While part of the attention in football land is going towards all the new signings, the Neymar transfer, Man United’s ambitions, Bayern’s poor performances and other irrelevant matters, the Dutch fans are following the non-news around a number of important players for Oranje. Sneijder, Van Persie, Janssen, Cillesen, Wijnaldum, Van Dijk…
Robin van Persie is very welcome in Rotterdam. Feyenoord would love to bring the gifted left footer back, in Dirk Kuyt style. Van Persie wouldn’t mind the role of mentor, in a Feyenoord that lost a lot of experience. Sure, they signed some exciting young talents, but with Elia, Kuyt, Karsdorp and Kongolo gone, quite some know-how left. Van Persie would be the ideal new leader of the team, in which only El Ahmadi and Brad Jones can be considered seniors. Feyenoord lost quite some goals too, with Kuyt and Elia and the low-scoring Feyenoord in the pre-season could do with some guile in the box. But Fener is keen to keep Van Persie in Turkey, and the former left winger does not have a “Kuyt-clause” enabling him to return.
Wesley Sneijder has another challenge. He is a free agent, but wants to play for LA United. Their season only starts in 2018 so Wes is looking for a good “in-between” club at level, to keep his Oranje spot secure. FC Utrecht, the team from his hometown rejected the courtship. Erik ten Hag is not keen to have a player for only half a season, let alone the wages pressure which come with Sneijder. For similar reasons, Ajax has stated it won’t need Sneijder’s services, what with the many midfield talents around. Nice might be the only club with some level that is keen to sign him on a one year deal. Sneijder is currently training privately.
With Ter Stege in Barcelona still on prolonged holidays, Cillesen has been impressing in the pre-season games for the Catalans, but when the German returns, Cillesen will most likely be relegated to the bench. Benfica is courting him to allow him playing time in the World Cup season ahead, but it’s unlikely Barca will let him go.
In the meantime, Ruud Gullit is reminiscing about his career. He is not very active as yet as assistant coach. Apart from sharing his concerns re: the Oranje key players, he’s currently doing the rounds as a public speaker. The former Oranje captain, the only one to raise a trophy in the jersey, is comfortable in the spotlights. Former figure head, people magnet and eternal optimist. “I used to be known as the Black Tulip,” he quips. “Nowadays, I’m more like the Black ATM….” Referring to the alimony checks he’s paying monthly (four ex-wives). Ruud has been downsizing ever since his private issues, and even lives in a modest flat in Amsterdam. “I used to be on the top of the mountain, now I’m wandering below. And I like it. This life is better. I used to travel everywhere, but never saw a thing. I used to meet 1000s of people but never knew anyone. Now, every day I meet people, lovely, friendly, warm and interesting people and I can make a connection. I always get inspired meeting interesting people.” He’s the most iconic player we have, except for Cruyff and Van Hanegem. He was a living symbol of the 1980s. Reggae artist, anti-apartheid activist, a figure-head across the globe, the idol of a generation.
Van Basten loathed his fame and adoration, Gullit revels in it. In his home, he has quite some memorabilia. A small version of the European Cup, a picture with Nelson Mandela. He is all life, and loves telling anecdotes. “Did I tell you that story of Barry Hughes, at Sparta? Louis van Gaal was his captain and Van Gaal was already a semi-trainer. When they played NAC, they were behind at half time. Van Gaal was furious at half time and said to Hughes: “Coach! It’s a mess out there. You need to do something now!” And Hughes said: “You’re right son. You see it well. I’m subbing you!” And he smiles that big smile. He was always relaxed. Never a moment of stress. His team mate and room mate Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t sleep before a big match. Ruud would go to bed straight after dinner and snore the night away. “I’d say to him, Carlo! What the hell man, why stress out. We are going to play a football match tomorrow! There’s nothing better man!”
Despite the dreads, the reggae career, the friendship with Mandela and his anti apartheid stance, Ruud never felt black. He never felt to be from Suriname. “I’m from Amsterdam. I feel like someone from Amsterdam, not Suriname!” Ruud’s mum is white as can be. “I never experienced racism. I was a good player, that will have helped, yes, but even though I know racism exists, I never personally experienced it.”
Ruud’s open personality was not always his friend. He met many people who were out to “get” him. Or to take advantage of him. “I think I did deal with people who were out to screw me. But you know what? If I wasn’t who I was, I would never have met all the good people I met. I value that more than the loss I experienced by these bad people.”
Ruud has ongoing issues privately. His former Italian wife Cristina Pensa has recently put a claim in for all Ruud’s future earnings at the KNVB. Another chapter in a private life full of court cases and alimony obligations. Ruud is not happy with all that, as he wants to avoid “negative emotions”. “I was always most happy in tough times. It’s always a learning process, how do you deal with it. I am quite spiritual. I believe in fate. Not in coincidence. Complaining won’t help. I have a great life. I’m proud.”
It’s another 28 days until the key match vs France and Advocaat and Gullit still don’t know what their ideal squad will look like. Next Tuesday, the pair formally starts after summer reces, but Dick and Ruudje will have been working hard already trying to assess who will be part of that chapter. They have enjoyed watching all the pre-season games, from tournaments from the US to Hong Kong. “The clubs make it harder now. They don’t want to release their players. We will get our players on Monday before the match. Tuesday is the first real training day. Wednesday, we travel to France to play on Thursday. And on Sunday, we have Bulgaria. It’s not ideal. I know all nations suffer from this, we’re not alone, but it’s not ideal,” says Dick Advocaat.
Still, the team manager is not unhappy with some of his players. He saw Cillesen playing excellent against Real Madrid, while Stekelenburg at Everton also impressed. Wijnaldum picked up where he left off with Liverpool and Janssen seems sharp in the pre-season for Spurs. In Italy, De Vrij, Hoedt and Strootman play their games while Promes already found the net for Spartak. The move of Klaassen, Karsdorp and Kongolo will also please Big Dick. Kongolo started well in the Super Cup game against Paris St Germain but Rick Karsdorp is recovering from a knee operation. In Dick’s plans, a compact Oranje needs a playmaker Sneijder to release world class Arjen Robben. But Sneijder’s future is not sure, he’s not first choice at OGC Nice at the moment. And even Robben, our only star, is not fit yet and hasn’t really played a competitive game. And Robben seems key in the game plan vs France. Advocaat and Gullit saw the B-team of France play England of the pitch, recently. Coach Deschamp can field three equally strong teams with ample quality. What Holland can do against France, basically consists of the intelligence of Sneijder, the class of Robben and otherwise our mental strength and fighting mentality. Virgil van Dijk will be key in the latter aspects. But the tall defender, despite being coveted by all major EPL clubs, hasn’t played for six months now and trains individually, waiting for a transfer that might not even happen. So Sneijder, Robben and Van Dijk – key vs France – form the symbol of Oranje these days. Will they or won’t they show up?