We’re back! Oh Goodness Gracious Me, the site was down. Some weird error, and it took me some time to sort it. Also because support was hard to find in the Xmas/NYE days.
Not a lot of news re: Dutch Eredivisie or Oranje anyway, but the Premier League keeps on powering, just like Italy, Spain and Germany have started up again.
Traditionally, the national team manager gets the big interview at the start of the new year and Frank de Boer gladly agreed to do his part.
Louis van Gaal saw it first…
Fdb: “That I was going to be a good national team coach? Hahaha, yes we were doing a canal boat tour in the winter some time back. Ronald and his partner was there too. It was a gastronomical tour, very good fun. And Louis told me that he thought I would be the prefect for the job, but the KNVB picked Ronald Koeman, back then. I thought that was actually a fine choice. Anyone could see there were some amazing talents coming through.”
When Van Gaal resigned in 2002, he said he might have been too much of a club coach. How is this with you?
Fdb: “Well, yes but it was totally different, as we were all in our early 30s. We weren’t young talents anymore. We had won basically everything. I think in such a scenario, a Hiddink type coach would be better. It was important to manage the vibe in the group, but not to tell Ruud van Nistelrooy to button up his shirt! Or tell Van Hooijdonk to wear socks! Pierre never wore them. We all knew this. And then there was a new physio, Raymond Verheijen. He’s a good man, with expertise but he was years younger than us! And he presented himself as the clone of Louis. We had more than enough to do with one Louis hahaha. At the World Cup 1998, and this is not to be negative about Guus Hiddink, but we determined how we played. Not Guus. We never trained tactically. He just made sure everyone was feeling ok and was happy. And at certain times, he had to step in and be razor sharp and he was. But he knew exactly what he needed from this group. I think that is key for a national team manager.”
What does the current squad need?
“A mixture of approaches. We have a mix in ages too. They all know what they want, but… not everyone has been there. Gini and Virgil have had big successes with Liverpool, Daley and Gini and De Vrij and Memphis were at the World Cup. But other players haven’t. It’s all new. Dumfries, Frenkie, Malen, Van de Beek… They still need to learn what it means to play a tournament.”
Are you now more manager than trainer?
“Yes, it’s part of your development too, and it’s also because one can’t do it all alone. Management is an important part of the job but I think I actually prefer to be trainer.”
At Palace and Internazionale, there was criticism of how you lacked empathy.
“Managing a squad is a skill and being more social and show interest in someone else, yes, it is something that doesn’t come natural to me, I had to learn this. And that is why they say being a coach is an experience profession. And I started at Ajax, where I had played for 20 years or so and I knew everyone and everyone knew me. Supporters, sponsors, management, ex players, the works. And my vision was developed by Ajax basically, so the match was perfect. I had to learn to work in a non Ajax environment and that wasn’t so easy.”
What went wrong?
“Well, at Inter it was always my plan to take into account the Italian culture, the club culture, traditions etc. I also wanted to bring in my own ideas. And I noticed really early on, that the basis of my thinking, the basis of the Dutch way of playing is passing and receiving. That is something you have to be able to do. Look at Frenkie, at Koopmeiners, Bazoer, Propper, Blind… But the Italians didn’t like it at all. They fumbled, they became childish, they tried to screw the other players by playing hospital balls… They preferred to do sprints, with the stop watch or play tactical practices. They didn’t feel good with my approach, they felt they needed more intensity. They also didn’t do rest. If a player had a big couple of games, I would sometimes give them a day off. The medical staff went berserk. I was supposed to clean the situation up, like Koeman at Valencia, years ago. But there was resistance. And mind you, after they fired me, they used and fired two other coaches before they came to Conte and it started to click, with a completely new squad.”
Was it a mistake to go there?
“No I don’t look at it like that. I learned a lot. It was a good experience. In England, I did change my way a bit. Crystal Palace wanted to play continental but I analysed my squad and noticed I couldn’t do that, so I adapted to a 5-3-2. I think the tactical choices were fine, but I was a bit too harsh to certain player. Scott Dann had been skipper for many years and I was certain I wasn’t going to use him so I took his band. That was not smart, the way I did it. He has a lot of supporters in the club and I created my own resistance, in this way. We played four games, lost them all and we didn’t score one single goal. We needed some luck and we didn’t get it. We played away vs Burnley, my last game in charge. We played really well, we created chances and put them under pressure. But we didn’t score. We did have a short back pass to the goalie and Burnley took their chance and scored. That is also part of being a coach: you can’t do it yourself.”
The KNVB was looking for Koeman 2.0. They actually signed De Boer 2.0 it seems?
“I do think I changed as a coach, yes. I have more patience and more empathy, I think. The experiences at Inter, Palace and Atalanta were important. They wanted to go the Koeman route with me. I didn’t want to say too much about it, but I am not Koeman. I am different and I will have to do it my way. Even Koeman at one point said – from Barcelona – that he didn’t want the KNVB to look for Koeman 2.0 as it would only lead to failure. A national team coach needs to be autonomous and independent.”
Not a lot of people had you on the top of their list.
“I get that. I understand that names like Van Gaal or Ten Cate or Peter Bosz were mentioned. I was out of the picture for a spell. I did think it was tedious that I had to defend myself all the time, when I was signed up.”
It doesn’t happen often, signing a national team manager after two failed adventures.
“But I also won the title 4 times in a row with Ajax. And I won trophies with Atalanta. I mean, sure, I understand that some people focus on the negatives. It’s up to me to win them over.”
Four times the title with Ajax. It sounds as if it was an easy job.
“Well, it was a different Ajax back then. We had Tobias Sana, Danny Hoesen, Niklas Moisander, Lorenzo Ebecilio. Nothing against these lads, but no where near the level they have now. But still, we won against Barcelona and we beat Man City. But the only thing people seem to remember is the square passing, hahaha. But hey, you’re as good as your last match. You know what my biggest memory is from all these years as Ajax coach? That last game when we lost the title against De Graafschap. And not the title vs Twente, in May 2011 and won it for the first time in a long time. I can’t blame people to focus on the bad experiences, I do that too. We won the title 4 times in a time when Ajax did not have a lot of money and we had a lot of managerial problems back then as well. But what is the strongest memory of these days: me in the bus, having lost the title in Doetinchem.”
Ronald Koeman once said, that people in Holland enjoyed themselves if it didn’t go well with Ronald Koeman. Is that something that applies to you too?
“Probably yes. It’s not that people actually enjoy it when you fail, but they need to know that big name players can also fail, are human. All that glitters ain’t gold, that sortathing. It’s human nature, I think.”
You started with a loss vs Mexico and a draw in Bosnia Herzegovina. But it seems that you turned it around really quickly.
“That was maybe the lessons learned in Milan and with Palace. I came into a situation with an existing squad and a technical and medical staff that worked well together. I don’t think changing things around is handy, in that case. So I had some indepth talks with my staff, with the players. What do they want, how do they see the game. And after that, I was able to make some subtle changes. I also have to take into account who we play. I changed things for Italy, and changed it back for Poland. And sometimes, you have players who suddenly give you options. There was Owen Wijndal suddenly, well… I loved using him. And when you play Wijndal and Dumfries, you need to make some tactical changes, as you can’t have both of them stampeding forward all the time. Away against Poland, we were lucky when they broke for what could have been a 2-0. We did have enough players behind the ball by the way. It was the timing of the interference, or the planned interference. De Vrij was a step too slow, and a meter here or there makes the world of difference. And these defensive issues aren’t new, those were here under Koeman as well. We love to attack, but how do we organise ourselves defensively. I am working on this with Dwight Lodeweges now. We can improve there.”
Is this Dutch team world class without the ball?
“Maybe, when you look at the specific qualities we have. We have defenders who are world class, yes. But we want to dominate and we do have the players to do so. Frenkie, wants the ball. Daley wants the ball. Memphis wants the ball. We have a team that wants to take the initiative. We did ever so well under Koeman in the Nations League, but also in those matches, we were lucky at times.”
Still, our defenders are world class: Virgil is the best in the EPL and De Ligt the biggest defensive talent on the planet.
“And Frenkie de Jong? And Gini Wijnaldum? Memphis? It’s all a bit cyclical, I remember a time when we had mediocre defenders – according to the media – and world class strikers. But we have Donyell Malen, Cody Gakpo, Justin Kluivert… A couple of amazing attacking talents. And our new right full back?”
“No, Bergwijn! At Sputs, he is used as wing back and he does that. He tracks back, he challenges and hassles. He realises, when I want to play in the EPL I have to work my socks off. And he does. I can see him play up front, together with Memphis. Steven is fast, and he has a click with Memphis.”
You brought the classic #9 back into the team, with Luuk de Jong. Is this purely to play versus lesser opponents?
“Exactly. What we need, is movement. A lot of movement. It’s like in basketball, the 3 second rule in the circle. Move into the box, you don’t get the ball, move out again, keep circling, like sharks. Like Man City does it. What you need to have is good peripheral scanning ability. You saw this against Poland away and Bosnia at home. Memphis, Berghuis, Malen, Wijnaldum, continuously moving. And yes, you go 10 times but don’t get the ball, but the 11th time you do and it’s the break through. The most simple and hardest-to-defend ball is the pass over the defense in behind. You can’t defend against pace. We need to improve. But Mbappe, Messi in his top years, CRonaldo, Sterling, Mane, Salah, Malen, it’s all about pace and getting that yard. “
So where does Oranje stand now, 6 months before the Euros?
“We can beat any opponent. But we will need to be top to do so. Should we reach the semis, I think we’ve done a good job. Belgium, France and Spain are top favorites. I Think England, Italy and Germany are right behind them. And then it’s Portugal and us. Portugal won the Euros in 2016 but didn’t impress in any of their matches.”
“We need to raise our consistency levels. Not now and then a great match. Every match a great match! I don’t want to be dependent on one or two players. The difference between us and France or Spain, is they have top notch players on every spot in the team. Double, even at times. We have some world class players and some who can become a world class player. Wijndal can become world class. Gravenberch, as well. It’s amazing what he does, but can he keep on it. It’s very hard to predict the career path of players. Look at El Ghazi, or Bazoer.”
You need experience, to guide them? In other players?
“Sure, this is why I think Babel is important. I get all these questions about Ryan. Same with Strootman. But you need some of these types: experienced, professional, never whining or being difficult and working their asses off. Their mentality is amazing. I called Strootman to explain why I wouldn’t be selecting him and he said he agreed! That is the sort of mentality we need. And some people tend to ridicule them or the fact us coaches say they’re important in the dressing room. People who haven’t played top football have no idea. They are key for the intensity of the training sessions. You usually need 16 players who could all be in the starting eleven, and then 6 players who simply accept their role and work their butt off to keep the rest sharp. Strootman and Babel are those types of players.”
Louis van Gaal spent as much time with the reserves in Brazil, as he did with the starting eleven…
“Yes and I get that. You need them. For a tournament, the training sessions are so important. Remember Ooijer in 2010? In South Africa? He didn’t expect to play a single minute. He was constantly teasing, and taunting. You know Andre? He has that Amsterdam style cynical humor. He was giving the physio a hard time all the time. And then suddenly, in the warming up for Brazil, Mathijsen couldn’t play. And Ooijer slotted in and played a top match. Why? Because he was super fit. He was sharp. It’s always the weakest link – not meaning Ooijer per se – who determines the strength of the chain.”
Koeman moved from Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk to a training centre in Zeist…
“Oh yes, at first I thought it was a step back! But when I look at it now, we have two fantastic pitches, we have that living room vibe in our hotel. That wasn’t there in Noordwijk. You wouldn’t see players in the communal space. Some were gaming in the room of player A, others were playing golf, the next little clique was walking the boulevard… Now, they’re all together, chatting or playing board games or watching a game together. Way better for the team building.”
What do you do when you don’t have a lot of time to practice?
“You can talk. You can discuss the organisation, the defensive positioning. If this happens, we do that. If this is the way they attack, we do this. Before the Italy game, we discussed our tactics. Do we play 4-3-3 or 5-3-2? We had a great session and then we went on the pitch and man, the sparks were flying, I was worried that we needed medivacs on the pitch, they were sharp, they tackled and challenged like how they play their match. It was very satisfying on the one hand, but I also thought “Goodness, I hope no one gets hurt!”. This immense pressure on the players, in their competitions. I mean, Van Dijk’s injury. Would that have happened if he was super fit and not having to have played so many big matches? Who knows? We see a lot of muscle injuries now, hamstrings etc. We need to manage this. For the Euros, I have only 2 weeks preparation, while Louis had 4 weeks for the World Cup in Brazil.”
Will Virgil van Dijk be ready in time?
“It will be a race against the clock, really? I do hope so, but it needs to be responsible. Liverpool won’t let him go if it’s not the right thing.”
What do you do now, in this period?
“Watching games. And there is a lot to watch. We do know about the usual suspects, the Wijnaldums, the Frenkies, we want to now focus on the category that is up and coming, such as Sven Botman at Lille or Jerdy Schouten at Bolonga or El Ghazi at Villa. This category player can be very interesting for us and we’re mapping that now. We do have some firm spots taken but from spot 17 to 23, it’s wide open, as far as I am concerned.”
How did Corona affect you in the US, at Atlanta United?
“It was typical for the US, very well organised. We we had 4 weeks of serious quarantine, than we opened up a bit more and I was allowed to fly to Holland to visit my mother-in-law who was in bad shape. After three weeks we could train in bigger groups and we entered The Bubble. We all went to Florida, we were all based in a couple of hotels and we tested and played, tested and played….”
And that was your final phase at the club?
“We both felt it was good as it was. We run our course. I can not say anything negative about the club, I had an amazing time. The facilities were top notch, we won two trophies and the lifestyle was great. But I also started to feel the impact of constantly on the road, flying, time zones, etc. Now, I realise how nice it is to not have to do that all the time.”
The good life as team manager…
“Yes, you know what a big difference is: you don’t need to focus on negative stuff. A player who is unhappy, or needs attention, or a medical staff member with opposing views, you always deal with that at club level. It’s constantly putting out fires. And the lads that work really well don’t get the attention they need. And now, it’s great. I play tennis, I go to Zeist twice a week for meetings and planning and I have dinner with my family. This is a big benefit of the team manager’s role. We do get stressed, but always a short time, hahahaha.”
Good to be home at Xmas!
“Well, in all honesty, I lost jobs before Xmas so I have had Xmas with the family, hahahaha.”
Source: VI Xmas edition