we allow amateur clubs in that? Now, the pro clubs need to play three rounds against – potentially that is – amateurs. How does that make them better players?”

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The KNVB amateur division has a strong power base in the federation. And Jansen knows that the amateur wishes count for something. “I get that, but the result is that these shenanigans will be hurdles on our way to the top.”

Former national team manager Bert van Marwijk and former Ajax and Chelsea coach Henk ten Cate already publically withdrawn their support for the KNVB plan, while football legend Clarence Seedorf and physio Raymond Verheijen have had their names removed. At Feyenoord, they were quite surprised to see the name of under 13 coordinator Gerard Rutjes in the report, in the “revolution in youth football” chapter.

Rutjes did participate in the meetings but he was strongly opposed to the new Twin Game approach. The report claims Rutjes was a supporter of the plan. Wim Jansen: “Rutjes had the loudest voice against this plan!”

At those Twin Games on small pitches, you see results like 55-3 and 1-39! And they play without refs, so the bigger lads will win the games. In matches where the fittest wins, football talent is not longer focus.

Jansen gets worked up now. “I am so baffled about the fact that the KNVB doesn’t want to disclose who is behind all this? Someone came up with this revolution and must have used scientific research? But the KNVB doesn’t wanna tell… Where is the proof?”

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Jansen hit in the eye with iceball when returning to De Kuip in an Ajax jersey

The first thing new Technical Director Hans van Breukelen wanted to do, when appointed, was appoint a so-called Performance and Innovation Manager (PIM). But in the golden seventies, when Oranje reached two world cup finals, this role didn’t exist. Same in the late 80s when Holland won the Euros and there was no PIM to be found in 2010 and 2014 when Holland won silver and bronze.

All the successes were reached without some innovation manager. And in a period of complete chaos – no more board of directors, no management team, two assistants left, a team coordinator has to leave – Hans van Breukelen is pushing for this new and vague role.

Wim Jansen feels the KNVB should first focus on getting their own stuff together. but instead of structural improvements and organisational clarity, Van Breukelen is focusing on football technical matters, together with director amateur football Van der Zee.

Jansen: “Dutch football is now being flooded with psycho-babble. They’re talking about re-thinking. Quotes like “with a draw, both teams have won”… They want to create a winning mindset amongst youngsters and visualising victories and all that. But I try to stay closer to the game, with these kids. The best way to innovate football is to develop good players. Football was never improved by scientists, therapists and even coaches. It’s the players. You know who was football’s biggest innovator in recent decades? Johan Cruyff. He changed the game as a player. He made Ajax and Barca into what they are. Then he went to evangelise in the US. When he was 34 years old, he returned and won two titles with Ajax again. Then he moved to Feyenoord and won the double. Ben Wijnstekers was already in his early 30s when he played with Johan and he told me: I learned more in that one season with Cruyff than in the 12 seasons before him.”

Dips 80 Road Askew, Cruyff, wearing 79 Unis

Jansen and Cruyff as team mates for Washington Dips in 1979

Cruyff became a legendary coach as well and he kept on teaching his players how to see the game, develop their vision and see the spaces. Football is a simple game, but playing simple football is complicated, was his motto. In one of Jansen’s recent discussion with JC, before the #14 died, was about how the pro clubs develop talent. Not the federations, not the amateur clubs. “The number of pro players in the different competitions developed at big clubs is stunning. There’s approx 40 players in the Dutch competition who started at Ajax. Probably around 30 from Feyenoord. Same with Man City, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Bayern Munich. We need to empower the big clubs to keep on investing, instead of using the recreational bodies – like the national federations – to see if they can create talent wholesale. It won’t be possible.”

Jansen about Van Breukelen’s plan: “Hans wants to focus on youth football with mental concepts. No! Let’s focus on football. On skills. On developing your weaker leg. And once we get there, focus on other aspects. Van Breukelen was a goalie, he wasn’t a midfielder or forward. He had an amazing mentality. He also wrote two books, about winning. Psychology stuff. But paper has patience. However, you win matches on the pitch. Not on paper. It’s decided on the pitch.”

The KNVB is considering opening up a whole new department focused on winning mentality. “The KNVB thinks you can create top players by working on their mentality. It’s the world turned upside down! Talent needs to be developed. How do we teach them the details. How can coaches improve in that, is a factor as well. You cannot focus on 300,000 young amateur players, which is what Van Breukelen wants to do. The Federation is going to educate and train 41,000 youth coaches for recreational football. But for Oranje, you’ll only have approximately 50 players who will reach top level. If you want to play top with Oranje, you need to focus on the top talents. Instead, they’re paying lipservice to the broader community.”

jansen jc 74

Hail to the Chief in 1974

“They recently added the second and third division to the two pro leagues. Why? Will that improve the quality at the top? Of course not. It’s just shifting with boxes instead of improving the quality.”

The big sponsor of the KNVB – the ING Bank – is also involved. They will go past amateur clubs with a whole circus of buses to make young players physically stronger. Doing push ups, more long distance running… Jansen: “This won’t make better players… Sigh… This is a sponsor campaign. The ING Bank is focused on the masses. Good on them and I don’t want to stop them. I’d love to see these initiatives for recreational football and as far as I’m concerned they do get more coaches and more different games and practices. Fine. But we need the disctintion between top level and recreational level.”

This distinction is not made by the suits of the KNVB. According to Jansen, most people at Federation level are not equipped for top sports. Amateur football director Van der Zee for instance, recently said “Jansen didn’t have a lot of understanding of youth football” until he realised who he was talking about. Jansen couldn’t care less.

“I’ve said it years ago, the FIFA, the UEFA, the KNVB, they lack vision. They’re an old boys network with the key focus on keeping their job and their perks. These suits are there for themselves. And you wanna know the big irony? The KNVB wants to create a winning mentality, but their chairman – Michael van Praag – …he lost everything in the last two years. He wanted the Euros in The Netherlands? The bid failed. He wanted to become a head honcho at FIFA and UEFA, he didn’t get elected. Then he went on to clean up the KNVB? Well, the board of directors is gone, the management is gone, we are missing two assistant coaches for Oranje and our team coordinator is asked to leave! His main focus was to get 40 countries to the World Cup, instead of improving the quality of football. And that focus of his, was purely focused on getting votes to become a top man at FIFA.”

jc kromme

Two Dutch football warriors, Cruyff giving his opinion with gesture. Willem only needs a look

Jansen keeps on going: “The KNVB has the monopoly on coaching licenses. There is no other avenue for anyone to get a license for The Netherlands elsewhere. So if that is their core business, they should focus on improving those courses. Instead of thinking they can develop talent. We need top coaches at all levels. Now, in this new plan, they want to bring players from under 15 till under 19 to Zeist for more training sessions. So they take the players away from the club, but it has always been at club level that talent was developed. The Federation should facilitate. They need to provide strong coaching courses and strong competitions. That’s it. One thing I can see, is that there’s always players at amateur level who develop late. We have seen many examples. The current Sparta striker is one of them. He’s 29 years old and only played at amateur level. Last year he was the top scorer in the Jupiler League. That bridging role I can see for the KNVB.”

Feyenoord winning the UEFA Cup in 1974, with Wim Jansen as skipper, over two legs vs Tottenham Hotspur.



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Wim Jansen: revolutionise Dutch football! -pt 1

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I will show my age with these words… But one of the most underrated players from the legendary WC1974 team was Wim Jansen. Defensive midfielder of Feyenoord. Robin to Van Hanegem’s Batman. And the glue that kept the Oranje 1974 team together. We had marauding Neeskens in midfield, conniving playmaker Van Hanegem and shining star JC up front. Wim Jansen kept the balance. For the young ones amongst us: see JC as Messi, Van Hanegem as Iniesta and Wim Jansen as Busquets. Very important for the team. Always diligent. Always aware. And always timing his challenges and positioning to perfection.

Another way for Wim to stand out was for being in the background and avoiding the spotlights. JC was the messiah, John Rep the face, Neeskens the gladiator and Van Hanegem the rock star. Wim Jansen was the quiet one.

wim oranje

After his long standing career at Feyenoord, Jansen played in the US (like Cruyff and Van Hanegem) and returned to Holland, to be lured to a very young and talented Ajax by Cruyff, to guide talents like Rijkaard. He was one of the first to don both jerseys and when Mr Feyenoord returned to De Kuip for an away game with Ajax, a so-called “supporter” threw an ice ball (it was winter time) on his face, damaging his eye. Jansen didn’t play that day.

He coached his beloved Feyenoord, set up the youth academy, coached Celtic with success and kept on working with youth all his life.

It’s common knowledge that Cruyff and Van Hanegem had a tremendous relationship on the pitch and deep respect for one another, but personality-wise, they were too different. Van Hanegem would call Cruyff on his BS and Cruyff felt Van Hanegem was a loose cannon. They didn’t spend much social time together. De Kromme: “Cruyff was the best ever, but I wouldn’t go to his birthday party. I wish him well but I’m not part of his coterie.”

Cruyff: “People say I was the best player, but if I played bad, I was useless for the team. Willem however, would hussle and battle and tackle if he didn’t play too well.”

Jansen and Van Hanegem were good friends. Lived in the same street in HI Ambacht (my home town, one block away from me) and shared duties at amateur club ASWH and played tennis locally. They were a tremendous team on the pitch.

willem jansen happel

The terminally ill success coach Ernst Happel, De Kromme and Wim Jansen

However, Jansen and Cruyff were best buddies. They had an understanding beyond words (on the pitch and off) and developed their football vision in conjunction. Cruyff with a focus on top level football (Ajax, Barcelona and indirectly AC Milan, Arsenal, Liverpool and Man
United) while Jansen focused on youth development.

If there is one guru in youth football today in Holland, it’s him. And if there is one guy the Dutch federation should have asked for advice to help patch up our football identity, it was him. But instead, the KNVB appointed former goalie Hans van Breukelen (who never coached in his life), who in turn went on to give out job offers to former waterpolo, volleyball and ice-skating coaches… Luckily, all of them turned the job down, under pressure from the many football pundits in Holland.

Some background on that KNVB strategy: when it was clear we were heading towards a quality gap in the post Van Marwijk days (post Van Persie/Vaart/Sneijder/Robben/Van Bommel/Van Bronckhorst) and we missed the Euro 2016 tournament, the federation decided to make plans.

breuk knvb

They decided to appoint a Technical Director (up until then, former burocrat Bert van Oostveen made the strategic technical decisions!!) and kick start a think tank of people to come up with a strategy going forward.

That, in itself, was a good idea. But the execution wasn’t that wonderful. They picked Hans van Breukelen (over people like Henk ten Cate, Rene Meulensteen, Wim Jansen, Marcel Brands, Martin van Geel, Co Adriaanse) and created think tank with 20+ people. This obviously resulted in a committee report full of cliches, but without cojones. Design by committee.

With the key objective: “Oranje to be back at the world top in 2026!”. WTF!!!

Finally, Wim Jansen – who declined to be part of that Think Tank for obvious reasons – has agreed to an interview to give us his views. It makes for compelling reading and I invite you to share your thoughts…. From the daily newspaper De Telegraaf:

“Dutch football wants to go back to the top, but the KNVB appears to have taken the wrong exit, according to Wim Jansen. He played two World Cup finals for Holland, co-developed Dutch world domination with Feyenoord and Oranje and developed the top class youth academy at Feyenoord (and indirectly: Ajax). “I don’t do this interview for me, but for the top talents we do have and who deserve the best treatment.”


He is not interested in reading the KNVB report “Winner of Tomorrow” anymore. He knows it by heart. And he doesn’t like it. The KNVB objective is to be world class again in 2026. “But you will need to act on it now, then. But the emphasis is on physical and mental development. Higher demands on our defenders. These ideas are far removed from what is needed to be the absolute top.”

“Our football culture and style have been copied for 50 years now, by other nations. They all came to Holland to see how we do things. And now, our Federation is telling us to abandon this vision. They want to change what we do without any guarantee this will work. This strategy is irresponsible.”

jansen now

Jansen Now

“Physical and mental development are not the foundation of football. They are merely in service of football. It can never be leading. If you can’t play, physical strength and mental strength will bring you nothing. Top football is done on the basis of ball skills, technique, tactics and team play. Those ingredients will make a team top. Look at Spain, Germany.. Two top nations. Are Iniesta, Xavi, Griezmann, Ozil, De Bruyne so strong physically and mentally? is that what you think of them when you think of them? Or see them play? It’s their ball control and vision.”

Wim Jansen is still honing his skills. He is never ready with learning. He is still in charge of Feyenoord’s youth academy and works with the nations top academics in the field of neuro-psychology (Professor Scherder) and mobility sciences (Professor Savelsbergh) and is working on talent development day and night.

And this is where his biggest beef sits. The KNVB does not want to make the distinction between top football and recreational football. He agrees with Johan Cruyff for years and has had hour long debates about the development of football in Holland. Years ago, both stated with conviction that clubs need to develop pro-football and the Federation should develop recreational football.

jansen jc

The KNB has changed the training foundation of youth teams by adopting the so-called Twin Games. Teams split and playing on smaller pitches or even quarter pitches. “Unacceptable,” Jansen says. “Our new plan at youth level is now playing on quarter pitches? Why? The current system (7 v 7 on half pitches, 9 v 9 from box to box or 11 v 11 on full pitches) is the best. This will give young players a sense of space. Football is a game of time and space. The smaller the space at youth level, the harder the step up. The KNVB says they make the pitch smaller to copy the old street football from way back. As if “size of the pitch” is key. Its not. Street football was all about being able to play whenever you wanted. You learn things in street football, like dealing with bad surfaces, or playing with obstacles, like sewer manholes or curbs. Or pebbles, or street cobbles being uneven. I played street football but my friends didn’t make me better. I started to become better when I played in the Feyenoord youth with bigger players on a full pitch. And playing real matches, against top teams. So you need to bring talent together as young as possible and make them train together and play against other top talents. Your individual skills can be improved on the street, like Brazilian players learn ball control on the beach and with bare feet. But the development of becoming a team player is on a real pitch, actual size. The biggest ball magicians will fail once they have to play on a real pitch, because space can be your friend or your enemy. Remember John de Bever and Arie Riedijk? They were the best futsol players in the world, at one stage. Incredible technique. But the failed to make the step up to real football.

jansen cruyff

Jansen vs Cruyff

Football on a big pitch changes the game, it’s another dimension and the big pitch is the real judge and jury for football talents. In practice, you can work on technique and handling speed, but top football is played on 7000 square meters. So take the shortest route to that. If you want to attack, the first thing a coach will say is to find the space. Make the pitch wide, so you can move into space. If you need to defend, you make the pitch smaller.”

Jansen shakes his head… “The KNVB says we need to learn to defend better… I think it’s the other way around. 80% of our attacks come to nothing. I think we need to improve there. And the sooner the better. And don’t forget: as long as you have the ball, they can’t score. And you don’t need to defend. Do you think Luis Enrique at Barca is figuring out ways to defend better?”

Wim Jansen thinks the emphasising on defensive qualities is misplaced. “Remember the last classic between Feyenoord and Ajax. Ajax is leading, 1-0. It’s only 5 minutes on the clock. The tallest defender of Ajax, Dijks, marks the Feyenoord forward on the wrong side. The result, he is half a yard late when the cross comes in. Kuyt is able to dive to the ball right across him and scores. A little mistake, with a big result. It had nothing to do with physical strength. But everything with positioning, reading the game, vision and feeling for space. At that point, the smaller Kuyt won against the big, strong Dijks.”


Jansen himself was 35 years old playing as sweeper of Ajax, next to Rijkaard. In the winter of his career, he wasn’t the tallest nor the quickest. But he was one of the smartest.

At Varkenoord, Feyenoord’s youth complex, he visits the clinics of the new talents. “These kids come play here for the first time. And what do they do? Dribble. And the first thing you notice is that their eyes are on the ball. So the first thing we teach them is to look over the ball. Trust your skills and keep your head up to see where the free man is, or where the space is, or what the opponent does. The next phase is, to let them make decisions. We give them free reign. He can pass, dribble or take on an opponent. We don’t tell them what to do. As long as they do. They need to decide themselves but they do need to learn to look for space.”

jansen rijkaard

Jansen mentoring Rijkaard

This is the exact opposite of the KNVB vision who want to see kids play on small pitches and force them to pass. “If you want to give them lots of ball touches, give them all a ball. That is what we do, partially. But the match is leading. Whether you’re 7 or 10. The match determines how good you really are and what you need to develop. And things you can’t do in a game, you start to work on in practice. It’s not like the training determines the match. It’s actually the other way around. The match determines what to train on. In reality, there’s 22 players and only one will have the ball. 21 players won’t have the ball. And they need to work on playing without the ball. Moving, finding space, positioning, this is so important.”

Every pro club in Dutch football needs to have a full youth academy. There are clubs now that don’t. Jansen: “What is our license committee doing? You shouldn’t be allowed to play pro football without a youth division. If you want to reach the top, you need to demand more from the clubs.”

marco patrick

“Why is Max Verstappen a world class F1 driver at 18 years old? Because he learned how to drive a cart and learned listen to the car from when he was 4 years old! Its not like he started driving an F1 car after getting his driving license. Max is competing in F1 now coz he started early. The ages between 6 and 18 are the years in which a talent develops into a real player. That is 12 years of development. Every day that he doesn’t learn something is a day lost. Being a pro player is a craft. A profession. And they need practice as much as possible. There is scientific proof that a kid learns best between 6 and 12 years old. You can teach players patterns very easily. And they do pick up the most from other players. I played with top players, like Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Israel, Kraay, Moulijn and boy did I learn.

People underestimate the profession of being a pro footballer. You need to have so many skills, it takes so many details. And you need to see and be able to execute it. Every time again. If it was easy, we had 1000s of Arjen Robbens, because everyone wants to be a world class player. But, we only have one. That tells you enough.

young arjen

“Today the youth teams of PSV, Feyenoord beat their opponents easily. But when they play international tournaments, they get often beaten. They learn more from their defeats than from winning. But we see less and less talents. Ajax and Feyenoord keep on winning youth academy awards but in the last two games I saw Ajax play (in the Eredivisie) I only saw four players that were developed in The Netherlands….”

Wim Jansen scores vs AC Milan, semi finals Europa Cup

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Wim Kieft talks Ajax 1982

Wim Kieft is quite a tv personality these days. A reluctant people’s man. Shy as a player. Humble. A bit narcy. Got in trouble after his football career, when acting as tv pundit. His sour and critical analyses turned vitriolic and he started to look worse and worse. Until the news broke, that he was dealing with some personal issues. Cocaine and alcohol addictions and as a result personal bankruptcy. He did what most people wouldn’t want to. He beared it all in a book. He went to NA and the AA and quit his addictions. The book “Wim Kieft” became a bestseller in Holland received critical acclaim for the style and honesty. A fit and healthy Kieft is back on TV doing his football analysis. But his tone hasn’t changed. Typical Kieft statements: “This makes me sooo tired…” And “this guy is starting to take himself too serious…”.

kieft analyse


Dick Advocaat, Wim Kieft and Johan Derksen

He was one of the youngsters in the Ajax 1981/1982 team, that won the title in Holland, led by one Johan Cruyff…

This interview is not about his 1988 header goal vs Ireland… (“That makes me sooo tired, to have to talk about that header… Before I know it I start to take myself really seriously…”)

Kieft describes the team and relives memories.

“I actually don’t have too many good memories about football, you know. I was not happy with that status. My team buddies in the Ajax youth would go by tram to the complex and carry their bag on the bus in such a manner that everyone saw the Ajax logo. I was the other way around. I was quite embarrassed by the attention. I didn’t want people to see I had an Ajax bag.”

“My best memories are from the Ajax days. I am an Amsterdam born and raised kid. And Ajax was my club. But, it was better for them that I would leave. Marco van Basten was getting ready for Ajax 1 and he was a super player. I was a bumbling idiot compared to him. So I had to go. Cor Coster, Cruyff’s father in law, brought me to Pisa, in Italy. Ever since, I couldn’t really enjoy the life of a player anymore.”

“I played in a sensational team in Eindhoven. PSV was strong: Romario, Lerby, Gerets, van Breukelen, Vanenburg… Great team. But I never really enjoyed it. Hardly have any good memories from those days. It was work. Nothing more. Training, go home. Match, go home.”

“I didn’t have the right personality for football player. Those galas… The time I had to pick up the Golden Boot for Europe… I was on stage with Platini… The players there… It was so daunting. I threw up before and when I had the award I slipped out to go back to the hotel. I wanted to go home.”

“I didn’t really celebrate my goals. I hated the attention. Marco and Johan could run and jump and pump their fists.. I was the end station of a good attack and I usually had the easy job. I couldn’t run across half the pitch and jump up like a super star. That isn’t me. I would want to know me if I was like that. I was not gifted. I had a talent for scoring and I needed to work really hard.”

Wim Kieft made it through the Ajax youth ranks. Not the typical gifted velvetty technician like Vanenburg, Schip or Van Basten. But a born goal getter. Fearless header of the ball. And as time went on, became a perfect forward playmaker (playing with 10) at PSV, guiding Romario and Ronaldo to goals.



Piet Schrijvers, Wim Kieft, Johan Cruyff, La Ling, Dick Schoenaker, Frank Rijkaard, Jesper Olsen, Gerald Vanenburg, Soren Lerby, Wim Jansen, Peter Boeve

The Ajax 1981/1982 team as remembered by Willem Kieft.

Piet Schrijvers: “The best goalie I ever played with. Imposing dude. Fearless. Amazing reflexes and speed in responding to anything coming his way. But maybe not speedy when coming out of his goal. But it didn’t matter, he either had the ball or the man. Was a bully of a man, big mouth, but really a heart of gold. He was chair of the players committee and would plan everything for us. But we took the piss at times. In 1981 we lost for the Europa Cup away, at Bayern 5-1. Drama. The financial manager of Ajax saw the profitable home game evaporating. Who would pay money to see us play that game, right? So when we got in the plane, in Munich, it was just after midnight. And Frank Rijkaard, deadpan, walks up to Schrijvers and points at his watch and says “Piet, it’s midnight now, could you talk to the financial manager please and ask for overtime payment for this?” Piet had already had a couple of Bacardi Coca Colas and stumbled through the plane to make this totally inappropriate request. The financial manager looked at Piet as if he was just pissed on, hahahahaha. Classic. But Piet was golden, he arranged my whole wedding festivities when I got married… Was a blast. The marriage didn’t last. But that was not Piet’s fault.”

Wim Kieft: “Really? Do you need me to talk about me? Well, I won the Golden Boot in Europe that season but truth be told, we had a tremendously attacking team. Playing with Cruyff behind you is the best a striker can have. He’d pass a player and prepare a shot or a dink and I would think “ah well, I better run after the ball, to see if I can pick up the spoils” and that happened so often. I had balls returning from the post or spilled balls from the goalie. Or, Johan would see me go and would reward me with a through ball. It wasn’t too hard. I was picking up the crumbs Cruyff left for me. Some of these goals were easy. And some people then say “yes but you need to be in the right spot” and I guess that is true but some people will probably say “ah well, you were lucky”. I think both things are true. I received lots of protection from Cruyff as well, in the group. He was very good for me. Because he could see I was working like a beast to get everything out of myself, as I was not a great talent. He used to be really tough on Van Basten, Vanenburg and Rijkaard. They were top talents. Marco left the practice ground crying more than once.”

ajax 81 kieft

Johan Cruyff: “He was my idol. I was crazy about him. It was a tremendous honour to have played with him. I have had an ok career and made a bit of mess of my life later, but having played with Cruyff is like… a life well spent hahaha. He used to train with us, before Ajax signed him again. He was 34 years old but fit man. So when he made his debut that season vs Haarlem, this zing went through the stadium, the vibe was awesome. He started nervous and anxious, but then he had that little dribble and the tremendous lob from the edge of the box and the crowd went mad and he lost all the tension in his body and played like a champ. I scored two goals that day and one from a Cruyff cross. I was too embarrassed to cheer. He put the ball on my forehead and I had to just head it in. It was his goal, not mine… With Cruyff back Dutch football got a shot in the arm. The stadiums were full, everyone wanted to see him. And we didn’t lose another game. We were quite a stretch behind PSV but when JC came, we won everything and won the title at the end. There was some resistance when Johan returned. Some of the older players didn’t like Cruyff’s tendency to tell everyone how the world worked and all that. Wise guy :-). Soren Lerby was the captain and he saw Cruyff as a threat, a bit. So Lerby started to become really vocal and dominant and they were the two alpha dogs. And Johan could be really mean in those situations. I remember a game where Johan was bringing the ball up from midfield and he was slowing down and gesticulating to Lerby “Come on come on push on” with his hands and voice to be able to play the ball to Soren… So when Lerby sprinted forward to collect the ball, Cruyff turned the other way and opened on the other wing yelling “you’re too fucking slow!” to Lerby.”

Tscheu La Ling: “Our right winger… A beautiful artist. Typical winger. Totally independent. On and off the pitch. Uncoachable guy. He was a bit older than us but he liked us, he loved to hang with us. And players like Rijkaard and myself looked up to him. He was a playboy. One day on trainings camp on Curacao he took us to this private beach… Just us, a bar with cocktails, and a bunch of hot girls, hahaha. We thought that was awesome. But somehow I became Ling’s rival on the pitch. The coaches felt it didn’t work with Ling AND Cruyff AND Kieft. So he was the first out of the line up. Kurt Linder needed to find some balance. But the Ajax supporters adored Ling, he had his own group of fans who would move sides after the break with him and would run with him on the flanks, hahaha. So they protested like crazy, and then Linder sacrificed me… I had 23 goals to my name and I was benched. I was quite confused. But two games later I was back in the team. I think JC made that happen. Tscheu was a gifted player but a bit lazy and tactically uninterested, hahaha. He never reached his potential I think. He played 14 international games for Holland. Should have been much more. Him and Rene van der Gijp were wonderful wingers but more interested in other things, hahaha.”

johan haarlem

Johan about to score the infamous goal vs Haarlem

Dick Schoenaker: “He was Mr Balance in our team. We had a number of chiefs but he was a true Indian. A wonderful runner. Box to box. Fearless in the challenges. And he could score too! Not your typical Ajax player though. He had lungs, unreal. First he ran his heart out of his chest for Ling, and when Cruyff came he did it for Cruyff AND Ling… He was from the East, a rural kid. He used to be bullied and ridiculed a lot. Older players like Krol and Suurbier would have a real go at him, because he was an easy target. He wouldn’t say anything back. Modest guy, but invaluable for the team. A real team player and really nice bloke.”

Frank Rijkaard: “Frank was a bit dreamy, but Wim Jansen was very important for him. Jansen took him by the hand and taught him what it takes to be a defender. When Jansen joined us, Rijkaard developed so fast. Wim Jansen’s coaching was tremendous for Rijkaard. The year before he played with Kees Zwamborn, with all due respect. I had a great relationship with Frank. He was modest. But also sensitive. The vibe at Ajax was quite cynical. Cruyff, Lerby, Krol, Ling… all tough guys, real machos. Players like Rijkaard and later Van ‘t Schip didn’t deal well with that. Rijkaard would close himself off from that stuff. But he was no softie. Just not interested in bullying. Rijkaard is a very funny chap, by the way. Dry humour. And like Ling, a totally independent thinker. He tried to get Ruud Gullit to Ajax, but Ajax wasn’t convinced of his qualities. Ruud and Frank played street football together.”

Jesper Olsen: “Ooh he was good… Jesper was Soren’s protegy. Both Danish of course. He was a tremendous worker, that kid and what a technique. A real Ajax winger. They don’t make them anymore, it seems. He was also very consistent. Wingers tend to be a bit inconsistent, but not Jesper. He was always on. Nice bloke but these Danish guys, they’re all perverts hahaha. Loved yelling dirty words to people. Lots of humour and lots of swagger too. He was not scared of anyone and we had some tough guys in our squad. But he would get up and smile and wink. He didn’t start too well by the way, and like me he started to play better and better alongside Johan.”



Wim Jansen, Kurt Linder and Jesper Olsen

Gerald Vanenburg: “Gerald was such a sensational player already when he was 17 years old. Unbelievable, what he could do with a ball. One of the biggest talents I’ve seen come up. Him, Seedorf, Van der Vaart… Vaantje was 16 when he made his debut. And I think he scored a sensational goal on his debut. The problem with Gerald was that he thought he was a leader in the team and very important. Too many people in his ear. And statistically he was important, but not as a personality. The practice matches were tougher for us than the real matches. We were getting really good. Gerald scored a lot too, as offensive midfielder. What a technique! Opponents wanted to kick him in half but couldn’t get to him :-). I played with him later at PSV as well. Gerald was seen as a bit up himself but that is not the case. In 1988 he had to change his role from playmaker to more a waterbearer and he took that role well. He played very good against West Germany in the semi finals. People rave about Van Basten in that tournament but Erwin Koeman and Gerald Vanenburg were very important for us. Sadly, Cruyff said some bad things about Vaan and that carried a long while. When Gerald moved to PSV Cruyff was coach at Ajax and dissed him a bit, taunting him with his high voice. That wasn’t necessary I thought.”

Soren Lerby: “Soren was winner. Tremendous power and what a left foot. He was tough on the pitch, for himself, his mates and particularly the opponent. He was a real leader and managed the vibe in the team. A real party animal, with Frank Arnesen, his buddy. But for us youngsters he was an animal. He would yell at us at any occassion. Soren loved the best of the best. Good watch, expensive cars, good restaurants and expensive women. He would always want to go better and bigger. At some stage, he married (Dutch singer and actress) Willeke Alberti and moved to Belgium. So he invited John van ‘t Schip and myself and our wives for dinner one night. All was nice, beautiful setting and Willeke had made this amazing pasta. Soren takes one bite and drops his spoon and yells “Goddammit what kind of shit are you serving us!!” and exploded. That was Soren, nothing was good enough. But we would become close mates later, at PSV.”

Wim Jansen: “The perfect professional. What a player. He saw the game so well. The yin to Cruyff’s yang. Wim was midfielder at Feyenoord alongside Willem van Hanegem but played libero for us. He would never lose the ball and his passing was perfect. Always the right pace, the right angle, to the right foot… Incredible player. And always coaching, talking. He is a very good man. Patient, and always had time for you. This is what I liked about him and Cruyff most. The best players on the planet, but modest, sweet and helpful. This football world is full of egos and inflated personalities but Cruyff and Jansen always remained who they were. Interested and respectful. Top lads.”

Peter Boeve: “A very offensive back. Sweet kid. Hard working. He was a bit serious and really strived for the appreciation of the big name players. And they knew that so they never gave him any, hahaha. He was a health freak. Always stretching. Before practice, after practice. When we were playing pool he was stretching. When we were boozing he was still stretching, hahaha. He kept on going, in the matches. A totally committed lad. Nice guy.”

lerby cs


Frank Arnesen, Ruud Krol and Soren Lerby in front of the old Ajax home


Marco van Basten: “Marco wasn’t part of this team as yet, but was coming through alright. I mention him because people at Ajax and in the media loved to make this huge rivalry between us. But there wasn’t any. I think Marco was and is a great guy. Just a nice guy with sensational talent. I could see then that Marco would be much better for Ajax 1 than me. No problem. He is the best striker ever, for me. I was just a hard working guy who could score, but Marco was an artist. We never had any trouble together nor were we bothered with that stuff going on.”

Coach Kurt Linder: “I wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t really good. German… Very disciplined and stern. We would do these German style pre-season trips, going to the gym and running in the hills. God, I hated that. We all did. We would have dinner together and we all asked for beer with dinner. We were allowed only one. But one player didn’t need that beer so Piet Wijnberg – substitute – drank that. Linder exploded and we couldn’t stop laughing when that happened. He didn’t like me much I feel. He was always out to “keep me sharp” for some reason. Once we flew back from some overseas winter trip and when we landed in Amsterdam we had to go and train immediately. We were all groggy and jetlagged. He almost attacked me when I did something wrong. He thought I was screwing around and he yelled “YOU! You have to train harder! You are still young and you must work hard!!” in my face. I was fed up and yelled back “Fuck off with your bullshit!”. So he suspended me. But one week later I was back in the team. I think Johan arranged that. Because obviously Cruyff was the boss, not Linder, hahaha.”

Where are they now? Piet Schrijvers (68) is currently awaiting a new challenge as keepers trainer. Johan Cruyff (68) writes columns and is advisor at Ajax and Barcelona. Tscheu La Ling (59) manages his company in supplements and owns a club in the Czech Republic. Dick Schoenaker (63) used to own an insurance company and is on the board of Ajax. Frank Rijkaard (53) cycles through the Vondel Park at times and drinks coffee in the Hilton Hotel. Jesper Olsen (54) lives in Melbourne and works at a Football Academy. Gerald Vanenburg (51) manages his daughter, a top tennis talent. Soren Lerby (57) lives in Marbella and runs a football management business. Wim Jansen (69) works in the Feyenoord youth academy. Peter Boeve (58) is coaching amateur team Apeldoorn. Kurt Linder (82) is retired.

Note: Johan was not offered another deal the next season as the board figured “Johan was getting too old”. He was pissed off as only he can be and his buddy Willem van Hanegem lured him to Feyenoord. During the farewell match for De Kromme, Cruyff was introduced to the Feyenoord legion. He scored in that match and signed a deal for one season. Wearing Van Hanegem’s number 10, Cruyff helped Feyenoord win the double in the 1983/84 season.

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Dutch eleven lose important game….

Feyenoord’s youth system architect Wim Jansen with inspiration Johan Cruyff

Dutch Eleven? I can hear you think? Did the Dutch team lose?

No, Feyenoord lost. Against Marco van Basten’s Heerenveen. But quite unique, Ronald Koeman fielded 11 Dutch players. Quite a remarkable fact. And when he had to sub Immers and later Martins Indi, two Dutch subs came on. Boetius was subbed by Ivorian Cissee though, so the all-Dutch team got an international character then…

With Graziano Pelle in the team (the first name on the team sheet), this will never be possible, but as the Italian striker was suspended, Louis van Gaal looked on while his 7 internationals took on Heerenveen’s in form side.

Winning was key to remain a title contender, for Feyenoord and like Carlos, Louis van Gaal wants Feyenoord to win it. The National Team coach told Clasie last week: Go and win the title!!

Knowing, that if Feyenoord does win it, CL football is on the cards next season. What better foundation for the Feyenoord Seven, preparing for the World Cup.

Also, most Feyenoord players have stated to stay in Rotterdam if CL football is secured.

Players like Clasie, De Vrij and Janmaat will most certainly be able to sign lucrative deals for next season, but….will they get playing time? If they move to Liverpool, Arsenal or Fiorentina, they might be brought “slowly” by their new coaches, which will cost them their WC spot.

But Feyenoord didn’t win. Heerenveen was better, more aggressive and more hungry. A big mistake by Stefan de Vrij, otherwise very strong with Mathijsen in the central defender spot, secured the 2-0 win for Van Basten’s team. The former team manager of Oranje started very poorly this season. He lost the Heerenveen forwards Assaidi (Liverpool), Dost ( Wolfsburg) and Narsignh (PSV) but his Dost replacement Finnbogasson can’t stop scoring (21 goals for the Icelandic striker), while Djuricic is playing so well this season that Benfica snapped him up.

Van Basten has been able to turn his team around and with great results at home against the Top 5, Heerenveen is now sneaking back into the European football qualifications position of the league.

Feyenoord will have to take a backseat to Ajax and PSV. These two are also not impressing to heavily. PSV in particular, with that tremendous squad, keeps on underwhelming. By now, it is fairly certain that Advocaat will not extend his deal which means Philip Cocu will step up and take the reigns.

Arjen Robben played a key role in Bayern’s massive win over HSV (two goals and two assists in the 9-2 dressing down) but might consider a move (Inter Milan or Galatasaray are reported to make a move) as the ex-Groningen player wants security of a starting spot (for the World Cup, of course).

Wes Sneijder is fit to play with Galatasaray against Real Madrid, while Robin van Persie keeps on leading the line for Man United.

Rumours persist that Christian Eriksen will move to Liverpool this summer and Ajax will sign super talent Adam Maher to replace him.

Feyenoord may not win it this season, but they surely look bright.

Another club that seems to fly high thanks to Johan Cruyff’s insights. It is no secret that once Wim Jansen (former 1974 midfielder and Feyenoord icon) started to meddle with the youth system (with his son in law Stanley Brard), based on Johan Cruyff’s philosophy: 4-3-3 as the system and individual trainings plans for the players.

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