We all love train wrecks. There is a whole category of movies in that vein: disaster movies! We can’t get our eyes to turn away. Or when there is a crash on the highway, we all slow down to watch…
What happened at PSV in the past months is exactly like that. Like a burning high rise crashing down, despite the efforts of Paul Newman or Steve McQueen…
Us Feyenoord fans thought we had it tough… But what’s playing out in Eindhoven is highly Shakespearian in magnitude and pathos.
Here are your main characters:
Toon Gerbrands – former Volley ball coach and author of motivational books. Prides himself of keeping calm in a crisis and keeping the peace. Won the title with AZ as a managing director, with Louis van Gaal as coach.
Gerbrands, John de Jong and Van Bommel in happier (?) times…
Marcel Brands – lauded and experienced technical director. Produced miracles at AZ Alkmaar and gave the likes of Dick Advocaat and Phillip Cocu players they could work with. He pushed his assistant John de Jong forward as his replacement.
Mark van Bommel -former top player for PSV, Oranje, AC Milan, Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Leadership in spades, like he has experience and football smarts. But also a tough cookie to deal with: arrogant, manipulative, headstrong. Son-in-law and best mate of Bert van Marwijk.
Bert van Marwijk – former top player and top coach (Feyenoord, Oranje, Borussia Dortmund). Currently taking well paid jobs in secondary football nations. Father in law of Mark and his best mate. Enjoys mentoring Van Bommel.
John de Jong – former player for FC Utrecht and PSV. Saw his career cut short by injuries. Introverted, humble and kind man. Thrown in the deep end as technical manager without any real experience.
Steven Bergwijn – top talent for PSV and Oranje. Headstrong and outspoken. Symbol for the PSV youth coming through (Gakpo, Sadilek, Ihattaren, Malen, Doan). Left PSV via backdoor to play for Spurs, partly due to Van Bommel exit.
Van Bommel and John de Jong in happier times…
Some supporting characters:
Mino Raiola, Ernest Faber, Ronald Waterreus, Huub Stevens….
In the Beginning
The first seed was planted back when Cocu was still coach at PSV and Mark van Bommel was knocking on the door, loudly. Marcel Brands was in strong command of the club, he could find players that could raise the level (Angelino, Dumfries, Lozano) and kept everyone in check. Even the board of directors (with among others: Hans van Breukelen!). But it was time for Brands to move on after so many successful years. And the EPL lured him to the big money side of the game, at Everton.
Mark coached Young PSV and did so very well. The young talents there had a great rapport with their coach and Toon Gerbrands felt he couldn’t really ignore Mark, a club icon.
Immediately it was clear to all that it wouldn’t be an easy ride. Yes, Van Bommel is a starting inexperienced coach, but humility is not in his dictionary. He started out demanding to fill his own backroom staff, against the will of Gerbrands, and eventually Mark van Bommel won the argument. And he picked inexperienced Yes Men Jurgen Dirckx and Reinier Robbemond as his right hand men.
Mart van den Heuvel, Ruud Hesp, Reinier Robbemond, Jurgen Dirckx and Mark
Early on in Mark’s first season, more issues came to the fore. Debutant John de Jong, technically Mark’s boss, was not capable of standing up to the former Bayern skipper. When Lozano was in the spotlight for a big money move to Italy, Mark simply benched the Mexican forward, as he “wasn’t with his head at PSV and didn’t train well”. De Jong begged for Mark to use him as his value would diminish if he was benched for too long. Mark: “That is not my problem. I’m responsible for the results and I want to play my best eleven.”
Internally, more problems arose. Mark didn’t like the old-fashioned methods of the medical staff and waged war with the older medical pros in the club, with slamming doors and voices raised. Bert van Marwijk wasn’t so much Mark’s mentor, willing and able to tone him down, but more his biggest cheerleader and consiglieri.
He also had eyebrows frowned when he declared injured and veteran player Ibi Afellay as his skipper. Even if the former Barca star hadn’t played for two years!
As Mark almost got the title last season and reached into the CL with his young team, Gerbrands wasn’t in a position to put a mouth guard onto Van Bommel. He had to bide his time.
When PSV allowed some of their key players to leave the club (Lozano, Luuk de Jong, Angelin0), Van Bommel didn’t get the replacements he desperately needed. Sam Lammers was Luuk’s replacement and due to no one’s fault, the talented striker got heavily injured in the first games of the new season.
Lozana was to be replaced by Doynell Malen who also got some injury woes… And Angelino, well for him, John de Jong got two new players in: Boscagli and Neto. Neither of whom managed to convince the coach, who used midfielder Sadilek on the LB spot, maybe just to spite Gerbrands and John de Jong.
When Malen and Bergwijn had injuries and Lammers’ replacement (some older Greek fella) couldn’t fill their boots, PSV started to drop points. When Ihattaren also had to skip games due to the illness and death of his dead, all creativity was seeped out of the team and more games were lost. PSV didn’t make it into the European competition post the winter break and dropped to a disappointing third place in the league.
Van Bommel didn’t think a crisis was looming. He analysed the games they lost and his conclusions were simple: we don’t play bad, but we don’t finish our chances. And that has everything to do with the absence of his key goal scorers. He also pointed out that he still was waiting for a proper left back (John de Jong!) and was adamant his team would finish second this season if he got the players he asked for.
But the crisis was there. The build up of irritation around Van Bommel’s attitude and management style resulted in Gerbrand’s sharpening the knives. On top of that, some board member spotted the squad having lunch together at some stage and he saw – allegedly – fatty chips and kebabs and pizzas on the table!
According to some insiders, this was the final straw for Gerbrands to fire Van Bommel and his staff (and his father in law). Not a loss on the pitch. But a so-called hairdress-salon (the nickname of the most unhealthy dish in Holland- see photo).
What Gebrands and Co didn’t realise, was the tremendous support Van Bommel has amongst the players. Not unimportant. Some players didn’t like Mark due to his biting cynicism and toughness, but the youngsters all adored him. Gaston Pereiro, Gutierez and the likes of Boscagli and Neto probably hated him and it’s no surprise that these guys never played. But Malen, Ihattaren, Gakpo, Bergwijn, Rosario, Dumfries, Viergever… they wanted to stick with Bommeltje.
And the support of the fans. Mark is a club icon. Symbol of invincibility. The fans wanted to keep Van Bommel and oust John de Jong, blaming him for the mediocre squad Mark had to work with.
And then there are the pundits, analysts, coaches and ex-football players. They all concur that Mark can be difficult, but they also believe he has a reason to be difficult, like Van Gaal (also difficult) and Mourinho (also difficult) rub many people the wrong way, but they do deliver too.
Van Bommel – Van Gaal bust up
And no one understands how this weird season for PSV started with them staying on Ajax’ tail but at Christmas time, the club is in disarray, the coach is sacked and the riot police was called in to keep the crowd quiet.
When Van Bommel was kicked out, Gerbrands didn’t have the ideal candidate to take over ready and waiting and turned to Ernest Faber. A seasoned coach in the mid tier of the Dutch leagues (NEC, FC Groningen). Lacking in charisma, Faber is your typical “come on guys, work work work!”. No real tactical innovation, no special approach… Ten Hag, Slot, Schreuder, Bosz have their tactical approach to fall back on, Advocaat, Hiddink and Van Gaal add their personality to the mix, but Faber is a bit bland and probably at his best as the PSV Academy manager.
Faber reluctantly took the job and saw his team spiral even further down. No desire, no work rate, no joy, no confidence, to sum it all up. They dropped more points and were also kicked out of the national cup competition, meaning that there is nothing to play for this season anymore.
Word is, that the players still speak to Van Bommel. They go to him for advice and support and it’s not secret that Bergwijn’s exit has everything to do with Mark’s demise. And who knows, more could follow. Ihattaren can sign anyware, Malen was on the Barca hit list, Dumfries can go to Germany, England and Italy and once these guys leave the club this coming summer, PSV might well drop further down and spiral totally out of control.
It would be typical for Van Bommel to direct this disaster movie remotely, with the connections he still has in the club (sponsors) and with his seasoned father in law. Raiola, the master agent, who has a number of PSV players in his portfolio is also a good friend and the agent of Van Bommel. I’m sure games are being played and I’m also sure that Mark is out for revenge. He probably won’t rest until John de Jong and Toon Gerbrands are out as well.
John de Jong already alluded to his potential exit, saying he wanted to stay until deadline day weekend and then he’ll see what he wants to do.
In the meantime, PSV old hands like Waterreus and Huub Stevens all seem to have a open account to kick Van Bommel in the gut, as they went on national tv with support for the current management and words of criticism towards Van Bommel and Van Marwijk. The game is on.
But some will do well, out of all this. Super Agent Raiola has managed to further expand his influence. He has Van Bommel in his portfolio, Rosario, Malen and now Dumfries, as well.
Latest in: Marco van Ginkel might return to PSV