And as the KNVB is closing in on a deal with a certain Louis van Gaal for his third stint as NT manager, the time seems right to focus on Part 2 of Dutch NT Managers…
And on we go, into the era that most of
us you will remember more vividly…
European Championships 2000 – Frank Rijkaard
The tournament was in our own country (and Belgium) and as a result, we needn’t play any qualification games. Only friendlies, with the 5-5 vs Belgium a truly fun one (with an outstanding Davids). The Euros themselves were fine. We grew into the tournament. We got lucky vs the Czechs but demonstrated our great form later on in the tournament. Playing Italy in the semi finals was something to look out for. The team in form got Italy a red card early in the game and with the tremendous domination we had, it seemed only a matter of time, before…. but no. We missed all the chances, including two penalties and also went on to miss more of those in the shoot out. A crying Rijkaard was seen sitting in the bus after the tournament. He immediately resigned from his duties and disappeared to Spain via Sparta Rotterdam.
Frank may not have won anything as a coach with Oranje, but the dynamics in the group were great and we did play some exciting football. Once can only imagine what would have happened if he stayed on…
World Cup 2002 – Louis van Gaal
It wasn’t easy for Louis, to pick up the disappointed and somewhat ageing squad after the Euro2000 debacle, also with heaps of injuries and absent players, but the experienced coach should have done better. He failed to qualify with a top notch squad and really overplayed his hand in the Portugal away game, where he ruined our chances. The press antics of the man are a disgrace too, with his pathos and drama and crocodile tears. He’d go back to Barca and would eventually leave there with a lot of commedia dell’ arte as well.
Based on this tournament alone, Louis would be the worst NT coach ever.
Euros 2004 – Dick Advocaat
Someone felt it was best to pick an experienced coach to pick up the team and work with it towards the Euros in Portugal in 2004. As we did have older players retiring and a bunch of new kids (Sneijder, Robben) getting into the limelight, an innovative and young coach would have made more sense.
There was a lot of push back in the media: why pick another former NT? Why not a younger coach? Dick reluctantly took the job and immediately picked Willem van Hanegem, his good friend, as assistant coach. The idea was to use the highly popular legend to deflect criticism away from Advocaat, who is famously suspicious of criticasters and media.
We ended up going with an impressive squad: Sar, Stam, Cocu, Davids, Kluivert, Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart, Makaay, Sneijder, Overmars, Robben, to name a few. And Paul Bosvelt, yes.
Advocaat didn’t want to use too many new talents. Robben (returning from injury, of course) and Sneijder were benchwarmers. Van der Meyde and Zenden, to name two lesser players, started. We ended up losing the semis against the host country Portugal. That didn’t hurt that much. We had just beaten the Swedes on penalties (finally!!) which was great, but the main damage was done in our second group match vs the Czechs.
The story is famous by now. We drew against the Germans and the second match vs the Czechs, we had a recovered young Robben on fire. He was unstoppable by the opponent. But Advocaat decided to stop him. He took Robben off after an hour of play, at 2-1. The Dutch, incl Robben, were dumbfounded. A controlling mid (Bosvelt) for an attacker in fine form. 30 minutes later, Oranje had lost the match. Everyone wondered why Dick made that change.
Advocaat decided to let Van Hanegem do the press conference, fearful as Dickie was for criticism. When Van Hanegem was asked about the change, he also expressed bewilderment as to why Advocaat would have done it. Asked what Willem would do next time Dick attempts to do something like this, Willem responded: “I will knock him unconscious!”.
That caused a rift between Dick and Willem and a rift between players (who all favoured Willem) and Dick. The game vs Latvia was won and because Germany beat the Czechs, Holland went through. The loss against Portugal was not necessary but on the day, it was justified. The biggest talking point was and still is: Robben’s substitution.
Dick again demonstrated to be less “Dutch” in his coaching than his players or assistant. Lack of courage, lack of tactical insights. He will never really do something overly stupid (like Van Gaal did in the 2002 campaign vs Portugal) but he will also never dazzle. This can be seen even today, as he currently is Feyenoord’s coach.
World Cup 2006 – Marco van Basten / John van ‘t Schip
When another experienced coach disappointed, the KNVB this time did go to see Cruyff for advice. By then, JC had retired and suffered a heart attack before, so he wasn’t going to pick up the baton. But he did have some advice. Like he presented Rijkaard as a candidate to the Barca board, he now opted to have his other protegees (Van Basten/Van ‘t Schip) to take the job at the KNVB. Quite interesting, as both never coached a first time at that stage. Van ‘t Schip and Van Basten, in that order, were head and assistant coach at Young Ajax, and were impressing there. So JC decided that these two could manage Oranje. Based on San Marco’s name and image, it was decided that the roles would be reversed: Marco was to be head coach and Johnny was going to assist him.
Initially, the duo impressed. We won the qualification (12 matches), only dropping four points. We drew vs Macedonia in the last game, when we were already qualified and we drew against them early on away from home too.
The player selection was typical Van Basten: he basically didn’t select Clarence Seedorf because “he didn’t like him”. That was not the official reason of course, but Marco did mention many times – with a wink – that Clarence was “too much work”.
The Group stages went well. Bolstered by youngsters like Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie, the NT won their first two games vs Serbia and Ivory Coast, leaving the final game in the group of Death as a non-decider: losing or winning vs Argentina, it didn’t really matter. We ended up drawing which meant we finished second. And suddenly we realised it did matter: now we had to face angstgegner Portugal! And we got ousted after what was called the Worst Game Ever in a World Cup! Refereer Ivanov (retired after this game) couldn’t handle the battle of Nuremberg and ended up showing 16 yellow cards and four red ones! Overall, the opinion was that 1) shenanigans in the Dutch squad between Van Nistelrooy/Van Bommel and the coaches had brought an edge to the Dutch players and 2) the referee made some early mistakes which allowed for this game to explode even further. Boulahrouz had an early kick onto C Ronaldo’s knee and should have been red-carded immediately. The ref didn’t pick up on it and his yellow fuelled the anger of the Portuguese. Portugal won 1-0, while Cocu and Kuyt had huge opportunities to score, but missed. The rift between Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark van Bommel and Van Basten overshadowed most of this World Cup for us, and we were tarred and feathered by the international media.
Van Basten did come up with some positives, besides the afore mentioned clashes. His relationship with Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben and other young talents was very good and during the qualification matches for the Euros 2008, he patched things up with Van Nistelrooy (not with Van Bommel though). The qualification matches didn’t go that smooth this time and we placed second after Romania, having lost points versus Belarus, Bulgaria and Romania…
We ended up in another Group of Death, with France, Italy and Romania. The latter was stronger than us in the qualifications, while France and Italy were the recent World Cup finalists. We tend to do well under pressure.
We impressed with stunning wins over Italy and France, with the usual suspects delivering big time (Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Nistelrooy). Van Basten played a compact, fast counter attacking game with the speed, guile and technical skills as main weapons.
Khalid Boulahrouz played an interesting part, this Euros. He wasn’t part of the pre-prelim squad. But while Maduro, Emanuelson, Jaliens and Koevermans were axed from the pre-lim squad (and Seedorf decided not want to be selected), Van Basten did select Boulahrouz in his pre-lim squad. He would be the last player to be dropped from the group. However, when Ryan Babel got injured and had to miss the Euros, Van Basten didn’t call another attacker but picked Boulahrouz again.
His wife, pregnant in her sixth month, would deliver a still born baby, only a couple of days before the quarter finals vs Guus Hiddink’s Russia. The bond between the players (Boulah was close to Van der Sar, to Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart and others) was hurt, as the players spent hours with Khalid at the hospital and were in mourning. The game against Russia was a heavy-legged affair. Oranje lost its spark and the shrewd Hiddink was able to bamboozle Holland with his tactics. We lost in strange circumstances, as the ref decided to red card a Russian player for a foul, but he decided to cancel the red card and allow the player on the pitch. After 1-1 in normal time, the Russians were fitter than the Dutch in the extra time and beat us: 1-3.
Van Basten / Van’t Schip gave us memorable games. Some of them for good reasons ( WC 2006 vs Serbia, and Ivory Coast, all group games in the Euros) and some of them for bad reasons (Portugal 2006, Russia 2008). But overall, the experience was good. Van Basten decided he wasn’t a head coach, many years later. He blamed the pressure and media stuff. Part of the problem was Marco’s lack of man-management skills. He could act and communicate as a cynical player does, calling out players who make mistakes publically. His relationship with Van Bommel never really recuperated (as it did with Van Nistelrooy).
World Cup 2010 – Bert van Marwijk
Van Bommel’s future in Oranje suddenly looked positive when his father in law Bert van Marwijk was the shoe in for the NT coach job.
Van Marwijk had impressed as coach of Fortuna Sittard, a lowly club usually at the lower ranks of pro football but with the likes of Bert at the helm and young talents like Wilfred Bouma, Kevin Hofland and in particular Mark van Bommel, they did ever so well. Bert was a talented left winger whose career got stalled due to a terrible knee injury. He made his way from the local amateurs, to Fortuna, than Feyenoord at a certain point the Dutch NT. Bert is a no nonsense manager. He loves creative football but he absolutely adores winning. He further perfected Van Basten’s 4-2-3-1 and with Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel as partners in the engine room, Oranje did lose some magic but they gained grit. And after a record breaking qualification series with some amazing football, Oranje went to the World Cup in South Africa. That generation was at its peak but for some reason, the tournament started for Oranje with some figthing games more than actual creative, dazzling play. The Denmark game was a typical example of how we had to battle for results and somehow we forgot to play good football but turned into a street fighting team, almost. Rafael van de Vaart and Eljero Elia were subbed for gritty players like Kuyt and De Jong, but hey…we kept on winning. The low point being the finals vs Spain. We never got into our groove and disgusted the world with our aggro play, symbolised by Nigel’s flying kick on Xabi’s chest. Yes, it was an accident, but it looked terrible. Robben could have turned it into a victory story though, but Casillas’ toe had other plans.
Bert won silver with Oranje which puts him right next Michels and Happel.
Euros 2012 – Bert van Marwijk
This tournament ended up being a footnote in our history. Van Marwijk declined several offers from clubs to move on with Oranje with the aim to win this trophy. Gio van Bronckhorst retired after the World Cup and Mark van Bommel got the armband (he was skipper at Bayern at the time as well). The qualifications were a dream again, with wins over San Marino, Finland, Moldavia, Hungary and Sweden. We did lose the last qualification game but that was without any consequence. The home game vs Sweden (4-1) is considered one of the best matches Oranje played under Van Marwijk.
That team had Rafa van der Vaart as one of the holding mids, a spot he should have had at the World Cup and at the Euros. Afellay was also impressing in these qualification matches as was Erik Pieters as left back. Some other names used by Van Marwijk: Hedwiges Maduro, Vernon Anita, Emanuelson, Stijn Schaars and Edson Braafheid.
We won that qualification tournament easily. But at the Euros, we came crashing down. The reasons were quite simple. Both Van der Vaart and Huntelaar felt they belonged in the team. Huntelaar had scored 12 in the series and Van der Vaart was amazing as holding mid. But at the Euros, Bert went back to his trusted engine rooms with two defending mids, while the more talented Van Persie was giving the #9 role.
Erik Pieters got injured before the tournament and Van Marwijk opted to take the 17 year old Jetro Willems. The young PSV player who joined the club from Sparta only a year before would become the youngest player ever at a Euros. Vlaar played for the injured Mathijsen and Huntelaar and Van der Vaart started on the bench vs Denmark.
The crazy thing: we played Denmark off the pitch, but we didn’t score. RvP specifically seemed to have the boxes still around his boots and when the Danes scored, we couldn’t turn it around.
For the second game, Bert started with the same eleven but had to sub his captain in favour for Rafael van de Vaart who couldn’t hide his disgust for being left out again. Same as Hunter. The rifts were becoming clearer, the second match was lost as well, vs Germany and we have one more game in which we could salvage our tournament. Both Van der Vaart and Huntelaar started and it was the former part Spanish, part Dutch midfielder man who scored the first goal, but C Ronaldo on fire turned the game around. Holland went home, with zero points on the tally. Forgettable.
Bert didn’t manage this team well enough, overall. After the World Cup, the team needed something different. But how, what and when is a different matter.
Bert deserves a statue in the Zeist statue park of Oranje, he got us silver, but he was also responsible for one of the worst Euros we ever played…
World Cup 2014 – Louis van Gaal
After Bert, in 2012, a number of players were slowly losing their spot in the team. Louis van Gaal got the job as a more disciplinarian was needed, the KNVB felt. Louis introduced some new players, such as Martins Indi, Luciano Narsingh, Jeremain Lens, Ruben Schaken all along the players who did remain, such as Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Robben and Van Persie.
Louis coached us through the qualifications without a worry. One draw, the rest wins. With Robin van Persie as top scorer in the qualifications, with Rafa van der Vaart and Jeremain Lens as runners up. Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij, Jonathan de Guzman and Stijn Schaars were other names that made their way into the squad.
After a friendly, Louis realises that the traditional 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 wouldn’t work with the issues we were facing. Robben, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Van Persie were still super key, but lacked the legs to play a modern game of football in a swelty Brazil. Our back line was futhermore quite inexperienced and had a certain Daley Blind as key build up man, but as well know, Daley also lacks speed.
So Van Gaal introduced the 5-3-2. The Dutch purists, still recovering from Van Marwijk’s “anti-football” in South Africa, got their panties in a knot but Louis used the pre-World Cup period to perfect the 5-3-2. Overall, it wasn’t always successful but beating Spain the opening game 1-5 resulted in the silencing of the criticasters.
Not without luck (Australia, Mexico), Oranje sailed through the tournament and Van Gaal further made name for himself with the smart goal keeper change in the Costa Rica match, when penalties needed to decide the winner. Krul came on for Cillesen, not because Krul was a recognised penalty killer so much (Krul has more reach than Cillesen) but as a psychological move. The Costa Ricans immediately thought that Krul was brought in as a cert to stop penalties and guess what: he did stop two, and Oranje went on to play Argentina in the semis.
Van Gaal ended up bringing the bronze back to Holland, after a good win over hosts Brazil but the 5-3-2 criticism did prompt the KNVB to bring a more fatherly coach back who was instructed to bring the Dutch school back in to play.
Louis didn’t qualify for the 2002 World Cup, which was a huge embarrassment. But he did win us the bronze medal, so he’s now on even keel with… the other 15 million NT managers in Holland. He will need to win something now, in order to top this list!
Euros 2016 / World Cup 2018 – Guus Hiddink / Danny Blind / Dick Advocaat
Well, this must well be the worst period in Oranje’s existence. Worse than the drought in the early 80s and the miss of 2002… Because those misses were all related to lack of quality, motivation and emotional intelligence of the players and coaching staff. Back then, the KNVB was a hands-off kinda admin office. But after the bronze medal in Brazil and the tremendous criticism on Oranje’s playing style by icons like Van Hanegem and Cruyff, the KNVB decided to step in firmly with some strong directives!
The KNCB Ceo was on top of the world and made some “technical” decisions he should have left for others to make: 1. Guus Hiddink was to return to the NT because “the players needed a soft touch, after dictatorial Louis”, 2. Danny Blind would be his assistant and his replacement after Hiddink would retire, 3. the NT was told to return to 4-3-3 and 4. the KNVB would install a technical director and work on a strategy moving forward (the “Winners of Tomorrow” report).
Well, we are six years later, that KNVB Ceo has been promoted away to some vague job somewhere. Hiddink was fired, just like Blind after him. TD Hans van Breukelen was tarred and feathered after his abysmal handling of the selection of the coach to follow Blind and the Dutch missed two major tournaments.
Yes, we lacked quality maybe in that post WC 2014 period, but I still believe that even with a younger squad with Janssen, Blind, Wijnaldum, Dost, Strootman and De Vrij we should have qualified for both the Euros 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.
The World Cup Blues set in, right after the successes in Brazil which cost us points in the first qualification games. The injury woes and aging of Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie didn’t help. Strootman’s post injury form was pretty bad and some of the decisions made by both Blind (De Ligt v Bulgaria) and Advocaat ( Sneijder and Van Persie vs France) were atrocious. As was the decision by the ref in the Sweden away game, to cancel Dost’s header, which would have seen us go to the World Cup 2018. A horrific time.
Guus’ wonderful 1998 campaign got tainted by this. Danny Blind was already a question mark as he does have limited head coaching experience and resorting back to Advocaat was also a debacle as everyone knows Dick doesn’t deal well with stress and is a defensive coach.
Nations League 2017 and Euros 2020 – Ronald Koeman
Koeman did something that should have pushed him straight to the top of our list. He brought swagger back. He relocated the Dutch back to the private forests of Zeist in stead of the beach promenade in Noordwijk. He tested the 5-3-2 and abandoned it swiftly and most importantly, he let the team win games again. Sure, the entrance on the big stage of Frenkie de Jong did a lot for the team as his confidence and skill pushed the Dutch forward, as did the leadership of Van Dijk. We almost won a trophy (Nations League) and qualified without too much issues for the Euros. Well done Ronald.
And then he decided to jump another train. He left PSV for the Valencia train (and that train crashed) and he did the same now for Barcelona. Do we sympathise with him? I guess we do. But surely, if he won the Euros with Oranje, Barca would still have been an option for him. But him running to the exit a mere 9 months before the Euros has tainted his name (for me) and Koeman will not make it to the top spot.
Euros 2020 – Frank de Boer
He cut a sad figure. Imagine, you’re a winner. You won a lot as a player. You were a leader. A warrior. Gifted with a magical left and a strong header of the ball. You played for Ajax, Barcelona, Oranje… You are a legend. Then you become the Ajax head coach. And in tough times you win the domestic title 4 times, almost 5 times…
You go to a big Italian club. And you fail. Then you got to the EPL. And you fail again. And sure, he was lured in with the request to bring “Ajax style continental football” to those clubs, but he wasn’t able to persevere. It took Inter three coaches before they got it. Atlanta was a better choice for him, at least he won trophies and stayed long enough to unpack a fresh pair of socks. His return to Oranje was not a good one. He was not candidate #1 (he was #5 or so). He was also told to be “like Koeman” and he was told that he had to work with the existing backroom staff. Louis van Gaal would have declined.
He decided to place all his chips on zero (meaning: 5-3-2) and go down in flames or up in a blaze of glory. After a series of guffahs and mistakes (Cillesen, Donny’s statistics, El Ghazi’s sms message) and underwhelming friendlies, Oranje did manage to win the group games and end up as group leader. The road to the semis seemed relatively easy for the Dutch, but they tripped dramatically in the first knock-out game against a sturdy and tough Czech Republic. Did we lose that match as a result of wrong tactics, or the wrong players? I don’t think so. We lost due to lack of quality, lack of execution of the tactics, sluggish players and personal misses/mistakes. But the overall picture was clear: Frank failed to ignite this Dutch team. He failed to imbed that new playing style and didn’t find the solution in the squad he needed. The role of Memphis, his striking partner, the use of the left wing back, the choice of goal keeper… too many questions. Before the KNVB was able to do a proper evaluation with De Boer, he resigned.
Well, it seems every coach we had has either failed or has succeeded AND failed.
Hiddink, Advocaat, Michels, Van Marwijk…they all had glorious days, followed or preceded by debacle. Yes, Michels won us a trophy and a World Cup silver medal and a Euros bronze medal (?) but he also stopped us from getting Cruyff as national coach – twice- and he was responsible for the atrocious 1990 World Cup. So no, Michels is not my all time best NT Coach.
Frank Rijkaard is the man. He coached Holland to what seemed to be a sure fire Trophy in 2000, only to be outfoxed by….. Frank de Boer (missing two spot kicks).
The football under his leadership was pretty good fun and open and deserving of applause and kudos. Frank is my main man!