Tag: Maher

Lessons for Oranje Under 17

Oranje Under-17 didn’t manage to win the world title last week. The Dutch talents were on a mission to win it, but ended up as fourth, in Brazil. They look back on a hectic tournament, with deep troughs and high peaks. “We need to learn from this!”.

The tournament ended last Thursday, when Youri Regeer misses the deciding penalty in the semis vs Mexico. The benjamin of the squad fell to the ground, with his shirt over his head to mask his tears, while the Mexicans danced on his grave. The Ajax player – barely 16 years old – is confronted with the harsh laws of top sports. Regeer is unconsolable and has to be brought off the pitch by assistant coach Henk Brugge. And the same applies to his team mates. After their escape from the group, the feeling existed that Oranje was invincible: who is going to stop us now?

And yes, against Mexico, Oranje was the better team and Regeer’s goal in the match was the logical result. But a free kick that shouldn’t have been awarded allowed the Mexicans to score and they did take the spot kicks better. A scenario no one took into account unfolded… And now, a feeling of emptiness. On the pitch, in the dressing room, the bus…the tears of this massive disappointment flow and it seems to go on forever.

Anass Salah-Eddine tries to describe it: “I thought: what is happening here? We have been working for this for two years and and now this. I can’t even describe it. Our dream was taken from us.” The youngest player in the squad had to take the biggest blow. Vergeer: “Our world just collapsed.”

Coach Peter van der Veen, who worked with the group since 2016: “When you see their pain, your heart cries….” He led Oranje U17 to the European Title in May and after he focused fully on winning the world cup. It didn’t go smoothly, the team having had great moments with weak phases and against Mexico, lack of sharpness in front of goal cost the team dramatically.

Van der Veen and staff aren’t successful in getting the team back to their feet for the game for the 3rd place. Taabouni does score the first goal, and a beauty, but in the second half, Oranje implodes. It’s that goalie Calvin Raatsie is in top form otherwise the score would have been embarrassing. Star player Sontje Hansen: “I have to admit, before the game and even during the game, the match vs Mexico was playing in my head. I wasn’t able to kick it, that disappointment. I fear this will be with me for weeks…”

The Oranje squad stayed in Brazil specially for Hansen and to watch te finals between Brazil and Mexico. The FIFA pulled open a can of legends for this, to help FIFA Chairperson Gianni Infantino: Júlio César, Bebeto, Zé Roberto, Roque Júnior, Ronaldo, Cafú and many others.

It’s a weird story. Brazil originally didn’t qualify for this tournament. Peru was certain to go, as Peru was the host, but when the FIFA checked the progress in Peru in March, they were not happy with the developments and decided to host the tournament in Brazil. Ergo, as host country, Brazil was allowed in. And they won it too, in the 93rd minute of the game! Oranje watches with mixed feelings, but by then, Hansen is already taken away by a FIFA person. He needs to be part of the celebrations.

Hansen receives the trophy for top scorer from Ronaldo. A moment to never forget for Sontje. Ronaldo applaudes for Hansen. The latter looks star struck as Ronaldo was his idol when he was a kid. Sontje was born two months before Ronaldo scored twice in the World Cup finals in 2002 but he knows all about the Brazilian: “He was my idol. I even had a hairdo like his… a little bunch of hair on the front, hahaha.” Ronaldo even whispers “Goed gedaan!” in Dutch in the player’s ear (Well Done!). Hansen merely said: thanks. “At least we go home with some sort of trophy.”

The Ajax player is having a remarkable tournament anyway. Last week, Antione Griezmann sent him a message on whatsapp. The Barcelona forward, world champion with France in 2018, let Hansen know he’s following him. “Yo Mini Boss! We follow you and talk about you. When you’re back, we should meet!”

This was the World Cup of Hansen. After the dramatic start vs Japan, coach Van der Veen benched the attacker. But he came back in the team vs the US and since that moment, he reached a terrific level. He scored 6 goals, all beauties and had 3 assists, maybe even more beautiful. But he impressed most with his overall game, his touches, his finesse and brilliance. When Oranje was almost down and out, Hansen got up. When the team started to lose confidence, he injected it into the team by demanding the ball and starting to dribble. He shot Holland to the knock out stage, scored a hattrick in the next game and was the man of the match in the quarters.

Van der Veen: “I don’t want to say that Sontje saved us. It really was a team performance, but yes, it was amazing to see the flow he was in. He made a huge stap in his development and in his professionalism. He took the sub turn well and looked in the mirror and said: my time is now! And it was!”.

Strangely enough, he is not amongst the three best players of the tournament, but he did make a name for himself. Simply ask Ronaldo or Griezmann.

Many scouts traveled to Brazil, mainly to check out Naci Ünüvar, will have circled Hansen’s name. But Oranje had several top performers.  Van der Veen’s eyes light up when we mention Youri Regeer. The 16 year old was brought into the squad at the last moment and started on the bench. After Japan he was brought in and never left the team. At Ajax, Vergeer is a #10 with scoring capabilities, but in this Under 17, he plays as a central defender.

Van der Veen: “With Regeer in the team, we simply function better. And that is quite something for a kid only 16 years old. He really presented himself. He makes the right choices on the ball and reads the game so well. This is why he wins many balls too, he is always there where he needs to be. And this is why people compare him to Frenkie de Jong, although Youri is a different type of player. But there are similarities, sure. Youri has a lot to learn still, but for a 16 year old he is quite something.”

So much so that Juventus and Real Madrid already checked his contract status. The squad is aware of this and are kidding the youngster. They call him “Great Player” as a joke but he does deserve his new status. In his first days with the team, he’s quiet and reserved but as the tournament wore on, he started to direct the build up and was continuously positioning his team players. And none of them talked back… Vergeer: “Yes, I think I grew into the tournament, and I’m quite proud actually. But I will never forget that missed penalty.”

Another strong holder in the team is Calvin Raatsie, another Ajax player. The 17 year old goalie made an impression with his footballing skills and could play as a sweeper while also impressing with risky build up passes. Sander Westerveld (ex Liverpool and ex Vitesse) sees the promise, as his keeper trainer: “He is a very complete goalie, which is remarkable for a 17 year old. He can play football too, and he is ok with high balls. Jasper Cillesen has a number of years in him, of course, but over time, Calvin will be his successor in Oranje.”

Three players reaching a high level, it wasn’t enough for the World Cup gold. The most talented players, like Naci Ünüvar, Ki-Jana Hoever and Mohamed Taabouni, simply weren’t good enough on the tournament. “The big lesson is, as long as there is hope, you got to believe in it and go for it. We demonstrated that here and that is a strong lesson. Second lesson: you need to stick to the agreements and if you don’t, you get beaten on this level. It’s been unforgettable and I think these lads will only get better as a result of all this.”

The team manager had a tough job though. “Well, in Holland I already noticed that they were complacent. They won the European title and though that they could coast in Brazil. I really had to wake them up. I confronted them with video material and we had to really go hard. We had some arguments, and harsh words were said. But they woke up. And the contrast surprised me.”

The question remains: how will the Oranje talents develop as a result. “We want to deliver these kids at the gate of the Big Oranje. This experience will help. When you purely look at talent, they could all go all the way. But there is a way to go. Talent alone is not enough. Mentality is what is needed. When you see the energy Brazil puts in to the matches, or the grinta (grit) with which Mexico plays. We can learn a lot from this. Mexico doesn’t need the ball to win matches. They are purely going for the result. Our players need to mature more. Some things – that are part of top sports – are still neglected a tad. Lifestyle, that sortathing. Sleeping enough, eating healthy, drinking enough water, etc etc. That is what makes the difference at the top. It’s percentages, but those win you the game and that makes the difference between a top player or a nice player. They need to step up because I can see the players that are below them…and they’re also extremely talented… So they need to step up.”

Skipper Ken Taylor: “We faced many new things. We had to play a big match every three days, I never did that before. And after the first match, I was benched. Also a first… And I had to learn to deal with that. But, overall, we failed. I mean, we went to win it, and we ended as fourth. That is not good enough. We need to learn to process this, which might be the key lesson for the rest of our career.”

Van der Veen agrees: “Winning teaches you to win. But you can learn from this as well. We were in a rollercoaster together and had good moments and bad moments. Harsh words were used but we also had moments of joy and had a lot of fun at times too. That is the strength of this team.”

The coach will say farewell now, after 3,5 years with this squad. He will now go back to the new group of Under 17s. “I saw these kids go from their puberty to maturity. It’s emotional to say goodbye but I will do so with price. We have had amazing experiences. And I do hope they will all have a wonderful career and that they’ll look back on this time with a smile on their faces.”

Back in the day…

Peru 2005… With Diego Biseswar, Marvin Emnes, Vernon Anita, Jeffrey Sarpong, John Goosens and Ruud Vormer

Mexico 2011

Boy de Jong, Memphis Depay, Nathan Ake, Terence Kongolo, Karim Rekik, Daan Disveld,  and sitting Anass Achahbar, Jetro Willems, JP Boetius, Joris van Overeem and Tonny Vilhena

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Ajax wins trophies, PSV deserves applause

The season has ended… Most of the decisions are in. Yes, the play offs for European Football and Promotion/Relegation are still on, but the key decisions are in: Ajax wins the double (and had one leg in the CL finals as well of course), and NAC gets relegated.

We will congratulate Ajax here on a sensational season! A season that made us all drool. Not just us Dutchies, but football fans from across the planet fell in love with this Ajax team!

They won matches, they won trophies, they outplayed the bigger guns (Benfica, Bayern, Real Madrid, Juve, Spurs) and were so close to playing the CL finals! And all of this with great football.

So, expect more posts on Ajax and Oranje in the coming month!!

Interviews with Ten Hag, Overmars, analysis of their games, the Ajax future, etc.

Expect more on the Nations League too, of course.

But despite Ajax’ successes and my inbred support for Feyenoord, this posts needs to give some deserved credit to PSV Eindhoven!

It’s not my club. But this season they really impressed and Ajax coach Ten Hag did praise them, as they kept Ajax sharp (and vice versa) throughout the season.

Because we tend to forget that PSV had its complete technical management replaced, this last summer. Marcel Brands left for Everton. Cocu went on his Turkish dream nightmare job and the youth academy coach left as well.

WK 2010 reunion, with from left to right: Mark van Bommel (standing), Arjen Robben, Technical Manager John de Jong, Nigel de Jong (unrelated), Wes Sneijder and Bert van Marwijk

John de Jong (former PSV midfielder) took over from Brands while Mark van Bommel was promoted from the youth system (PSV2) to the first team.

And the headstrong and outspoken Van Bommel left his mark immediately.

And credit where credit is due! He put his team out there. He instilled his principles into the team. And he started winning games like no tomorrow.

On the first day of the season, Ajax dropped points (Heracles) while PSV won. The two points lead was there all the way until only a couple of weeks ago!

And PSV didn’t dazzle. PSV did win some games in a “fortunate manner”. And they were bumped out of Europe in the CL group stages.

But lets look at at that more closely.

Van Bommel instilled a more modern and dynamic playing style into the team. “I want my teams to be the boss. That doesn’t mean we need the ball all the time, it also doesn’t mean we want to be playing some fantasy football or be attacking all the time. It means we determine what is going on, also without the ball.”

The personality of Mark van Bommel made its way into the team and with some strong signings, he did squeeze the best of out his – also young – team.

Van Bommel and John de Jong as players… the latter had his career cut short due to injuries…

I could even argue that Van Bommel did a better job than Ten Hag. But I won’t.

So Van Bommel wanted his team to press higher up the park and have more grit, more fight and more of a killer mentality. Where Cocu tried to adopt a more Dutch football style (and with a lot of Barcelona DNA which never really came of), Van Bommel added some German and Italian elements to this PSV.

Jeroen Zoet is a capable goalie. Not world class, but definitely top for the Eredivisie. Schwaab and Viergever are vulnerable and limited centre backs. But they did show what focus and determination and communication can do. Schwaab is German and brings that solid and focused approach. Viergever is mainly experienced and an obedient soldier. Nothing flash.

But the full backs compensated in spades. These two made the difference. Angelino is quickly becoming an A team player for Spain. While Denzel Dumfries is already consider Oranje’s best right back. Both players have assists in their locker, both players love bombing forward and can create and score goals (Dumfries more so than Angelino, but the Spaniard has a gifted left and a good partnership with Luuk de Jong).

Denzel Dumfries… From Sparta via Heerenveen and PSV to the top?

Van Bommel learned from his father in law Bert van Marwijk and used two holding mids in his 4-2-3-1 set up. Initially, Hendrix and Rosario took the job but throughout the second half of the season, Van Bommel needed more and started to change the team around. Many criticaster will tell you that was the start of PSV undoing but Van Bommel will know better.

Rosario deserves a mention. The kid came from Ajax, via Almere City of AGOVV or something. “Not good enough for Ajax” although it probably was due to his behaviour and his dad’s behaviour.

But Rosario is a rare player. So young, yet so disciplined, so astute tactically and such a wonderful passer of the game. He would have been more effective in the Ajax team, I do think, but he was a joy to watch in his first real season as a starter.

Jorit Hendrix is a solid club player. With some outstanding moments, but something is lacking with him. He’s too average for my liking. He’s like Ten Hag was, as a player. He’s not quick enough, not tough enough, not tall enough, not technical enough, doesn’t score enough, etc etc.

Pablo Rosario

Which is the only true criticism Van Bommel probably listened to. The PSV midfield didn’t score enough goals! Hendrix maybe 1? Rosario literally zero goals in the Eredivisie. Not good enough. Vilhena scored 7, Toornstra scored 8, Schone scored 5… you want your midfielders to score… Criticism that applies to Frenkie de Jong too, but he creates a tremendous number of chances and criticism Jordy Clasie gets as well.

The #10 in PSV is a problem and Mark solved it eventually by putting Luuk de Jong there. That happened in the period of the season where PSV would end up losing the title, but still, it somewhat worked.

Mexican Gutierez wasn’t good enough (Van Bommel: “The pace is still too high for him”) and Pereiro simply doesn’t seem to be consistent enough. A truly gifted lad, but not dominant enough.

With Ihatarren, PSV has a gem for that role. And Mark tried him on the #10 spot and the youngster made his debut at 16 years old. But can’t carry PSV yet.

So with Malen as the #9, Lozano and Bergwijn on the flanks PSV tried it with target man Luuk de Jong as #10. It did work, but simply not good enough.

Luuk de Jong did win the golden boot, shared with Tadic, and had a very strong season but I do think the captain needs to lead the line… The #10 role is hopefully a temporary one.

Cody Gakpo and Ihattaren: PSV’s future?

Ramselaar realised that his game is over at PSV. Along with Adam Maher, another prospect that didn’t really enjoy his time at PSV. Gutierez might well be the next one…

Lozano had a good start this season but somehow the Mexican doesn’t seem to be consistent. He picks up a lot of yellows and reds for petulant behaviour, diving and at times vile tackles. He seems to be playing for Lozano and seems to be wanting to make his mark and leave to a bigger club.

Bergwijn had a break through season. Scoring goals, using his explosive runs, creating goals and he made his way into the Oranje squad.

But the last months, he seemed to slow down. Not enjoying his game, maybe? Or…getting ready for a big move to his old stomping ground at Ajax?

Anyway, PSV deserves credit and Van Bommel deserves credit for the next wave of talented youngsters coming through. In the olden days, Sparta and Feyenoord would be the harbingers, alongside Ajax… Today, it’s PSV and AZ along side the Sons of Gods developing and keeping talent.

Potential new signing from Germany…

Ihatarren, Gakpo, Salinec, Malen, Rosario…all lads who played under Mark in the B-team and are making their way into the first team… Gakpo reminds me of Beckham, Ihatarren of Afellay, Salinec is a young Van Bommel and Malen and Rosaria, well…you know enough after seeing them play this season.

Van Bommel might be on hitlists in Europe already (AC Milan, Bayern) while numerous players will be scouted too (Angelino, Pereiro, Luuk de Jong, Lozano, Zoet)…

So who knows where PSV will be next season, but they definitely contributed to Ajax’ success (and Ten Hag rightfully thanks PSV) and they gave us some exciting new talents to watch!

Next season, we actually might see a new exciting Dutch talent coming in from a Bundesliga club: Arjen Robben… He doesn’t want to go to China, the sand pit or the US. He needs his medical team close and he wants to be close to his family… He also doesn’t want to compete for 6th spot, so it seems he is exclaiming quite loudly “PSV!!” but we’ll need to wait and see…

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The Best of the 2018World Cup

The best of this 2018 World Cup is definitely this wonderful Neymar Alphabet typeface. Some Brazilian went creative and made this and it’s just too funny (and smart).

I didn’t like this World Cup much, to be honest. Sure, partly due to Oranje not being there. And we lost in the qualifications against the eventual World Cup winners. Nice excuse. But we wouldn’t have done so badly in Russia, I don’t think. The only team to really impress from day 1 to the end was Croatia for me.

And yes, Modric does look like Cruyff. And like Cruyff in 1974, Modric didn’t win the World Cup but he will be remembered mostly, like our Johan was back then.

Please challenge my opinion below if you must. Belgium was hot and cold. Lukaku was good in the group stages but wasteful in the knock out stages. Mertens, invisible. Dembele sadly unused.

It’s fun to make fun of Neymar, but truth be told: he clearly wasn’t 100% fit to play

France played negative football. You had the most impressive players (Lacazet, Audambayang, Rabiot weren’t needed for instance, Payet wasn’t missed) paired with a defensive, fearful coach. MBappe’s speed was sacred and France got some help from te VAR here and there too. Won’t go into the history books as a great winner (like the 1998 French team). Their striker Giroud had no shots on goal in 500+ minutes of football. The Dutch satire newspaper De Speld even broke the news Giroud actually missed three hi-fives after winning the World Cup….

The rest? England? Clueless with the ball. Russia. Nice, fun, underdogs, like Wales and Iceland at the Euros2016 but quality? Not really? Spain, Argentina, Germany, Portugal, woeful really.

VAR ref Danny Makkelie

And then the VAR! Messy to say the least. Lack of consistency, lack of clarity. Who takes the decision at the end? The ref or the VAR ref? When is hands hands? Why can two players pull a Serbia striker down to the ground? Why can Sweden’s Berg be tackled from behind in the box? Too many question marks.

So, no Mr Infantino. It was not a great World Cup.

Yes, the tv coverage was great. The stadiums were full. The vibe in Russia appeared to be awesome. But the quality of the football was below par.

Back to the season prep for the national competitions then.

I won’t go into all the different transfer news items, as it’s an ongoing thing and I don’t post enough to keep track and all of you abreast of the situation.

But there are some nice things to share:

Ajax is bringing some top quality to the Eredivisie! Dujan Tadic, Daley Blind… Nice one. Labyad from FC Utrecht is coming in. Per Schuurs is in Amsterdam. And Ziyech hasn’t left yet. Yowza!

But Frenkie de Jong’s transfer to Barcelona is an ongoing topic in the Spanish papers, while Mathijs de Ligt might also still be lured away, now he’s with super agent Raiola.

Feyenoord is losing some key players. Karim El Ahmadi is gifted a free transfer to Saudi Arabia, but it seems Sven van Beek is on his way to Cocu’s Fenerbahce. Sadly, only for 5,5 mio euros, for some reason. Unbelievable really. De Ligt is worth 50 mio apparently? But Van Beek only 1/10th of that?

But Feyenoord is planning to have Jordy Clasie come back, on loan from Southampton and is hoping to get Leroy Fer back as well.

PSV is still scoping on a new midfielder, now Marco van Ginkel is out with a heavy knee injury again and back in London. Mark van Bommel is the real big signing for PSV of course.

It’s good for the Eredivisie to have some European top players return. A stronger competition is good for everyone.

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Stars missing the WC: Memphis

It hurts when I see Sweden advance even further into the World Cup. It hurts bad. With all the “heavy hitters” going home early, imagine what we could have achieved…

And with Messi, CRonaldo, Muller and others leaving the tournament so soon, it does make you wonder: who will be the man of the tournament? Let’s hope it’s not Neymar! And surely, not Kane? He will win the Golden Boot I think, and he’s an amazing striker but don’t we need just a tad more from the “Best Player” of the tournament?

I miss Memphis even more now…

He rewarded himself with a crucial hattrick on the last day of the season in France, for a tremendous season. It seems as if he keeps on going from strength to strength ever since he was given the “free role” at Lyon and in Oranje.

VI Pro visited him in Lyon at the end of the season. Memphis and Bertrand Traore are mulling about in the sun. Their practice session just ended. And the two are now just watching the training of the youth team of Lyon. They’re both football fanatics. And they’re in heaven, as Olympique Lyon has talent coming up the gazoo!

Memphis points to a massive central defender he likes. Traore is giggling like a girl when a certain pass and move session is executing in high speed. Memphis: “Players tend to hang around here, at Lyon. The vibe is good and it smells like football here.”

Memphis likes it like that. Usually, he’s the first to come in for practice. A bit of jest with the door men and then a good solid breakfast before the games begin. And as the French do it: he shakes the hands of everyone at the venue. Every player does, every morning again. Whether it’s another team mate, or the kit man or some visiting reporter from Holland. It sort of resembles the mentality at PSV Eindhoven. Where top sports and casualness meet. And sometimes, that goes well hand in hand.

When Memphis drives out of the complex later that day, the chaos starts. A group of fans wants his autograph, or a picture. He drops his window, signs balls, jerseys and cameras click. And the question is the same: “Memphis, will you stay at Lyon?”. Because 19 goals and 13 assists…it does count. Even C Ronaldo had less involvements (31) than Memphis.

For Memphis, it all starts with peace, quiet and fun. He needs to enjoy the game and life. Two months ago, it all came together. He does have peace of mind ever since the Christian faith became prominent in his life. And freedom he got on the pitch, when Ronald Koeman gave him the free role in a 2 mans forward line (with Ryan Babel).  It allowed him to use his specific qualities in optimum form. More than being pushed out to the left. Bruno Genesio, his Lyon coach, happened to be at the match in Geneva and made notes. He saw how Memphis enjoyed himself and scored. Florian Maurice was there as well. He’s Lyon’s head scout. He tells Genesio how he saw this before. Some 8 years ago when Maurice was watching young PSV in Eindhoven. And a 16 year old Memphis Depay played as #10 behind the striker. Memphis: “It’s true, in the junior teams, I used to play as shadow striker and in a free role, I do think I am at my best. And Maurice remembered this.”

This is not unlike Arjen Robben, who played playmaker in youth teams but was banished to the left wing when he made it into FC Groningen’ first team. To protect him from challenges but the youngster ended up playing there for years.

When Memphis returned to Lyon, the Lyon technical staff immediately made the call. Striker Diaz was suspended so coach Genesio had his team practice this new formation. And then it all happened. And not just a bit.

First of all, with a front line of three. With Memphis as central striker. He scored twice vs Toulouse. “That was good, it was fun, but I am not a striker who remains in the spot. I want to be able to roam and move around, find space. That is when my skills are utilised best: my creativity, explosivity and goal scoring.”

After the Toulouse game, Genesio goes for a diamond in midfield and two up top. Against Metz, Memphis had four assists and one goal. A week later, Memphis was the shadow striker and again: one goal and one assist, vs Amiens. When Fekir returned fit, Genesio used Traore and Memphis up front, with Fekir as #10. And Memphis kept on scoring. In April, he was voted Player of the Month. Memphis now: “That month, that is how I want to play always. Every match, I want to be dangerous, threatening and successful, I want the permanent flow.”

And it’s not just the stats that tell the story. It’s visible on his face, in his body language. He seemed liberated, compared to the straightjacket Memphis we saw at Man United. He’s constantly open to receive, he will work and make dummy runs, he can use his special trickery when needed. “When I started here, I was a sort of left midfielder. I had to work the whole flank. When the ball was on the other flank, I had to drop deep, almost like a wing back. My playing field was 70 meters long. And when that happens, you kill a number of my specific qualities. I can’t be explosive over 70 meters. I didn’t get the ball too often, I had to work much more without the ball and that took so much energy that my specific attacking yield was lower than ever. It confined me. And I need to be free to express myself. And yes, I want to work and I want to do my bit, but my team contribution is greatest when I can follow my intuition. Without limitation. Floating, roaming, hunting for space, making my actions and be a threat.”

Even as a left winger, he had his periods this season where he was unstoppable. He scored 7 goals in 7 games in the fall of 2017. With a hattrick vs Troyes. But after that series, he had a dry spell of six games. Until that night vs Paris St Germain. He started on the bench. “I was so pissed off that I didn’t play. I want to play every match but in particular the big ones. But God told me to keep quiet. To go with it. And to be ready. I was convinced something special would happen.”

In the second half, Memphis was needed to come in. Aouar came off, and Memphis started his predatory role. And in injury time, he got what he wanted. Just outside the box, Fekir fed him the ball. Memphis dribbled inside and let fly: a rocket in the top corner. The Groupama Stadium exploded. Memphis: “Obviously, scoring the winner is sensational. Scoring the winner vs PSG even more so. Scoring the winner like this, even more so… But for me, it was super special due to the message I received that morning. My relationship with God pushed me to a higher level. I felt the ultimate gratitude…”

And there were more high points. Memphis mentions two. His goal at home vs Villareal (3-1) in the knock out stage of the Europa League. Another rocket in the corner from 20 meters out. And he also determines the match vs Ol Marseille (2-3). Again as a sub coming on, with a header in the top corner in the final stages of the game. The start of a mighty final sprint, allowing Lyon to win eight games in a row.

But, it did seem the season would end in a little disaster. In the away game vs Strasbourg, a 2-1 lead went up in smoke. And just when Strasbourg scored the winner in the dying minutes, Monaco – Lyon’s rival – scored the winner vs St Etienne.

The unexpected loss in Strasbourg put maximum pressure on the last match of the season. In that match, in Lyon vs Nice, it seemed to go totally wrong. Both Monaco and Olympique Marseille were leading, while Lyon was trailing 0-1 at half time. Qualifications for the Champions League would be out of reach and a financial disaster for Olympique Lyon was looming. And then, Memphis stepped up. With  cool hattrick, Depay opened the door for Lyon to the billionaire’s ball. The first was a tap in, assist by Fekir. The second a shrewd free kick, under the wall. And the third a nice little chip. In the last 9 matches, Memphis scored 10 goals and had 7 assists. Depay rescues Lyon, the headlines screamed. The typical Memphis with two fingers in ears was the picture. Depay’s way of saying: I only listen to God!

The times that Memphis could be bothered about what others said about him are now behind him. “I compare it to the food you eat, if you would eat the criticism, the good or the bad, you would never get well. I mean, in good times, I ate sweets and in bad times I ate bitter… In both situations, you get a stomach ache. I don’t read it anymore. Not interested. And man, it gives me peace and quiet. I am now 24 years old, I want to play another 10 year at top level without the baggage of all the crap.”

He continues: “You know, the WC Brazil, people revered me, adored me. Everything was cool and now we missed the WC in Russia and I am crap and can’t play football. As if it was all due to me? And when I wear a hat, I’m criticised, when I drive a Rolls Royce, I’m criticised. I’m the role model of bad performances. I had to learn not to take any of it seriously.”

Memphis is enjoying his time with Oranje now. “The current developments are really positive. There is this feeling that we can actually achieve something. And we need each other, that bond, you notice it. During the matches, but also during the sessions in practice. In Noordwijk, you could all do what you pleased, all by yourself. When we are in Zeist, it’s more a common thing. We seem to spend more time together. We play more games together, it’s more fun.

And Memphis now has a team manager he knows a bit better. Koeman tried to lure Memphis to Everton. But, that’s all in the past now. Depay: “Sure, we had a good talk a year and a half ago, but that doesn’t count. I will need to demonstrate my value day in day out. When Van Gaal signed me for Man United, he told me the same thing. I know you, I worked with you, but you won’t get any privileges. But it helps when there is a click. And I think I have that with Koeman. He is clear in what he wants and he is a real inspiration.”

Oranje played four games under Koeman. “Against England, it wasn’t good enough. We know this. We were a bit too fearful on the ball. We needed to get used to the new system, the new way of working. And England is a top opponent of course. But, we should have done better, all of us. We are still a big football nation, we need to be ballsy and show confidence. We do need to be at every big tournament. Period! We do have enough quality. We now need to finetune this and make sure we utilise the qualities and cover up the weaknesses. Based on a compact defense we can be quite devastating in attack. We have strong defenders, good and quick offensive full backs, we have smart midfielders, all the ingredients to get the results. We did so vs Portugal. And now we need to keep on going.

Memphis still have 3 years on his deal with Lyon. When Lyon Chairman Aulas was interviewed, with Memphis standing next to him, he was asked how much Lyon would ask for him when Madrid came calling for Memphis. Aulas said: “Memphis won’t leave.” And Memphis just stared into the camera….

Both were main characters in another comedy sketch at the end of the season. Chairman Aulas again, this time alone in front of the cameras, saying: “Memphis is exceptional, a player who works hard and wants to do everything his coach asks from him.” At that point, Memphis walked past with the match ball and he placed both his finger Memphis-style in the chairman’s ears.

Memphis: “God will help me climb mountains of which I myself don’t know the height…” And asked about where he is at in his life and career, he said: “I am happy now with who I am. That is all. I am a wild boy with peace in his head. It feels good.”

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Koeman: Questions and Answers

In the last years, heaps and heaps of questions arose around Dutch football, the national team, our development and football vision and more.

When Koeman came on board as the new NT coach, we expected him to come up with the answers, at least for the NT.

Koeman wanted to use the four friendly games, to come up with clarity, to give the answers.

Now, with those four matches behind us (1 loss against WC contenders England, 1 victory over Euro champs Portugal and two draws, both “games with two halves”), it is time to make up the balance. And lets look at the questions that were answered and the questions that remain…well….questions.

The system

It’s clear that Koeman opted for the “5 at the back” system from day 1 and he wasn’t going to be persuaded to change that. It is a good system to use (5 in defence when loss of possession, 4 in midfield when in possession) and a system for which we definitely have the players.

The mental strength and desire

Koeman was also clear about the mental attitude of the players. “You really need to want to play for Oranje”. And Koeman is the man to send players home who are not committed. Memphis Depay was the typical example of the rogue lad, the larrakin as we say in Australia, who didn’t take discipline to seriously in the past. If he is someone to go on, it seems the players take their coach and their own job seriously now. Memphis is open and friendly to the medium, can be seen laughing at practice and is coaching and supporting is mates on the pitch. It seems he’s also developing a nice partnership with the older Ryan Babel.

The Goalies

It seems to me Koeman will go with Cillesen. The Barca goalie might not play every week but when he does play, he’s solid as. More so than Zoet, who should have stopped that England goal. And Cillesen distribution and footwork is just top class.

Apart from these two, we will have enough young goalies coming through to act as third goal keeper, should we ever make it to a tournament again….

Central Backs

From what we’ve seen, it seems De Ligt has the future under Koeman. He played all four friendlies. Van Dijk is captain and most likely a cert as well. De Vrij, as a right footer, will be duelling with De Ligt for the right centre back position, while Blind will most likely have the upper hand on Nathan Ake. Ake did get the equaliser for Oranje vs Italy, which was nice for him and he does have a bright future. Voted player of the year for Bournemouth of course and a very able player indeed. For now Blind is more solid in his build up play and football intelligence but Ake might fancy the battle with the slower Blind. For De Ligt and De Vrij, it will be interesting to see what De Ligt will do with his future. When he came into the media zone after the Italy game, 14 Italian reporters cornered him to ask if he will pick Juve as his new club. According to the rumour, Barca, Bayern Munich, Man City, Spurs, Juve…they all want De Ligt. Should he decide to go for a big move, he might not get the playing time he needs to get his starting spot in Oranje.

Other candidates to keep in mind for the CB role: Jeffrey Bruma, Terence Kongolo, Karim Rekik, Sven van Beek and Mike van der Hoorn.

Left Wing Back

Vilhena and Van Aanholt were the players used most recently, but Willems and Erik Pieters are candidates as well, as are Nathan Ake and Daley Blind. This might simply come back to the opponent we play. Van Aanholt has more speed and seems to penetrate more. Vilhena is probably better on the ball but lacks the real depth and speed in his game. Pieters is the solid defender but not as able on the ball. Willems is a weak defender but has a tremendous left foot. Terence Kongolo is an option here as well.

Right Wing Back

Daryl Janmaat made a difference coming on for Hateboer vs Italy. The Atalanta right back had a tough first half and still lacks a proper final ball. Janmaat is definitely the better crosser of the two and seems to have more football intelligence (experience). Kenny Tete is definitely a candidate, as is Fosu-Mensah, although Rick Karsdorp, when fit, might have all the tools of the trade for this position.


This is the weak spot of the team at the moment. We do have a lot of midfield options, but they are all a bit similar. Wijnaldum for me is the best of the bunch. The opinions were mixed with is game vs Italy, but I think he did well. Mentality is top, his touch impeccable, always knows what is where and won’t lose the ball too often. Strootman to me is less solid might well lose his spot. Propper is another player I rate. Wonderful vision and technique, and developed very nicely in the physical and tactical side of the game. But, add Vormer, Van de Beek, Van Ginkel and De Roon to the mix and they’re all solid team players but none of them has the world class you’d want to see in a team like Oranje. Where’s our Sneijder, Ronald de Boer, Seedorf, Davids, Van der Vaart, Jonk, Van Hanegem, Cocu, Jantje Peters? I think Van de Beek can make the step up. I’m convinced Frenkie de Jong could be that player. We need at least one. Vilhena can play in the midfield of coure, and Ruud Vormer has demonstrated to be an option as well. And who knows, the real Adam Maher might even find his mojo again…

For now, I’ll go with Propper, Wijnaldum and Van de Beek. In due time, Frenkie de Jong will take the position of one of these three…


I think Memphis will be the sure fire choice for one of the two strikers. Babel has something special but Promes has the future. Agile, skilled, quick, can score goals. His partnership with Memphis will need to improve but I have faith. Nothing wrong with Babel as pinchhitter. The former Ajax and Liverpool man can play anywhere up front.

We do have some exciting players that can bring some spice coming off the bench. Elia is always unpredictable and Bergwijn might have a similar profile. Steven Berghuis seems to be the victim of this 5-3-2 system but everytime he comes on, something happens. He’s all class with his left foot. Looking for the top corner or finding a team mate, as he did with his assist on Ake vs Italy. Against Slovakia, he had the assist on Vormer who aimed straight at the goalie. Luuk de Jong, Wout Weghorst and some others might well be useful in certain emergency scenarios. And who knows, Vincent Janssen might move to a team where he can play, score and remain fit…

After the Italy game, Ronald Koeman said this: “I got a lot of clarity after these four friendlies. In certain positions and with certain players, I think I know what to do. But, there is now a summer and pre-season ahead of us and then also a transfer period. I will not make any public statements until September. Too much can change and I will talk to the players first, in September.


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Memphis: bright star!

Memphis Depay was traveling with the Olympique Lyon Foundation last January, for some benefit dinner for the homeless… They drove past a Roma camp outside of Lyon, a desolate little community of old caravans and rotting huts. Memphis asked the driver to stop. He’d seen this before and was intrigued. This time, he decided to step out of the car and check it out. The Lyon forward started talking to some kids in the camp and asked about their plight. A couple of days later, Depay revisited the camp with several of his friends and went to deliver a huge trailer with clothes and food.

“The Bible says: love thy neighbour like you love thyself,” Memphis says now, a few months later.

This interview wasn’t about the visit to the Roma camp. This interview was about his return to form at Lyon. “I love myself, a lot. So I can love others a lot too. You too, everyone. God created us all.”

When Memphis talks about his faith, he is open and genuine. Spontaneous even. And this takes some time to process, as the street player from Moordrecht is usually stern, unapproachable and aloof. he does mention his faith, on his insta account for instance, but every time a reporter talks to Memphis, it’s a short talk and it hardly ever is about the Bible or loving thy neighbour….

It’s always about his football, his image and his ambition. And in those talks, he’s headstrong, unfathomable and sometimes downright annoying. “God was there for me, always, but I wasn’t always there to recieve. But it has changed. I haven’t changed so much, my personality is the same, but things are added to me, I learned things. I developed. I think I changed for the better.”

And, maybe a coincidence, Memphis is better on the pitch than ever. For months already. The player who seemed to play with a straightjacket on at Man United and in his first months in Lyon, looks like a player liberated. And it shows in his stats: 16 goals, 12 assist. But the metamorphosis is best observed by watching him play 90 minutes. He plays in a free striker’s role, and he plays wonderful and full of confidence. The Dutchman is involved in every goal threatening situation by Lyon and might well be solely responsible for delivering CL football to Lyon.

“I’m playing my best football, ever? I appreciate it. I do think I’m going alright, I’m on the right path, but I don’t know where my ceiling is. No one knows, really. Only God. But I don’t play with fear, with uncertainty. I play without the brakes on and I will get to a new level at some stage. That, I am sure of.”

His tone of voice is completely different compared to our last conversation, at the end of 2015. Memphis was just at Man United for 5 months. He was fired up, he was eager to show his skills and he had a lot of anxiety, impatience and swagger.

Back then, he said: “I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t want to be average. Mainstream is not my thing. You get hit by a car, on the middle of the road, hahaha. And you, my dream was never to become a football. My dream was, to become the best footballer. That is my goal. And I can manage that, the pressure will never squash me.”

But the former Sparta talent did struggle, in the years after. With himself. With the plethoria of tasks he got from coach Van Gaal, playing from the left. If Memphis even played. Under Van Gaal and later under Mourinho, Memphis drifted out of the picture more and more. The confident top talent became a doubter, and this was visible at Oranje as well. He was unreachable, or he was vulnerable, or he was not interested… When he moved to Lyon in January 2017, he made his debut vs Lille with a crucial mistake. Sport paper L’Equipe was devastating in their opinions about him.

Memphis was struggling and his circle started to get concerned. He might have the image of a rapper with a lot of tattoos and gold and a guy with a difficult personality, but the forward is also hyper ambitious and very serious about his game and working extremely hard to reach his goals.

Memphis is working with a small circle of advisers, for years already, such as his manager Kees Ploegsma jr (son of the famous PSV technical director of the 1970s and 1980s) and sport psychologist Joost Leenders. They know his specific character, and his complex background. They looked for different ways to reach Memphis, but nothing seemed to work.

Memphis now: “The people who love me and care for me tell me things that are meant well. I am always polite to people who mean well, but the last years, I have closed myself of a bit. I needed to fully focus on football.”

His current way of celebrating, two fingers in his ears, is the symbol of that. It doesn’t mean he’s deaf for criticism, as some think. He usually does his fingers thing, and then drops to his knees and points to the sky, in thanks. “I only listen to God” is what he seems to say.

“I’m not religious in a way that I go to church or make Catholic crosses. I am fine with others doing what they do. For me, God is everywhere. I have a direct relationship with God, not via a church. God is everywhere.”

His faith helps him. Helps him find a way through the complex jungle that is top football. His fiancee Lori Harvey is the daughter of American tv star and comedian Steve Harvey. The Harveys are a devout Christian family. And Memphis mum was very religious as well. As a teenager, Memphis wasn’t.

“I met someone who showed me the way. I am super happy with this and highly appreciative. Not everyone has that peace, and neither did I when I was younger. I see players go onto the pitch in fear, with fear of making mistakes. Not that I had fear, so much. But whenever I played one or two passes wrong, it would get in my head. And I would think, ok next time, I need to play without risk… I don’t have this now, my head is free.”

The ones close to him saw this changes earlier when he dropped to the bench at Lyon. Usually, he’d drown in his own frustrations, like at Man United, but now, as a sub, he had massive value.

“Against Nantes last week, I missed a sitter. And when you start analysing this, your game will be affected by it. Now I think, ok. I missed. There is heaps of time left for me to set that right. And I was able to. I want to entertain the fans, I want to enjoy myself as well. And it’s not just goals. It’s also assists or dummy runs. That does give me something extra.”

Memphis is in a good space. And it shows. Last, when Oranje came together with Ronald Koeman as coach, Memphis was a happy-go-lucky fella. He was joking around with a reporter, was smiling for his interviews. And debutant Guus Til (AZ) said after the practice session that Memphis had come up to him directly, to bid him welcome at Oranje.

And now, at Lyon, he’s no longer the stern and stoic player we know from the past, eyes down and mumbling responses. He is now calm and positive. “It’s not in my football that I made changes. It’s also outside of the game. I can tell I’m changing. As a human being, I grew just by relying on my faith.”

We will have to wait and see in what way Oranje will benefit from his current form. But for Koeman, it would be golden, as Oranje can use a new key player with special skills. Against Portugal, the new Memphis was already visible.

And funnily enough, that might have been the game that changed the rest of his season, also at Lyon. His coach Genesio was on the stands in Geneva, at Portugal – Holland. He saw Memphis shine as a false number 9 and the next Lyon game, he gave Memphis a similar role. In this new 4-4-2 system, Depay is making a tremendous impression.

“I love playing freely in space, I need to be able to follow my instincts. Not that I don’t want to defend but playing strictly as a left winger is to limited for me.”

His popularity in France and The Netherlands is huge, particularly with the youth. He’s a sort of king on social media, in street fashion and in football. He was the centre of attention recently in Amsterdam, when Under Armour – his clothing sponsor – opened a new store. “I love it, talking with fans. I will take the time for it, and they tell me everything. It’s special. I do love to be alone but at times I have to give back and connect with the fans. And I do realise I can inspire people. I don’t think I’m that special, apart from football, but I will aim to inspire people if they need me to.”


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Oranje under new management

Finally, the post we’ve been waiting for… The KNVB has made their choices and Ronald Koeman (Team Manager) and Nico-Jan Hoogma (Director Top Sports) were introduced yesterday to the media and the public.

The announcement of Koeman was no surprise. He was named as ideal years ago already. KNVB failure general manager Bert van Oostveen once bypassed Koeman (and picked Hiddink) and it was quite certain the former Oranje captain one day would get the job. With Van Oostveen out of the way, Oranje in deep dire straits and Dutch football in the slumps, Koeman now is the guiding light we all put our faith in. Will the former Everton/Southampton/Feyenoord/AZ/Benfica/PSV/Ajax/Valencia/Vitesse coach be the right man for the job? Who knows… I can see why he would be, and I can see why he wouldn’t be. Time will tell.

General Manager Erik Gudde and Ronald Koeman

Nico-Jan Hoogma will be a surprise appointment. He does not have a big name in Holland, let alone abroad. He is no Oranje legend and I don’t think he ever won a trophy in football (I will need to check…). Oops! He did. He played Champions League football with HSV Hamburg. Won the German cup with HSV and won the title in the Jupiler League twice, once with Cambuur, once with Heracles Almelo. His son Justin Hoogma is a player of Hoffenheim, in the Bundesliga.

He’s not the big name appointment some would have wanted (Van Gaal, Adriaanse, Martin van Geel) but he’s probably a very good choice.

What you need to know, is that the new Chairman of the KNVB is a man called Jan Smit. Doesn’t get more Dutch. A highly respected club chairman (Heracles Almelo as well), who is revered for his wisdom, astute management and experience. Under his management, Heracles became one of the best managed and most healthy clubs in The Netherlands. And he worked with Nico Jan for 11 years and will know exactly what Hoogma can and can not do.

Hoogma was general manager at Heracles for 11 years and was one of the key men to keep that club stable and solid. He’s been a trooper on the pitch for FC Twente, Heracles and HSV Hamburg (ex captain) and was present in the Bundesliga when the Germans in 2000 got a shock with their slump and used the Dutch football know-how to pull themselves out of the rut.

Gudde and Director Top Sports Nico-Jan Hoogma

His role will be specifically aimed at the football development (trainer and coaching training/development in particular) and the liaison role towards the clubs, in order to get them all to toe the new line.

Apart from him, a more football development manager will be appointed as well, to work with the youth rep teams and implement the new development strategy.

At his press conference, Koeman said he will appoint two new assistants and a physiology coach and a keepers coach. The name of Kees van Wonderen (former Feyenoord captain and FC Twente youth coach) is going around. Ruud Gullit will not be considered by Koeman. Brother Erwin Koeman will also not be part of the new team. He is keen to get a head coach job soon after having assisted his bro for 5 seasons.

Nico Jan Hoogma in his HSV days…

Ronald also announced he will make a drastic change. But he didn’t say what. It’s quite obvious that he refers to abandoning the 4-3-3 sacred system…

So, what should be done…

Use your strengths and let the Team support the Key players

So, imagine the team has one world class player and imagine this player is a dribble king. Now imagine Oranje plays a key match against a big opponent, with the chance to qualify for the big tournament after a good result. And that player has not been able to have one single successful dribble during the full match. Weird eh? This is what happened in the away game vs France, under Advocaat. Oranje lost 4-0 and Robben did not have a single offensive action. Instead, he played right back most of the time. When Oranje did have the ball, he was played in when he had two markers on him and was with his back to their goal, as a result of Oranje’s poor pace and poor positioning play. If you use your key player like this, you’re in trouble. It’s not calculus to determine that you need to adapt your tactics in such a way that you use the strengths of your best players. It has nothing to do with systems. Louis van Gaal used this approach to coach Oranje to the semi finals in 2014’s World Cup, allowing Robben to shine. Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich was the reason why Robben was able to be the most dominant player in that era, with their ultra dominating football. This current Oranje doesn’t have a star player. Oranje is therefore forced to make the team the star. With key players like Daley Blind, Strootman, Wijnaldum, Promes and Depay finding ways to play to their best, and lifting the team as a whole into a unit. The Oranje team will have to work to allow the new star to emerge… Whether it’s Frenkie de Jong, Justin Kluivert or maybe still Memphis…

On the left: Robben played in at Oranje, back to goal. On the right: Robben played in at Bayern.

Stop man marking, you can’t win matches with 11 asses

When Oranje plays it’s last match under Dick Advocaat, it’s exactly 25 years since Ernst Happel passed over and is coaching the likes of Garrincha, Cruyff, George Best and Nico Rijnders up in heaven. In the 1960 the Austrian legend brought his innovation to Holland, introducing the 4-3-3 system. He also detested man marking. “When you tell your players to man mark, you’re sending 11 asses into the game and you will never win.” It’s good thing he died and didn’t have to see how Hiddink, Blind and then Advocaat struggled with the new developments in the game. When Belarus left back scored against Oranje, some people blamed Arjen Robben for not tracking back. Now there is an old fashioned concept. The paradox of man marking is, that one can always blame one individual for a conceded goal. Whereas in modern football, the team is the individual. The one team unit philosophy. It’s the collective. We live in a time where nations with less individual qualities than Holland are going from strength to strength (Iceland, Wales, Sweden, Poland, Japan, Peru) using zonal marking. It’s simple. When possession is lost, you create 2 banks of 4 players, with two quicker forwards in front of the block. Compact. Hard to break down. And relatively easy to break when the ball is turned around. Koeman’s first priority should be the defensive organisation. Not conceding is key. And to work on creative, dominant play is not something a team manager has the time for. They simply don’t work enough together and get enough time together. So the priority must be the defensive organisation, which is easier to drill in. And scoring wasn’t out biggest issue anyway. Holland scored more in the qualifications than France! But conceding silly goals was. The good thing is, it was certainly not due to bad defenders, but mostly due to bad collective and organisational defending. Surely, Holland has better defenders (Van Dijk, De Ligt, De Vrij, Van Beek, Blind, Hoedt, Ake, Fosu-Mensah, Bruma, Rekik) than Iceland, Sweden, Poland etc etc but we simply had a dreadful organisation…

Our new defensive organisation!

Control midfield!

What makes most people crazy and does not help Oranje winning games, is the hopeless and ongoing square passing and back passing. In nine out of ten qualification games, it was the defenders who had most of the touches. Koeman will have to put an end to this. This is the symptom of a team unable to dominate the midfield. If a team hasn’t got the individual class to dominate the midfield, it will have to do so with a better organisation and positioning. This was a trademark for Holland for decades. But today, we hardly see the dropping-back forwards (Van Persie, Bergkamp, Ronald de Boer, Cruyff) or the forward moving defenders (Krol, De Boer, Rijkaard, Blind, Koeman). Our midfield is constantly drowned out by numbers. No wonder Wijnaldum and Strootman are hailed at their clubs but constantly fail in Oranje. In most modern successful teams, the flanks are covered by one athletic runner. Whether at Man City, Bayern, Chelsea, Real, Ajax… the double cover on the wings, with two players on each side stuck to the line is outdated. Our opponents think it’s fine that we play like that. What danger can you present from there? Fabian Delph at Man City plays like a midfielder when City is in possession. Same as Kimmel at Bayern. Why can’t Daley Blind do this? Currently, we don’t have a world class striker. So what? Use that to your advantage. Barca doesn’t play with an out and out striker. Use the space for a player to drift into. Promes from the right, or Van de Beek from midfield. Use the 3-4-1-2 system for a change, allowing more dominance of midfield. We have the runners (Janmaat, Karsdorp, Willems, Tete, Van Aanholt) and we have three good central defenders with build up capabilities (De Vrij, Van Dijk, Blind). Watford used this system to beat Champions Chelsea (admitting Chelsea played with 10 most of the game) but still…

Dick Advocaat did make a step forward by placing Daley Blind as central midfielder, against Romania and Sweden. Daley has been developed as a midfielder and can play excellent in this role, provided the team around him can cover for his weakness (speed). Spain uses two playmakers (Isco and Silva) who both start on the flank and drift inside. Steven Berghuis and Quincy Promes or Memphis Depay can play in these roles…

Movement, it’s all movement…

Forget systems, but focus on principles. In modern football, space is limited and time is limited. In today’s football it’s the turnaround that allows for space. It’s all about variance and movement. This is how you can break down an opponent which doesn’t allow for much space. Structured running line and fixed systems are obsolete. Flexible guidelines is what is needed, no more straightjackets. How can we use the ingredients of the Dutch school and adapt these into playing principles of the modern times. Which formation we start with is totally irrelevant. Does Man City play 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1 or 4-5-1? It’s not relevant.

Standard situations

Holland only scored one goal from a corner in the recent qualification games. A Sneijder corner, headed away and volleyed into the goal by Promes, with a lot of luck and through a lot of legs. Working on dead ball situations can and should add 4 to 5 goals in a qualification process. It could well be the difference between qualifying and not qualifying. Long throws, free kicks and corner kicks. The Scandinavians have had mediocre forwards, but they turned throw ins, free kicks and corners into an artform and scored key goals from them. Jetro Willems is one of the few players we have that can throw the ball into the box. If we can’t dominate and obliterate opponents with dazzling pass and move play, why not be happy with a 1-0 win from a corner or well worked free kick?

Thanks to VI Pro.

Next up: Who the F is Nico Jan Hoogma?

Ronald Koeman explaining his concepts for Oranje, sadly in Dutch…

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A new low for Oranje….

I’m not talking about the meagre 1-3 win over Belarus. I’m not even talking about Holland not going to the World Cup. That win was fine. The fact we miss a tournament is definitely not a new low either. We missed tournaments before and we always came back with more talent.

The new low for me, was the press conference Dick Advocaat gave last week. Reporter Bert Maaldrink asked Dick about the goal difference. He implied Dick didn’t take that seriously enough. Dick could have made changes vs France (defensive) and Bulgaria (offensive) to narrow the gap. Dick didn’t see it as a problem.

So Bert said: “But what if Sweden wins against Luxembourg 8-0 next week?”

Dick: “What 8-0? Ridiculous! Nonsense… That is a stupid question! No one wins 8-0 anymore Bert. That is outrageous and is not going to happen. I don’t believe that.”

Bert Maaldrink was told off like a school kid by the experienced success coach Dick Advocaat.

But now, when asked about Holland’s chances against Sweden (needing to score 7 goals) Advocaat suddenly is saying “everything is possible!”. Say what? Against Luxembourg, 8 goals is ridiculous, but 7 goals against Sweden is not?


It’s just another example that our football management have lost a sense of reality. It’s was already clear years ago, in the way we dealt with Bert van Marwijk, the succession of Van Gaal, the telling off of Hiddink after match 2, the automatic promotion of Danny Blind, the shenanigans at KNVB management level (no technical expertise whatsoever to support and / or assess the work of the coaches). The list goes on and on and on.

At the same time, we didn’t have a lot of things going our way, really. Sweden was gifted a golden chance to score by Strootman, something Kevin usually doesn’t do. Dost scored, but the goal was disallowed. We missed chance after chance in that game. 2 points gone! The home game vs France… Pogba gets lucky that Stekelenburg misses the shot, while Depay in the dying minutes doesn’t get the same slice of luck when in scoring position. We lost a point there.

But the biggest drama of course, the Bulgaria away game we lost. What a terrible team performance that was! And yes, Blind shouldn’t have picked De Ligt for his debut in that match, but by Golly, it’s too easy to blame it all on two people! The whole team fell through the ice there and it ended the run of Danny Blind. So lets get mr Conservative Dick in… And the rest we know…Now, first and foremost, the Sweden score of 8-0 was a hammer to the head for Oranje. That much is obvious. Why on Earth did FIFA not program these games at the same time? It could have been the other way (1-0 for Sweden) and that would have boosted Oranje. Also not fair, but in that case, not fair for the Swedes. It affects the mindset and thus the game, but it will always be just a theoretical discussion. But Ryan Babel said it after the game: “We heard the score go up when we were in the bus. When it was 4-0 for Sweden, we turned the radio off.” That says it all. The first phase of the match vs Belarus, it was clear that the team was in a sort of shock. Except for Dick, who just stuck to the his 4-3-3 and didn’t make any opportunistic changes to force the issue.


After the match, Dick said: “The whole preparation was out of the window when we walked out of the bus. It was 7-0 at the time.” I don’t get this… The whole preparation should have been “Let’s assume Sweden scores a lot and just go full throttle and do the same thing!”. Surely, Dick didn’t anticipate a draw for Sweden? The players and coaching staff should have had the right motivation to go out there to score 6. With a vengeance. In that case (I believe) we needed a 4-0 win vs Sweden. Hard, but doable.

The plan was for Babel to play wide left, for Janmaat to play wide right. Van Dijk, Rekik and Blind would be the three defenders, with Blind potentially moving into midfield. It didn’t happen this way. Babel roamed around the pitch, without any other player (Robben, Janssen, Blind) using the space created by the 30 year old. Tactically, it didn’t work, although Babel did impress. Vilhena and Wijnaldum were never able to really push up and apart from a shot from distance, Vilhena didn’t offer much. Wijnaldum again was sloppy and slow in possession missing the many options the Liverpool team offers him.

Robben seemed to play his own game, at times combining well with Janmaat, but at times also making the wrong decision, with his free kick to row Z the low of Robben’s match.

blind robben

Janssen did what Janssen does. Work hard, be a pain in the neck and creating opportunities. He could have had three, but ended up with nothing (one ball on the cross bar).

And that was the story of the game, really. Oranje had some good chances to go into the break 0-4 up. And they failed to take the chances. Janssen was unlucky, Robben and Babel got close if not for a tiny touch by a Belarus defender. Janssen had a shooting opportunity blocked by the goalie (was he wearing a yellow turtle neck?). And Vilhena’s distance shot had a chance of going in too. Instead of 0-4, which would have opened up the game for a big score for sure, we rested with a mere 0-1 score.

The second half started well, we created pressure and chances, with Janssen having a 100% scoring chance, but he took the straight route right into the goalie’s throat. And then it all went belly up. The tactical discipline was gone, and when Dost came on, it was Belarus creating the best chances, resulting in the 1-1. With Dost on the pitch, the team should have gone direct. But they didn’t. Every time the long ball to Dost was used, there was a chance to win the second ball but despite the second striker, that long ball hardly came. The onslaught didn’t come and it was thanks to a penalty (we deserved one for the handsball already) that we got ahead. The free kick at the end was a nice piece of skill by Memphis and every goal counts of course, but we simply needed many more.

In analysing the game, we will come short to determine all that is wrong with Dutch football. The build up again was too slow and considerate. The Van Dijk long balls (only 2) immediately generated danger but that direct approach was clearly not how Advocaat wanted to play. Wijnaldum again looked lost in a not-so-well-drilled team. He’s great as a cog in the Klopp machine, but a bit clueless when having to survive the loosely coupled Oranje. Propper is a fine individual player but lacks the leadership and grit that Sneijder offers (apart from Sneijder’s brilliance in passing and kicking). Robben is a highly motivated player of course, but he did let his man go (again) resulting a the Belarus goal.


And it goes on and on. But the problems lie way way deeper.

Everywhere you look, everything you touch in Dutch football seems rotten. From the Eredivisie clubs in Europe, to the Dutch top players in Europe, to the way the KNVB manages Dutch football all the way to the choices and beliefs of the technical staff.

One of the Sweden players said it well after their match. “The difference between Holland and Sweden? When we lost vs Bulgaria, we didn’t sack anyone. We just huddled together, worked on the problems and stuck together as a team. When Holland lost vs Bulgaria, they sent their coach away. Again! That mentality will not work. You had 4 coaches in two years? Players going in and out of vogue? Not the Sweden way.”

With the KNVB getting their act together slowly (Van Oostveen gone, Van Breukelen gone, soon Advocaat gone) and new board of directors led by Jan Smit (former Heracles Almelo chair) and a new general manager starting next month (Eric Gudde, the former GM of Feyenoord and responsible for the immense rejuvenation of the club), we can expect the right choices to be made.

The first thing we’ll need is a technical director with proven skills in vision, tactics and development and management experience. Van Gaal would be an option, but his narcissistic personality will be a problem, I’m sure. Martin van Geel, Marcel Brands, Fred Rutten…there’s options enough. Our whole football philosophy will need to be renovated. The way we organise youth competitions, the way we scout, the way we develop coaches, the pitches we play and practice on and most importantly, the financial equality needs to be restored. It’s stupid to force clubs to pay money for their second teams to participate in serious competitions. Feyenoord had financial problems when the second teams were admitted into the Jupiler League. As a result, Sven van Beek – who  hasn’t played a competitive game for 1,5 years – is not able to get back into match fitness playing at level with Feyenoord 2! Ridiculous. Van Beek is a potential international and should have competitive matches weekly right now.

janssen bela

Then, we need to bring in a coach who is aligned with the KNVB / TD philosophy and who is capable of developing a tactical plan that works with our football identity and the talent at hand. Not an old hand who’s working in an old-fashioned style to get short term results.

Surely, we have the players to work with the 3-4-2-1 that Chelsea/Man City / Bayern / Napoli / Barca system.

With Blind/Van Dijk/De Vrij/Rekik/Hoedt/Van Beek/Kongolo we have very decent central defenders.

With Ake/Willems/Van Aanholt/Pieters/Karsdorp/Janmaat/Tete/Kongolo we have very able full backs available.

Janssen will score for us in the future, but Promes can play central striker in this system as well.

Frenkie de Jong/Memphis/Promes/Klaassen/Propper can play in the forward roles behind the central striker (like Silva/Jesus at Man City or Hazard/Willian at Chelsea). The two central midfielder positions can be taken by Ake/Van Roon/Van de Beek/Vilhena/Van Ginkel/Wijnaldum/Riedenwald/Bazoer… And then there’s Bergwijn, Til, Berghuis, Kik Pieri, Haps, St Juste and many other potentials. And… Adam Maher?

cocu shock

I didn’t mention the goalies, because who cares? I mean: Cillesen, Hahn, Vermeer, Padt, they will all be good enough.

Dick will coach two more friendly games for the KNVB after the Sweden game. Why bother, is my opinion. Unless you want to use it as a farewell match. In that case: invite Van der Vaart, Nigel de Jong, Ron Vlaar, Sneijder, Huntelaar, Van Persie and Robben and turn the friendly (versus Germany?) into something celebrational.

And from March 2018 onwards, lets make sure we have a coach who can navigate a young but eager team of talents to greatness.



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Dutch company goes all Moneyball on Football!

Most of us will have seen the movie Moneyball, with Brad Pitt? Based on a true story, a baseball team in the US picking and signing players purely based on specific qualities, which together would form a winning team. The club would sign a miss match of cheap or even unknown players, causing frowns in foreheads of other managers, thinking: what are they smoking? But it worked. For a spell. We do need to add that the club actually never won the World Series, so it’s not like it’s a guaranteed recipe for success, but they did get attention.

A Dutch company seems to step into the shoes of Messrs Pitt and co. to revolutionise the way we look at new players and valuable players. In these past week, clubs, managers, scouts, players were busy trying to sort deals in the winter transfer window. Busy times for Giels Brouwer as well. Who? Giels Brouwer: the founder of SciSports, a Dutch company keen to make the difference: “I believe it with all my heart: math will be the foundation of football!”.


So what do they do?

SciSports uses date to generate new insights into football. They have developed three products:

1. BallJames; allowing them to use real-time images into 3D data
2. SciSports Intelligence; develops algorythms to make this data visual
3. DataScouting is a virtual football consultant and talent scout

SciSports is located in Enschede (East of The Netherlands, where FC Twente is) and employs 45 people. Their database has stats of 300,000 players, up to the 2nd division.

He himself runs on Saturday afternoons along the sideline as left winger of Terschuurse Boys 4. “I can’t play, really”, the 27 year old says, when he joins Marcel Brands of PSV, or the Arsenal management or the technical committee of the Belgium football federation.  Or when he travels to Silicon Valley on the invite of the European Union.

His company SciSports is seen as a potential unicorn. A company potentially worth billions in the future. “It’s so surreal. On Saturday arvo, my coach benches me because I’m not good enough, the next day I’m in San Francisco with a self driving car next to me at the traffic lights, or I’m presenting my products before the board of Man United.

giel brouwer

Brouwer (left) with co-founder Babic

So please explain: Justin Kluivert is hot now. What do you know about him that I don’t?

“That’s too hard. He hasn’t played a handful of starting games. We need 15 to 20 games to make a good indication of a players’ potential. We don’t have a partnership with Ajax, so we don’t have his data from the youth academy. With PSV, we are at that point. Based on the youth data of PSV, I can tell you here and now that Kenneth Paal will be a top player for us.”


,,Haha. In our reporting, it appears that teams play better and get better results with him. He’s in our National Team of the Future. We help clubs identify players. A club can ask us: “We want a type of player like Memphis!”. Then we try to find players like Depay who are affordable. We have a database of 300,000 players and we can determine the impact of a player on a team. Not unlike Moneyball. Trying to find the new Kante or Vardy.”


SciSports offer more than data. “Clubs can also ask about negative aspects of a player. Was he drinking and driving? Has ie been suspended by his club? Did he injure a team mate. We have all these data. But it’s only a part of our service. Our core focus is the performance and statistics.”

In 2007, Brouwer commenced his studies at the Technical University in Enschede. Joop Munsterman, CEO of FC Twente opened his eyes during a guest lecture. “He told us about Twente’s technical management and how they did their transfer decision making. I was flabberhasted! I was a big player of Football Manager and I thought this was how it went in the real world. But Munsterman said it was all intuition! There are so many ways to scout a player, but FC Twente was doing it all in 1920 style. So I thought, I’ll build a Football Manager system, for the real world.”

In 2012, it all started for real. “I was in Ukraine for the Euros and I got a text message from a Twente scout. “Do you know a good player for us?”. And I thought, fuck it, I’m going to do this!”

Last year, SciSports assisted with 13 transfers, for Sparta, Vitesse, Twente, Heracles and Genk. At Heracles, they’ve installed 14 3D cameras which collate data for SciSports. “It’s all so basic still, but we’re moving fast. I hired 3 more people last month.”


What was the first big name player you found?

“Wout Weghorst. He was told FC Emmen didn’t want him anymore. But based on our data, he was excellent. Always scoring important goals, always on the right spot. The rest is history. SciSports brought him to Heracles and now he’s the new striker of AZ and no one misses Vincent Janssen. AZ is not his final station, I can alert you to that now.”

So the Dutch Eredivisie has a lot of potential still?

“Without any data to support this statement: Kasper Dolberg. But if you check the data results, Joey Groenbast of Go Ahead Eagles, the right back. And El Azzouzi of Sparta has potential. But the most influential player in the Eredivisie is Joel Veltman.”


“You wouldn’t think that, but yes, based on his stats. I would not have expected that either. But when he plays, Ajax doesn’t concede a lot and he’s always involved with the build up leading to goals. Our main question is always: what is the impact of a player on the team. That is key. Data will never replace the usual football processes of course, it doesn’t say anything about group dynamics. But it helps with generating insight to improve the game. It supports the coach. We help clubs by taking the noise out of the stats. It’s also confirming the ideas of scouts or giving them the devil’s advocate angle. I do believe that math can be the foundation of success in sports. It’s not perfect, but it’s less imperfect that the eye of the individual.”


Any tips for clubs?

“If any club is looking for a winger, I’d go watch SV Eupen in Belgium and sign Henry Onyekuru. A top player!”

SciSports is going like a rocket. But only a couple of years ago, it looked bleak. Two co-founders decided to leave the company and go for a job while Giel realised his savings account was as good as empty. In 2015, the turnaround came when Rapid Wien came and needed help finding a player. That made the penny drop. “We were focusing on the Dutch market but now realised we could easily expand internationally.”

Today, SciSports works for 50 clubs, from Heracles to Valencia, from Besiktas to Lazio Roma. SciSports offers monthly subscription for data reports and analyses to more than a dozen clubs, and counting.

“The Big Clubs such as Man City have their own data teams. They don’t need us per se, but lots of clubs can’t afford that so they are our target market.”

The Dutch National Team of Tomorrow (according to SciSports)

NT future

Then there is the captain of Heracles, Mark Jan Fledderus. He visits SciSports regularly to analyse the qualities of his direct opponent of the up coming match. The BallJames service focuses on details. Like the first touch of a player, or the power of the player’s headers, or the running patterns of teams… Ball James is still an infant, and a loss making activity. “But that will change, I’m sure. The potential is amazing and we are getting so many requests. all football clubs I talk to want it.”

Brouwer is now a player in the world of football. He has lunch with Bryan Roy, has weekly phone calls with Mark Overmars, receives signed jersey from Robin van Persie and rubs shoulders with Silicon Valley based investors.

“I didn’t start this to become a millionaire. It’s nice if it happens, but my aim was and is to make the football sports more beautiful….”

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The Future of Oranje, part II

Thank you all for your kind words on the post earlier. I don’t mind football debates and everyone is entitled to their opinion. But if they back it up with unfounded stuff, I get into it. All good.

I do sense that players are judged unfairly. How often does it happen that Clasie is outplayed in Oranje’s midfield and then he gets the criticism, because he fails to intercept or keep the ball? How often do people see that maybe 1) the pass to him was bad, or 2) the players upfront didn’t press, or 3) no one made himself available…

If you saw Leiceester vs Man U, in the first 25 minutes, Man U played Leicester off the pitch. Was it because suddenly Leicester don’t know how to play? Or was it the time needed for them to find an outlet without Vardy? One player missing (a player with speed, always on the shoulder of the defence, reading for a ball over the top) and replaced by another (wanting the ball in his feet) and the whole team dynamic is gone. Drinkwater lost the ball many times as he didn’t find an outlet. Does that make Drinkwater a loser, suddenly? No. It’s the team dynamic.

vardy drinkwayter


“Ok, whenever I have the ball, this is where you’ll run and I’ll pass the ball blind in that space!”

Clasie, Van Dijk, Bruma, all the players criticised by people play really well at club level. Because the tactics stand, the players around them understand one another… Van Dijk is hailed as the best signing this season for Southampton and if I was Klopp I’d sign him immediately.

But here people say he (and Clasie) are shite… Seriously?

We are in transition with the National Team. Van Marwijk is partly to blame. Van Oostveen is partly to blame. LVG is partly to blame and Guus and Danny are partly to blame. But we also are a small football nation in terms of money, players available and number of big matches played (at club level). The reason why Ajax and PSV youngster suddenly get into the first team more easily than Feyenoord youngsters, is because these two have junior team (Ajax 2 and PSV 2) at Jupiler League level. Feyenoord, for financial reasons, can’t afford it (yet).



Current holding mid for the Saints vs the former holding mid

All is connected people.

If we would have had Strootman, Robben, Vlaar, Van Persie, Willems and De Vrij fit for the Euro qualifications, we would have qualified I think. Despite all the hits and misses we had in the games.

But we can’t – like Germany or Spain or England – replace 4 top players just like that. It happened before and it will happen again. We can’t sustain our world class level. Unless…..we qualify and take three weeks to gel a team together, like LVG did.

This is why I don’t like “ideal line ups” coz it depends on 1) fitness, 2) form and 3) strength of opponent.


If we play Ireland or Greece or Hungary with our best players available, we have to play 4-3-3 or even 3-4-3. If we have all players available but we play Germany or Italy, I’d play 3-5-3 (prefer this expression over 5-3-2 but it’s the same essentially).

So, my line up…. If everyone is fit and in form, is this for weaker opponents:


Janmaat – De Vrij/Vlaar – Blind – Fosu-Mensah

Propper  – Strootman – Sneijder

Robben – Huntelaar – Memphis

Bench: Vermeer, Cillesen, Bruma, Van Dijk, Tete, Wijnaldum, Clasie, Janssen, Promes, Willems, Bazoer


Against stronger opponents:


De Vrij/Vlaar – Blind – Van Dijk

Janmaat – Propper – Strootman – Sneijder – Willems

Robben – Memphis

With Sneijder in the hole.

Bench: Vermeer, Cillesen, Bruma, Fosu-Mensah, Tete, Wijnaldum, Clasie, Janssen, Promes, Huntelaar, Bazoer

Good clip 🙂

Obviously, this all on the condition that all players are fit and in form. If Van Persie isn’t fit, we need someone else. Etc etc…

The key to our performances is to have time to work a new team. And this is also something that makes a big difference in coaching an NT or a club.

LVG struggled with the NT role. Remember 2002? During qualifications for 2014 he was complaining too. But once he had them every day, for weeks on end, he could work his magic.

I think Danny Blind is maybe a good NT coach, like others before him (Prandelli, Low, Klinsmann) did not have tremendous club careers but are able to pick the best players and make them work together as a team in a short time frame. It takes another type of coach/manager.

I think Van Persie will be a huge question mark but Sneijder has two more years in him, I’m sure. Huntelaar might go to Ajax (if they can sell Milik post Euros for a lot of money) and he’ll score 25+ goals in the Eredivisie. When we play on the front foot, there is no better striker than him.

But when Leicester can win the title with “mediocre players” and Greece can win the Euros (2004), why would we be so depressed?

euro 2012

I hope Berghuis will make a good move this summer, either back to PSV or Ajax or go for a spot in Watford’s line up. Last weekend we saw his quality with his assist on Deeney. What a ball in!

My biggest frustration is that Ziyech didn’t pick Holland but Morocco for his future. I think it was a mistake. By the KNVB, for sure, but mainly by him.

He is a sensational player. He has everything. Mentality, leadership, confidence, speed, physical strength, vision and he can score a goal. And never shabby ones. But he has pride as well and he snubbed Oranje. He might stay in Holland and make a move for Ajax, Feyenoord or PSV. That will help any of those clubs in Europe.

If was Ranieri and would lose Mahrez, I’d sign Ziyech on the spot! Eyes closed. No medical needed. Sign here son!

ziyech oranje


This was Danny Blind’s chance to give the Twente star minutes in Oranje, but sadly Ziyech got injured and wasn’t on the bench

I rate Vilhena as well. He needs more tactical discipline but the lad’s only 19 years old. Let’s hope he picks the right club after Feyenoord. He needs to play. Week in week out.

Propper is a prodigal talent in my eyes. If you look at the clip I posted before, you see that everything he does looks easy. He scores smart goals, with vision and technique. People compare him with Van Bommel? I don’t see it. Strootman and Van Bommel, yes. Propper is more Cocu for me. Elegance, technique and vision. If he keeps developing, he wouldn’t be out of place in Barcelona.

Tete, Riedewald, Karsdorp, Tofu-Mensah, Ake…all good prospects but need to prove themselves still. Getting to the top is one thing (Drenthe, Ola John, Maher) but staying there…. Pressure, expectations, distractions, discipline….

Janssen will be able to make the top for me as well. Lots of things lacking in his game. He’s not tall, he is not fast, his right foot is a bit weak but he makes up for it because he is 1) smart, 2) explosive and always awake and 3) mentally strong. A killer.

Reminds me of one Gerd Muller. You might have heard his name before?

gerd muller

janssen vincent

I also hope Quincy Promes will make a good move this summer. He is ready for the EPL or Spain, Germany or Italy. He’s not Chelsea or Arsenal material, but if Mane leaves Southampton…. Who knows…

I’m pretty sure Danny Blind won’t be bothered by silly development strategies by the KNVB. He will try and do his job with the squad.

I’m convinced we have good enough players to play a role, always, at a tournament. We don’t need Messi or C Ronaldo. How many trophies did they win with their national teams? That’s what I mean.

With Ruud van Nistelrooy leaving Oranje this summer I do hope Danny will get an experienced coach alongside him and San Marco. Henk ten Cate? Jan Wouters? Foppe de Haan?

Next season, if PSV can keep the squad together and qualify for CL football, I do expect another step from them. I hope Cocu will get some more width in his squad. If Ajax can keep on making steps with Huntelaar and Riedewald back and maybe some better wingers, who knows…

Feyenoord will play Europa League group stage games (6 guaranteerd duels) and hopefully will get some more quality in.

I hope Ake, Berghuis, Promes, De Roon, De Vrij and others to get back to rhythm, not to forget Strootman at Roma.

Not pessimistic at all!

Our future stars in the Under 17 tournament will play for silverware with Feyenoord star Chong (on his way to Man United), Ajax’ Son of God Patrick Justin and Feyenoord goal machine Vente. I’ll keep you posted in the coming week.

Lastly, a big congrats to Erik ten Hag, the FC Utrecht coach and protege of Guardiola, who was voted the Best Coach of the Eredivisie this season, ahead of De Boer, Cocu et al for his turn around and onorthodox working methings at Utrecht.

Ten Hag has a Twente and PSV background and might well be Phillip Cocu’s successor once he departs from PSV.

ten hag prijs

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