I have never been a PSV fan. And I have shared it many times here. But… I do like and have liked many of their players… What is not to like… Romario, Wim Kieft, Willy van der Kuylen, Luc Nilis… Awesome players. And I am a big Phillip Cocu fan. From creative left winger to midfielder and leader. I liked him at PSV and admired him in his 6 years at Barca and all his games in Oranje.
It seemed he would be a good coach. Good mentality. Tactical intelligence. Great skill. Gentleman personality.
He decided to go through the phase of coaching youth team after youth team, while also assisting Bert van Marwijk with Oranje. He started his career at PSV with a young squad and started that season (last year) with tremendously sexy football. Attractive, attacking, fast, many goals… But somehow suddenly that team choked. And Phillip got pressure and flak. And when he asked Hiddink for council, the media ate him up claiming he was vulnerable and weak. In the meantime, he also battled with cancer while just been gone through divorce.
Not too happy times but Phillip turned it around. He was able to use a couple of new players coming in (Guardado, Luuk de Jong) and could count on the strength of two players who just starred at the World Cup Brazil, Depay and Wijnaldum. On top of that Adam Maher, the prodigal son, started to develop himself and find a spot in the team.
So this season, it all clicked. They started the season in winning form and kept on going. I don’t think they ever played as good as last season but they never played as bad as in the second half of last season. Consistent. Smart. Focused. With Wijnaldum in a leadership role and Depay as the miracle man and Willems as provider and Guardado guarding the balance.
Ajax simply was not good enough. Consistent in grinding out results, but not good enough.
Feyenoord started with 4 or 5 new players and lost points in the start of the season and lacked PSV’s consistency, although they probably played better football on the highs. But lacking scoring power a la Pelle, they could never challenge Ajax or PSV.
So after 5 years of drought, the trophy returns to Eindhoven.
On starting his career with AZ Alkmaar….
Cocu: “I got my first break as a first team player at AZ under Hugo Hovenkamp. He was stand in care taker manager when Eijkenbroek was ill and he used me. I was 18 years old. I had had three stints on the bench before that. The clock was ticking agewise. The club didn’t want to use me in the first team as they would have to pay a significant sum to my amateur clubs where I started. So they pressed Hugo to not use me for another couple of months. But Hugo said “nope, forget it, results come first” and he put me in. That was a whole thing, back then. I was very inconsistent back then, but AZ played first division so no one noticed hahaha. I could play 20 minutes great football and then I would invisible for 30 minutes… But I was driven, wanted to learn and had talent. I was already playing for regional rep teams and by then Young Orange came into view for me as well. We wanted to go to the Olympics in Barcelona but were beaten by Australia in the play offs. Ned Zelic scored the winner for them late. Was a disappointment, I remember. We had a tremendous generation. Taument, Ronald de Boer, Arthur Numan, Marc Overmars, but no Games for us….”
On his Vitesse spell…
“Roda JC wanted to sign me but I wasn’t impressed with their story. My parents wanted me to finish high school in case football didn’t work out. Roda wasn’t too supportive of this. It didn’t feel good to me. And as I was good at studying, I decided to do some more school work. At the end of my first year as a starter, Vitesse came. I lived in that area before with my family and it felt like home a bit. I wanted to study marketing and combine it with football but the uni didn’t cooperate! In this day and age, that would be unheard of. When I came to Vitesse, they just finished fourth! Was a top team, with Van den Brom, Laamers, Eijer, Latuheru, Sturing and Bos. In my first week I broke my leg. That was rough. But it allowed me to work on my foundations. Bert Jacobs was the coach. He was an amazing coach. He was a pretty weird sort of guy, but a great coach. We would kill for him, you know. And it was all about football with him. When Jacobs left and Herbert Neumann came, he put me in midfield. That was a big one. I think I could have had a good career as a left winger too, but never as good as a midfielder. Neumann was a good coach too by the way, but a bit more German discipline. As a midfielder, you cannot be inconsistent. You have to take care of the balance in the team and that helped me a lot as a player.”
On his step up to PSV.
“I was 24 when I left for PSV. I had 5 years at Vitesse. Ajax wanted me earlier on but Vitesse asked a lot for me. I signed a new deal with a limited fee for a transfer. When PSV came, I was ready to go. Vitesse chairman Aalbers gave me a blank check to sign, but I didn’t do it. I wanted to play top flite football and Vitesse was not making that final step. Today, players of 24 make the step abroad but I was born in Eindhoven, my family is from Eindhoven. I love PSV, the club values, the atmosphere. I still have that bond with Vitesse as well. That is important for me. I won my first trophy with PSV in 1997. That moment, I can still feel. A tremendous orgasm of joy and release. I have made that trip on the flat trailer a number of times now. It’s special. What a team we had: Wim Jonk, Ronaldo, Luc Nilis, Jaap Stam. We actually didn’t even win that much. Just one cup and one title. But Ajax had a pretty good generation too, so… it was good times.”
Playing with Ronaldo:
“He is definitely the best player I have ever played with. There is no category for that lad. He came to PSV 17 years old and simply scored 30 goals in his first season. I recently saw this compilation of him, he was unbelievable. Really passionate about football. He and I spent a lot of time together. We were good mates. He enjoyed going out for a drink or spending some time socially. The pressure he had to endure at a young age. And every couple of years he’d go to another club, bigger and better, and he never succumbed under the pressure. A phenomenon..”
On missing a penalty against Brazil, WC1998…
“That has haunted me for quite a while. I am telling you…missing like this… that is really bad. I suffered from these sorts of situations much longer than I enjoyed winning something. This was after 120 minutes of top football against Brazil and I was done for. I was empty. I didn’t strike it hard enough, really. It could have gone a bit more in the corner too. Simply not good enough. This was my favorite tournament. The Euro2000 was good too, but this one… Everything clicked. We were staying outside of Monaco. The vibe was so good. So different to the 1996 Euros. We started with 0-0 against Belgium and we lost Pat Kluivert in that match. The pressure was on for the South Korea game and we won 5-0. Here I score the first and Edje Davids is almost tearing my jersey off my back, hahahaha. All that passion and drive. I love that.”
On friendships in football:
“The football world is a bit shallow. Someimes one or two friendships is all you have left. Weird. But the pace is constantly high. Lots of games with the club and then the international games with the country. Whenever you have time off you want to spend it with real mates or family. I still hang with my old buddies from school. I value that. Going out for a bite to eat. They know me for who I am, not because I’m a cool football player. I do have real friendships in football, by the way. Frank de Boer and I are very close. We met at Oranje and played together in Barcelona and became close. We would go on holidays together and play foot-volley tournaments together. We are both extremely fanatical about winning. But he is a real mate.”
On playing against the best of the best:
“This is against Zidane. Man, what a gifted player. One of the best ever. Very elegant and skillful. On this pic I am captain of Barcelona. I was and still am so proud of that. I also skippered Holland. Also something I was very proud of. I played six seasons in Spain. Barcelona is as warm as PSV. A real family oriented club. I still go back to watch a game every now and then. I was there recently to see Barca play Real Madrid. The people always treat me very warmly and respectfully. I have gone through highs and lows in Spain, but at a certain point we had an amazing team…. Kluivert, Figo, Rivaldo, Ronald de Boer, Luis Enrique… ”
On his exit from Barcelona:
“My last season was the first one of Frank Rijkaard and Ronaldinho. I rate Ronaldinho very high. Up there with Ronaldo. The joy was back in the dressing room…. A news period of successes. I was not going to be part of it. My contract ended. I was allowed to stay but the club was not doing well financially. I had already sacrificed earlier on with a new deal and as the skipper I felt the respect of that last offer was lacking…. Sure, you try to be there in good and bad times and as the skipper I played my part but this particular offer didn’t show a lot of respect. I am quite principled in that sense. And when PSV called, I got excited. They wanted to do something at Champions League level. I had a good feeling about it.”
On the second journey with PSV:
“For years, PSV wasn’t able to get that break in Europe. That quest was exciting for me. The way Hiddink embraced me and made me co-responsible for this was something I enjoyed. I try to use that approach myself now too, to make the players accountable. Not everyone is sensitive to this, there is always that, but a lot of them are. My first year back was great. We lost in the semi finals against AC Milan but we should have gone on to the finals. We were better over two games, but we let ourselves down. But, we won the title, the cup and got semi finals CL… Not that bad. More experienced players can be crucial in that process and this is why I am also keen to work with players with similar bagage. They can give the team that crucial last push.” (Jan: Schaars was one of the players in this category for PSV but he was injured most of the season).
On his final game for PSV:
“A crazy end to a crazy season. We won the title on the last day on goal difference and it was me scoring that final goal. This is probably the most emotional moment of my football career. I knew I would quit so it made it extra special. My sons are all football players. The middle one plays in the Vitesse youth, the others are at the local amateur club. I love watching them play and watch like a dad, not as a coach. They have good coaches and I want to enjoy them as their father. Obviously, they come and watch PSV play when we play at home.”
On resurfacing at Al-Jazira Club….
“Crazy. I was retired. And a week into my holiday I freaked out. I was invited to play in Munich for the farewell of Roy Makaay and Scholl and while I was there, Al Jazira was in a trainings camp there. And Rob Janssen, my manager, spoke with them and they made him an offer. One more year, in another culture… Quite an adventure. And quite a good pay-check. I decided to do it. In my first game, I scored with an overhead kick so my entrance was quite good, hahaha. During the season I did realise I was actually really getting over it a bit. And that was it. We won the Europa League of the Arab nations. Good fun. But that was it. I played Jaap Stam’s farewell game too that summer and enjoyed being in the dressing room with the lads. I missed that.”
On life as a retired football player:
“I never saw myself as a coach, like Frank did. He knew as a player he’d go into coaching. I did want to get that diploma but it was Van Marwijk who called me to assist him, with Frank, at Oranje. I loved it. I knew it was ideal to do this in combination with my studies. And being amongst the lads, on the pitch, always a ball around…was great. The South Africa World Cup was amazing! I started to work at PSV and took over when Rutten was sacked. We actually won the Cup and that is my first trophy as a coach. They all matter. I’m really happy that PSV saw me as a good coach, and just like with my football career, I do wish to achieve the highest possible.”
Cocu did suffer some setbacks in his recent years. He divorced from his wife and the mother of his three kids after she appeared to have an affair for years. He also was diagnosed with a tumor in his back, which was taken out last year.