Category: Euros 2024

Prelim Squad announced for Oranje

Almost a month to go and we’re starting to leave the club competitions behind us.

You will have seen the squad selection by now? I don’t think too many surprises.

For some, the absence of Bizot was a surprise, as he was called up for the last international games. He was most likely part of the prelim squad, if not for some domestic family issues. Marco decided to forfeit the Euros as his family circumstances have not been resolved and he prefers to be with the family during the summer.

The list of injured players ( Hartman, Wieffer, Lang) might become longer with question marks for Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Zirkzee, while Luuk de Jong definitely retired from the NT.

Calvin Stengs, Thijs Dallinga and Steven Berghuis will have had idle hope and should something happen to Malen or Bergwijn or Xavi Simons, these three might still get a look in.

If Frenkie and Memphis can join the squad, I do believe we’ll be in good shape.

We simply need our key players to be in form and Koeman to pick a logical starting eleven for the games at the Euros.

I mean, our goalkeepers are fine. Our central defenders are top. Maatsen and Ake can cover the left side, even Blind might be able to play against opponents parking the bus. Frimpong and Dumfries will cover the right with Geertruida also on hand.

Our midfield options are pretty good, with Veerman, Schouten, Reijnders and Koopmeiners and when fit, we can expect some fire upfront from Malen, Gakpo, Simons and Brobbey.

As mentioned, we need Koeman to make the right decisions and allow the players to play to their strengths.

It may sound simplistic, but we need two teams: 1 that can dominate possession against the minions and 1 that can play on the transition when playing the strong countries who themselves want to dominate.

I will suggest three at the back in both scenarios and I would personally use Bijlow as first goalie.

My two teams:

 

 

Tell me your fave line up in the comments….

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The State of Orange (Oranje)

As a national team coach, you want to be able to mould your best team, tactics, approach and squad by now, some 3 months before the tournament.

The two friendlies, against serious opponents, should have told us many things. And it did. But not sure if it was what Koeman wanted.

Not sure what the plan was versus Scotland, with the new 3-5-2 set up (or 3-2-3-2).

Disappointingly for Koeman, we won’t know for sure as the execution was not great. Some players didn’t reach their usual level (Wieffer, Simons, Frimpong) while Memphis is clearly not 100% fit.

Add to that the absence – again – of Frenkie and it’s hard to ascertain where we stand.

Versus Scotland, we played under par for an hour or so but still won 4-0. Against Germany , we played well at stages but lost 1-2.

Two corner kicks: two goals. Fixable, sure, but not something Koeman will be happy with.

Koeman was able to use his subs and shift form shape to shape, so the flexibility of the team and the adaptability of the team seems to be getting better.

I think, when all the players will be fit, we do have a very good squad. But I also think that France, England, Spain and Italy are a bit further than us, in terms of solid game play, patterns and key players.

Sadly, as it happens with every tournament, we won’t have all players available at the Euros.

Some conclusions:

Stop the silly systems debate

As always, people spend hours debating which system Holland should play. This is an irrational discussion. We played 4-3-3 versus Scotland, or so it seemed. But it was actually a 3-5-2. Against Germany, we played 3-2-3-2 but again, in the practice it was. four man defence as one of the midfielders dropped back to start the build up. Daley Blind was hardly ever in defence, but played as an extra midfielder and at times as a number 10 even. Joey Veerman dropped back to assist the defenders in their build up. Ake moves to the left back space.

In the second half, Blind kept the pitch wide, allowing Memphis to explore the half spaces on the left hand side.

Ake as left centre back, Blind playing wide wingback in a 4 men midfield.

What system is this? Never mind. It’s about space and how to use the space. Not about numbers on a playing field, when the ref whistles to start the match.

Creating the free man

Koeman is keen to use his midfielders and front men to create a free man in our team. He put Reijnders one v one on Kroos and instructed Memphis to harass Andrich, the Germany holding mid. This forced Germany to build up via Tah. This way Koeman could stack the centre of the pitch with two holding mids (Veerman, Schouten) and always kept three defenders to deal with the mercurial Germany forwards.

Blind playing central midfielder

This chess face-off meant that Germany was still in control on their own half, but were not able to be a threat against us, in terms of goal scoring opportunities.

Here Blind is playing as second 10

Donyell Malen is like a panther

We have quite a number of top forwards or top potentials in the attacking line, with Lang (now injured), Gakpo, Simons, Brobbey, Zirkzee, Stengs and Bergwijn but Malen offers something the others players don’t have. Malen is explosive, fast and very willing to make runs deep. The other players all want the ball to feet. Lang and Simons do tend to go deep, as does Bergwijn, but not as their first instict. Malen is like a panther, lurking and watching for his change to spring into action.

This makes him a unique player in the squad and should cement his spot in the squad if not the team. In the first half, Malen was instrumental in our first goal, even though he never touched the ball. He had two more breaks and in the second half he presented both Memphis and Reijnders with 2 100% chances. Both players mishit the ball and aimed too high.

Yes, Malen played well but goes to sleep here and allows Musiala some touches in the box

Still, he has his moments of snoozing off (like big cats do) and he was at fault, partly, with the first German goal. He didn’t cut off the pass and was a bit late in reacting to their short corner allowing Musiala to be a threat ( who assisted the ball to the goalscorer).

Jerdy Schouten is a keeper

Schouten played against Germany like he does for PSV, all season long. Very tight on the ball, always in control, always with great care. Van Gaal didn’t think he was good enough after half a game for Holland but Peter Bosz and Ronald Koeman are convinced. On top of that, Schouten plays a lot of forward passes as well, in true Frenkie de Jong style, starting a number of threatening moves. When he got subbed, at the 75th minute, he had most interceptions to his name as well. I don’t want to be over the top here, but he would be a top replacement for Toni Kroos at Real Madrid.

I think Schouten passed his exams and will battle it out with Koopmeiners, Wieffer, Reijnders, De Roon and Veerman for the next-to-Frenkie spot.

Our goalies are fine

We don’t need to worry about our goalies anymore. Flekken and Verbruggen both impressed. Bijlow will return. Nick Olij is a fine shotstopper and Bizot has impressed in France.

So, it seems we might be in good shape this summer.

But if we go through to the last 4, I believe it will be partly due to luck and a favourable draw.

I don’t think Oranje deserves to be seen as a top contender but with the right mix and the key players available and in form, we can surprise.

Koeman called this international break “the final exams”. The jigsaw pieces have not all been in place to show the big picture and the former Barca coach is still playing with them.

Verbruggen impressed

His own conclusion: “I have not been able to find the right combinations, and I fear it’s the result of this injury ridden campaign. And as the calendar keeps getting fuller, I don’t understand why we are now being limited to take 23 players instead of 26. We know already from experience that from the date we have to send in our list of names and the first match, players will drop off. That is always the case.”

Koeman said he already knows who his Euros goalie is, and it seems to be Bart Verbruggen. Only Bijlow is fit and plays a series of impressive matches will he be able to replace Bizot as third goalie.

In defence, it is clear that Virgil, Ake, De Ligt, Dumfries and Geertruida are certain of their spot. Frimpong didn’t impress this time around, but used properly, the speedy right wing back will make the squad, as will multi-functional brainiac Daley Blind.

In midfield, a fit Frenkie is on the bus as well, as will Reijnders be. He didn’t disappoint in his Oranje matches and impresses with his legs, lungs, intelligence and technique.

Wijnaldum seems a shoe in as well. Why select him now otherwise. Koeman has loyalty to Gini and knows the former Feyenoord talent gels well with Memphis. Mats Wieffer has mixed results but Koeman rates the midfielder high and he does have some credit. But he’ll need to show it to the coach in the coming matches.

Schouten is in the same boat as Wieffer. Very promising but a thin foundation as yet. Koeman will be focusing on their performances in the coming months.

Marten de Roon will most likely be in the squad as the only enforcer we have. He never complaints and is one of the leaders off the pitch. Koopmeiners however, who had to leave the camp with an injury, is exceptional in the Serie A, but never really impressed in the orange jersey.

Joey Veerman is not for everyone. Very good on the ball, vulnerable without. He played well in the past Oranje matches but was exposed in several CL matches for PSV. Koeman will throw a dice regarding Veerman and Koopmeiners.

Quinten Timber might nog have been able to show enough in this break and might need to focus on a spot after the Euros, to replace Wijnaldum on the road to 2026.

Xavi Simons is one of the few creative sparks in the team and despite a disappointing series, he will be on the bus as well.

Upfront, it seems Memphis, Gakpo, Malen and Weghorst are certain of their ticket. The question marks will be stalwarts Berghuis and Bergwijn, who both need a super strong finish of the season. Koeman mentioned before that he finds Berghuis to be a unique player and therefore potentially a part of the squad. This gives Koeman another option on the right wing.

Calvin Stengs might have a super end to the campaign and also be in the running for the right wing position. Brobbey and Zirkzee will also be right in Koeman’s radar for the coming games and Brobbey will be part of the squad when fit, it feels.

Micky van der Ven, the left footed centre back of Spurs could also make the squad as his speed and ability to play on any spot in defence makes him an ideal squad player.

Some more question marks: Q Hartman, Stefan de Vrij, Nick Olij, Ian Maatsen and Noa Lang.

And what to do with Summerville… He’s on fire for Leeds and is close to a senior call up, in particular when one or more attacking options (Gakpo, Malen, Simons) fall away with injuries…

Strap yourselfs in, we’re heading to an exciting finish of the season.

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Daley Blind, Girona’s metronome

Daley Blind was pushed out of the Ajax squad last season and when he failed to get playing time at Bayern Munich, people expected his career to fizzle out. But the 104 times capped left footer is on his way to fight for the title in La Liga. His first half season there is easy to summarize: he has a coach who uses Blind for his strenghts. The defender is basically the first player in the attack. His team mates give him the ball and he will most the ball exactly where it needs to go, with the perfect weight and the perfect direction. This is a very specific process, which needs a lot of brainpower on the pitch and lots of hours on the training field.

You should probably let Blind play with a microphone and instruct him to say out loud what he is seeing and thinking. That is the best way to understand all that is going on in the intriguiing complex machinations of his football brain. Everything he does seems simple, but it’s not. Blind can’t do much by himself. He’s not Mbappe or Haaland. Blind has limitations. He depends on team mates moving and running and offering options. He is vulnerable due to his frailties.

Put him in a team without structure and limited positioning changes and he will slowly suffocate and his talents will become invisible. All you see are his weaknesses. If you let him chase quick forwards, it even becomes pathetic or laughable. He is like a conductor without sheet music. That is the Blind Ajax didn’t need anymore.

Girona is a team without any stars. And they don’t play their opponents off the pitch either. But what you do see, is a team that stoically is trying to find gaps and openings to hurt the opponent. They are looking at ways to accelerate the game suddenly, to find openings that don’t really exist. It seems. Or to press in such a way that opponent has no options left or situations where they can benefit from a man-more situation. And Daley Blind is the general from the back who oversees it all. Girona’s football comes to life when you decide to focus on what Blind does.

When looking at Blind on the ball sometimes feels like the tv broadcast is stuttering. It feels like he’s not sure, like he takes too much time, as if he doesn’t know what to do. As if he’s at a restaurant scanning all the menu items until a dish really speaks to him. Suddenly he sees his best option and he accelerates the game with a firm pass. A pass with a message, as he himself says. Playing the ball at the right moment, with the right speed, the right weight of pass and direction, it’s an art. It looks simple. It’s not. Most players at the top know how to play a ball from A to B. Blind’s passes have more communication in them. He plays the ball to C and that ball instructs B to make a run in behind. Because B will be receiving the ball from D who gets it played into him via C. If player B, C and D can’t “read” the messages, it is better not to use Blind. Because then he becomes a weak defender.

Daley is constantly asked in all sorts of interviews what magical change happened and the 33 year old laughs and says he’s simply enjoying life in Spain. He is in the autumn of his career and he is taking on Real Madrid, Atleti and Barca. His selection for Oranje is suddenly not longer a strange affair.

But Blind didn’t change anything. He is still the same player. But he is viewed differently and used differently than Schreuder did at Ajax. Blind was signed by Girona as the missing piece of the jigsaw. To start the attack. That is his strength. And if you judge him on that aspect of the game, there are few players better than him. De Bruyne, probably. Frenkie, surely. Kimmich, maybe. Blind can now be considered one of the most important centre backs in La Liga. Not because he changed. But because he is used in his strength.

Thanks to VI Pro –

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Oranje making up numbers at Euros

Well, we made it. We qualified. But the performance quality – or lack thereof – doesn’t instil a lot of confidence in me.

I don’t think I have seen one match after the World Cup that gave me a good feeling. And sure, we miss a couple of big players, but I can’t see how Frenkie or Memphis would have improved the play much, all by themselves. I mean, there were games with Frenkie in the side post-WC which also didn’t dazzle us.

I do think Koeman is doing the right thing in his squad selection and today’s line up, for me, was quite logical.

I personally would have doubted to put Weghorst in, but he did score the winner so people will probably laugh at me.

But i just don’t like him. And I think that another player would have scored if we had Malen as right winger and Xavi as false 9.

I probably also would have played Wieffer instead of Schouten. I’m a big Schouten fan but to put him in in his second game after being shoved aside by Van Gaal quite rudely, I would have used him versus Gibraltar. I think Wieffer is settled more in Oranje and is known to be quite stoic.

I also need to add: I think Schouten played a very decent match and will only improve.

Lastly, I think I would have picked Bijlow over Verbruggen. The latter is a great talent but still so inexperienced. He had to field two shots on goal and one went in through his legs. Ouch. Luckily for him, the Irish attacker was off side.

But overall, I think Koeman’s decisions re: line up and squad are fine.

It’s the execution (and maybe the prep by Koeman) that leaves a lot to be desired.

The excuse that we miss so many players is not a real excuse for me. We missed a lot of central defenders ( Botman, De Ligt, Timber, Ake, Van der Ven) but that area was not where the issues were today. I thought Blind and De Vrij did well. De Vrij was probably one of the best. His passing, some of his footwork, obviously his defending too. No worries at all.

The issues were in build up and the speed of play. We played walking football. Every time there was a chance to accelerate the game, we seemed to not want to take it. Where Frenkie naturally turns “open” when getting the ball and pass through a line or two, the two “6”s were too cautious. Schouten did it a couple of times, but it still was a bit timid. The pass backwards was found too easily. A simple acceleration on the ball, either with the man or by the ball in terms of a pass, was constantly an option and mostly not taken.

Up front, Weghorst seems to “block” forward motion. Every time he comes into the ball, Simons and Gakpo would move forward for the flick, and every time Weghorst would simply bounce the ball back to the midfielders. No flow.

And most annoyingly, none of the players had the urge to make runs in behind. The corner triangles you see so fluidly at Man City, Feyenoord and Arsenal were not there. The only player at times to recognise the space was Reijnders who’d run into it, but the pass never came. It was sterile and flat. There were options enough ( for Hartman, for Xavi, for Weghorst or Dumfries) to make the dart into that space, even to just stretch the Irish. But no.

My biggest disappointment was the post match interview with Weghorst, who was angry at the reporter asking him a question about the lack of flow in the game. As if the great man is above critical questions after doing his heroics for king and country. Pathetic!

There is a lot of work to do. The good thing is: we do have the players. But we need these players to realise they need to up their game two levels if they want to compete with Spain, England and France at the Euros.

 

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Oranje’s bright future…

It’s a bit cynical maybe to speak of a bright future after a loss in the Euro qualifications, but with Koeman’s 3-4-3 and the talents cherished by AZ, Feyenoord, PSV and …. Ajax (?), we should be able to mould a winning team again.

We will need to reach the Euros of course and that is not a certainty yet, but with the Greece game coming up and our escape route via the Nations League standings, it’s hard to believe we won’t be making it.

There have been some good suggestions on the blog for ideal pairings and such. I think it’s best to stay flexible also taking form and the strength of the opponent into consideration.

Goal Keepers

With Bijlow, Flekken, Verbruggen, Olij, Vaessen, Van Gassel, Gorter, Room, Noppert I don’t think we’ll have many issues here.

Bijlow remains my favorite, although Verbruggen will develop into a top goalie as well. If we have 3 goalies who can stop shots, distribute the ball, coach well and remain fit, I think we should be happy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central Trio

Van Dijk will be beyond criticism, as will Ake be. I think De Vrij will make way soon for Van der Ven/Botman. De Ligt is not ideal in this role as he will have trouble seconding for Dumfries/Frimpong as occasional “right back”. He’s not very agile and needs a direct opponent to bite himself into. I would see De Ligt as the replacement for Van Dijk. With space around the right centre back, the likes of Timber and Geertruida are more suited for that role on the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Van der Ven impressing in orange and in London

Wingbacks

It’s clear that Dumfries and Frimpong on the right and Hartmann, Malacia, Maatsen will be the main guys for the wingback role. I haven’t ruled Karsdorp out on the right, but he’ll need more playing time of course. Mitchell Bakker can be an option on the left and who knows, Wijndal?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mercurial Frimpong

Central midfield

De Roon will probably always play a role in the squad as coach appreciate his physical strength, his tactical discipline and leadership but from a football perspective, Reinders, Wieffer and Veerman and even Schouten (PSV) will eclipse him at some point.

To me Schouten is a more complete “De Roon”. The PSV midfielder is also a great passer of the ball. Shame that he was overlooked, in particular with Koopmeiners out.

Frenkie will be a certainty. Koopmeiners/Frenkie hasn’t worked too well. Reinders could be a good partner for Frenkie. I personally rate him overall higher than Veerman who remains to be weak without the ball. Schouten/Frenkie can work well too, I believe.

Ryan Gravenberch is doing really in his early Liverpool days and he and Frenkie might also end up being a strong partnership. Not sure about Gravenberch as a 10. I can see Reijnders playing as a 10 though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jerdy Schouten

Forwards

Up front, it might get tough for Memphis to get back into the team, in particular if Koeman can get Brobby to perform. Gakpo and Xavi Simons are probably solid options for the coach. Noa Lang is on fire at PSV. A forward trio of Lang, Gakpo and Xavi Simons looks really amazing, with Malen, Bergwijn as support. Danjuma is a bit of a dark horse. No idea why he cut his time at Villareal short, as he was doing so well there and then he ended up with Everton??

Zirkzee and Joel Piroe might end up becoming top strikers for us too, in the years to come. Another forward/midfielder I really rate is Ruben van Bommel of AZ, currently in Jong Oranje.

In that squad, managed by Michael Reiziger, players like Kenneth Taylor, Jorrel Hato (Ajax defender), Dirk Proper (NEC) and Isaac Babadi (PSV) look like the real deal, as I’m also impressed with Noah Ohio (Standard Luik). The latter played his youth football in Manchester at United and City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ruben van Bommel scoring while Mark van Bommel is tearing up

Coaches and playing style

Ronald Koeman seems to have the sympathy factor in The Netherlands, based on his past as a player and based on his last stint as national team manager, as he is seen as the man who got Oranje out of the slumps. He’s not the most innovative or even adventurous coaches, but with Erwin Koeman next to him and more important, Sipke Hulshoff next to him, we should have all elements in place. Erwin is a great field coach and analyticus while Hulshoff offers the more modern coaching aspects to the team (stats, video analysis). Pat Lodewijks is always praised for his wonderful set piece ploys.

As clubs like PSV, Feyenoord, AZ but also Sparta and even Almere City transforming into high press, high octane teams (Ajax currently lacking behind a bit) and with top internationals playing this style of football already under Klopp, Guardiola and Xavi, it’s only a matter of time before Oranje plays in this same vein, forcing the likes of Xavi Simons, Memphis and Lang into the mould as well.

We will only get better.

The Greece game will not be easy. Greece is better than most people think ( we have a couple of these guys in the Eredivisie and they’re good). We can lose or draw that game, I would not be surprised.

We will still have a way into the Euros via the play offs but again: if we can’t beat Greece than we need to wonder what we want to achieve in those Euros.

Still, I say we win 0-2, with Weghorst and Simons on the score sheet.

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Ajax, The Perfect Storm

For decades, ever since Oranje and Cruyff wooed the world with their break through Total Football ( even if it was Happel at Feyenoord who initiated it), Ajax has been synonym with “class”, “technical football” and youth development.

A factory, churning out talent after talent. From Cruyff, Krol, Rep, Suurbier to Van Basten, Van ‘t Schip, Rijkaard, Vanenburg all the way to Seedorf, Davids, Kluivert, De Boer Bros, Van der Vaart, Sneijder and Frenkie de Jong and more recently Gravenberch, Brobby and Timber…

All managed by a host of former Ajax players in top football roles ( Danny Blind, Ruud van Duyvenbode, Arie van Eijden, Wim Jonk, Sjaak Swart, Louis van Gaal, Co Adriaanse), as part of a close knit network, the Fifth Colonne as it’s called in The Netherlands. Scouts, youth coaches, analysts, agents, Ajax always seemed to be a many tentacled octopus, delivering dozens of former youth products to literally every club in The Netherlands.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you recognise all these incredible talents?

Noa Lang (ex Feyenoord as well) at PSV. Quinten Timber at Feyenoord (originally also Feyenoord by the way), Eagles’ captain Bas Kuipers, Mitchel van Dijk at Fortuna, Czerny at Twente (former season), Warmerdam at Sparta, Baas at Twente, Eijting at Twente, the list is long. No one will dispute the majestic impact Ajax’ has had on Dutch football.

They may not have been the first (or last) to win a European trophy but they did win most of them.

That huge Football Emporium is slowly disintegrating before our eyes. With a massive loss versus Arch Rivals Feyenoord 0-4 as the lowest of the low, particularly the off pitch shenanigans with hooded “fans” trying to storm the Cruyff Arena, to lynch a couple of board directors.

So where did it go wrong?

For me, arrogance is a key factor. Ajax always pride themselves as the Sons of Gods, the best of all. This arrogance is typical maybe for the city of Amsterdam, where the street smart bravado has always been a factor. The city of advertising and media execs (as opposed to industrial Eindhoven (Philips), or transport-focused Rotterdam (ports).

“”We are Ajax” is what you need to radiate when you walk onto the pitch, so you’re already 1-0 when the opponent looks at us coming out.” The jersey, the hairdo, the chest forward and chin up attitude. And the Ajax culture truly wants players to emphasize this.

When Ajax was struggling to play attractive football (under Frank de Boer for instance), the legendary Johan Cruyff started his Velvet Revolution, aided by the likes of Wim Jonk, Dennis Bergkamp, Keje Molenaar and Marc Overmars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It got made into a book! I can see Christopher Walken in the JC role and Stephen Merchant as Van der Sar. Maybe Ricky Gervais as Marc Overmars? Ryan Gosling as Bergkamp?

Ex-players needed to take charge of the club, just like at Bayern Munich. Overmars earned his stripes as a business man and manager, partly due to his hobby to buy and upgrade real estate and trading in classic cars, while acting as technical director at Go Ahead Eagles (where he started his pro career and where he worked with you maverick coach Erik ten Hag).

Edwin van de Sar was being courted to become the new managing director (after his business studies at the Cruyff University), while Jonk and Bergkamp would become part of the technical management triumvirate (with Overmars and Frank de Boer).

The plan didn’t work out too well. Jonk left angrily, as his input to use Academy products was ignored. Bergkamp had to leave after a conflict with Overmars ( he pushed Peter Bosz out and pushed his friend Marcel Keizer for the head coach role) so the management team running the club consisted of Marc Overmars and Edwin van der Sar (and a financial and commercial director of course, but these company officals are not relevant for this particular topic).

And both Overmars and Sar were being monitored by the Board of Directors, which had Danny Blind as the football man. Blind played an important role in the background, as the sounding board for coaches and management, but Blind left the role when Van Gaal was brought back to Oranje as head coach. Van Gaal wouldn’t do it without his lieutenant Danny. So Ajax did not have a football smart director in the Board but this was not so crucial, as Overmars and Sar had a good grip on Ajax, which stole more hearts in Europe under Ten Hag, particularly in that 2019 CL Campaign, with Frenkie, Tadic, Ziyech and Tagliafico in stunning form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is one of the dick pics Overmars sent hahahaha….

The bubble burst in Ten Hag’s final year. What no one could have predicted happened. Marc Overmars appeared to have sent dick pics (!!!) to several female colleagues on the Ajax marketing desks. And the macho culture within Ajax was such, that the women/girls were afraid to complain about it.

The news shocked the Dutch bonton world and when it became clear that this 1) had been going on for quite a while and 2) Van der Sar was aware but didn’t want to intervene, the popularity rating of the Sons of Gods plummeted.

Van der Sar couldn’t do much different than sack Overmars, but as the lanky manager hoped to re-instate the once speedy winger in this role, he was quite successful after all, Van der Sar never appointed a successor.

So half of the successful due “Overmars / Ten Hag” had to leave the club and the other half wouldn’t stay much longer, as Manchester United lured the champion maker to Old Trafford.

Van der Sar, who already had a string of mismanagement dossiers to his name (the Nouri case, the Quincy Promes case, the Winston Bogarde case), decided to push KJ Huntelaar and scout Gerry Hamstra in the role of “acting Technical Directors”. The problem – Ajax being a publically listed company – was that both H’s didn’t have the authority to sign contracts, so Van der Sar decided that he would be the technical director / managing director and he would be more “hands on” when transfers were concerned.

Ten Hag went. Alfred Schreuder came. There was no technical director present in that transfer window, so an overzealous Schreuder stepped in, together with his agent to help Ajax sign some new players.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That summer, some big names and powerful characters left the club: Brobbey went to Leipzig, Tagliafico to Lyon, Martinez to Man United, Mazaroui to Bayern, Onana to Inter, Haller to Dortmund, Schuurs was allowed to leave for Torino and Antony also left for Man United. Some of these were unavoidable, some of the others (Schuurs, Tagliafico) maybe less so.

In place of these players, Ajax brought in Calvin Bassey, Lorenzo Lucca, Owen Wijndal, Jorge Sanchez and Florian Grillitsch. Schreuder and Van der Sar were also keen to bring Sevilla forward Ocampos to the Arena, but the Board of Directors felt that signing was close to being preposterous and stopped that. They did allow for Ocampos to come on a loan basis. No surprise here, that Ocampus ended up a failure, as any football knowledgable person would be able to predict: Ocampus would probably work at PSV but lacks the skills to play the Ajax style.

The Board of Directors gave a clear signal to the coach/management but allowed for the signing of the others.

Just to give you an idea: Sven Botman left Ajax for 8 million euros. Calvin Bassey came from Rangers for 21 Million euros. Per Schuurs left for Torino, for 9 million euros. Crazy.

Schreuder didn’t have the greatest first season’s half at Ajax and came to clash with club icon Daley Blind, resulting in the international leaving the club mid-season, which in turn resulted in Danny Blind – fresh from the World Cup in Qatar – to sever his ties with Ajax’ Board of Directors. Leaving another great hole of football know-how in the Ajax hierarchy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tadic apparently taking over from Schreuder, last season

So, there is a Board of Directors of people without any real football know-how: Eringa ( resigned this week) is a notorious job-hopper with a career in hospitals and railways. Annette Mosman is an accountant. Cees van Oevelen is a lawyer. Georgette Schlick is a media person.

Apart from these people, Maurits Hendriks was added to management, as Chief Sports Officer. No one knows what the former Hockey coach was going to add to Ajax

Van der Sar had the power but didn’t know what to do with it. Ajax was now a year without Technical Director and during the Schreuder (and later Heitinga) season, the first cracks became apparent. Tadic unhappy, Blind gone, Wijndal never played, Berghuis started fist fights with supporters, Ocampos returned to Sevilla halfway the season and Ajax would finish the season third, only 2 points above AZ Alkmaar.

Van der Sar was now convinced that a true Technical Director was needed (Overmars found a new home in Antwerp) and Maurits Hendriks enlisted the help of an Executive Search (headhunter) bureau to find the ideal candidate.

Now, these things don’t work too well in the world of pro football. There is no linkedin. And the coach resume is simply how he performed with other clubs / teams. In terms of quality of performance, results achieved and how the guy holds up in press conferences and interviews.

By then, it appeared impossible to hold Van der Sar accountable. And lets face it: he’s not the only guilty party. What about the Board of Directors, who were there to check the shenanigans of their GM. But after the different botches affairs, Sar’s biggest mistake was to not replace Overmars. He saw the writing on the wall and announced his resignation (per August 1) but before he was able to truly pass the baton, he suffered a debilitating stroke and is now at home, basically learning how to walk and talk again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Former Hockey coach Hendriks responsible for signing Sven Mislintat

Obviously, no one feels the need to string the former Oranje goalie up for his mistakes. We wish him well.

But the usual suspects  for the TD job weren’t good enough. AZ’s Max Huiberts, Frank Arnesen (who found Arne Slot for Feyenoord), Jordi Cruyff, Wim Jonk, Marijn Beuker, Jan Streuer, Maxwell, Julian Ward… For some reason, Hendriks and the Ajax board decided on a guy 1) no one heard of in The Netherlands and 2) who was known to be a lone wolf (according to former employers Stuttgart who didn’t extend his deal) and who had a reputation of looking for conflict (according to former employers Arsenal). The man who hardly had any experience as technical director but who made a name in Germany for himself as top scout.

As per usual, the technical director selects the new coach. Peter Bosz was keen to return to Ajax, as his nemesis Bergkamp had left, but for some reason Ajax (Mislintat?) decided against re-hiring Bosz. It’s unclear who else was on the short list. Heitinga had blown it ( his results weren’t overly great), Nagelsmann apparently wasn’t interested but we’ll never know who else was on the list. Mislintat ended up with Maurice Steijn, the Dutch coach who had previously impressed with ADO Den Haag, VVV and Sparta Rotterdam and who was considered another Henk ten Cate protege (like Arne Slot and Alfred Schreuder).

Mislintat: “I came to focus on Steijn, because he manages to get results better than to be expected with the material he works with. He let Den Haag, VVV and in particular Sparta hit well above their station and that is what we need to get Ajax quickly back to the top.”

Steijn is also a Dutch coach, which helps with the language and he’s known to be a tough taskmaster, as the The Hague street mentality would work well in Amsterdam, people believed. Steijn was quite adamant that he wanted Said Bakkati as his assistant (formerly Dick Advocaat’s assistant at Feyenoord and Jaap Stam’s second in command at Cincinnati). He was assistant at ajax U21 in 2014 and is no stranger to the club. Former midfielder Hedwiges Maduro, considered a top coach in the making, was also high on Steijn’s list. He got them both.

As per usual, Steijn gave his list of preferred new signings to Mislintat, assuming the TD would work his magic to get the characters and types Steijn wanted. Steijn made a point to say he preferred players from The Netherlands. Like Feyenoord was able to build a success team with players brought in from AZ, Twente, Excelsior, this is exactly how Steijn also believed he could build from the bottom up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How it started…

To Steijn frustration, Mislintat ignored the requests from Steijn and delivered a number of fairly unknown players to the JC Arena.

Branco van de Boomen’s signing (on a free) can be justified. The signing of Sutalo (Croatian international) can also be explained, just like Forth’s move from City to Ajax can be a good one, in time.

But where Ajax saw the likes of Frenkie de Jong, De Ligt, Ziyech, Haller, Tagliafico and Martinez go, they decided to bring replacements in from Viborg, from Eintracht, Molde, Middlesbrouh and Metz…

Literally none of these players were known entities amongst the Ajax supporters and it’s now wonder Mislintat was heading for a rough ride.

When Steijn was asked if he was happy with the players he was gifted, he said the following: “I don’t know, I really don’t know most of them, sorry. I need to check them out and see. I gave my list of preferred players to Sven but sadly, he decided to use his own list. They’re his players.”

A telling interview indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How it ended….

Not much later, the news broke that Mislintat had verbally abused the coaching staff and goalie Jay Gorter during a training session. He told the coaches that Steijn would be sacked if Ajax lost against Feyenoord (they did) and he told Gorter he was supposed to make way for the new German goalie.

As if this wasn’t enough, the Telegraaf newspaper broke the news that Mislintat was the subject of an internal investigation. It appeared that he owned shares in a sports marketing company, which has a particular players agent as shareholder as well. Guess what. Mislintat would speak to potential new signings, telling them that if they want to move to Ajax, they were to ditch their current manager and go with the agent who happens to be – coincidence coincidence – Mislintat’s partner in the business. Wow. How low can you go?

On the day of (the first) Ajax – Feyenoord, Ajax decided to let the TD go. The internal investigation is still going, by the way, but despite this, Ajax could see the writing on the wall: this was never going to go well.

The first thing Ajax did, was to appoint Van Wijk and Van Praag (two elderly Ajax statesmen) to the Board of Directors and Michael van Praag immediately called his friend Louis van Gaal with the request to consult Ajax in how to structure the future.

Maurice Steijn is still coach and asked about Van Gaal’s role, he responded positively: “I have worked with him before. When he was national team coach in 2012, I was coach of ADO and Oranje used to train on our grounds. Louis would ask me for ADO players, if he needed additional bodies and we spent quite some time together. I still use his lessons in my coaching and I look forward to his insights and advice.”

 

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Oranje simply not up to it

The cliche “men versus boys” has been used here a lot. In the past. And how I hoped that would remain a thing of the past.

But the games versus Croatia and Italy have yet again demonstrated where we go wrong. Again.

And I wonder who or what is going to change this!

The System

Lets start this two-match review with the obvious: some people claim that due to the losses and the conceded goals we will need to consider a switch back to the 5-3-2 of van Gaal.

One photo will show you why this is nonsense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As one can see: we had enough defenders in the box (5!). It’s not about the number of defenders. It’s about how the defenders defend and about what they do.

Combine this insight with the fact we conceded two downright idotic penalties versus Croatia and the analysis is done: stupidity, complacency and laziness.

Gakpo trying to turn the best midfielder of the past decade on the edge of his own box. Gakpo losing the ball and then trying to pick up the little maestro from the back (and what… bring him to the kids’ stands??)…. And late in the match, Malacia with a lunge in the box. I mean, a rush of blood to the head of course but I could accept the explanation of Malacia: only minutes left to score a goal and we needed the ball so I took a risk. And failed. But either way: two cheap penalties and very unnecessary.

The Croatie second goal was a typical example of alibi defending. Or pseudo defending.  Making people believe you’re doing what you can. Dumfries, in this case not putting any pressure on the ball and staying at 1,5 yards from the forward. In his own box! That is not something you see Croatian or Italian defenders do. And Ake, Virgil and Koopmeiners all looking at each other. Typically something that happens even more with a 5 at the back system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not enough pressure on the ball. No communication. Ake can see it all happening in front of him,

Versus Italy, same old same old. Two early goals because no one really defends! No one attacks the ball, no one clears the ball, no one puts pressure on the ball and the key forwards who should track back to cover the Italian wing backs: absent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dimarco gets time and time from Malen and his defender mates were not able to recognise or communicate the danger to him. Where is a screaming Frank de Boer when you need him?

We didn’t lose because of the system

The quality of the players

I think we all know we have a lot of players who can play some neat, nifty football. Xavi Simons, Noa Lang, Donny Malen, Joey Veerman, Frenkie, all gifted players. But tenacity, leadership, personality and mentality are also part of the complete package of qualities a player requires.

And we lacked it. Again. We did see some good moves, we did see some decent actions and at times we played some nice football. Sure. But it’s about when things don’t go your way. When the opponent finds spaces where you didn’t expect it. When team mates get sloppy.

The quality we need then, is not the step-over of Noa Lang, the shimmy of Frenkie or the dribble of Xavi. We need the leadership of a Roy Keane. The big mouth of Gatuso. The piercing look of Mark van Bommel. I can fully understand that Wieffer, Geetruida, Dumfries and Lang are not the players to demonstrate this part of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Virgil. Nathan Ake (treble winner!), Frenkie de Jong ( skipper at Barca) and Koopmeiners should do more in this domain. Captain Van Dijk should be in Malen’s face, if he doesn’t track back! Frenkie should be ready to make the tactical switches where need be.

It’s all too sweet. We’re too friendly. We play too many card games at training camp and we focus too much on funny youtube clips with quizes, or raps with cigars and fashion shoots.

Mentality, commitment, leadership

And these are the elements that are missing. Some players came to the Nations League final round complaining that the season was too long and if we don’t win versus Croatia, we can’t be bothered to play the Losers Finals. Koeman should have sent these players home!

If you can’t get inspired for a football game, not hoping the coach will do it for you, then you have nothing to do in an orange jersey.

Every single player of Spain, Croatia and Italy has had a long and tough season! Man up!

We believe we are great football players. But we are only great on the ball. And not great. Above average. And we suck in the mental department.

And this is not something we fix by changing systems.

The Coach

I never believe in getting a coach back for a second stint. It was a success with Michels and Oranje, ok. But not in any other instance. Mourinho at Chelsea. Van Marwijk at Feyenoord. Van Gaal at Barcelona. Van Gaal with the Oranje/Ajax contingent in 2000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a sense of “comfort”, working with a coach you know. Whenever a coach says it feels like coming home, you know you’re in trouble. It shouldn’t feel like home.

Why pick Koeman again? Because it worked so well before? Well…. did it? He bailed before the Euros. Not really a success. So in my book, a big cross should have gone through his name.

Peter Bosz was available. Just sayin’.

Koeman has end responsibility and he needs to get his players mentally ready for a match or send the ones that can’t be bothered home. And when Malen doesn’t track back twice in 15 mins and we get hammered twice: immediately sub the dude. Show grit. Show courage.

Just like our team wasn’t able to show courage versus Croatia, our coach lacked courage in his choices.

The Future

I do believe the youngsters we see in Orange will grow into good solid players for the team: Wieffer, Veerman, Geertruida, Simons and even Malen, Gakpo and Lang are still youngsters, compared to Blind, Van Dijk and Memphis. We need to give them a chance.

But we need to give Botman, Frimpong, Schouten, Dallinga and Spierings a chance too.

Bijlow was not 100% top, but was only really at fault with that third Croatia goal. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was stoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A back line with Ake and Botman, De Ligt and Frimpong should work. Or Malacia, Ake, De Ligt, Frimpong.

A midfield with Veerman, Frenkie and Wieffer should work. A forward line with Lang, Gakpo and Malen should work. We do have enough quality on the ball. But we need to turn it into a team and we need to wise up really quickly now and start switching that button on in their heads.

Playing for Oranje is not a summer camp outing after a tough season at the club.

It’s do or die now.

 

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Memphis’ injury a blessing?

This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.

But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.

But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.

Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.

Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.

Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.

Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.

And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.

And it’s a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arie Haan in 1974

And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.

Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.

Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.

The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.

Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988

But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.

Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.

The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.

At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.

It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.

For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.

This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.

My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.

Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.

As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.

This is my line up.

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Ajax’ nightmare season

In typical Dutch form, people will immediately say: “Who is to blame?”. The answer is not very straightforward. Lets first look at the problem.

Ajax was having a decent run in the past seasons. Frank de Boer did ever so well winning titles and turning the poor Ajax into a cash rich club, with some amazing outgoing transfers putting some fat on the bone. Peter Bosz came in and turned De Boer’s boring Ajax into a free-flowing attacking machine, but Bosz ended his 1 season spell with Ajax when Van der Sar refused to work with Bosz on a reshuffling of the backroom staff.

Marc Overmars was acting as technical director, but mainly with a focus on contracts and signing and selling players. The Ajax Technical Triangle was supposed to take care of the football (De Boer, Bergkamp, Ouaali).

The two friends, Dirty Marc and “I haven’t seen anything untoward” Van der Sar

Overmars was kept out of the decision to block Bosz’ plans and allowed Bergkamp his spot in the sun.

Bosz left and not much later, Dennis Bergkamp – Bosz antagonist – also had to leave.

But Bergkamp was fully in control when he was at Ajax and ushered in Marcel Keizer as the replacement for Bosz. Not a bad decision, mind you. Keizer was successful as a coach on the second tier level at Cambuur and as a real Ajax man (his uncle was Piet Keizer), he also coached Ajax 2 and impressed with that team (which had the likes of Van de Beek, De Ligt, Frenkie and Appie Nouri).

Keizer is also a close friend of Bergkamp, so the two set out to lead Ajax. The Nouri situation – the brilliant ballplayer had heart failure in a friendly in the pre-season and due to the late response, he survived the ordeal but that is about it….the poor lad is confined to his bed for the rest of his life – made matters tough for the young coach and the whole team or even club suffered through trauma that season.

Overmars decided to take the reins back from Bergkamp and organised a coup, in which both Keizer and Bergkamp had to make way. Keizer was on title course and would later impress in the Portuguese competition and in the sandpit. Bergkamp never pursued his career elsewhere and became a bit of a football recluse.

Now Overmars was in charge and he quickly lured his friend Erik ten Hag away from FC Utrecht. Ten Hag had had success with Overmars’ first love Go Ahead Eagles and Mark had always planned to get Ten Hag to Amsterdam.

The duo was quite successful, as we know. Overmars dealing with transfers and contracts, Ten Hag dealing with the first team and the results and Van der Sar safely away from the front, dealing with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the sponsors, the board of directors and any other non-football topic.

At that time, Danny Blind was the football man in the Board and he would be an intrinsic part of Overmars little cabal.

And boy, what was Overmars good at his job. And how horrible did he behave when it wasn’t about football.

Overmars telling inappropriate jokes to Sar?

Despite being married to a former Miss Universe (or Miss Holland, not sure), he couldn’t resist using his powerful position at Ajax to bother and hassle the young ladies working at the social media/marketing department of Ajax. And it went further than texting them invites for dinner. The diminutive former winger enjoyed taking pictures of his …less diminutive mini-me and sent them to the ladies in question, who apparently were to scared to report him to the general manager. One key reason: the general manager (yes Edwin van der Sar) knew this was happening and was part of the sexist cabal at Ajax, enjoying inappropriate humor.

Van der Sar protected his powerful friend but when the news broke in the media, it was clear that the former Arsenal and Barca man had to leave.

So, many things had gone wrong already by that time. But Van der Sar took it a bit further. Instead of trying to replace Overmars with a heavyweight – but with manners – he decided to give newcomer Huntelaar and scout Hamstra the joint role of technical director (not in name though).

Oops. Exposed. But a bit too much exposed.

And obviously, both were too lightweight, inexperienced and unconnected to step into Overmars boots. And what people do forget: he is a very good negotiator. He made money playing football and but multiplied his money by dealing in property and classic cars. Huntelaar and Hamstra are definitely people with expertise and added value but they’re no Overmars.

And it showed, this season. Lisandro Martinez left for Man United. Bassey was brought in. Gravenberch left for Bayern, Austrian midfielder Grillisch is his replacement. And so on.

I believe Sar never replaced Overmars, because he hoped (planned?) to get the speedy ex-winger back after a couple of months of “distance from the club”. But it didn’t happen. And when Alfred Schreuder, assisted by his agent, started to “help” Ajax to more new signings, things turned for the worst.

Ocampos was on the wishlist and Ajax would have signed him for 30+ million euros, if the Board of Directors hadn’t intervened. They forced Ajax to take him on a loan basis. And less than 6 months later, the winger was sent back to Spain as he was never able to convince anyone in Amsterdam.

Ocampos failure

But it went further downhill, as Schreuder lost the dressing room due to several bad decisions. His treatment of Daley Blind (who left after the World Cup), his decision to protect Tadic and never sub him, his decision to not use newcomer Wijndal but try Blind, Bassey and Rensch on that spot, the list goes on.

Daley Blind’s exit had another consequence for the club: highly rated Danny Blind – sounding board for coaches and technical management – could not continue his director’s role what with Daley being pushed out unceremoniously. And again, it appeared that Van der Sar and the Board did not have a shadow list waiting in the drawer.

They didn’t have one for Overmars. Not for Danny Blind and when stalwarts like Michael Reiziger and Academy director Said Ouaali announced their exits too, it was quite clear things are a bit fishy in Amsterdam.

John Heitinga was pushed forward when Schreuder was sacked. Much like his old team mate Van Nistelrooy at PSV, Heitinga planned to build up his career with care and consideration. The former Everton defender managed Ajax 2 and was about to start as Schreuder’s assistant but was propelled into the hot seat immediately.

So now, Ajax is re-building. They were able to get former midfielder Jan van Halst in as new football director in the board of directors. They installed Heitinga for this season, with Dwight Lodeweges as he new assistant and they finally signed a technical director – Sven Mislintat –  to replace Overmars, who seems to be enjoying his time at FC Antwerp, with Mark van Bommel. I personally believe Mislintat could well be the right choice, as he has quite a strong resume and clearly adores Ajax.

So, in conclusion, I think its fair to say that after the mismatch of Bosz-Bergkamp-Overmars-Van der Sar, the combination of Ten Hag-Overmars (without Sar) worked amazingly well. There is no need for me to list the achievements of Ten Hag at Ajax.

But when Overmars had to take his leave, Van der Sar needed more than 12 months (!) to replace him. Imagine that, your key guy in the organisation. And it’s not like Van der Sar was ambushed by the dick-pics, he knew about it. So his lack of taking action resulted in a head coach (Schreuder) who was drowning from day 1. And in hindsight, Schreuder also didn’t do himself many favours with his headstrong attitude within the club.

Heitinga with new technical director Sven Mislintat

The combi Ten Hag – Overmars was replaced by Schreuder-Huntelaar-Hamstra and that combination had no chance!

Ajax’ terrible season – in my view – is another nudge of the keepers gloves of Van der Sar. His list of failings is becoming very long.

And if things turn really sour for Ajax this coming weekend – away versus in form Twente – they might end up playing conference league football next season.

The only bonus: last year, when Van der Sar was asked about having to play in the conference league potentially in the future, his answer was: I will not be with the club when that happens. And the fans will now clutch that claim to their chest. The only silver lining in case Ajax finishes 4th this season.

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The Arne Slot Miracle

Feyenoord won it’s 16th title, only 6 years after a complete different team (under Van Bronckhorst) won it. And they won it about 19 years later after the trophy in 1999.

The gaps between titles becomes smaller and if Arne Slot has any say on it, the next gap will be even smaller…

At the start of the season (when Gakpo was still at PSV), many pundits and analysts were convinced that PSV and Ajax would be slugging it out for the title and Feyenoord and AZ would battle for 3rd place.

Yes, PSV had to sell their two most prolific attackers in the winter, but Ajax had a complete meltdown while Slot’s Feyenoord transformed into a winning machine. Where Feyenoord won the title in 2017 with 1 point difference on Ajax, today Feyenoord is 13 points adrift from the Sons of Gods after 32 matches. Two more to go.

A very unlikely title, in other words but thoroughly deserved.

When Idrissi scored the 1-0 in the championship match versus the Eagles, the whole city erupted, but Arne Slot was stoic on the sidelines, hands in pockets. When Gimenez scored the second goals, the coach showed some emotion. Understandably, as the second goal was a training ground goal: Feyenoord played in towards the right wing, luring the Eagles’ players to that side. A quick combination brought the ball back into the centre of the pitch, where Eagles now were short handed. Mats Wieffer accelerated the play when he say Paixao popping up in the axis and the Brazilian was able to lob the ball in the path of the explosive Mexican: 2-0.

The 3-0 came when Feyenoord lost the ball close to the Eagles’ box. Three Feyenoord players, led by Polish international Szymanski, immediately put pressure on the defenders. The ball was blindly played out, Wieffer picked the ball up and he got his assist by finding the shrewd Paixao who came in between the lines: 3-0.

Slot has been able to mould this Feyenoord based on four particular pillars.

The Turnaround when possession is lost

In interviews Slot usually says: “What is attacking football? For me, it means hunting for the ball if you don’t have it.” His players can now dream the wise cracks of the coach. Time again he asks his players: can you deliver? Do you have the intensity to play like this? For Slot, how a players reacts when losing the ball is key. When he started at AZ, he showed his players footage of lacklustre players jogging back after losing possession. He clearly hates it. Spicy detail: Slot him self was a bit of a lazy #10 who played elegant and skilled football but wasn’t known for his running and tackling.

In Rotterdam, Slot started with the attackers. They were ones who had to suddenly work their socks off as first defenders. “If you can up the pace of the game and if you can play at a higher pace than the opponent, you will force them into mistakes and you can win the game. Simple.” The opponents were driving to complete breakdown, broken by the energy of the Feyenoord players.

Playing at Ajax in the Cruyff Arena, all these components came together in one particular moment. See the images. The match is only 4 minutes old or Alvarez intercepts a pass to Gimenez. But there is no mourning phase or disappointment. It’s Symanski who runs like a maniac onto Alvarez and got his foot on the ball. Berwijn got the ball but was circled by 5 opponents. Kokcu got possession and and a couple of seconds later it’s 0-1 Feyenoord, goal Gimenez. This goal was made by seven (!) Feyenoord players who immediately went into 5th gear when the opportunity arose. This intensity seemed to much for most opponents, this season.

Alvarez intercepts pass and wants to dribble forward

Szymanski is immediately on Alvarez’ toes and makes it hard for Ajax to play out

Bergwijn collects and is harassed with 5 opponents around him

Feyenoord wins the ball and plays the forward pass. Via Idrissi, Hartman can cross to Gimenez

The Ajax defense is complete overrun

And Gimenez has a tap in, basically….

Defending

Slot: “We need to create a man more situation everywhere on the pitch!”

When Slot was signed by Arnesen, two years ago, many people doubted that the high octane game Slot likes to play would work in Rotterdam. He laughed it off: “I don’t believe it. This can work, because we have 6 non-defenders who need to chip in and help.” He used the World Cup break to work on his team, 6 days a week. And what he did was basically getting into the players’ heads and convince them of his vision. And he did. By repeating the positives and positive examples. He used books and documentaries, such as the Michael Jordan Doco and the book Intensity by Liverpool assistant Pepijn Lijnders to make his case. The core message: make sure we always have more players around the ball when defending. Dick Advocaat used man marking, Slot went to zonal marking. He wants the team to collectively move with the ball, ensuring there is always players close to the ball.

Four attackers all involved in the initial press

The former Sparta playmaker appeared quite flexible in his execution of his ideas. He started last season with his high press of two forwards: the striker and the 10. He started this season with three attackers pressing, the left and right winger and the striker. In the World Cup break, he worked with the team to place a fourth pressure point in the mix: playmaker Kokcu was going to be the 4th presser, behind the striker. But when Gimenez got the role at the expense of Danilo, Slot changed it back. Gimenez feels best with a 10 next to him, so Slot adepted again. And the striker paid Slot back with important goals.

Turnaround when winning the ball

Slot: “If you are well organised in your press, then opponents make mistakes. And their mistakes will immediately provide opportunities for us.”

Gimenez is Feyenoord’s top scorer this season with 15 goals. The high press helped him tremendously, as 12 goals came straight from a turn around high up the pitch. Under Advocaat, in his last season, this only happened 4 times. Only Celtic in Europe scored more often than Feyenoord from a position of high press.

Always a man more around the ball

These statistics were already in Slot’s thinking when he was an assistant at Cambuur. There, he said: “We can be more lethal when the opponent has the ball on their half, as opposed to us having the ball on our half.” And it worked for Feyenoord, as the Rotterdam club was at their most lethal when opponents decided to build up from the back.

Attacking

Slot: “When you have the ball, you need to create a man-more situation immediately and use it.”

His principles aren’t much different in the attacking sense of the game. He was able to increase the % possession from 54% to 60% and when the Feyenoord attackers were totally trained up during the World Cup break, he was able to execute his preferred playing style.

Slowly suffocating the opponent

Slot: “I don’t have the illusion I can make players play better. But I can make the team play in a way that makes the individual seem to be better. So they can play in their strength.”

It’s also good to see that Slot doesn’t force his players into a style of play. He does look at the skill set he has available to him. Good example: the right back position. Geertruida is a very intelligent player, who can play the inverted right back/midfielder role (like Trent Alexander Arnold, John Stones and Joshua Kimmich can play). In that case, the right winger takes the right wing. Pedersen however, doesn’t feel comfortable playing in that role, so whenever he plays, Slot uses him as a wingback marauding down the line and the right winger will come more inside to fill in the extra midfielder role.

And always keeping track of the distances between players

Arne Slot sticks to his guns, but is always looking to finetune his vision to allow the players to play to their strength. This resulted in the miraculous title for Feyenoord.

His next mission: keep as many players on board as possible and try to make a name in the Champions League.

Thanks to Pieter Zwart VI

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