Why Cruyff never coached the NT, part 1

My friends, another post in this dreary non-football period… Health is more important now, but it’s good to see the virus more and more under control and football returning to the stadiums… Albeit empty ones…

This Covid-19 situation has hurt people individually, but also society as a whole with potentially more fatalities as a result of all that…

Your fave blog also felt it. Way less interest in the non-current stories, I suppose while the annual bills (hosting, site, etc) keep on coming in. So… some help, some beer money would be highly appreciated :-). You know where to find the donation button!

And now this message from our sponsor ends, and we look at that question that was asked here before. Why did JC, the greatest coach we ever had, the man who had the most impact on Dutch football, on Ajax and on Barcelona… why wasn’t he ever given the role? Why did the KNVB not beg for him to come on board. Here is why…

JC was never overly popular with management types at the Dutch federation. As a player, he was the one who harassed the federation mostly about players’ insurance, about fair pay for the internationals, etc and at Ajax he had lost his job for being difficult to work with. JC was known to want to be the boss. He gets to say how he wants it. And typically, the KNVB wasn’t too happy with the long-haired beatnik.

Thijs Libregts hears he’s fired and won’t coach Holland at the World Cup

When Michels took Oranje and led them to their first and only prize in 1988, the Dutch federation hired Thijs Libregts, former Feyenoord coach, as the NT manager. He was an able player in his days, mainly for Excelsior. He had coached with success at club level but didn’t cut it as NT manager. He wasn’t an innovator, he didn’t bring anything to the – by then – mature top players we had. Don’t forget, by then, the Dutch players are all considered top class in their particular skills. The Milan 3, Koeman, Van Breukelen, Van Tiggelen, Vanenburg, Kieft… all seasoned by now and in need of a coach who would impress them and who can teach them something and discipline them when needed… A strong coach.

When Libregts reached the pinnacle of his shenanigans by saying racist and derogatory things about Gullit in the media, the players had enough. They took the initiative to go to the Federation and say: “Either he goes, or we quit!”

The KNVB, with former coach Rinus Michels as director, decided to sacrifice Libregts and to offer the players a vote for their ideal coach. It was between Leo Beenhakker, Aad de Mos and Johan Cruyff. Don Leo had coached Real Madrid before and was now coach of Ajax. Aad de Mos was a former coach of Ajax, now with Anderlecht (and successful with KV Mechelen before, with Erwin Koeman, among others).

The majority of the players – among them the Milan 3 and Koeman, Van ‘t Schip, Blind, Menzo, Witschge, Wouters, Roy – voted for Cruyff. No surprise. Some players selected Aad De Mos (Erwin Koeman, Adri van Tiggelen)… Basically the players who worked with him but never with Cruyff. And a small contingent picked Leo Beenhakker. Most likely players who had a clash with JC before (Vanenburg) or who expected not to play under Cruyff…

San Marco’s body language tells the story… No Cruyff…

The majority of the players wanted Cruyff. With good reason.

The KNVB took their input, and Rinus Michels was to do the final selection process and came home with… his friend Leo Beenhakker. The players were flabbergasted! Even the ones who voted for Don Leo…

Michels and Cruyff were at each other’s throats at the time. The big rumour is that Michels feared Cruyff would win the World Cup and become Oranje’s most successful NT coach. Only 2 years after Rinus big trophy. Michels even said in a press interview that “coach Cruyff is a psychopath”… Rinus blocked the JC appointment. And this resulted in a huge upset.

Captain Gullit felt screwed over the most, as he led the charge against Libregts and saw his plan thwarted. It broke something and the feud went from JC and Michels to Gullit and Michels. Michels wrote columns for the one daily newspaper, and Gullit started to write columns for the rival daily newspaper and they took their battle public.

The second mistake the KNVB made, was to organise a pre-World Cup camp and with the WC in Italy, there were numerous amazing opportunities to find a nice resort for the lads. Something close to a beach? To a nice town? Golf courses? But the KNVB found an old castle in former Yugoslavia, with a moat!, and locked the players up there. It was cold, it was dark, it lacked entertainment… Don’t forget, these were top class players by then. Mature, experienced, leadership… And they didn’t like where they were but had to accept it. But something broke.

Don Leo and Ruud Gullit bickering

Gullit was busy getting his numerous girlfriends from Milan to come to the castle. Van Basten and Rijkaard pulled away from it all. And that vacuum of leadership allowed for the second tier of players to start to become more vocal, which disrupted the hierarchy.

The rest is history. Leo Beenhakker suddenly appearing at press conference with a thick and bloody bump on this forehead. “I bumped my head to the door post”. But players slowly released the story that Marco van Basten threw an ashtray to Don Leo’s head. Assistant coach Nol de Ruiter appeared at breakfast with a black eye. No one knows what happened, but Nol and Leo didn’t see eye to eye, so…

When Beenhakker was asked after the tournament what the F happened? He famously answered: “75% of what happened will never see the light of day.”

Marco and Ruud actually almost decided to leave the camp and forget about it all. The first two group matches were dramatic. No leadership, no work rate, no team play, no hunger.

Oranje played Egypt in their first match. Beenhakker played almost the same starting eleven as Michels did in his first 1988 match at the Euros. Graeme Rutjes was brought in for Arnold Muhren basically. Kieft scored the first, in a dreadful match. With Egypt equalising from the spot, late in the game.

The second game was vs England, ending in a bloodless 0-0. Beenhakker made some changes, taking Rutjes out, brining Van ‘t Schip in midfield and Hans Gillhaus for Erwin Koeman. Kieft came in from the bench again.

After those two games, something broke. The players demanded a talk with the coach and issues were aired out. The third match was against the Republic of Ireland and Oranje needed one point to move on. Beenhakker used Richard Witschge in midfield for Van ‘t Schip. Oranje played with the shackles off, and Captain Gullit showed up, scoring the first goal. Ireland equalised late in the match, giving a third draw to the Dutch.

After the group round, the Dutch were up against West Germany, our favorite opponent and finally Holland played to their strength. Beenhakker was convinced by the players to use more creative options in midfield, so both Richard Witschge and John van ‘t Schip were brought in for a 4-4-2 with Marco and Ruud up front together. We lost that game, but we could have won that too… We played ok and got some chances we simply didn’t take. The match was most famous, sadly, due to the red cards Voller and Rijkaard received in the 22nd minute already, thanks to a spitting contest.

Nol de Ruiter’s biography goes into the Beenhakker situation and the whole vibe at that WC1990 campaign. De Ruiter: “Leo was really focused on his PR image. He didn’t want to be a stern coach, he wanted to be friends with the top guys. Leo is completely media focused. And you could see that in all the Ajax players too. Arrogant, rude even. Only Jan Wouters behaved normal. Leo did odd things, he would shorten practices or tactical talks, just to please the players. There was no discipline and I was there as a token assistant coach. I didn’t have anything to do. We had comedian Freek de Jonge living with us in the players’ hotel and he was a total distraction. Why? Doctor Frits Kessel was like an old woman and gossiping all the time. Gullit was hunting for women, Rijkaard was completely unmotivated, Koeman was kilos to heavy. It was a mess.”


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  1. I read this story somewhere. I think there is a article on this as well.remembered I was looking at the world cup 1990 WC teams. the starts then and now. 1988 popped up ad well and with it came the article on the above.

    Was not surprised knowing it has continued till present day and will continue to be creeping factor come in future.after reading the article I just got the answer to the question of why not a foregin coach for NT.

    Jan can you make a post on pele vs Crujff.im curious to know if they everfaced off and what was happening in europe when he becoming a icon in Brazil.

    1. Hi Wilson, yep that is a nice topic. They played against each other when Pele was with Cosmos in NY (and Neeskens was too) while JC was with the Washington Diplomats

  2. Joey veerman has to be the next hot shot in the midfield for NT. Feyenoord have already started circling him after the departure of Tapia and also with Beskitas trying to lure leroy fer to Turkey.this could the stepping stone for him and doorway for NT. He is pretty much following the same path as frenkie after Ajax scouted him at Willem11. The only difference being veermam is already a established player in eredivisie while frenkie had to to come through the jong Ajax ranks.

    He could be the missing puzzle for NT and could bring more to whats currently in the hands of koeman.

    My only doubt is how this will affect frenkie’s game because veerman is deep lying midgielder and will put frenkie in the situation as in Barce with Busquets.

    1. This is the midfield im want to see in around 2022.

      Reis- Frenkie


      Reis needs to fast track his development though and should be looking at loan move to la liga team or at a more competitive level for that matter. I read some where barce will be sending some of their B players to Utrecht but Reis name was not there. He has already provided himself at eredivisie level and should stop wasting his time in segunda division. He is also a very talented player other wise there is no reason why barce scouted him. He id also eligible to play for Slovakia and I jus hope koeman wont make the same mistake as he did with Dest

      1. It would be great if both Veerman and Reis developed to that level over the next two years, but putting their development aside, my thought is that one of the three mf’s has to be a more offensive player—someone like Wijnaldum or van de Beek.

        1. Reis is predominately a attacking midfielder.he was groomed both on the right and left (4-4-2) during groningen days and hence can be used in both double pivot set up(point backward) or in 4-2-3-1/ point forward. this is where his versatility could prove vital. I think at Barce they are trying groom him in Xavi’s role.

          next season could also prove big for gravenberch and if he raise the bar like what frenkie did then the much needed competition could ignite in the midfield as well.

          Noa Lang is another very technical player whom you can put the circle around to become a verstaile player. especially in between that winger/attacking midfield typo like Insigne, Isco etc.

          if the trajectory for all this players goes as per expectation,by 2022, NT could be in that of as in 98.

          1. Well, maybe Reis will turn into into an attacking star Nothing would make me happier. But I’m very comfortable with van de Beek or Wijnaldum playing just behind the forwards for the 2021 Euros and the 2022 WC.

          2. im hoping it will be Noa Lang. I dont rate wijnaldum and VDbeek highly even though they are best option right now. they are not the type of players who can go out of their comfort zone and to win on the big stage you need exactly those type of players who multi skilled.

            also the day a pure attaking midfielder arrives at liverpool, wijnaldum will will find himself suffocating there.

          3. Reis could also be good a partner for frenkie in a point forward midfield with a attacking mid.

  3. There is two players im eagerly waiting and hoping for them to arrive on the NT stage. One is bobby adekanye and the other one is Zivkovic who is also eligible to play for serbia.

  4. with Feyenoord and Ajax both chasing star Nigeria star winger Chidera Ejuke, this is whom heerenveen wants to replace him with.


    I have been following this guy for quiet some time now and must say he is a complete package. can play either upfront or on the wings.he is destined to make it big like malen and baodu but might probably have to catch up to them but no doubt he has all the fittng capabilities of a star in making. was also a late call up at youth level.


    feyenoord were outcome of their mind when letting him go.

    1. Its hard to say why clubs let players go. It’s clear that he’s talented but is he a bit overweight? Is he hard to coach? Is he lacking discipline? It is not the first time a player needs to be woken up harshly to realise what he is doing wrong. Quincy Promes? Bazoer? Rosario? Bergwijn?

  5. @Wilson,

    Re Wijnaldum. It is always interesting that people can watch the same game(s) and players, and draw vastly different conclusions. Wijnaldum scored twice in the semi-finals of the CL against Barcelona in Liverpool’s comeback last year; he scored the decisive goal against France in the Nation’s League, he scored against Germany with an incredible late game run out of the back in the same competition; he has scored 18 goals for the NT. He came up as an attacking talent, but in the 2014 WC Van Gaal moved him into more of a defensive/ball winning role, and he played well, even scoring against Brazil. In the NT he plays a more advanced attacking role, but still does alot of work defensively. At Liverpool Klopp has him playing more as a controlling mf, and despite Liverpool having a plethora of talented mf’s, he is in the lineup in their biggest games. If this is not a player showing that he can perform, and make a difference, on the biggest stages, and that he is nmulti-skilled, what is?

  6. We have been on this road before but the bottom line is this,NT needs some one better than or somebody who is on another level than wijnaldum.

    There is no doubt that wijnaldum is a proven scorer but most of his goals have been confound to inside the box and thats where his strength only lies.(one skill set). My context of multi skilled was to that of attacking midfielders who are clincal in all department but not just in one.this was the same story with klaassen and is with VDBeek. Look at midfielders like bruno fernandes and the package he brings to the team. You can cross check this head to head in the nation league final with wijnaldum. Thats where im coming from. I wont even go to De Bryne but again the bottom line here is they are all ” muilti skilled” midfielders and above all on other level. Please dont get confused here with “multi skilled” and “all rounded”

    Again piotr zielinski, houssem Aouar,jack grealish and upcoming kai harvetz and mason mount are some of attacking midfielders im have in mind when referring to “multi skilled”. They dont require inivitations and can finish off from any where.

    Stats can be fitting but you should never overlook the deficiencies of players as well. Wijnaldum can fade in and out of the game and then all of sudden can pop up and score. This has been the highlight of his career. he never poses a a direct threat.he has to be in the box. This is why im always critical about him and it also comes to haunt the team when playing knoch out stages where the competition is at its toughest and the individual quality of players becomes crucial and determining factor.

    You mentioned about his heroics vs barcelona but then never considered how klopp decsion to start him upfront in the first leg backfired.

    This has been the highlight of career both in NT and liverpool both.

    1. Accidently press the submit button.omit the last paragraph.they were some stuff I needed to cut and add. But either way,hope you can see where im coming from.

      Just to add on this, I have watched the nations league final again and again and without a doubt the dutch were nullified in every aspect of the game. Those who came up with the fatique theory is bullshit.

  7. Ugh..another thigh injury for Dilrosun.lasted only 30 minutes vs Dortmund. It is increasingly looking like now that he maybe is in the same boat as Ousmane Dembele. Im not sure if this is the same injury (thigh)he sustained during the internationals but have to put a question mark around him now given his susceptibility.hoping it was just a knock and nothing major.

  8. Dilrosun walked off during a dead ball and there was already a player ready to come on for him, so he must have let the staff know during play that something was wrong. As he left, he lifted up the leg of his shorts, and you could see that he had come into the game already wearing some type bandage. A shame. He had worked his way into the lineup. Hopefully it is not too bad.

  9. I don’t understand the wish to play with Reis, De Jong, Veerman on one midfield :-).

    You’ll be thrashed. Veerman doesn’t defend. De Jong wants to do everything in a footballing manner and Reis has only played at top level with Groningen…

    Come on! Against France? Spain? Germany? England? You’ll be hammered.

    You need 1. work rate, 2, guile, 3. experience, 4. lungs / legs.

    I think a midfield with Van de Beek, Wijnaldum and Propper will kill your midfield with one hand behind their backs.

    Reis is not ready and might never be. Veerman has a lot of steps to take before he can be a regular at Feyenoord. Feyenoord! That is two levels down from the NT.

    Lets stick with Gini, Propper, Frenkie, Donny, Tonny, Marten for a while ok?

  10. Hope all are safe…i was out with less inernet connection mostly banking on Data package..i use rarefor mobile..

    Our Wingbacks are problem…Wecannot o with Blind or Dumfries…Hope winjdal and karsdorptakesover..De roon is still aquestionmark for me..

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