Marco van Basten. Icon. Legend. Saint. Super striker.
Johan Cruyff was one of his biggest fans and supporters. He considered Marco as a son. And he pushed and motivated the striker where he could. After his playing career ended, brusquely, he disappeared for a while, only to return to football as a youth coach for Ajax. With his best friend John van ‘t Schip. Interestingly enough, Schip was the head coach, Marco his assistant.
Johan Cruyff always claimed San Marco had a tremendous brain for analysing and understanding football. He would debate with Van Basten for hours, something Van Hanegem enjoyed doing too. The cool and collected Van Basten could be seen squinting his eyes when he watched the Ajax youngsters play, while the more animated Schip would be coaching and pointing and yelling…
When Cruyff was invited by a clueless KNVB (what else is new?) to assist in selecting a new team manager in 2004, after Dick Advocaat failed to impress at the Euros 2004, and Van Gaal’s failure in 2002 (another experienced club coach) Cruyff pushed Van Basten/Van ‘t Schip to the fore. His other protege, Frank Rijkaard, did well with Oranje at the Euros2000 and JC wanted another young innovative coach at the helm. Without any experience as club coach, Van Basten was the pick for the coming 4 years. And in typical JC style, he suggested Marco should be the head coach, with Johnny as the assistant. As Marco would be a better figurehead for the media, in the pr department.
Cruyff: “A national team manager doesn’t need to have extensive club coach experience. It’s probably even a disadvantage, look at Van Gaal’s results… There is no guarantee. You need someone that has gravitas, good vision and tactical understanding. Marco knows football like no other.”
Van Basten wasn’t able to produce the results, but did manage to inject some excitement in Oranje. The group games at the 2006 World Cup were promising, but some internal strife (lack of managerial experience, for sure!) and a horrific match vs Portugal resulted in Oranje being exited from the WC, with egg and mud on the faces… The group games in 2008 were actually quite amazing, with football analysts across the world hailing the performances of Oranje vs France, Italy and Romania. Stuff got undone vs Russia when an ill prepared Oranje lacked the intensity to deal with the opponent and the aftermath of Boulahrouz’s personal drama (loss of baby).
Marco didn’t cut it as a club coach. Not because he lacked the skill. But because he got fed up with the shenanigans that go along with being a club coach. He turned away from Ajax in disgust, after being personally harassed and insulted by the Ajax supporters. And at a lower level (Heerenveen) he missed the professionalism he needed around him to feel at ease. At AZ he realised being the head coach is not his thing. Not unlike Willem van Hanegem, another big influence on San Marco, he despised press conferences and he had no patience with obstinate players. So he stepped back. Became Van den Brom’s assistant. Just wanted to work on the pitch, with players and a ball.
Some quotes: “If I see Frank de Boer coaching, you can see he was born to do that job. I wasn’t. I think football comes naturally to me, but a lot of the managerial tasks… I had to really work hard for that.” At Ajax, he once said: “Ajax deserves a better coach. I’m not good enough.”
And the perfectionist in him couldn’t deal with it. As a player, he was able to focus on his strengths, while others in the team covered up for his weaknesses. Even with a crooked ankle, he was able to add value, coz he was part of a bigger unit. In coaching, it all comes down to you. You’re alone. So he looked in the mirror and decided he could do without that stress.
When Oranje needed him, he supported Danny Blind as assistant coach, but his dream job was always at a higher level. Not on the pitch. In the board room. Marco wanted to change football. He aims high. He doesn’t want to work on one player, or a set of players, or even one club. Marco wants to serve football as a whole!
And when the dream job became available – Chief Officer of Technical Development at FIFA – he jumped to the opportunity.
A month in the job, after speaking at a football conference in Germany, the comments about his performance are telling: “This is not a fresh breeze of wind! This is a Hurricane!”
Van Basten: “Well, we Dutchies are direct. I say it like I see it, that’s what I’m paid for. Just call it.” And with a smile he walks off.
Marco is now wearing suits and working in an office (if he’s not traveling to conferences, meetings and football matches). Wife Liesbeth is still in Holland, with their son (his two daughters have left the nest already) but she will join Marco in Zurich in the coming months.
If Marco gets his say, football will be changed dramatically. In an interview with German Sport-Bild, he talks about his plans.
“We need to continuously try and find ways to improve the game, to make it more just and honest, more dynamic and more entertaining. The question is: is our sports still attractive enough to capture the fans, viewers and sports lovers?”
These are the points he’d like to change:
No more offside
,,A lot of people get upset when you say this. And I’m not saying we should abandon it, but we should analyse and test what the game will be like without offside. Because at this point in time, football looks like handball. Six players on the edge of the box, plus a goalie, trying to stop the better side. Parking two buses and hoping for a counter. Without offside, forwards can force defenders back, can open up space, and defending will not be as easy as it is today. We’ll see more goals.”
Time penalties instead of a Yellow Card
,,A yellow card has no direct impact on the game and doesn’t give the team that was disadvantaged anything. Worst case, the next opponent of the wrong-doer has the benefit. Ridiculous. If a player fouls another player cynically, or pulls a jersey or whatever, he needs to get a 5 or 10 minute time penalty. This will work wonder, because playing 10 mins with 10 v 11 is not a good thing to have to do.”
Shoot-outs instead of extra time
“I think shoot outs should replace penalties and even extra-time. A player gets the ball on the middle line and 8 seconds to score. The goalie is restricted to his box. If the goalie stops the ball, the shoot out attempt ends. It’s much more exciting for the fans than the static penalties.”
Real playing time in last phase of the game
“The game loses a lot of effective or real playing time, particularly in the final 10 or 15 minutes. Substitutions, time wasting, set pieces, injuries… The fans want to see action. And I think it’s unfair at times how little real playing time we all end up with. So, it’s a plan to use real time for the last stage of the game. Every second, the ball needs to be in play.”
,,Not sure what the term should be, but allowing teams to change players on the run, like with other sports. But we need to check in with the referees and officiating people, as they do need to know who goes on and off, of course.”
More than three substitutes
“If we do keep on going with extra time, we want to offer coaches one or two extra subs.”
No more hassling of referees
,,The hassling, complaining and showing dissidence is becoming embarrassing. Every decision is being commented on and debated. It has to stop. There are other sports, Rugby, where players have learned to treat the ref with respect. In rugby, the captain talks to the referee. And no other player. Show dissent, and you’re off! I want this in football too.”
Maximum number of fouls
“Again, a yellow card for a repeat offender will usually only benefit future opponents. I think we should learn from basketball. Five personal fouls and you’re out.”
8 v 8 instead of 11 v 11
“In pro football, we should nicely keep on playing 11 v 11 on a big pitch. But I think the youth teams and even seniors should play 8 v 8 on a smaller pitch. This will give players the ball more often and gets them involved more in the game.”
Less matches per season
“We need to focus on quality. Today, it’s more quantity and we are losing viewers and fans. 80 games per season is ridiculous. We are seeing a lot of issues with young talent that can’t keep up, physically. We need to go back to 50 games per season, so players like C Ronaldo, Messi and Zlatan will stay mentally and physically fresh.”
I am keen to hear your opinion on all of this.
I am not convinced re: offside rule. I need to see it in action. Off side is such an intrinsic part of the game, today. But I’m open.
Time penalty instead of yellow card: YES!
Less matches per season: YES!
Real playing time and no more hassling the ref: YES!
I’m not too sure about the shoot outs vs penalties. I think penalties have a lot of drama and shoot outs…. not sure.
What do you think? Lets have a lively debate. I will collate our ideas and flick ‘m on to Marco (I’ve got a line to him, as you may know…)