Tag: Nouri

Justin Kluivert: I want to shine!

Justin Kluivert spent time in The Netherlands during the Lockdown. This interview was done during the non-football period in Italy.

How are you?

Justin: “Until the Corona outbreak I was doing fine, particularly with my football. And you know me, when the football is good, my life outside of football is good too.”

Football as the benchmark?

“For me, yes. When you are happy in your football career it’s hard not to be happy outside of it, so yes. I played a lot before the lockdown and scored my goals. That seems to be key for most people, especially when you are playing abroad. People read the news headlines and you will come across in a positive way, when you score. So, that is good.”

Do you notice it in the streets too?

“Of course. When you scored the last game, people come up to you and congratulate you. And when you don’t score, they won’t. That is how it works. And I like reading stuff like “Kluivert saves AS Roma” or something. That sortathing works for you.”

You’re a young mama’s boy from Amsterdam. And there you went: as a 19 year old, to Rome!

“The first six months were all about adjusting. I only lived in Holland, with my mum. So big steps for me: leaving the club where I played all my life and leaving my mum behind.”

Were you lonely, in Rome, that first period?

“I don’t get lonely that easily, I am good at being alone. I am also a bit like: you signed for Roma, so no whining! I had a girl friend in Amsterdam but now I’m single again so literally alone. My mum visits often and I still have a little brother at school, so it’s a quiet life but it’s good. My first season in Rome, I didn’t want too many distractions.  I do get a lot of visitors so that is nice. My grandma flies down to Rome whenever she can. And my mum also helped by taking care of my home, she did the whole internal design thing, right how I like it. I have home here with a pool and many bedrooms for guests.”

Did you learn how to cook?

“Yes, I went to cooking school, hahaha. I cook for myself, no drama.”

Justin with mum Angela

So do you enjoy the life in Italy?

“Yes, the Italian vibe is top. Food is great, the weather is top, and I also use the Italian gestures now hahaha. One cappuccino for breakfast and then espresso shots. And on we go!”

Did you manage to be the tourist? Go to the Colosseum and all this?

“Football here is top class but the city of Rome is top as well. You can do so many things, we can go sailing or have lunch at the beach. I also visited the historic spots, but it’s like the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam… It’s for the tourist. You don’t go to the Rijks every month, when you live in Amsterdam. And we will get recognised always, that is a drawback. Walking through the city is no problem, you don’t need to wear a hoodie or something. They do look at you and sometimes ask for a selfie. I always say yes. It takes 30 seconds. So what, right?”

Who are the team mates you hang out with here?

“I spent a lot of time with Rick Karsdorp and his family, before he left for Feyenoord. He tought me heaps of things here, and I have to be grateful for him for this. Kevin Strootman was top too but he left very early to Marseille. I am the only Dutchie now and the youngest too. Most of my team mates have kids and families etc. At Ajax, all the players were young and we were all mates. I knew most from the youth teams. Here it is different, but on the pitch I get along with all of them.”

With which Ajax players do you still talk?

“I talk to Hakim Ziyech every now and then. His move to Chelsea was to be expected, man what a season he had! I look forward to seeing him in the EPL. I app with Frenkie at Barcelona a lot, but everyone is busy. We’re all on our own trajectory.”

Mino Raiola is your agent. Does he help you by connecting you to strikers like Zlatan?

“Well, I have my dad to talk to right? But I was in Monaco one time with Mino and Balotelli and Zlatan were there too. We had lunch together, which was fun. I also speak to Mkhitaryan a lot. He came from Arsenal, and he is so smart. He always gives me little hints and tips. He wants me to shoot quicker, get the shot away. Don’t make that extra move or trick. And I talk with my cousin Marillo and with my brother. Marillo is my best mate.”

Like Abdelhak Nouri was a good mate too….

“Yes, a really special mate. We played together at Ajax but we’re still friends. I think about him a lot. And because of what happened, I learned to enjoy every single day. Don’t hang on to anger, that sorta thing. Life can be over, just like that. Now I live here in Rome, I don’t get to see Appie that often. I’ll be visiting him soon I hope, but I find it extremely difficult. So horrible…”

How important is your mum to you?

“Pfff how do you say that. I am always very happy to be with her. She means the world to me. I lived with her my whole life and whenever I have a decision to make, I call her. And she support me in everything. She wasn’t very stern or anything but always clear. And when she said her piece, I was like… Ok… that is how it will be. But she always was loving and warm. She likes to hug and still does.”

So after a good game, you think about her?

“Yes, of course. I also play for her, but also for my dad. I love it when he’s proud. And for my brothers too. I want to shine on the pitch. And they give me my motivations. My parents got divorced when I was still little and I don’t know different than being raised by my mum. But I missed nothing, don’t get me wrong. In the weekends I saw my dad. That is how it was. My mum is a strong woman, she made sure we were happy.”

Are you tearing up?

“No. Yes, well… a bit. I mean, I am not a cryer person, but I always get emotional talking about my mum. She is the most beautiful woman in the world for me. But everyone will say that about their mum, I hope.”

You are known to be a very positive and open lad, but also very polite?

“That is how she raised me. Just act normal, she would say. Be polite. She raised three boys by herself and that can’t be easy but she did ever so well. I think my bond with my brothers is strong because of her parenting. I have two younger brother, Dean is my mum’s and lives in Amsterdam and always wants to know everything about football and Shane is my dads and he lives in Barcelona with dad, who works for Barcelona. I call them a lot and we always go on holidays together.”

And your dad? What does he mean to you?

“My dad was my role model! I always hear i look like him and he is also chill like me. That is cool. He’s not just my dad, but also a football legend. I now experience a tiny bit of what he went through. And I can always ask him for advice. We talk daily on Facetime or Whatsapp. He can’t visit often, as he’s very busy at Barca but that is ok. I am used to not seeing him often but I love him dearly and we will spend more time in the future.”

Daley Blind once said: I think my surname means I will be judged even more than I actually should…” Do you recognise this? 

“Of course, Daley is right. With a famous dad who also played for Ajax, people do try and see similarities or want to compare and yes, they judge you. You got to learn to deal with this. I got that as well: “You only play at Ajax because your dad played here…”. I used to say: come and see me play this weekend! The surname motivated me to play even better. “Will you be that good?” people would ask me and I always said: I will have to answer that on the pitch. Shane in Barcelona is going through the same as me. He looks like me, also as a player. Not too big, plays on my spot and has the same way of playing. We speak daily. I try to coach him a bit and we reflect on the stuff we go through. It’s not easy to be compared to your dad all the time. But it’s not just about football of course…”

Last season, when Ajax was so impressive, did you ever thing: “I wish I was there”?

“Of course I would have want to experience that! Take Matthijs de Ligt! We’re the same age, we know each other since we were 12. I have a smile on my face when I see him play at that high level. It was strange to see them do all that, without me. I watched all there games, and when you saw them play, in the tough games, I’d think: Wow, this is not normal! But this is how things go. You take decisions and sometimes you look back and think…hmmm…. but I’m proud of them and of myself for taking the step I took.”

Patrick, Justin, Shane and Matthijs in Barcelona. 

So why did you go? Why leave Ajax so early in your career?

“I just wanted the adventure. I did ponder it for a long time. But AS Roma was very concrete, the money was there, they explained to me why they wanted me and I thought: wow… The Roma deal vs the Ajax deal… It just was a very good step for me. I am a satisfied guy. The question was: are you ready, but how do you ever know? You have to try. People said: you have to perform every week now! And I’m like: do you think that is different in Ajax?”

Did you get better, as a player and human being?

“That is it! I have. The power I have now, I didn’t have at Ajax. And living in Rome, well…. “

Justin didn’t get selected for the National Team, in the past periods of play, but just when Koeman picked Kluivert for the pre-squad in the run up to the Euros, the corona virus reared its ugly head.

“It’s totally shite that the Euros are postponed. I was focusing on that for a full year. That was my big goal. But I get it, this is bigger than football. Now it will be next season and I will work my ass off to get there.”

Do you talk to Koeman?

“Every now and then. He came specially to Italy to see me last season. And guess what: I was on the bench all game. And I thought: there goes my chance. But he sent me an app with some little comments and the final word: “you are on my radar”. That gave me energy. The coach will not just look at my goals, but goals are important. I played two matches under Koeman now. He is a very relaxed and good coach. His tactical talks are never longer than 12 minutes. He said himself, he never liked these long speeches. So suddenly he’d look at his watch and yell: “Ok, we’re ready!!!” We all had to laugh. He is very clear in what he wants, and you feel like “ok, this is what we will do”. He is a real leader.”

Do you talk to your dad a lot about your game?

“Oh sure. He watches all my games and sends me stats from all my matches. He has an app with he uses and can show me the # of ball contacts I had, how many passes reached my team mates, etc. That is very insightful. I am personally not that analytical, I just play my game. I also don’t like tactics, I really need the freedom to play and be free in my head.”

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Oranje’s future: Steven Bergwijn

Last time Ronald Koeman called up Holland’s best players, Steven Bergwijn wasn’t part of it. The youngster was flabbergasted. But Koeman felt he was needed for Young Oranje, while the seniors had players like Promes, Babel and …eh… Vormer… Bergwijn didn’t say anything untoward, but ended up canceling his Jong Oranje match due to an “injury”.

I don’t think Koeman will make that mistake again.

Steven Bergwijn has demonstrated yet again, in the first matches of this season, that he is a talent to be reckoned with. Probably in the same category as Memphis Depay. PSV this season has a perfect score (not taking into account the thrashing vs Barca). But the attacking intentions of coach van Bommel are clear: 6 goals vs Willem II, 7 against ADO Den Haag, 3 against Ajax… PSV is on a roll!

Bergwijn: “There is a good and positive vibe in this squad. The technical staff is responsible for this. And everyone is happy with this coach. Van Bommel talks to all the players and all players feel they’re part of it. But Van Bommel is no softie, he can be very strict and clear in what he expects. They’re open but also very serious when they need to be.”

The Ajax game last week was a special one for Bergwijn (and for Pablo Rosario). Both players started their youth career in Amsterdam with Ajax and both were basically told they weren’t right for Ajax. “I am no longer concerned with that, it’s been a while now. I left Ajax behind me. Sure, it’s going to be a super to play agains them, as it was last season when we won the title against them, hahaha. But other than that, no hard feelings.”

“But Ajax, they will always be good, always have great players. But so do we. And you need to with all these matches in the different competitions. And we have a tough group with the CL right? But I’m cheering inside. I mean, you wanna play at the top of your game, well… Barca, Spurs, Inter… there you have it. You can’t complain man, it’s awesome. I think people see us as the underdog. Fine. We’ll show them on the pitch.”

The match vs Barca was special for Bergwijn. His big idol was on the pitch: Lionel Messi. Once, Bergwijn was on  holiday in Spain and happened to be going to a Barca match with his dad, his uncle and little brother. And they ended up in the same hotel as Barcelona. “Not only that, in those days to get some internet, the players had to rely on the business centre in those hotels. And I was there with my brother, when Messi and other Barca players walked in to check some stuff online. Ha, so I got my first picture with him, and now we’re in the same group in the Champions League. How cool!”

The youngster is already one of the key players in this PSV. Last season, he had to wait for Locadia to move on and for Lozano and De Jong to allow Steven a place in the sun. “Last season, I was playing in service of them, this season we’re all similar I suppose, in terms of hierarchy. And the expectations are higher now, sure. But that is cool, I want that. I need to defend more now, as we play more dominant and higher up the pitch, so I have a role to play when we lose possession. I defend more, but still, run less yards, as we are so high up.”

Usually, when a player like Bergwijn breaks into the first team, the bigger clubs in Europe start to circle. But Bergwijn won’t leave PSV for any amount under 20 Mio euros. Last season, Bordeaux had the check book out and this summer Arsenal, Tottenham and PSG have enquired about Steven’s contract status. “That’s nice, it gives me confidence but I haven’t thought about leaving, not one second. I want to stay here, I won’t go for the quick buck. When I keep on developing, the money will follow. I want to be important for PSV, score a lot of goals, play well in the CL and make my mark in Oranje. I can develop and grow here. I recently extended my deal until 2022 and that gives me peace and quiet in my head. I don’t think anyone expects me to stay until the end, to be honest, and I have a plan moving forward, but for now it’s all PSV. I want to make a move at some stage, but I want to enter a new club with some status. At PSV, I will make my minutes, play for trophies and play in Europe. So I am not in a hurry to leave now and end up on the bench. But yes, one day…Spain or England….”

Bergwijn is seen as a new super talent and experts and analysts all are in agreement, this lad will go far. He’s got the skills but also the power. He’s explosive, doesn’t shun the hard work and is a beast on the training pitch. “This summer I had two weeks of nothing and I got bored senseless. I called my uncles and decided to start training. I won’t do a lot of weights though, I don’t want to bulk up, that is not good. But core stability training and a lot of boxing.”

All is going well for Steven, but there is a dark spot on his heart and he is keen to talk about it when he can. Abdelhak Nouri, the Ajax talent who sadly ended up in coma after his heart malfunction last year, was Steven’s best buddy. “We met at Ajax when we were little kids. And we were so close. And we still are. Life is quite hard since that dreadful day. I still talk to his brother every day. I guess I can handle it better now, but it’s still super tough. His parents tell me he is slowly improving. I pray every day, and believe in the power of the Lord. Appie always wanted for me what was best for me, and he is now also a silent motivator for me, I need to get everything out of my career, for him as well.”

Bergwijn has always been compared to Memphis. Not a fair comparison of course, but a logical one. Both are explosive, good dribblers, unpredictable and playing from the wing. Now, Memphis has had a fair share of developments (lessons) already, while Bergwijn only now seems to have the status of a key player for PSV.

His strengths…

Ball skills. Bergwijn has amazing ball skills, the ball is always on a string with him. There are not many players who are capable of taking a man on and leaving him behind to create a man more situation (like Arjen Robben can). This is a quality that is worth millions in football. It mostly makes the difference. And this is why Messi, C Ronaldo, Mo Salah and Eden Hazard are paid the big bucks. And why Memphis is currently the key man up front for Oranje. Bergwijn’s dribbles are testament to the fact he might well be our next key man up front!

Shooting qualities. Memphis was only 17 years old when Holland witnessed that sensational weapon that is his right foot. Memphis can place them, curl them, hit a rocket or hit a swirling ball. Bergwijn needs to work on his shooting technique. The stats show that Bergwijn is making good progress. In 2016/2017, he had a return of 5% (shots vs goals). In 2017/2018, that % went up to 11% and in this current season, he is already at 24%. So every fourth goal attempt is a goal. Only Klaas Jan Huntelaar does better ( 46%!!) while Bergwijn is in the same league as top players like Tadic, Van Persie and Lozano.

Tactical smarts. Players like Messi, Hazard and Griezmann are adept in finding the space in between the lines or in the half spaces. This is a skills Bergwijn still needs to work on. But he is developing well in that respect. A big plus for Bergwijn, he is happy to run in behind and get the ball in front of him, while most forwards in Oranje (but in general too) want the ball in their feet: Berghuis, Promes, Babel, Memphis… Kluivert and Bergwijn both love running without the ball, a very hard to defend weapon.

Eye for his team mates. Bergwijn is not an egotistical player but he can still improve here. Steven Berghuis for instance, created 22 chances for team mates, Robin van Persie 10. Tadic of Ajax, 17. Bergwijn is stuck at 7, one less than Luuk de Jong.

Mentality. Bergwijn is a young player who will make tactical mistakes, but lack of work ethics is not one of them. He was instrumental vs Ajax to keep Frenkie de Jong quiet for instance. Koeman will have enjoyed his game, and will have seen that Stevie is capable of fitting in the defensive shape and playing with his head, not just his feet.

It is highly likely that Bergwijn will be part of Koeman’s definitive squad this time around and make minutes for the senior Oranje, as Van der Looi already announced to select younger player for Young Oranje moving forward.


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The Problem with Frenkie de Jong….

He’s probably the most talented young player we have. Forget Vilhena, Hendrix, Bazoer. It’s Frenkie de Jong. When Rob Janssen (uber agent to the top Dutch players) launched his book “Deal!” a who’s who of Dutch football gathered and one of the key topics was Frenkie de Jong. Everyone, from Henk ten Cate to Kees Jansma, from Dennis Bergkamp to Edwin van der Sar, they all talked about “how good De Jong is”. But… the only problem: he doesn’t play too much for Ajax.

He was developed at Willem II. He was on the scouting list of Ajax and PSV for years but wanted to wait with his big move. Once he did, he picked Ajax. That was his only choice really, and along side Appie Nouri, Justin Kluivert and Donny van de Beek, de Jong developed into one of the Dutch hot properties.

Within a year, all the pundits and analysts recognised his “specialness” and in times of Oranje troubles, some even wanted him to wear the orange jersey already. Frenkie de Jong, the saviour…

But, we’re well into the new season and it’s still Lasse Schone playing in midfield for Ajax. The veteran Dane is keeping De Jong out. Ajax has played around with a 3-4-3 to accomodate a midfield of Ziyech, Van de Beek, Schone and De Jong but not with convincing success.

The saviour turned into the problem. Where does Frenkie de Jong need to play?

Some opinions:

Peter Bosz (former Ajax coach): “When I analyse Frenkie de Jong, I see a number 6 in him. Like Schone does it. He’s a modern midfielder, who can turn opponents so easily. He’ll start at six but move into the number 8 or 10 role. He’s got amazing qualities, anyone can see this.”

Dick Advocaat (former NT manager): “I see De Jong playing in Young Oranje on #6. But that is a position for a passer of the ball. You want that player to play in the forwards quickly. That’s why I used Daley Blind there, to give Oranje more build up quality. Daley takes two touches max and progresses the play. Frenkie is a player who can pass well, but he prefers the dribble. Taking players on. He’s not a #6. A player like him should be an offensive midfielder, playing higher up the park.”

Kenneth Perez (ex Ajax player): “I think he’s a number 6. The class oozes out of him. He can go far. But he needs to improve still. I think he lacks the ability to score. He’s the creator. I’d like him on #6.”

So everyone recognises his talent and everyone wants to see him play. But where?

It seems the strength of the opponent could well be a decisive factor. The number 6 in Ajax is the dreh-und-angel-punkt. The player who turns defence into attack. The pivot. He’s good at finding space and being available as an option. His eyes always looking forward. Once De Jong has the ball, he strides forward, usually taking on an opponent and creating the man-more situation and being important in the final third. When he came on against Roda JC in the second half, he created three goals and got himself positioned between Ziyech and Van de Beek and at times amongst the forwards.

When Ajax played the 3-4-3 vs Twente, he played as the forward libero. A number 4. He started next to Mathijs de Ligt and moved into midfield when able. But he’ll always take the risk. Even on his own half, he has so much confidence in his abilities that he’ll take on opponents, where the risk of loss of possession is high. He’s not a physical player and in a defensive role, he could get into trouble. Should the Ajax coach require him to be a simple passer of the ball, his best qualities are unused. It’s a continuous debate around the player.

Other experts believe De Jong should be play on the #8 or #10 spot. His actions are key in the third half. His risk will be diminished when he tries players on high up the park. He will not panic in the tight spaces and can play himself out of trouble to open up the opponent’s defence. But he likes the ball in his feet. He’s not the man to make penetrative runs into the box, like Davy Klaassen did. Donny van de Beek has this quality more and more, recognising the moment to dart forward and become the leader of the line.

This is the season for De Jong to establish himself. He lacks the legs for the #8 position (Van de Beek) and has too many footballing qualities for the #6 role. It seems Ziyech’s position is ideal for De Jong, but the Moroccan playmaker seems to have a tight grip on his spot. The former Heerenveen playmaker is destined to leave Ajax at the end of this season, which could be perfect for Frenkie.

He is aware of the interest of big clubs, like Chelsea, Man City and Bayern Munich but will need to have at least one great season in Holland to have the reputation that will allow him a nice spot in the dressing room there and not come in as another young prospect (De Bruyne > Chelsea, Salah > Chelsea, Douglas > Bayern, Memphis > ManU).

He himself is quite adamant and fiesty in interviews. “I’m generally happy at Ajax. This is my club now. But, I do need to play. I believe I should be in the team. As long as I’m not playing regularly, I’m not happy.”

As a youth player, Willem II and Feyenoord wanted his services. Tilburg and Rotterdam. Frenkie’s home town was smack in the middle. His parents were Feyenoord fans and hoped he’d go to Rotterdam. But after a training week at both club, headstrong Frenkie chose Willem II.

This character trait is part of who he is. His first youth coach Robbie Hendriks: “He is the type of player that doesn’t know exactly what he’s doing. He doesn’t have a fixed plan when the ball comes to him, which means he can improvise. If the defender steps in, he turns him, if the defenders drops back, he’ll take him on. He senses the movement around him and acts instinctively. But he is not easy to coach. You tell him to go left, he’ll probably go right.”

Jos Bogers, the youth coach at Willem II’s under 16 team. “Some players are made players. They practice and practice to get a certain touch right, or a move or a shot. Frenkie is a natural. That velvet technique, it’s all God given. I have never seen a better talent in my life. And he’s a dominant leader too. Don’t make a mistake. He looks like a kid, and he smiles sweetly, but he can be dominating off the pitch. With a glance, a word. The players always listened. It’s what Cruyff had. When he was 17 years old, he directed the older players already and it was accepted. I see the same with Frenkie.”

Jos Bogers checks his notes. “Frenkie always played at #10 in my team. Always the playmaker / false striker. I sometimes played with two of them. That is a hard thing to do, because they need to be very smart in their movement and positioning. But he can pull that off. We played at tournaments against Ajax and heaps of German youth teams. We’d totally hammer them. Frenkie looked the smallest of them all but he dazzled and bamboozled them constantly.”

Marc Overmars, Ajax’ technical director, is convinced. It was him who scouted De Jong in a game of Ajax under 16. “I’m no scout. That is not my role. But obviously, when I watch games, I can spot talent and special players. He came on in that game, 5 years ago, as a sub. But it took three touches for me to see his specialness. He was small, thin with really vulnerable legs. But his skill. The way he took on the ball, first touch, the turn and the follow through passing. He had “it”. Anyone could see. When I see a player like him, he becomes a project for me. I sink my teeth in it and won’t let go.”

And four years later, Frenkie de Jong became an Ajax player.

Ali Dursun, the father of another youthful talent at Willem II and youth coach, recognised the special player as well. “Whenever my son played, Frenkie usually played for another team on the other pitch. I realised more and more that when I went to watch my son, my eyes would drift to the other pitch to see Frenkie play.” Dursun would become Frenkie’s mentor. He would introduce himself to Frenkie’s parents and committed to being Frenkie’s manager. “I would sort everything out for Frenkie off the pitch, so he could focus on the game. I became his trusted advisor. Many clubs courted De Jong and all had to talk to Dursun who could cut through the promises and offers and made sure Frenkie kept his feet solid on the ground.

Presented at Ajax, with Ali Gundur

Frenkie: “I was overwhelmed. Suddenly all these people want to talk to you, and the local media started to want attention and these agents would show up… I trust Ali. I asked him to be at my side, also when we would play abroad, he’d travel along. He knows exactly what I want and he’ll take care of it. I don’t want to go to another country. I want to succeed at Ajax. And be important there. We’ll see what happens after.”

Frenkie’s dad John: “We sometimes have to nudge him to spend some of his money. He’s not interested in cars, in fashion, in iphones… He came home with a Mercedes Benz, an Ajax lease car, and he parked it in another suburb as he was embarrassed to drive such a car. His mates shop at the PC Hooftstraat in Amsterdam, Frenkie goes to H&M. I even remember him winning the Player of the Tournament trophie one year. After the tournament, we went to see him grandparents, and guess what? He leaves the trophy in the car. Too humble to show the thing to his grandparents. He’s very modest.”

Ajax made an impression on Frenkie. “I always liked Ajax. The arrogance, the self consciousness, the football, that long list of tremendous talent that they produced. It’s the top, in Holland. And when I went there to talk, with Ali, we got all the big guns in the room, which was amazing. Dennis Bergkamp came to introduce himself, Marc Overmars, Frank de Boer, Jaap Stam… That made an impression on me.”

He had a cameo in the EL finals against Man United and also impressed playing on artificial grass where most players struggle. Even Football Oracle and legend Willem van Hanegem felt De Jong could be the missing link in Oranje. “I’ll be honest, when someone like him says that, it does do something within you… It’s great to hear that, but at the same time, it’s not relevant. In Holland, young players are being praised very early and when it gets harder everyone drops you like a stone. I try to focus on my game. The rest is noise, really.”

The youngster made his weakness – he was quite small and tiny until he turned 17 – and used his technique and skill to play himself out of trouble. “I stayed at Willem II longer than most would. And it was good. We were never the top team, we were always getting a lot of resistance and we had to battle and be strong to survive. It helped me a lot. Also, I read about Johan Cruyff and his ideas of playing with a smaller ball to improve your ball technique. This is what my mates and I did, we got a size 3 ball instead of 5 and played with that. After that, using the senior size ball only made the game easier.”

De Jong also has an opinion about the crisis in Dutch football. “I need to be cautious here, but I think the youth development system isn’t great. I see youth coaches instructing players to touch the ball twice and pass it on. And to not lose possession. So obviously, players look for the easy option. The square ball. Or back to the goalie. I never listened to that. I play on intuition. I will take on a player wherever on the pitch, if I can see that I can create a man more situation this way. I think the positioning game we like in Holland has been over-exaggerated. It’s all about possession. I like risk. I like the forward pass. I like adventure. And at Ajax, it’s stimulated and I notice the fans like it too. And sure, when it works, I hear that people like my grace and elegance on the pitch. But when it doesn’t, they tell me I look arrogant, uninterested and complacent. But it’s the same me, hahaha. But, I am a very positive and optimistic guy. I look forward to great things, with Ajax, with myself and I think life is great.”

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What’s the status with the Eredivisie’s Big 3?

All three Dutch top clubs have a challenge to deal with. Feyenoord won the title, which resulted in a seismic eruption of elation, joy, relief and pride. It won the National Cup the season before and apprentice Gio became the Meistermacher or Champions maker, and with a cockiness befitting a champion he now has to go for his sophomore album. The season after. Ajax had a wonderful second season half with an unexpected Europa League finals and breathtaking football (at times). But the loss of Peter Bosz and the exit of Davy Klaassen and potential other players leaving (Dolberg? Sanchez?) makes next season a tough one. And remember, Ajax hasn’t won silverware two seasons in a row now, so… And PSV? Well, their season was a wet fart, really. No excitement, no results, no outstanding players or performances and no European continuation of the season before. Embarrassing almost.

PSV will have to renovate and will want to renovate. Marcel Brands, technical director, seems to cop the most blame for not allowing Cocu to field a team with all positions covered by specialists. Brands allowed Narsingh to leave without having any real alternative. Resulting in Luuk de Jong having to deal with two wingmen who weren’t wingmen. Ramselaar on the left wing? An insult to the dynamic midfielder. Locadio on the left wing? He’s a centre striker. Pereiro on the right wing? No speed, no explosivity. And always coming inside to find the shortest way to goal.

cocu de jong

Luuk de Jong, the former talisman, skipper and leader of the team lost form in an incredible manner. I think he must have missed at least 15 opportunities which would have been surefire goals the season before. And that also a season in which Jetro Willems was outstanding and delivered many fantastic assists from the left. Without him this season, Luuk de Jong was harmless. Van Ginkel was brought in and so was Siem de Jong, but the midfield lacked pace, guile and class. Guardado, the leader and captain in midfield was less forcefully present than in previous seasons and Davey Propper dropped form from the moment Zenit St Petersburg knocked on the door.

Guardado will leave for Betis Sevilla. Jetro Willems is most likely on his way out to Turkey. Moreno, the central defender, is gone already. Davey Propper might leave for Zenit this summer. Cocu will want a sweet revenge on last season and he’ll need some fresh players in the squad. A loan deal for Vincent Janssen has been discussed with Spurs and if that happens, Luuk de Jong might even fear for his spot. Marco van Ginkel wants to stay at PSV and might take the role of Guardado, while Jorit Hendrix deserves his opportunity to play. Just like Ramselaar deserves a spot in midfield where he belongs. Two new wingers will be high on the list for Brands and Cocu, as will two full backs And full backs are in fashion this summer. Both Feyenoord and Ajax need a couple as well. With Jeroen Zoet being courted by Napoli, and Pasveer – the second goalie – already gone, PSV might also go shopping for goalies.


In Eindhoven, there are some envious looks going towards Amsterdam and Rotterdam. 27Mio for Klaassen, approx 30 mio for Kongolo/Karsdorp. Some loose change for Tete and Elia. While PSV was able to just get 6 mio for Moreno who’s off to Roma. PSV’s focus will also turn to the youth. And why not: they do have some pretty good striker talents coming through (thanks to the work of Luc Nilis and Ruud van Nistelrooy, among others) and Cocu has invited three youngsters to join the A-squad this summer.

Ajax endured the shock exit of Peter Bosz. Everyone understands that when a CL level club comes for a coach, in a country where the paycheck is substantially higher, he is not criticised if he takes the job. But Bosz also claims to have left because the relationships in the technical staff were toxic. Dennis Bergkamp: “That hurt me in my soul, you know? I just don’t buy it. He worked here all season, he never said anything about this to anyone, and a day before Dortmund calls he suddenly has differences with me and L’Ami? As if I am difficult to work with? Come on! And I don’t get it? Why not say “I’m going for my ambitions, the money, the challenge!”. We are proud at Ajax when a player we developed or a coach who had success here moves on to better pastures. We get that. But why did he need to use those reasons to justify his leaving? The emotions have settled with me now, but at the time I was furious.”

So there was no conflict between you and the backroom staff and him and Kruzen?

“Not as it was described. We had our differences and we had firm discussions about football, but that is part of the job! You need to have these. And it’s not like I would walk out and bang the door shut. He’s the main man, the head coach so he decides. I respect that. It was about pure football stuff, the training build up, the intensity… Technical stuff. Nothing political or personal. And always respectful. Like I also worked with De Boer. But we have Ajax DNA. We are direct, confrontational and speak our minds. Maybe that was part of the problem. Versleijen was Bosz’ guiding light re: intensity training and all that. We decided at Ajax to abandon his philosophy. Marcel Keizer will work according to the Ajax way and this is one of the advantages if you have not only players moving up through the system, but also coaches.”

You had to leave the bench and sit in the stands, was that a problem for you?

“Not at all. My role changed. Under Frank I was assistant coach. Now I am training players individually and I coordinate the bridge between youth academy and the professional squad. Henny and Hendrie were the real assistant coaches, so Peter needed them. Henny Spijkerman is a genius in reading a game. He is the first one to spot where things don’t flow and he’s the one with the quickest solution. He was needed. Carlo L’Ami is the man for dead ball situations. Organisation. Like many ex-keepers they see the shape and have a good insight into who marks who, and all that. But Henny was not so happy with the way he could work under Bosz, but that was addressed. Henny would go to Young Ajax this coming season.”


But Bosz did want to make changes in the staff and you didn’t allow this?

“Not me. Nothing to do with me, Dennis Bergkamp. It’s Ajax! When Peter had his evaluation with Edwin van der Sar, I wasn’t even present. But Ajax, by voice of Edwin and Overmars, will not allow a coach, a passerby, to determine the structure of Ajax. We work like we do, with reason. The new coach can bring in his own assistant, and that’s it. That was not a conflict. It was a suggestion from Bosz and Ajax said NO. Next subject, you know?”

And now, Marcel Keizer…

“A great choice and you will like this: we already knew that Marcel would succeed Bosz. We just didn’t think he had to do it this soon. We signed Bosz for three seasons, so Marcel had some more time. But taking everything into account, we knew he was the one. The Ajax DNA I mentioned before is key. And we know how he trains, how he works, communicates. It was a no brainer really. The only thing is: how will he handle the pressure of the platform… But then again, he will have to start at some stage. Now, in 3 years… Cocu, Gio, Pep, Ronald Koeman, they all had to have their go at some stage.”

Sadly, it seems Appie Nouri will not be playing too much top football the coming weeks as he sadly was hospitalized as a result of heart rhythm issues during the practice camp in Austria. The young and highly talented midfielder was treated on the pitch for 20 minutes or so before he was choppered to the hospital. He’s not in life threatening danger, Ajax stated. If that is the best they can share, you know it’s a serious matter. Riedewald, in the meantime, has discussed his exit with Marcel Keizer. The young talent is being courted by several clubs. “I was really happy to stay at Ajax and go for my chances, but there is some serious interest out there and am open for it. Big clubs from big competitions. I explained this to Ajax and they won’t make it hard for me. Mind you, this has nothing to do with coach Keizer. I think he is the ideal choice for the club and I support him 100%.”

keizer emotie

An emotional Marcel Keizer waiting for news on Nouri

The Eredivisie champions and CL qualifiers have lost more players than expected, but they also lost someone else. General Manager Eric Gudde has resigned and will leave the club in November. The man who took the job almost 10 years ago, when Feyenoord was close to bankruptcy. Who had to take some harsh decision and take risky offers from investors to keep the club alive. Who had to put top talents like Wijnaldum and Fer in the shop window to survive. Both players going to direct rivals. He made his decision the day after the title was won. Feyenoord is more alive than ever! The biggest club in the country, when determined by followers (Ajax is the biggest in trophies). And financially healthy. But only just.

Gio van Bronckhorst and Martin van Geel knew that Elia wanted to move on. One more big step up. They knew Berghuis was going to have to go back to Watford. Dirk Kuyt was a question mark but he retired from football. If he wouldn’t have, his role would have been diminished anyway. Elia resulted in a smallish transfer fee (2 mio euros). But Rick Karsdorp has suitors as well, mention even of the likes of Barcelona and Bayern Munich. “When I win the title with Feyenoord, I will move on” he said in an interview before last season. And now he won it and AS Roma came knocking with a checkbook. And Feyenoord welcomed the 14 mio+ for the full back. Van Geel was quick to find a successor, even with Nieuwkoop in the squad, and got Kevin Diks on a loan deal in. Fairly unexpected, Feyenoord got to cash in another 15 mio euro cheque, this time for Terence Kongolo. The 23 year old will play his football at AS Monaco next season. Quite a big move for the talented defender. So, approximately 30 mio coming in and with Diks, the return of the lost son JP Boetius and the young Amrabat Feyenoord will prepare for next season. AZ full back Haps will get on the short list for sure, and Steven Berghuis might well return to the Kuip as well. Among all of that, the name of Robin van Persie also floats around in Rotterdam.


Gio van Bronckhorst is confident.

“I went on a holiday right after winning the title to clear my head. I did take some of the Title Celebration books with me and the DVD. Really enjoyed processing the season and had a good time resting. When I went back to Rotterdam, I literally closed the books on the title. That is in the past. And it doesn’t count anymore. Now, we want to win the title again and do well in the Champions League. That is the journey of the pro. Improving and raising the bar again and again.”

Fey Diks Boetius

New signings Diks and Boetius with Kenneth Vermeer


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Johan Cruyff is still alive!

No, I’m not referring to Appie Nouri, the brilliant young Ajax midfielder who hopes to get his first start for Ajax 1 soon. When he was 11 years old, the analists in Holland called him “the new Cruyff”. He might be, who knows. Like JC, he’s tiny and thin. But has wonderful vision and the same bravado. But, we said it many times about many players, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

I’ve got a brilliant piece here on the real Johan, thanks to the VI magazine.

But before that, prelim squad was announced (as was posted already) with an interesting return to the squad for Stijn Schaars.

Danny Blind: “I have kept the prelim squad limited to 22 players. We have many players returning from injuries and I want to check their progress before I can make definitive decisions. It wouldn’t make sense to get a 30 man prelim squad up, knowing some of them won’t be even on the radar for the Belgium/Luxembourg meetings.”

There are several question marks, with Jeroen Zoet, Jasper Cillesen, Jetro Willems, Daryl Janmaat, Leroy Fer, Steven Berghuis, Quincy Promes, Arjen Robben, Eljero Elia and Bart Ramselaar returning from injuries or just returned from injury.


Kevin Strootman is suspended and won’t be part of the squad. Blind has decided to replace the midfield leader with another seasoned player. We do have Daley Blind and Jordy Clasie for the role of course, but Daley hasn’t played there for ages and will most likely be needed in defence. Wijnaldum has played there, Ramselaar could play there but Blind will not through Ramselaar in that position untested, while Gini is doing well in a more box to box role. Bazoer might have been the ideal player for the role but he hasn’t seen action for many weeks.

Stijn Schaars is the perfect choice. When he left PSV, he decided to play “at a lower level” with Heerenveen, as he wanted to get more playing time. Well, the “lower level” is now with PSV, as Heerenveen is flying under new coach Jorgen Streppel and takes the 3rd position on the table, with PSV on 4th. Schaars is the conductor in midfield. Hardly misplacing a pass, directing the game, pacing the game and kicking off the pressing. One of the outstanding players in the Dutch league at the moment and a perfect Oranje player: experience, discipline, communication skills and flexible.

stijn oranje

Schaar had to be texted by Blind, as he didn’t have Danny’s number in his mobile. Blind called him three times to invite him and three times Schaars decided not to pick up. Schaars: “I hardly pick up when I can’t recognise the number and let it go to voice mail. When the coach sent a text with “This is Danny Blind. Please call me” I realised I better make that call.

I’ll keep you posted on progress around Oranje, as will our fellow blog guests of course.

Also, Robin van Persie has been celebrated and honoured for his 100+ caps for Oranje. The KNVB has made another big blunder by sending the medal and the shield by mail. Fricking mail!! They could have gone to Istanbul and spend the evening over dinner. They could have invited Van Persie to the France home game! One of the biggest players of the last 10 years, and they fricking post him the presents for his benchmark. What a bunch of losers!

Now over to Johan Cruyff!

Seven months after his dad passed away, Jordi Cruyff was in the Netherlands. His Maccabi Tel Aviv won vs AZ in the Europa Leauge and he spent some time working on the Cruyff Foundation activities.

The interview takes place in Alkmaar, when Maccabi is doing their last training before the AZ game. Cruyff talks about his youth, growing up in Barcelona, while keeping one eye on his team. He has a keen eye, a quick tongue, a sharp mind and the ability to play chess on multiple boards. He didn’t get that from a stranger. It’s in the genes, went from father to son.

It is now seven months ago when his world famous dad died. Just before, he had visited Jordi in Israel. “I was so pleased with that. We have enjoyed being together and we discovered the wonderful city of Tel Aviv. I have been away from home more than 20 years. All those “normal” family gatherings were not normal for me. So I look back on this with a warm feeling. It sort of helped me to process all that happened.”

Johan Cruijff bezocht enkele weken voor zijn overlijden zijn zoon Jordi in Israël. Rechts Peter Bosz, toenmalig trainer van Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Johan Cruijff visited his son in Tel Aviv, mere weeks before he died. Maccabi ex-coach Peter Bosz is enjoying the banter.

So now, we have Johan Cruyff – My Turn. Interesting title, as it is Johan’s first autobiography (after many biographies) and it hints to the famous Cruyff move of course, the Cruyff Turn. Jordi read the Dutch version and is now reading the English edition. He will also read the book in Spanish. “I really like to see how the different translators worked with his words in different languages. His Cruyffian texts will be fun to read in an other language.”

Jordi also read things that are new for him. Like the details about the kidnap attempt on his dad in Barcelona, on September 19, 1977. This, so he learned, was the real reason why Johan decided to skip the 1978 World Cup in Argentina.

“My parents never spoke to us about that kidnap event. I think they wanted to keep it from us. He started to tell us only a year and a half ago. And the finer details, I had to read in this book. It clarified a lot! My mum was always blamed for my dad not going to the World Cup. But it wasn’t that at all. I now see things clearer. When I was young, I was never allowed to go on school trips and outings and if I wanted a sleepover my parents were always a bit cautious. They were probably afraid someone might try something. My parents were instructed by the police never to talk about this in public, as it might give other people ideas… I was also surprised to read a lot about his adventures in the US. That was quite impressive for him, apparently. I didn’t know this. This is why the book was very interesting for me. And of course, it’s brilliant that is ideas re: football have been made immortal for ever, haha.”

Pep Guardiola staat Danny en Jordi Cruijff bij tijdens de presentatie van de autobiografie van Johan Cruijff in Londen.
Pep Guardiola, Danny Cruyff and Jordi Cruijff at the presentation of the biography in London

The football part in the book has no secrets for Jordi. They discussed football all the time, in all fine details. And one word will be used a lot by Jordi, talking about his father: extreme! “A lot of coaches say they want to play dominant football, and attacking and attractive… These terms you hear a lot. But only a few can actually do it. You need big balls to push this through and some coaches will fold under pressure. You have to stick to your guns. Even if you lose four times in a row. My dad was extreme in that aspect. Nothing and no one could bring him off balance. You need a strong personality and guts. And you need some luck too.”Jordi thinks back to the insane season finale in 93/94 in Spain. Deportivo La Coruna was able to snatch the title up if they’d beat Valencia at home on the last match day. Barca did its job at home vs Sevilla. 5-2. It was 0-0 at Deportivo and they got a penalty kick in injury time. Dukic took it and choked. He missed and in Camp Nou, an explosion of joy erupted. “Quite incredible. And this you can’t practice. It’s luck. But, if you look for it, you’ll find it. If you don’t go for it, you won’t. And I saw it as a reward for my dad’s courage. He was extreme, if I check some of the line ups he used. How was that possible. He used a right winger as his left back, he had a midfielder who couldn’t run the 100 meters in 20 seconds and he used him as right back. And then Pep and Koeman together in the centre. But he got it to work.”With his gutsy football approach, Cruyff was able to bring a new identity to Barcelona three times. He did it as a player, from 1973 till 1978, as a coach, in the late 80s and in the naughties he did it as a consultant, strongly suggesting Rijkaard and then Guardiola to take the helm as a coach.


Jordi: “Don’t forget what the style was before my dad came here. Spanish football was defensive. Counter-style. Afraid not to lose. And then this Dutch guy comes along and says “Ok, we went from A to Z in the past, now we’ll go from Z to A!”. It is important to be able to change the mentality and get the belief from the players that they can do this. So he signed players from the North of Spain. Basque players are really disciplined team players. And he signed the ideal foreign players for the additional impetus and he picked youth players who wanted to believe in him. So you need a mix of iron discipline and frivolous talent. A lot of people claimed he was on a suicide mission, but he never ever doubted himself.”

“I have developed my own football vision. With strong influences of my dad of course. But I added my own ingredients. My dad was raised as a Dutch player and you saw that in his tactics: extreme possession, pressure high, using the wings for attacks. Typical Dutch. I grew up in Spain, so I have learned to play for results. Johan never cared if he lost, as long as the team gave what he want. I am more focused on the rest-defence, positioning and compact play and the 5 second ball recovery process. We had some good clashes over this.”

Barcelona-trainer Johan Cruijff en Pep Guardiola overleggen in juli 1995 met Gheorghe Popescu.

Barca coach Cruyff and future coach Pep instructing Popescu in 1995.

Jordi recognised a lot of his dad in former Tel Aviv coach Peter Bosz, now at Ajax. “Bosz is as extreme as my dad. Very ballsy and always looking for the positives. I loved working with him and I’m sad it was so brief. I am not surprised Ajax wanted him. Even more so, I knew when Frank de Boer would leave, Ajax would target Peter. So when De Boer left Amsterdam, I knew what was coming. And it was all done in a correct fashion. He’s doing well in Amsterdam, there was some criticism because of the results. A typical term I learned from Co Adriaanse, in Holland they are used to score-board journalism. If you lose, you’re wrong. If you win, you’re right. But that is not fair. Every coach needs time to go through the motions. And definitely with Peter Bosz: he wants to attack. Which requires extreme focus of his players as this playing style is tough. So, he needs time. Peter is the ideal Ajax coach, I have no doubts.”

JC dribble barca

Jordi is technical director at Maccabi since 2012 and they immediately ended their 10 year period of trophy-less football, with attractive play. Jordi likes coaches with guts, independent thinkers willing to take chances. “Barcelona has paved the way for many coaches and clubs to dare to play forward. You can play attractive and win trophies. My dad may have initiated that process, but coaches like Rijkaard and Guardiola added their qualities, like Tito and now Luis Enrique. Luis has improved the mental aspect of the game a lot at Barca. They are the benchmark for good football with results and funnily enough, with smaller players at the core. Xavi, Iniesta, Messi…those guys can do anything with the ball. They had a lot of impact on the way people think about football. If you have the ball, you don’t need to run too much. The opponent has to chase. That is logical, as my dad would say, but to be able to do this is another thing. And then stick to it.”


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