Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. Well, Mark van Bommel took his curtain call in the only way fitting for the midfield warrior. Sent off with a red card. Jokingly, he predicted this before the game, says PSV winger Dries Mertens. “I tried to convince him to stay but he said he wanted to retire like Zidane.” (Jan: who played his last game and like Van Bommel was red-carded).
The 36 year old PSV skipper realises he could have gone on for another season. “But I wanted to keep the lead in my farewell. Didn’t want to push on one season too many. The fans made it hard enough but this is how it is. And this red card is probably symbolical for my season.”
The midfielder started his pro career at Fortuna Sittard in 1992. At 16 years old he made his debut and made his move to PSV 7 years later. Van Bommel was always seen as a huge talent. A highly dynamic midfielder, with the passing skills of a playmaker and the physical strength of a destroyer. In his Fortuna days, he scored many a goal penetrating into the opponent’s box.
Van Bommel was partly responsible for the positive surge of Fortuna and the championship in the First Division.
At Fortuna, he played under his future father in law Bert van Marwijk before he made the big move to PSV, in 1999. He won 6 titles at PSV before he made his way to Barcelona. He won the title and the Champions League under Frank Rijkaard but left after one season for Bayern Munich.
“My time at Barcelona was great. I enjoyed Spain as a country and competition but I couldn’t settle in that rotation philosophy. Rijkaard told me he didn’t see me as the starter in the strongest, ideal eleven. I knew I would play enough games anyway, but I need to be important for a team. When Bayern went out their way to sign me, I decided to go.”
Van Bommel played for Munich from 2006 till the winter of 2011. The midfielder became the undisputed leader at Bayern and won two Bundesliga titles and played the CL finals in 2010. He lost, under Van Gaal, against Sneijder’s Inter Milan.
The relationship between Van Gaal and Van Bommel deteroriated and the Bayern skipper decided to move on. At AC Milan, he also won the national title and was able to make himself important for the rossoneri. He became very popular there and could sign a new deal in 2012 but decided to keep his promise to PSV. He returned to Eindhoven to win the title again and break the Ajax hegemony.
But despite the presence of coach Advocaat, players like Strootman, Mertens, Lens and Wijnaldum, Van Bommel wasn’t able to win more than the Johan Cruyff schaal this season. Ajax beat PSV for the title and AZ beat PSV in the national cup final.
Van Bommel: “I played 21 seasons pro football. My family and my friends have suffered from this. All this time, my program and my needs were most important. I was hardly ever home. Always in training camp or traveling and minding my food intake and getting enough rest. It must have been very hard on them. It’s time for me to give back.”
Mark van Bommel will be remembered as one of Holland’s strongest midfielders. He did collect a lot of cards in his career, but he needs to be remembered for his important passing, his blocks and tackles and his thumping pressure play in midfield. In his career, he also scored a number of beautiful and important goals.
His international career was not all one big success story. It was quite clear from the outset that Bommel would one day wear the orange. He made his debut in 2000 under Louis van Gaal but missed the 2002 tournament as Holland didn’t qualify and missed the 2004 EC in Portugal due to injury.
When Marco van Basten took the job in 2004, Van Bommel looked forward to working with his former idol (Van Basten’s poster adorned Mark’s room as a kid) but the two did not get along too well. In a WC qualification game against Romania, won by Holland, van Bommel didn’t execute his tactical role too well (according to Van Basten) and he overlooked the midfielder for a series of qualification games. Van Bommel had the reputation to “let his man get away from him…”.
In the semi finals Champions League in 2005, AC Milan beat PSV thanks to a late Ambrosini goal, who sneaked away from Van Bommel. This further cemented Mark’s bad rep at this aspect of his game.
Despite this, he did get the invite to play at the World Cup 2006 and was yellow- carded in the infamous Battle of Nuremburg, against Portugal. Van Bommel was overlooked again in the first EC qualification games and when he was called up for the Bulgaria game, he stated – with Van Nistelrooy – that he didn’t want to play under Van Basten anymore.
Rumour has it that Johan Cruyff had something to do with Van Bommel’s position in Oranje. Sometime in 2004, Cruyff was in the tv studio with Van Bommel to analyse Oranje under Dick Advocaat. Cruyff was criticising Advocaat’s 4-4-2 system. The master is not used to having people disagree with him, but Van Bommel immediately stated to not agree with Cruyff and that many teams have played great football with the 4-4-2 system. He even mentioned AC Milan in the 1980s, who famously destroyed JC’s Barcelona in the European Cup.
Cruyff, allegedly, exploded after the tv program, stating he would not return for any tv program, if he had to share the screen with that football player. Apparently, Cruyff influenced Van Basten, just like people believe JC was the reason why Mark was not at Barcelona longer than one season.
Other added to that rift, that Van Basten wasn’t equipped to deal with the more mature Oranje players. Van Nistelrooy and Van der Sar were two other players who would open their mouths at tactical talks and make it hard for Van Basten. With regards to the Romania game, in which Van Bommel ruined it for himself, the players now say that Van Bommel asked out loud what he was supposed to do if his Romanian opponent drifted away. Van Basten said: “You can push up, I want Dirk Kuyt to pick up your man.”
But after the game, Van Basten blamed Van Bommel and something snapped…
Van Nistelrooy decided to return for the EC2008. Van Bommel made his comeback in Oranje under his father in law Van Marwijk and had a series of great games under him. Van Bommel’s highlight in Oranje was the finals against Spain, at the World Cup 2010.
Sadly for him, it was Van Bommel (with Nigel de Jong) who got the blame for the mess in midfield during the 2012 EC debacle, although the whole team dynamic was a mess, but it simply looked as if Van Bommel/De Jong simply couldn’t manage the space anymore. Optical illusion for sure.
After coming out of the dressing room for the last time, this season, he said “the beautiful memories are the ones that last…” Only to add: “Don’t forget, I had 20 minutes extra to think up this comment.”
Van Bommel is happy to have made the choice to return to his club. “PSV is in my blood and I made this deal with the supporters and I wanted to stick to it. Now, I will start my trainer course and will start my career at PSV. We haven’t decided exactly what I will be doing. But I’ll find something. Mark’s farewell game is already planed. On July 19, he will have former colleagues like Ribery, Ibrahimovic, Robben, Thomas Muller, Badstuber and Schweinsteiger in his farewell team, most likely to play against either PSV or a group of Dutch internationals. Van Bommel said these players will all come, unless they have a game planned, of course. Duty always before pleasure…