Tag: Frenkie

How to stop Messi: Ron Vlaar

People still stop Ron Vlaar at the super market to ask him about his match, 8 years ago, versus Argentina and Messi. This will only become more the case in the coming days. Not many defenders can say that they silenced the little maestro. And that was all at the biggest platform: the World Cup. The AZ youth coach explains how.

So how do you prep for a match up with Messi?

“You don’t. You should prepare for a game versus Argentina. And that was then and it’s the same now. You do need to take into account his particular skill set and quality, but you need to anticipate as a team, on them as a team. But a team with Messi. I just told myself, that whenever Messi would be in my neck of the woods, I had to stop him.”

So it was a team task?

“Yes of course. No one was sacrificed to play or mark him. It’s important that you constantly watch him and check his movements, in particular when we have the ball. Those are the moments he is waiting for. He’ll drift, he’ll wander, he will go to the spaces inbetween, mostly strolling almost. You saw it versus Australia as well. And his team mates will know where he is, and when they get possession back, like a snake they’ll find him fast. Half a ball is enough for him to punish you really. So that is where we need to be sharp. And I think we did well, in 2014.”

So how important was blocking the pass lines to Messi?

“They play the exact same way now as they played in 2014. Find Messi and give him the ball. It was very visible this way versus the Aussies this time around. They were sloppy in the first half, so they didn’t really find him, but in the second half they did, and Messi was immediately threatening.”

How do you look back at those personal duels?

“People still ask me about this. And I think there are some cool photos from that match. I personally don’t remember the match as me versus him. I fought duels with a lot of players in that game but these duels are less important to the fans I guess. For me, the whole performance was important, the team performance. At the end of the day, you need to do your job as a defender, no matter who the opponent.”

But Messi’s feet are a tad quicker than the average other player..

“That is true which is why you need to be ready for him before he gets the ball. If you can anticipate his runs, you have a chance. If you react to him, you’re usually too late already. You have to scan constantly. You need to take into account what is happening and what can happen. Because if you allow him to turn and then run at you, you’re toast. He has speed, ball skills, he can go left, right. The key things are anticipating and reading the situation. The good thing is, Frenkie and De Roon have the tendency to constantly look around them, all the time. They should be ready for him.”

And the forward press is key too?

“Super important, because Messi loves to drop deep to find space and make his runs. You need to be compact. And you need to pressure him from two angles. Close in on him. Ake and Timber are very good in the press and that will be a major asset. I played in the Virgil role back then and my role is the same as Virgil’s: to be there when he slips through the cracks.”

And than there is the role of the holding mid.

“Yes, that was something Nigel de Jong did for us in that semi final and he had to leave the pitch for an hour or so. He had to be subbed and Jordy Clasie did his job as a sub, which he did ever so well. That was such an important performance, as Clasie hadn’t played a single minute. In this Oranje, I think De Roon will be key, for when Frenkie is on his bike. Don’t forget, Dumfries is also usually gone.”

Which Argentina is better you think, the 2014 team or the current team?

“I think the Brazil one was bnetter. They had a younger Messi, a younger Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero, Mascherano, really top players. And more individual qualities. But, just like then, this Argentina does play as a team.”

Are you confident for the game?

“Yes, I think Holland is actually better. We don’t play flash, but we play very business like. To win. I loke that. And if the play with the ball is not good, they still perform their tasks without the ball. This team is hard to beat. And we have players who can make a difference. I too enjoy good football, but winning is more important to me. I don’t care how. It’s not about how good you are, but are you good enough to win. And this Oranje is good enough to win.”

While we’re talking, I can see Messi make his way up to the training pitch at Doha!

“Haha, cool! Tell him I said hi!”

 

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Oranje taking on the US

My friends, I am moving house this weekend so no long stories. Just some fun tidbits. First some fun news on Pulisic, who is declared fit to play vs The Netherlands.

US coach Gregg Berhalter and players Sergino Dest and Luca de la Torre have well publicised histories in the Netherlands. Dest was born in the Netherlands and almost played for the Oranje, but the Milan star decided to go for the land of his parents. De La Torre played very recently for Heracles Almelo and coach Berhalter spent 6 seasons in Holland as a player. He played for Cambuur and Sparta and with the latter, he beat Louis van Gaal’s Ajax, 1-0 in 1997.

Not a lot of people know that Christian Pulisic played for PSV in 2013. For 2 weeks only. But as you can see below in the same team as Cody Gakpo, his opponent tonight. Pulisic was on trial and impressed PSV mightily. But when Borussia Dortmund offered Pulisic Sr. a job as youth coach on top, the youngster went for the German club.

Van Gaal didn’t give much away in the press conference. It’s everyone’s guess what he’ll do with the line up but I think he’ll use the usual players (no Xavi, no Lang) as he is hoping/working on getting his preferred eleven (13?) to start clicking into gear. He did joke that he heard the Belgium job was available after the World Cup and that his wife, the by know infamous Truus, wouldn’t mind living in Belgium for a spell.

Berhalter too had some fun moments in his presser. He said Van Gaal claimed not to remember losing against Sparta with Berhalter in 1997, but the USA coach thinks Louis was lying. “A guy like him remembers those sorts of things, trust me.” Berhalter has generated heaps of inspiration from his time in Holland. “It was great. What struck me was the after training and matches, players would debate tactics with the coach and everyone in Holland has an opinion. I learned a lot. We had a good striker in Remco Boere, he instructed me exactly how he wanted to crosses. I hit the ball with a lot of effect. He hated that. So I had to adjust.” Berhalter became good friends with current Feyenoord coach Arne Slot. “He was young still, 16 years old when I met him, but it was clear he could become a top coach. He is intelligent, calm and has a great view on football. Passion and intelligence.” He also laughed when asked about the criticism of the fans on Oranje. “That is normal in Holland. They are so critical and vocal. We once were 1-0 down against Ajax away, and the Ajax fans booed their team! You have 16 million national team coaches, right?”

Aaron Johansson and Steven Berghuis at AZ

Former USA international Aaron Johansson remembers his time in Holland as well, the part Icelandic, part American forward played with Steven Berghuis and Davy Klaassen. Injuries made an end to Johansson’s career. “I am not surprised to see Berghuis in Oranje. In fact, I expected him way earlier. He did have a tough time in England I guess, but has the most gifted left foot I ever came across. I am not surprised he is World Cup material. I played with Klaassen at Werder Bremen. Again, not surprised he is in the team. He is so good, his movements and the easy with which he plays. Always simple but always the right pass. Sometimes you don’t realise how good he is. He can make tough things look easy. It’s logical that he is in the line up.”

Johansson ended his statements saying he hopes USA wins 3-2, with a goal by Berghuis and Klaassen.

Why does Virgil van Dijk play as a goalie for Cameroon??

The betting analysts now moved Oranje up to fifth spot to win the World Cup, behind Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain, England and Portugal.

At the last Presser, Van Gaal responded to the criticism his team is receiving.  “Its not new.  I am used to it. I got it in 2014 as well. The players are used to it too. We just do our thing.” On the comments Memphis made, that he prefers to play with Bergwijn next to him and Gakpo behind him. “It’s his right to give his opinion. I don’t mind. It is something we do in The Netherlands. Particularly, in the Netherlands. Is it smart? No, I don’t think so but I can’t blame him for speaking his mind.”

And: “We are now all match fit, for the first time this tournament. We had players like Klaassen, De Roon, Berghuis, De Vrij and of course Memphis not totally 100% but we were able to bring them all to this point.”

I say: 3-1 for Holland. Memphis, Bergwijn and Gakpo scoring.

Interview Frenkie: with English subtitle option

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The Road to Qatar: Memphis believes!

We have seen many posts here on Memphis. About his rise to the top. About his tough childhood. His amazing skills, goals and stats and his incredible outfits. Yes, the latter has been a big thing in Dutch media, because… we have an opinion about literally everything.

The 28 year old is LVG’s hope in fearful days, but since his return after a 2 months absence, he has not been firing on all cylinders yet. Could we actually expect him to? But, Memphis believes he will improve and be ready to step up. “I have proven that I don’t need rhythm or even form, to play well in the next match.”

Oranje had a lot of possession against Qatar, but the ball pace was still too low. This is what made Oranje so wonderful to watch: good pace, lots of positioning chances, adventure, pressure… We didn’t see one decent attack – well maybe we saw a couple but not enough. But, Oranje qualified for the last 16 and is facing Team USA.

“I am very bad at watching a game from the bench. I’m even more nervous than. I don’t get nervous when I play. You have more control. Against Senegal and Ecuador, you see thinks that need to improve, but you can’t improve them. Medically speaking, it was unwise for me to start in those matches, but I always want to start and I can get a bit agitated when I don’t, hahaha.”

He did come on to the pitch, Louis van Gaal adamant to bring Memphis with some caution. “Getting onto the pitch after an hour or so is tough. Really is. The game has a flow, a pace and you need to quickly adapt. And in my role, I am a bit dependent on the balls I get, the way the others can play. Against Senegal, I had 3 touches in 15 minutes. That is debilitating for me. And then in the last stage, the ball comes into space, I can run with it and we end up scoring. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. You simply have less influence when you come onto the pitch in the second half.”

Against Qatar, he started. Finally. After 65 minutes he was rested but had a strong role in both goals. Overall, Van Gaal was high in his praise for Memphis, but the match was again quite disappointing.

Is it possible to play good football and to win?

Memphis: “Oh for sure, but it also depends on …what is good football? Some people love a team that dominates like Barcelona plays. Others like swift counter attacking teams, or teams that really do physical battle. But yes, I think we can all agree our match v Ecuador was below standards. We are all football fans ourselves and we are not satisfied.”

What is the solution?

“That is in the details, it’s subtle. The moments in which you can get away from your marker. Offering yourself as an option at the right moment. Passing lines, blocking them or opening them up. I am a forward, it is not my job to pick up the ball, like Frenkie does. And we need to have all the parts clicking. From the goalie to Virgil, via Frenkie and other players to me or Cody or whoever is up front. We all play our role. And we have lads on the bench who can make a difference still, with weapons we haven’t used yet. I think of Luuk or Noa or Xavi.”

Do you hear the criticism from Holland?

“Nope, I am not on social media during the World Cup. This all goes beyond me. I do that on purpose, to protect myself. I don’t need that info to perform. It’s all noise. I focus on what makes me better. I will hear from our coaches what I need to hear. All that is said and written by others, I try to ignore. I live in a tunnel at the moment.”

Is that easy to do?

“I had to learn that. When I played in England, for Man United, i heard all those things about me and it didn’t help me. At all. I was checking everything and I realised it is not something that works for me. It’s distracting and most of the stuff you read is not even true! The other day, they read that Noa was sent away from training. He came to me and said “why do they write this?” There was no issue, the physio wanted to see his foot and he had to go inside. Noa needs to close himself off from that, it’s a discipline thing. Once we are done in Qatar, I hope after the finals, I will turn my insta back on.”

How is your fitness?

“Well, there is fit and there is match fit. The muscle injury i had after Poland is gone. That happened two months ago and it’s all good now. But that doesn’t mean I am fit to play 90 minutes. You cannot emulate matches at training. As a sub, you do need to train the next day with the lads that didn’t play and that is pretty tough. I need it all to become fit as soon as possible.”

Did you ever doubt you’d be ready?

“Never. We didn’t need to rush anything in my recovery. There was a slight set back early on, and that has somewhat slowed me down, but not much. It is what it is. I never panicked. We had it all under control.”

There is being fit and being in form?

“Yes, but…what is form? You can have a nice period in your career, a flow, things go by themselves. But i can still be decisive for the team even if I am not in good form. I can decide a game in the 90st minute even if I play bad all match. It’s about moments. And I need to be there when my moment comes. That is tournament football. Is there one team that plays consistently good football? No, there are not that many amazing matches, but there are many amazing moments.”

Louis van Gaal basically said “we don’t have a chance without Memphis”. Does that give you additional pressure?

“No not at all. That pressure, I put on myself. Always. I want to be the key man, I want to be decisive for the team. I created those expectations myself. I have 42 goals for Oranje, well… people can expect something from me. And other players will step up too. When Frenkie and I were not there for the Nations League games, we still beat Belgium, right? We won against Senegal and drew versus Ecuador and Cody does the business for us. We will come far, as long as players remain fit.”

You created that level of expectation and if you’re honest, the whole team has done this, as has Louis van Gaal. Shouldn’t we be playing way better?

“Yes, for sure. I think so too and we are confident. No one will be able to convince us we are not good enough. Yes it was not good enough against Senegal and Ecuador, we know. But we did win the group and we are in the last 16 of the tournament. We will grow into this tournament.”

Even in a bad game, we don’t lose. This Oranje refuses to lose?

“Well yes, that is a quality, but it’s not something we want to lean on. We want to attack and win and we want to play better. The thing is, you also have to deal with the strength of the opponent.”

Did we underestimate Senegal and Ecuador?

“Maybe, these nations play different than we do, or than European nations. I remember we played Ecuador in the run up to the WC2014. We played 1-1, as well. I think the current Ecuador is even better. You never win easily against South American teams. We had a hard time beating Mexico in 2014 remember? We were watching Argentina – Mexico  the other day. And we were looking at each other. They were going at it, but the players are all cool with it. It’s there culture. They know they’re going to get kicked, but that is how they play and think: You’ll feel me today!”

is it possible to enjoy a World Cup as a player?

“Oh yes, we watch the games when we can. We follow the big names of course. We love watching Argentina, Brazil, Spain. I could watch football every night, but we also have our meetings and obligations. We have sessions per line, or individual. What is going well, what needs to improve, that sortathing. Discussing it is as vital as practicing it. It takes time but the talks are key. We need them and sometimes we miss a game as a result. A World Cup for us is more than just playing matches.”

In 2014 you were the Xavi Simons. Young, fearless, impatient. Now you are the leader.

“That is the fun thing of a career, all the different stages, the emotion, the pressure, the learning and now the responsibility. I have always wanted the responsibility. And it makes it extra tough when you can’t play due to injury.”

Do you find opponents play differently when you play or don’t play?

“When Frenkie and I are in sync, there is definitely more fear in the opponent and we can tell by how they talk and coach each other on the pitch. But, I don’t see myself as a real striker. I am more a creator and not a finisher. Like Lewandowski is a really killer. That is not me. By the way, super for him to score his WC goal. He is always leading his country and cool for him to go through.”

Do you learn from other strikers?

“For sure. I am not really a killer but I do watch him and learn from his movement and his positioning. The way he takes a ball first time, yes of course.”

For someone who is not a striker, you are close to being Oranje’s all time top scorer, with 42 goals you’re close to Robin van Persie

“That would be history wouldn’t it, a record like that. I have that ambition yes. And I missed the Euro 2016 and the WC in 2018, imagine that. I started to score a lot of goals under Koeman, before that I didn’t even score that much. Records are there to be broken, but let me stop talking and let me reach that number first. It’s not about me, at the end of the day. We want to achieve something special here and for me, it’s just a matter of doing my bit.”

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On the road to Qatar to… Qatar

Before the World Cup, all the smart football experts felt that Holland would breeze through the group, winning three games and ending on top of the group. No one expected the chagrin we all feel now.

Van Gaal built a reputation of being a daring, modern, attacking football promoting wizard, who can be viewed as a success coach. We all know better of course. Yes successes at Ajax, at Munich, at AZ but also mixed results at Barca and Man United and a huge disgrace in 2002 with Oranje. Of course, he sort of made amends in 2014, but this time he wants to go all the way. Or as he famously said: We can go an end. Which is the literal translation of the Dutch version of We can go a long way.

The Qatar match is going to be an interesting one. For starters we want and need to win it. But the Senegal and Ecuador matches have not demonstrated that Van Gaal’s complicated 1-3-4-1-2 system works. It may have worked, although in the different matches for the qualification and in the Nations League, he did switch around a bit. So to say that the LVG system is proven and water tight… no.

And now we are at a crossroads. Will Van Gaal use the same core players in his same system? Which is likely to do because 1) his ego doesn’t want to admit he was wrong, 2) he wants to have his core line up use this game as a practice run for when we play the top teams later on. Or will he use the young turks to prove themselves, give them game time and see if there is a new Marco van Basten or Memphis Depay amongst the second tier who could turn this disappointing journey around?

I would play this (if I was the coach) but I think Van Gaal will stick to this tactical guns and only add Xavi Simons to the mix. The country screams for him (87% of the respondents of a VI Pro poll want him to play) and LVG is smart enough to go with that if this means he keeps his dignity. But I don’t believe he’ll use  4-3-3.

As everyone who watched the games will concur that the “without-the-ball” play is decent but the “in-possession” play is dreadful. The players acknowledge that it has to improve, the analysts plug Simons, Lang and Malacia while the foreign press witness a struggling Oranje. The 2 attempts on goal v Ecuador is a new record. Since 1966 no nation was this toothless. The last “low number of attempts” was in 2014, the semi final against Argentina. Seven attempts.

How is it that a country renowned for their attacking creativity be so bad a creating? VI Pro asked Foppe de Haan, successcoach with Jong Oranje, Aad de Mos – master analyst, Hedwiges Maduro – ex international, Marcel Lukassen ex director football development at the KNVB and Jelle Goes, ex technical director of the KNVB.

Foppe de Haan

“We play with 5 defenders. And yes, you can play attacking football with 5 at the back, but you automatically have to start one forward less. So it’s actually a bit more defensive. You will have less options on the ball. And this system works well if you have top class wingbacks and… we don’t have them. I think Dumfries is positioned way too high. He is great if he goes into the space. Not if he’s there, with a man in his back. He lacks the skill for that. I don’t like to see Frenkie going all the way back to pick up the ball. He is the least threatening when he plays there. Van Dijk needs to do more in building up. More courage, more balls. Now, the balls go from left to right and back, it annoys the crap out of me. I don’t see any spectacle. We don’t offer enough bodies in the box, for instance. There is not enough threat, only Gakpo is in decent form up front. I don’t see any wing play with an action to take an opponent on. I see a lot of reality and not a lot of ideals. I think Team USA, Canada and Japan play with more forward thrust than we do.”

Hedwiges Maduro

“The defensive game play has developed enormously, internationally. The result of all the data and stats. It’s now easier to train in defence. How to organise, how to keep your distances in check. Even countries like Saudi Arabia can defend compact and grind out results. And because of this, attacking has become harder. I don’t think Van Gaal is thinking defensively, per se, but he simply doesn’t have world class forwards. We have three creative attackers in the centre of the pitch and the width has to come from the backs: Blind and Dumfries. But Ecuador had those avenues blocked off. They constantly had a man more in midfield and in defence. Then it’s tough to break them down. And they had one striker, Valencia, against three of our best defenders. But we don’t benefit from that man more.”

Marcel Lukassen

“All nations have improved mainly in terms of organisation. They all play more compact and defend and attack with 10. Due to it being so compact, it’s becoming harder and harder for attackers. A lot of our defenders used to be attackers. From Malacia to Karsdorp, from Dumfries to De Ligt. Which means that our defenders can all play, they can all play a good forward pass, like Blind and Ake. But this trend also shifts a lot of the defending requirements to the midfield and even the attack. German development academies focus on winning matches. Don’t concede goals and win! In The Netherlands, our emphasis is on scoring, on attacking. That is a cultural thing. Do we now create better defenders? I don’t believe so. Take Virgil van Dijk. Our captain. Considered on of the best. He should have blocked that Ecuador attack that resulted in a goal. He was running with the attacker. You need to defend. You need to block the attackers progress. Win the ball or force the opponent wide. And don’t wait and run along with him to shield the centre of the pitch. In a 1 v 1 situation, your first task is to intercept the ball when it’s passed. If you can’t, you need to make sure the opponent can not run in a straight line to the goal. You need to put pressure on him. And take De Ligt, versus Senegal. Why did he make all these fouls. Because he is not good at recognising when to pressure high and at what cost. We are not so good as we thing we are. Our attackers grow up with way less resistance. When you play for Ajax or Feyenoord or AZ you will win most of your games easily. As you can see, we know how to dazzle in the Eredivisie, but at this level? In Germany, the under 14s already play in compact systems and they look at things like distances, horizontal and vertical. They create unpredictable situations. In Holland, it’s more about the structure and shape and about individual skills. We need to overhaul our development methods. By focusing on better defending, you also train the attackers in becoming better and you challenge them. And we need to limit the spaces and play more compact. Look at the development of a Xavi Simons, at PSG and Barca, compared to a player like Hartjes or Bannis or Vente of Feyenoord.”

Aad de Mos

“I would not draw too many conclusions. This is a moment in time. Every tournament, you will have a bad game. We played Sweden in 1974 0-0. Was a terrible match. The spaces are more confined, it seems like defending is done better, but it’s not. Some nations do benefit from this, like Ecuador. Once we play better teams, who play more open, we will get more space, I suppose. Our forwards lack form though. Memphis, Bergwijn…maybe it’s time to give Simons or Lang a go. I do hope the players will be real and honest to each other. I think being a good friends group is not always good. I heard from some players from Belgium that they talk a lot about cars and watches, but now it seems De Bruyne is finally confronting his team mates, as is Alderweireld. We need less good vibes and more assholes. I think the Belgians resemble us more, and we are becoming more like them. It’s a good time for a little war in the camp.”

Jelle Goes

“In my view, we play reaction football. When you play 5 at the back, you actually leave the initiative with the opponent. It worked well in 2014. Every chance and a half ended up in goal, with hot shots like Van Persie and Robben and Memphis hot off the bench. But today, we have more quality, we have midfielders playing at top clubs in Europe and I think players need to play on the position they’re used to at their club. It’s not easy to make that switch. Look at Van Dijk, Timber, De Ligt and Ake. Do they play in a 3 at the back? No, not at their club. Are they the key men in build up? No, they’re not. They’re great defenders. And is it not ok to ask from Blind to reach the box of the opponent? Gakpo played his best games as a left winger and I believe Berghuis should play as right winger, in the Ziyech role, with Dumfries bombing forth. I do believe in success for Oranje, but don’t make it too complicated. Make it logical. I will probably take one or two subtle changes and we can win games comfortably.”

I think Ronald Koeman will need to do some restoration work.

I think under Koeman we will say our goodbyes to Noppert (as #1 goalie) and Blind. He might stay on in the squad but its time to bring Malacia. And if Wijndal or Bakker start to perform consistently, move on from Blind.

And go back to a 4-2-3-1. Preferably with Frimpong as well :-).

What do you expect from the Holland v Qatar game? I say 5-0. Brace for Xavi, a goal for Memphis and hopefully a World Cup goal for Virgil and Berghuis. Good for their confidence :-). Although Gakpo is on fire and every goal is another 5 million euros for PSV hahaha….

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Road to Qatar: Andries Noppert

The 28 year old is born in Joure, Friesland. Pronounced “Jower”, so his nickname is: The Tower of Joure. Yes!

I had prepped Road to Qatar posts for Flekken and Cillesen, considering these two would make the cut. But they didn’t.

This tall, lanky, somewhat lacklustre goalie who played only 51 Eredivisie games for Go Ahead Eagles and SC Heerenveen and never one single match in a rep team for Oranje ended up surpassing the two experienced goalies and made it to Oranje #1.

What a story. If Noppert learned one thing, it is that nothing is impossible.

It’s 2020, and dad Noppert asks his son to come round for a chat. His deal at 2nd tier club FC Dordrecht is coming to an end. Due to injuries, the tall goalie didn’t make an impression. Andries’ dad Fokko suggested that his son probably should start thinking about another career. Police officer maybe? But Andries didn’t want to hear it. He invested in another rehabilitiation session and with his resilience, his patience and a bit of luck, he ended up becoming the most amazing keeper story in the history of Dutch goalkeeping. Because today, Van Gaal decided that Noppert is the best goalkeeper of the Nation.

And Noppert goes from surprise to surprise. He’s now in a hotel room in Qatar so big he needs directions to find the toilet (his words) and had to call reception to find out how he could close the drapes at night. Oh, we do this via a remote control, electronically, Mr Noppert. They don’t have those hotels in Heerenveen, it seems.

In Joure, Noppert started to play football as a outfield player. “He was a rough player, like a tank. So much energy. He would simply go for the ball, no matter what.” This mentality meant that the youth coaches felt he would be great as a keeper. “He was tall already and fearless,” says his dad, who is also 2 meters tall.

When he is 10 years old, SC Heerenveen comes along and the youth coaches saw something interesting. “He was the only kid who wasn’t impressed to be here, or who wasn’t nervours. He came across as a sponge, was keen to learn about everything.”

“He also was active as a gymnast and despite his lengthy frame, he was very agile and lightfooted. Usually, tall guys can have coordination issues, but not Andries. He was very good with his footwork and movement.”

When keepers trainer Van der Sleen moves to Breda to work at NAC, Noppert wants to go too. Heerenveen offers the youngster a contract but Noppert is keen on an adventure with his coach. The goalie would not make a mark in Breda and NAC gets relegated.

In the 2nd tier, Noppert doesn’t make a name for himself as a goalie, but as a practical joker. One of his fave tricks was to park cars of team mates on very tough spots in the surrounding nature. “There was this hill, it was not easy to get your car on there, or off, and we would take someone’s keys and take his car and park it up there. If they came back from the physio or whatever, we would say “hey mate, isn’t that your car up there? How did it get there? Hahahaha”.

More typical football dressing room humor ensues. The worst one: not flushing the toilets. The coach would be driven to madness and Noppert and his mates would be having more than a casual laugh.

It’s 2017 and Italian side Foggia is looking for another goalie. Somehow, Noppert is their man. He’s 23 years old wen he moves to the South of Italy. Breda wasn’t good to him, but Italy was worse. Different coaches, no playing time, a lot of criticism and threats from fans and dealing with the local mafia. At one point, his car was stolen and offered back to him to buy. His dad: “Andries doesn’t speak Italian and didn’t speak English too well and then you end up there. Madness, things happened there you would never see in The Netherlands. But, I think it made him stronger.”

Noppert returns to Holland after two seasons. His girlfriend Sarena is grateful. Life in Foggia wasn’t too good for her. The 24 year old can sign a deal with FC Dordrecht. Coach Claudio Braga offers him a starting berth and he plays a very strong game against NEC, the first match of the season. At training, the goalie gets a heavy knee injury. Another major set back. Due to Covid, Noppert can’t travel to his physio and builds a home gym to deal with his recovery. But his Dordrecht contract expires and the tower is going to have another tough conversation with his dad and wife, who try to convince him to stop dreaming. Noppert refuses to give up.

It would take six months since his recovery for another club to contact him. Go Ahead Eagles just lost two goalies due to injuries and need a back up. Warner Hahn is also brought in and the tall Frysian loses out against the former Feyenoord talent. His Go Ahead coach Van Wonderen: “Lets just say that Andries didn’t make it hard for me to pick Hahn.”

Van Wonderen: “He made mistakes, but he also had the most miraculous saves! I noticed he was at peace with being second keeper. He lacked sharpness and hunger. I made him aware. I triggered him. And when Hahn was going through a bad spell, I gave Andries his chance. He took it.”

He had an impressive half season and now suddenly clubs were queueing up for him. FC Utrecht, Heracles, Cambuur, they all wanted him now, but Andries’ heart went out to his first love, SC Heerenveen.

He wanted to be closer to his family, now Noppert and wife have a child, and he is finally able to play football in front of his old mates, who usually go and watch Heerenveen play.

At Go Ahead Eagles, the fans started to chant “Noppert in Oranje!!” and it was seen as a silly joke. No one knew that only a year later the injury-prone towering goalie would actually be on Van Gaal’s radar.

When he got the first invite for Oranje, he received a phone call from his old youth coach. In typical Noppert style, he told his old coach: “Can you believe it? They all fell for it!”

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More Oranje Stats

Football has done a long time without the plethora of stats that seem to dominate other sports, particularly American sports like American Football and Baseball. But stats have crept into the game and are getting more and more important to see patterns and understand how teams play.

It’s relevant to use stats alongside the usual insights, useful to look at your own team and players, and useful to analyse the opponent.

I don’t think Van Gaal and Co (or me for that matter) will go overboard on stats, but it’s a fact that most of our younger players (Danjuma, Malacia, Noa Lang, Frenkie) are all known to be very involved in analysing their own game using the numbers.

These are the stats that FIFA came out with recently from the Senegal game. Interesting indeed.

Two key results: our forwards do not play well together and Daley Blind is the key man for the press.

Steven Bergwijn was on the pitch for 79 minutes and only played the ball to a fellow attacher once! The Ajax forward himself never received the leather once, from a striking partner!! In the fourth minute, Gakpo almost assisted a tap-in for Bergwijn, but the ball was intercepted. There were only four passes between the forwards during the whole game.

From \ To Bergwijn Janssen Gakpo Depay
Bergwijn 1 0 0
Janssen 0 1
Gakpo 0 1 1
Depay 0 0

Another remarkable statistic: Gakpo made 59 runs in order to receive the ball and was only found four times!  One of these four times was the cross by Frenkie, resulting in the 1-0. 30 of the 59 “offers to receive the ball” were runs in behind the Senegal defence and he was more than not ignored, because the team mate with the ball didn’t see the run or didn’t dare to play the ball. The only good thing is that these runs usually result in space for an opponent.

Steven Bergwijn was the quickest Oranje player, with a top speed of 34,6 kilometers/hour.

Player top speed (km/hr)
Steven Bergwijn 34,6
Virgil van Dijk 32,8
Cody Gakpo 32,8
Vincent Janssen 32,7
Matthijs de Ligt 32,7

Yes, Daley Blind was the slowest of the team, but he did have the most sprints of all (59), just behind Denzel Dumfries (60).

Frenkie de Jong had the most kilometers with 11,4 kms with Daley Blind second (11,2 km) and Cody Gakpo third (10,7 km).

Daley Blind was the press king, with 39 press moments and he had the most tackles (5). Frenkie had the most interceptions (2) and re-possessions of the ball (9). Frenkie also had the most passes and the highest pass accuracy and was able to break through an opponent line the most too (16 times).

What does this mean for Van Gaal? Who knows :-).

I think he will use the same eleven vs Equador, with the exception of De Ligt, who will make way for Timber. There is a chance that he rests Daley Blind and will use Malacia against the physically strong South Americans.

Equador is a tough team to beat. In the last 7 matches, they didn’t concede. They’re strong, athletic and resilient. Their coach has a simple philosophy: football is played in blocks. There is High, Midline and Low. Equador will put compact blocks against the way the opponent wants to play and with lots of positional changes and hard work, they will want to wear the opponent down.

Coach Alfaro likes to talk his team up. He plans to defend like Spain does: high up the pitch. And he is proud that he has the youngest squad of the World Cup. Alfaro uses zonal defence, where ever on the pitch and the distance between the players is always very small. There is not much known otherwise, as all public training sessions were cancelled and there is rumour of some key players (among them Valencia) being injured. I think these guys can all play though.

Here you see the aggressive press by the team in yellow vs Qatar

Key for Holland will be the running in behind. Their stern defence likes to push up and the way to deal with it, is by dirty runs. Gakpo did this constantly and I believe Bergwijn and Dumfries will need to do the same. Van Gaal might even consider bringing Klaassen on #10 for this and use Gakpo as forward in place of Janssen.

The offensive strength of Equador is limited. Their forwards play in mediocre teams, Valencia in Turkey, Ibarra in Mexico and Plata at Valladolid, mid tier in Spain. The left side of Equador has the most threats and we might need a more defensive option for Berghuis as the communication between full back and midfielders will be key, for Oranje.

Another aspect is their behaviour when they lose possession. They aggressively want to get the ball back asap and they will use physical strength and duel power to get the ball.

This is the option to run in behind for Bergwijn and Gakpo, as shown by Argentina

As they already have 3 points, I don’t think this will be a game where Equador will want to take the game to us, and play open. I think this Equador will play a bit more compact and deeper than against Qatar and use their counter strength to take us on.

For the Dutch, we need to make sure our passing is crisp and accurate, as we can pass our way through their system, but if we are sloppy, we might get hammered on the counter.

I’d like to see this line up. I think Equador will want to absorb pressure and counter against us. So Janssen can play a role up front. I’d play Koopmeiners for Berghuis and Malacia for Blind. Timber for De Ligt is a non-issue I think.

Do I believe LVG will play like this? I think he’ll probably use Blind instead of Malacia.

Either way, I can see another 2-0 win for us. I hope Bergwijn will score, which will lift him up a bit and who ever scores the other one, I don’t care :-). I hope Memphis, who will get another 30 mins I think.

Tell me your predictions!

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Why Berghuis is in the team

It is always interesting to see how football fans respond to things going on, versus what experienced (ex-) players or coaches say. We had years of discussion about Kuyt, Daley Blind, Nigel de Jong and Heitinga, to name a few and now recently Berghuis is also on the list.

For me, it’s about how fans watch football and how the pros watch football. Spoiler: the pros use statistics nowadays to support their decisions.

I posted an analysis of Daley Blind some months ago, explaining using stats why Blind is actually in the top 10 of Europe (!) in a certain stat and this makes him quite unique.

Looking at Berghuis, we can do the same. Because surely, coaches like Van Gaal, Danny Blind, Erik ten Hag and Alfred Schreuder would not play Berghuis if they watched football they some of us here do.

Steven Berghuis was not very remarkable in his performance against Senegal. But important, he was.

In the 79th minute, the number 11 sign comes up and #20 is going to replace him. Berghuis was seemingly invisible and made way for Koopmeiners, whom he had beaten for the starting spot next to Frenkie.

Data analysis shows that the criticism on Berghuis is not valid. Berghuis only played 79 minutes, whereas the other starters who were not subbed played 98 minutes. Almost 20 minutes more. But no other Oranje player was able to play more successful passes into the final third of the opponent.

Berghuis (and Daley Blind) both played 14 balls into the attacking zone successfully.

Frenkie de Jong came after them with 11 successful passes. Then Dumfries, with 7, followed by Bergwijn (6), De Ligt and Ake (both 5) and Virgil van Dijk a mere single successful pass.

Senegal plays it smart versus Holland. They used Gueye, their defensive mid, high up the pitch to make life hard for Frenkie. The Dutch build up was made harder due to the fact that behind Gueye, two holding mids played quite narrow.

Oranje analysed the game plan patiently and after 15 minutes of probing, it’s Berghuis who breaks the spell. He’s constantly scanning the pitch and when the ball is played into him in the mid circle, he already knows what is happening behind him and he turns and curls the ball in one time to the left flank where Daley Blind has escaped Senegal’s block.

Just before the break, there were two moves again started by Berghuis, resulting in flowing attacks. First, he floats to the left side of the pitch where he finds space for a pin point pass to Bergwijn.

The Ajax forward drops the ball to Frenkie who immediately plays in to Vincent Janssen, but just too heavy, so it doesn’t result in an actual chance for the Antwerp man.

Next up, there is a one-two combination with Frenkie allowing Berghuis space in between the lines. There will be four orange jerseys in the box but no cigar, as Dumfries doesn’t manage to cross the ball in good enough.

In the second half, Berghuis role is diminished a bit, as these stats show.

First half: 33 touches, 25 successful passes, 92.5% pass accuracy

Second half: 16 touches, 12 successful passes, 80% pass accuracy

This is the result of a tactical change. The invisible Gakpo needs support so Berghuis is moved higher up the pitch, by Van Gaal. The Ajax midfielder becomes a second “10” next to Gakpo in what would become a 4-2-2-2 system. In this way, Gakpo doesn’t need to battle two midfielders, and Berghuis is sacrificed to support the PSV youngster.

Still Berghuis has the best pass in the game which is the result of a wicked mind. He sees right back Sabaly isolated against two players. Berghuis recognises the opportunity and has the skills to execute. Memphis bounces the ball back and the whole left flank opens up for Daley Blind. Berghuis plays a firm ball into space for Blind to pursue. His cross resulted in a half chance for Dumfries who can’t control the ball.

The lanky and lightfooted Berghuis will never be the midfield duel monster that a Pogba or Rodri or Rice is, but with his specific qualities in his left foot, he will always be the go to man, if you want to penetrate an opponent with forward passing. This is why he and Blind are almost beyond criticism with Van Gaal. And the stats simply support this.

This is the dats profile of Berghuis on FBref. Progressive passing and touches are actions in which the ball is played at least 11 yards forward, vis a vis the previous six passes.

Thanks to VI Pro

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Sluggish Oranje win over African champs

After the WC draw, people felt this was going to be easy. Even last week, some football pundits felt Senegal would be a walk-over. A bit arrogant maybe? I don’t think the players and coaches felt the same.

Senegal – even sans Mane – is a strong nation. This is the champion of Africa. This is not Equador or Greece or Finland. This is a team full of top players, who make their living in England, France or Italy.

Add to that the stress of playing your first World Cup match and it’s not without reason that Oranje didn’t play amazingly well. I even think it is better to grow into the tournament, then it is to start phenomenally well. I remember 2008 and 2006, two times we were in the Group of Death, only to be eliminated in the first knock-out stages.

There are many aspects we can complain about. Is Janssen the ideal replacement for Memphis, over – say – Danjuma? Is the choice for De Ligt over Timber the right one? Should Berghuis play next to Frenkie or Koopmeiners?

I think we’ll see changes in the course of the tournament, but for now I think Van Gaal’s choices are reasonable.

De Ligt was put in the team to counter the height threat of Senegal. They do have quite a number of strong, tall headers of the ball. This is why De Ligt was in the team and on that aspect, he delivered.

But he was quite weak in other situations. Too physical and weak in build up too. He seems to think that defending means wrestling, while Nathan Ake demonstrated that you can defend in a different way. Patient, on your feet, focus on the ball and keep it simple. Ake was one of the best last night, I believe. I expect Timber back in the team soon.

De Ligt plays more on the left side of the centre for Bayern and was pushed in a right back role vs Senegal in Van Gaal’s set up. Not a role he really is comfortable in.

Noppert is another surprise starter of course and we can only guess why Van Gaal and Hoek selected him as the #1 goalie. It seemed very risky, but Noppert did well. He stopped a couple of shots you expect him to stop and had one great save, low in the corner in the 85th minute. His build up play with his feet was risky in the first half, giving the ball away eventually, but his long kick in the 98th minute did allow three subs to combine for the 2-0. Headed on by Koopmeiners, run and shot by Memphis and typically, Klaassen who made the run to help out and pick up the pieces for 2-0.

Would any other midfielder have made that run? Taylor? Berghuis? Koopmeiners? I wonder.

Overall, no one stood out. Frenkie played a good first half, but was wasteful in the second half, trying to keep on playing like he does at Barca, but Senegal had a good tactical solution constantly closing the space with two players whenever Frenkie started to make a run.

Frenkie would be instrumental in the 1-0 of course, with a very “sensitive” cross with his right, offering Gakpo a goal. Normally, it’s Gakpo crossing the ball like this to Luuk de Jong, at PSV.

But Frenkie, despite his loss of possession, intended to play like he normally does. This can not be said of Bergwijn and Van Dijk, particularly. Bergwijn seems to be out of form and Van Dijk’s long passing and build up play was meagre, to say the least. He can be of more importance.

Janssen was not overly great but had some great touches. He was the one to flick Gakpo into the box in the first half, allowing a square pass which Bergwijn could have finished if the pass was better.

There was some more of these Janssen lay-offs, one that allowed Berghuis a shot on goal, which sailed over the bar.

Berghuis played a more controlling role and did well off the ball. He did have some good moves and passes, one was a potential assist on Frenkie, who for some reason didn’t want to finish on goal, but wanted to chop the ball to his right foot. Wasteful. But we do want more from Berghuis.

Daley Blind played ok. No big issues to report. He played with discipline and helped out in attack and he had a role to play in the 1-0, keeping the field wide and offering a option to Memphis and Frenkie, before he assisted the first goal.

Denzel Dumfries too played his usual game. Marauding runs, tough in the duels but his delivery again was left wanting. He had too many crossing options that ended up as waste, at one time hitting the defender in front of him. He will always be good value in the team, but his pure football skills are limited and I think Frimpong might eclipse him in the years to come.

Virgil was solid in defence, but as mentioned: I want him to be more regal in the build up. I see Virgil, I see Beckenbauer, but only in charisma. Not yet in his playing style. I want to see him up the level a bit.

Gakpo was important for the team and has some excellent moves, but there were too many stages in the game where he was invisible. He needs to be more dominant in the #10 role. That is the difference with his role at PSV from the wing. As a #10 you need to demand the ball and find the spots and spaces. The fact he only had 7 passes in the first half tells you the story. Great goal for him of course, but needs to up his game. When Memphis came on, Gakpo played from the right and made a crucial run into the box, when he noticed Dumfries and Klaassen were the focus of the defenders and he was the free man.

Because Senegal used two defending mids, Gakpo couldn’t be found in the centre of the park so he decided to look for space on the wings.

The main story should also be the subs. Koopmeiners made a statement when he came on and might well start the next game. He showed his work rate, his smarts, his leadership and had the pre-assist for the 2-0. When Memphis came on you couldn’t tell he hadn’t played for 2,5 months. He was a threat, he was confident in his touches, he was clearly enjoying being on a football pitch again and had an assist and a pre-assist this game. Klaassen, well, what can you say. The least popular Oranje player maybe, and probably also the least skilled player, but his nose for the position is just amazing. He is always right there where the ball drops.

A word on Senegal, they do seem to be a hard to beat side, with threats going forward. I can see them finish second in the group and potentially make life hard for other higher ranked nations.

Their coach Aliou Cisse, changed his tactics dramatically to counter the Dutch threat. Where he usually defends in a 4-4-2 (two blocks of 4) he now used Gueye as a higher playing holding mid. Why you say? Frenkie is the answer. They decided to block the centre axis of the pitch and not use their full backs too high up. So this opened up the space for Daley and Denzel to be utilised but we didn’t manage to get these two going. The Timber speciality, dribbling into midfield to lure a midfielder or forward to bite, didn’t happen because…. Timber didn’t play. Van Dijk and De Ligt didn’t do this well enough.

In the second half, Van Gaal uses Berghuis higher up the pitch, next to Gakpo and the result is two teams who cancel each other out.

One of the key players without the ball in this situation was Vincent Janssen who managed to break up the passing line to Diallo, who usually is important in Senegal’s build up, but in this match more than half of his passes ended up with an orange jersey. This is the result of the work of Janssen. I’m sure people here will criticise the Antwerp striker but he served his purpose.

For a first WC match, we should be happy. We got the point. We didn’t give a lot away. We suffered no big injuries, so the mood will be good in the Oranje camp. Qatar and Equador should not give us much trouble and if LVG is capable to get this team to play better, we will prove to be that Dark Horse we love to be.

Marten de Roon scored as well, by the way. After the game.

 

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Oranje ready for the first match

We will keep on doing more “The Road to” posts in the coming weeks, unless Oranje and the other nations are really impressing up the gazoo, but if not and I have time and space, I will keep on making profiles for the Dutchies.

The team has arrived in Qatar and LVG has given his first presser, the key thing that stuck out: a confrontation with Telegraaf journalist who had one more question on Cillesen. Louis the Sun King was not impressed and had another dummy spit. And the next thing was Louis raving about the amazing infrastructure and fascilities in Qatar. Oh, the irony…

Yesterday, the team was considered “settled in” and they had a public training session with the token workers and labourers, as a bit of a “thank you” for the sacrifices (…). Where the US, England and the Canada teams all did this too, but behind closed doors, Oranje had their joint training session with the media present.

I think it’s great that the players do this, but I think the real solutions need to come from higher up of course.

Frenkie was seen chatting with one of the workers, using gestures and sign language it seems… After the conversation, the media asked Frenkie what this was about. Frenkie: “I actually asked him about his living conditions here, and how he was doing but he didn’t want to talk about it. He only wanted to talk football. He told me that he thought I needed to go to Liverpool….”.

KNVB’s Gijs de Jong: “This is not just a token gift. We have been speaking to the differend delegations of labourers here and this is what they wanted. They had to wishes: pick a hotel that treats its workers well and keep on talking about this topic in the media during the tournament.”

Van Gaal was open to have his players mingle with the labourers present but then went into Dictator Louis mode during the trining. He played 11 v 11 with the B-team copying the way Senegal is supposed to be playing. This was all behind closed door as he would have selected his starting eleven for the Senegal game. Later they played some kicking and passing practices and the Dictator was really cracking the whip.

In the 8 v 8 practices later, it’s again full speed. Memphis is playing the full session and at full throttle. Another interesting point: Noppert is the goalie behind the assumed back three of Ake, Van Dijk and Timber.

Skipper Van Dijk explains: “The KNVB gets requests from the Qatar delegations to do this or that. They then bring it to the players committee. As a skipper, I am in that. We accept the proposition and then bring it to the squad. We have decided that if 1 player is not comfortable doing it, none of us will do it. For now, we all support what we have set out to do.”

So, we saw the team wear a Football Supports Change shirt at the start of World Cup qualfiers, and the One Love captains band for Van Dijk during the World Cup. The KNVB is also pushing for a compensation fund to be set up by the FIFA. Some people think it’s all not enough, although the Dutch seem to do more than most other nations. The KNVB has set up auctions of jerseys for which the revenue is used to assist migrants with legal aid and social activities. The Dutch labour union FNV is also involved with support internationally.

The KNVB has never hidden their disgust of the Qatar choice for this World Cup. In 2010, we didn’t vote for Qatar and when they got it, KNVB director Van Oostveen said: “It is crap, it was crap and it will always be crap.” Not sure if this was about the FIFA decision or his own role in sacking Hiddink, then Blind, then appointing Van Breukelen who then pissed off Henk ten Cate only to bring Advocaat back into the role…

Louis van Gaal has called the decision to give Qatar the World Cup: ridiculous.

And thus, Oranje played a nice match versus the labourers. There is laughter and taunting. Slidings and tackles are forbidden. Trickery is not. The whole show ends with penalty kicks, which does give the thing a different perspective. The penalty kick debate may have cost Flekken and Cillesen and it’s quite funny to see the Qatar migrants score one penalty after another against the three Oranje goalies.

All nice, fun and games.

Time to focus on the first match!

It’s close now. What to expect from Senegal without Mane?

Coming Monday we play Senegal. They will most likely play with Sarr, Dia and Diatta upfront. Gueye and Kouyate in the midfield and Koulibaly and Diallo centrally at the back, with Mendy on goal. I am telling you: this is not going to be an easy match. Not at all!

The Senegal coach usually plays a 4-3-3.

But in their build up, Senegal will have the centre backs positioning wide, with a midfielder dropping in between while their full backs will move up the pitch. Not unlike Ajax plays. Usually, it’s Mane who drops into midfield a bit to make the numbers work, but with Mane out it remains to be seen if the replacement of Mane will play the same way. In any case, Van Gaal will want his backs to push up high and to take on their full backs, while the rest of the team will pivot towards that side. For instance, if Dumfries needs to put pressure on their left back, Timber will move into Dumfries’ position and all players will squeeze to the right, with Daley Blind ending up on the left centre back position.

When Oranje builds up, Senegal will most likely move into a 4-4-2 shape, to block the spaces. Mane and one of his partners will pressure our defense and the two midfielders will probably press onto the two Dutch holding mids. This will give great opportunities for our #10 (Gakpo or Berghuis) who can use the space behind their midfield to create something.

It could also be that the defensive shape of Senegal changes, due to Mane out. You could also expect a 4-3-2-1, If that happens, there will be chances for Timber or Ake, the free players, to dribble into midfield, to bait one of the Senegal players to bite, allowing Gakpo or Bergwijn to get into space.

My prediction for this match.

I think we’ll have a tough one. This is a good opponent, the conditions are not great and we’ll have the usual tournament stress I can imagine.

I am not sure who will play next to Frenkie. Koopmeiners seems to be the safe bet. He’s a bit in between Berghuis and De Roon.

I believe we will draw 2-2. I hope Janssen will get a World Cup goal and I believe Gakpo or Bergwijn will find the net as well. We’ll need to win our last two matches, which should be doable.

 

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The Road to Qatar: Frenkie speaks

Frenkie is a player who has been hailed as the grandmaster of current Dutch football and graced our pages here often. We discuss Van Gaal here and tactical systems and Memphis’ injury and all this, but we only have a chance to win something in Qatar when Frenkie can play his best version of himself.

There is a painting in Zeist, which is called The Dutch Masters. Johan Cruyff is the beaming centre of the painting. Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten but also Xavi Simons and Vera Pauw are on the canvass. Louis van Gaal is there as well.

It’s unclear if Frenkie is on it, I haven’t seen it, but he is currently the only Dutch Master in the squad (sorry Memphis, Virgil). Louis van Gaal: “Frenkie is always important. If the opponent wants to pressure us, he is the man who can play out of it. He is strong on the ball, can turn both ways easily but he can also give the final through pass or score a goal.”

Beautiful words

Frenkie: “Yes, it’s always nice to hear nice things from the coach.”

Did you have to get used to this national team manager?

“Not really. He has such a reputation and he does have a different approach and way of working. I have never worked with someone like that, and you sort of prepare for this. But it’s really good to work with him. He is very direct and I like that. You get clarity and you will hear it when you don’t do well but also if you do do it well. As a group, we can deal with this. We won’t be losing sleep because of his approach because we know why he does it. He is merely helping us win matches.”

Van Gaal said: we can win this World Cup. Agree?

“Of course, we can win it. We have a pretty good team. We might not be the favorite, but we don’t need to be the favorite. I never look at who the media push as the frontrunner. I agree with the coach, we can win it, but other nations can win it too. Our strength is the team spirit combined with good players. We are not France though. A big nation, with a bigger pond to fish in.”

Who wins it: the best team or the best players?

“The team. 100%. But that is always the case, in any competition. If you would plan a match between the best team and a team with the best players, the best team would win. And in a tournament, it’s about working as a team and do what you can, literally everything. That is the foundation of it all. When you can do this, the qualities of the individual players can make the difference. The team is a the foundation and we have this very solidly.”

So this Oranje is a good team?

“We’ll need to see. The vibe is top. We are willing to work our asses off. All ingredients are there. The coach has brought a structure and that helps us enormously. We play with a fixed core of 14 players or so and that brings automatisms and patterns.”

Is this system a good system for you?

“Oh yes. I can play in any system. I don’t even think in these terms. Whether it is 5-3-2 or 4-3-3 or 3-4-3… it’s all about a couple of meters left or right or back. The most important thing is that the positioning on the pitch is correct. When that is the case, any good player can play in it. The way we do it now suits me fine.”

Where were you when Robin van Persie headed the ball over Casillas in 2014?

“I was watching tv with my orange jersey on hahaha. I was 17 and playing for Willem II. I liked that tournament, but I loved the 2010 tournament. I was 13 and you do process it way more intense. I remember everything from that tournament. But I have always been an Oranje fan and when you can play a World Cup yourself it is the best, the highest, the most important… The Euros was different due to the Covid restrictions. We didn’t play for full stadiums and the matches were played in different countries. There was atmosphere and all that, but not really, you know? Now, it will be different, a World Cup is huge. Now we play Senegal and Equador. I never played these nations. I have played against Germany four times now, but might be playing Brazil or Argentina for the first time. I look forward to that.”

How do you view this World Cup in the winter?

“It’s different, isn’t it? With one 1 week prep. We had 4 weeks for the Euros. But, all nations are suffering from this. But we’re basically in WC preparation since Norway away, really. By now , it’s quite clear what is required and how we want to play and solve problems.”

Virgil van Dijk wasn’t there, at the Euros. What is the difference when Virgil plays?

“I was devastated when Virgil got injured. He is one of the best defenders in the world, if not The Best. He has so many qualities, but he’s also a leader. On the pitch, off the pitch. He has charisma and you can tell that opponents and even referees are impressed with him. And when we play, the way he organises, keeps everyone awake and alert and coaches, that also makes an impact. On us, but also on the opponent. When I look behind me and I see Van Dijk, that gives me a safe feeling. Certainty, or an insurance kindathing. I am happy for him that he can play this World Cup but also very happy for myself, hahaha.”

You are close with Memphis. Is he going to be ready?

“I think so. Or think… I know so. He has been working so hard the last weeks and I know him well, he is a true professional. No one can criticise him on his mentality and work rate. He trains when he has to and does even more than that. Memphis was born ready.”

We all know you are top player, but you also seem to have top mentality. I think you had this as a youngster already, but this last transfer summer in Spain you kept a really cool head…

“That is basically how I am. I simply won’t get nervous easily. It’s all between the ears. My family and my agent Ali Dursun supported me well, in what I want: stay at Barca. No discussion. And I stuck to my path. The world outside of the club can say whatever they want or have any opinion. It’s nothing to do with me. I knew what I wanted, and that is all that mattered. I think you will be doubting stuff, if you are not quiet in your head. And in all honesty, I used all that stuff to get motivated. That is how I dealt with it. I believe in myself and the rest is just noise.”

 

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