Tag: Oranje

Prelim Squad announced for Oranje

Almost a month to go and we’re starting to leave the club competitions behind us.

You will have seen the squad selection by now? I don’t think too many surprises.

For some, the absence of Bizot was a surprise, as he was called up for the last international games. He was most likely part of the prelim squad, if not for some domestic family issues. Marco decided to forfeit the Euros as his family circumstances have not been resolved and he prefers to be with the family during the summer.

The list of injured players ( Hartman, Wieffer, Lang) might become longer with question marks for Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Zirkzee, while Luuk de Jong definitely retired from the NT.

Calvin Stengs, Thijs Dallinga and Steven Berghuis will have had idle hope and should something happen to Malen or Bergwijn or Xavi Simons, these three might still get a look in.

If Frenkie and Memphis can join the squad, I do believe we’ll be in good shape.

We simply need our key players to be in form and Koeman to pick a logical starting eleven for the games at the Euros.

I mean, our goalkeepers are fine. Our central defenders are top. Maatsen and Ake can cover the left side, even Blind might be able to play against opponents parking the bus. Frimpong and Dumfries will cover the right with Geertruida also on hand.

Our midfield options are pretty good, with Veerman, Schouten, Reijnders and Koopmeiners and when fit, we can expect some fire upfront from Malen, Gakpo, Simons and Brobbey.

As mentioned, we need Koeman to make the right decisions and allow the players to play to their strengths.

It may sound simplistic, but we need two teams: 1 that can dominate possession against the minions and 1 that can play on the transition when playing the strong countries who themselves want to dominate.

I will suggest three at the back in both scenarios and I would personally use Bijlow as first goalie.

My two teams:

 

 

Tell me your fave line up in the comments….

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Daley Blind, Girona’s metronome

Daley Blind was pushed out of the Ajax squad last season and when he failed to get playing time at Bayern Munich, people expected his career to fizzle out. But the 104 times capped left footer is on his way to fight for the title in La Liga. His first half season there is easy to summarize: he has a coach who uses Blind for his strenghts. The defender is basically the first player in the attack. His team mates give him the ball and he will most the ball exactly where it needs to go, with the perfect weight and the perfect direction. This is a very specific process, which needs a lot of brainpower on the pitch and lots of hours on the training field.

You should probably let Blind play with a microphone and instruct him to say out loud what he is seeing and thinking. That is the best way to understand all that is going on in the intriguiing complex machinations of his football brain. Everything he does seems simple, but it’s not. Blind can’t do much by himself. He’s not Mbappe or Haaland. Blind has limitations. He depends on team mates moving and running and offering options. He is vulnerable due to his frailties.

Put him in a team without structure and limited positioning changes and he will slowly suffocate and his talents will become invisible. All you see are his weaknesses. If you let him chase quick forwards, it even becomes pathetic or laughable. He is like a conductor without sheet music. That is the Blind Ajax didn’t need anymore.

Girona is a team without any stars. And they don’t play their opponents off the pitch either. But what you do see, is a team that stoically is trying to find gaps and openings to hurt the opponent. They are looking at ways to accelerate the game suddenly, to find openings that don’t really exist. It seems. Or to press in such a way that opponent has no options left or situations where they can benefit from a man-more situation. And Daley Blind is the general from the back who oversees it all. Girona’s football comes to life when you decide to focus on what Blind does.

When looking at Blind on the ball sometimes feels like the tv broadcast is stuttering. It feels like he’s not sure, like he takes too much time, as if he doesn’t know what to do. As if he’s at a restaurant scanning all the menu items until a dish really speaks to him. Suddenly he sees his best option and he accelerates the game with a firm pass. A pass with a message, as he himself says. Playing the ball at the right moment, with the right speed, the right weight of pass and direction, it’s an art. It looks simple. It’s not. Most players at the top know how to play a ball from A to B. Blind’s passes have more communication in them. He plays the ball to C and that ball instructs B to make a run in behind. Because B will be receiving the ball from D who gets it played into him via C. If player B, C and D can’t “read” the messages, it is better not to use Blind. Because then he becomes a weak defender.

Daley is constantly asked in all sorts of interviews what magical change happened and the 33 year old laughs and says he’s simply enjoying life in Spain. He is in the autumn of his career and he is taking on Real Madrid, Atleti and Barca. His selection for Oranje is suddenly not longer a strange affair.

But Blind didn’t change anything. He is still the same player. But he is viewed differently and used differently than Schreuder did at Ajax. Blind was signed by Girona as the missing piece of the jigsaw. To start the attack. That is his strength. And if you judge him on that aspect of the game, there are few players better than him. De Bruyne, probably. Frenkie, surely. Kimmich, maybe. Blind can now be considered one of the most important centre backs in La Liga. Not because he changed. But because he is used in his strength.

Thanks to VI Pro –

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Oranje making up numbers at Euros

Well, we made it. We qualified. But the performance quality – or lack thereof – doesn’t instil a lot of confidence in me.

I don’t think I have seen one match after the World Cup that gave me a good feeling. And sure, we miss a couple of big players, but I can’t see how Frenkie or Memphis would have improved the play much, all by themselves. I mean, there were games with Frenkie in the side post-WC which also didn’t dazzle us.

I do think Koeman is doing the right thing in his squad selection and today’s line up, for me, was quite logical.

I personally would have doubted to put Weghorst in, but he did score the winner so people will probably laugh at me.

But i just don’t like him. And I think that another player would have scored if we had Malen as right winger and Xavi as false 9.

I probably also would have played Wieffer instead of Schouten. I’m a big Schouten fan but to put him in in his second game after being shoved aside by Van Gaal quite rudely, I would have used him versus Gibraltar. I think Wieffer is settled more in Oranje and is known to be quite stoic.

I also need to add: I think Schouten played a very decent match and will only improve.

Lastly, I think I would have picked Bijlow over Verbruggen. The latter is a great talent but still so inexperienced. He had to field two shots on goal and one went in through his legs. Ouch. Luckily for him, the Irish attacker was off side.

But overall, I think Koeman’s decisions re: line up and squad are fine.

It’s the execution (and maybe the prep by Koeman) that leaves a lot to be desired.

The excuse that we miss so many players is not a real excuse for me. We missed a lot of central defenders ( Botman, De Ligt, Timber, Ake, Van der Ven) but that area was not where the issues were today. I thought Blind and De Vrij did well. De Vrij was probably one of the best. His passing, some of his footwork, obviously his defending too. No worries at all.

The issues were in build up and the speed of play. We played walking football. Every time there was a chance to accelerate the game, we seemed to not want to take it. Where Frenkie naturally turns “open” when getting the ball and pass through a line or two, the two “6”s were too cautious. Schouten did it a couple of times, but it still was a bit timid. The pass backwards was found too easily. A simple acceleration on the ball, either with the man or by the ball in terms of a pass, was constantly an option and mostly not taken.

Up front, Weghorst seems to “block” forward motion. Every time he comes into the ball, Simons and Gakpo would move forward for the flick, and every time Weghorst would simply bounce the ball back to the midfielders. No flow.

And most annoyingly, none of the players had the urge to make runs in behind. The corner triangles you see so fluidly at Man City, Feyenoord and Arsenal were not there. The only player at times to recognise the space was Reijnders who’d run into it, but the pass never came. It was sterile and flat. There were options enough ( for Hartman, for Xavi, for Weghorst or Dumfries) to make the dart into that space, even to just stretch the Irish. But no.

My biggest disappointment was the post match interview with Weghorst, who was angry at the reporter asking him a question about the lack of flow in the game. As if the great man is above critical questions after doing his heroics for king and country. Pathetic!

There is a lot of work to do. The good thing is: we do have the players. But we need these players to realise they need to up their game two levels if they want to compete with Spain, England and France at the Euros.

 

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Oranje simply not up to it

The cliche “men versus boys” has been used here a lot. In the past. And how I hoped that would remain a thing of the past.

But the games versus Croatia and Italy have yet again demonstrated where we go wrong. Again.

And I wonder who or what is going to change this!

The System

Lets start this two-match review with the obvious: some people claim that due to the losses and the conceded goals we will need to consider a switch back to the 5-3-2 of van Gaal.

One photo will show you why this is nonsense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As one can see: we had enough defenders in the box (5!). It’s not about the number of defenders. It’s about how the defenders defend and about what they do.

Combine this insight with the fact we conceded two downright idotic penalties versus Croatia and the analysis is done: stupidity, complacency and laziness.

Gakpo trying to turn the best midfielder of the past decade on the edge of his own box. Gakpo losing the ball and then trying to pick up the little maestro from the back (and what… bring him to the kids’ stands??)…. And late in the match, Malacia with a lunge in the box. I mean, a rush of blood to the head of course but I could accept the explanation of Malacia: only minutes left to score a goal and we needed the ball so I took a risk. And failed. But either way: two cheap penalties and very unnecessary.

The Croatie second goal was a typical example of alibi defending. Or pseudo defending.  Making people believe you’re doing what you can. Dumfries, in this case not putting any pressure on the ball and staying at 1,5 yards from the forward. In his own box! That is not something you see Croatian or Italian defenders do. And Ake, Virgil and Koopmeiners all looking at each other. Typically something that happens even more with a 5 at the back system.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not enough pressure on the ball. No communication. Ake can see it all happening in front of him,

Versus Italy, same old same old. Two early goals because no one really defends! No one attacks the ball, no one clears the ball, no one puts pressure on the ball and the key forwards who should track back to cover the Italian wing backs: absent!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dimarco gets time and time from Malen and his defender mates were not able to recognise or communicate the danger to him. Where is a screaming Frank de Boer when you need him?

We didn’t lose because of the system

The quality of the players

I think we all know we have a lot of players who can play some neat, nifty football. Xavi Simons, Noa Lang, Donny Malen, Joey Veerman, Frenkie, all gifted players. But tenacity, leadership, personality and mentality are also part of the complete package of qualities a player requires.

And we lacked it. Again. We did see some good moves, we did see some decent actions and at times we played some nice football. Sure. But it’s about when things don’t go your way. When the opponent finds spaces where you didn’t expect it. When team mates get sloppy.

The quality we need then, is not the step-over of Noa Lang, the shimmy of Frenkie or the dribble of Xavi. We need the leadership of a Roy Keane. The big mouth of Gatuso. The piercing look of Mark van Bommel. I can fully understand that Wieffer, Geetruida, Dumfries and Lang are not the players to demonstrate this part of the game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But Virgil. Nathan Ake (treble winner!), Frenkie de Jong ( skipper at Barca) and Koopmeiners should do more in this domain. Captain Van Dijk should be in Malen’s face, if he doesn’t track back! Frenkie should be ready to make the tactical switches where need be.

It’s all too sweet. We’re too friendly. We play too many card games at training camp and we focus too much on funny youtube clips with quizes, or raps with cigars and fashion shoots.

Mentality, commitment, leadership

And these are the elements that are missing. Some players came to the Nations League final round complaining that the season was too long and if we don’t win versus Croatia, we can’t be bothered to play the Losers Finals. Koeman should have sent these players home!

If you can’t get inspired for a football game, not hoping the coach will do it for you, then you have nothing to do in an orange jersey.

Every single player of Spain, Croatia and Italy has had a long and tough season! Man up!

We believe we are great football players. But we are only great on the ball. And not great. Above average. And we suck in the mental department.

And this is not something we fix by changing systems.

The Coach

I never believe in getting a coach back for a second stint. It was a success with Michels and Oranje, ok. But not in any other instance. Mourinho at Chelsea. Van Marwijk at Feyenoord. Van Gaal at Barcelona. Van Gaal with the Oranje/Ajax contingent in 2000.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a sense of “comfort”, working with a coach you know. Whenever a coach says it feels like coming home, you know you’re in trouble. It shouldn’t feel like home.

Why pick Koeman again? Because it worked so well before? Well…. did it? He bailed before the Euros. Not really a success. So in my book, a big cross should have gone through his name.

Peter Bosz was available. Just sayin’.

Koeman has end responsibility and he needs to get his players mentally ready for a match or send the ones that can’t be bothered home. And when Malen doesn’t track back twice in 15 mins and we get hammered twice: immediately sub the dude. Show grit. Show courage.

Just like our team wasn’t able to show courage versus Croatia, our coach lacked courage in his choices.

The Future

I do believe the youngsters we see in Orange will grow into good solid players for the team: Wieffer, Veerman, Geertruida, Simons and even Malen, Gakpo and Lang are still youngsters, compared to Blind, Van Dijk and Memphis. We need to give them a chance.

But we need to give Botman, Frimpong, Schouten, Dallinga and Spierings a chance too.

Bijlow was not 100% top, but was only really at fault with that third Croatia goal. It wasn’t an easy one, but it was stoppable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A back line with Ake and Botman, De Ligt and Frimpong should work. Or Malacia, Ake, De Ligt, Frimpong.

A midfield with Veerman, Frenkie and Wieffer should work. A forward line with Lang, Gakpo and Malen should work. We do have enough quality on the ball. But we need to turn it into a team and we need to wise up really quickly now and start switching that button on in their heads.

Playing for Oranje is not a summer camp outing after a tough season at the club.

It’s do or die now.

 

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Memphis’ injury a blessing?

This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.

But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.

But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.

Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.

Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.

Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.

Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.

And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.

And it’s a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arie Haan in 1974

And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.

Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.

Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.

The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.

Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988

But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.

Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.

The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.

At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.

It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.

For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.

This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.

My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.

Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.

As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.

This is my line up.

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Ajax’ nightmare season

In typical Dutch form, people will immediately say: “Who is to blame?”. The answer is not very straightforward. Lets first look at the problem.

Ajax was having a decent run in the past seasons. Frank de Boer did ever so well winning titles and turning the poor Ajax into a cash rich club, with some amazing outgoing transfers putting some fat on the bone. Peter Bosz came in and turned De Boer’s boring Ajax into a free-flowing attacking machine, but Bosz ended his 1 season spell with Ajax when Van der Sar refused to work with Bosz on a reshuffling of the backroom staff.

Marc Overmars was acting as technical director, but mainly with a focus on contracts and signing and selling players. The Ajax Technical Triangle was supposed to take care of the football (De Boer, Bergkamp, Ouaali).

The two friends, Dirty Marc and “I haven’t seen anything untoward” Van der Sar

Overmars was kept out of the decision to block Bosz’ plans and allowed Bergkamp his spot in the sun.

Bosz left and not much later, Dennis Bergkamp – Bosz antagonist – also had to leave.

But Bergkamp was fully in control when he was at Ajax and ushered in Marcel Keizer as the replacement for Bosz. Not a bad decision, mind you. Keizer was successful as a coach on the second tier level at Cambuur and as a real Ajax man (his uncle was Piet Keizer), he also coached Ajax 2 and impressed with that team (which had the likes of Van de Beek, De Ligt, Frenkie and Appie Nouri).

Keizer is also a close friend of Bergkamp, so the two set out to lead Ajax. The Nouri situation – the brilliant ballplayer had heart failure in a friendly in the pre-season and due to the late response, he survived the ordeal but that is about it….the poor lad is confined to his bed for the rest of his life – made matters tough for the young coach and the whole team or even club suffered through trauma that season.

Overmars decided to take the reins back from Bergkamp and organised a coup, in which both Keizer and Bergkamp had to make way. Keizer was on title course and would later impress in the Portuguese competition and in the sandpit. Bergkamp never pursued his career elsewhere and became a bit of a football recluse.

Now Overmars was in charge and he quickly lured his friend Erik ten Hag away from FC Utrecht. Ten Hag had had success with Overmars’ first love Go Ahead Eagles and Mark had always planned to get Ten Hag to Amsterdam.

The duo was quite successful, as we know. Overmars dealing with transfers and contracts, Ten Hag dealing with the first team and the results and Van der Sar safely away from the front, dealing with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the sponsors, the board of directors and any other non-football topic.

At that time, Danny Blind was the football man in the Board and he would be an intrinsic part of Overmars little cabal.

And boy, what was Overmars good at his job. And how horrible did he behave when it wasn’t about football.

Overmars telling inappropriate jokes to Sar?

Despite being married to a former Miss Universe (or Miss Holland, not sure), he couldn’t resist using his powerful position at Ajax to bother and hassle the young ladies working at the social media/marketing department of Ajax. And it went further than texting them invites for dinner. The diminutive former winger enjoyed taking pictures of his …less diminutive mini-me and sent them to the ladies in question, who apparently were to scared to report him to the general manager. One key reason: the general manager (yes Edwin van der Sar) knew this was happening and was part of the sexist cabal at Ajax, enjoying inappropriate humor.

Van der Sar protected his powerful friend but when the news broke in the media, it was clear that the former Arsenal and Barca man had to leave.

So, many things had gone wrong already by that time. But Van der Sar took it a bit further. Instead of trying to replace Overmars with a heavyweight – but with manners – he decided to give newcomer Huntelaar and scout Hamstra the joint role of technical director (not in name though).

Oops. Exposed. But a bit too much exposed.

And obviously, both were too lightweight, inexperienced and unconnected to step into Overmars boots. And what people do forget: he is a very good negotiator. He made money playing football and but multiplied his money by dealing in property and classic cars. Huntelaar and Hamstra are definitely people with expertise and added value but they’re no Overmars.

And it showed, this season. Lisandro Martinez left for Man United. Bassey was brought in. Gravenberch left for Bayern, Austrian midfielder Grillisch is his replacement. And so on.

I believe Sar never replaced Overmars, because he hoped (planned?) to get the speedy ex-winger back after a couple of months of “distance from the club”. But it didn’t happen. And when Alfred Schreuder, assisted by his agent, started to “help” Ajax to more new signings, things turned for the worst.

Ocampos was on the wishlist and Ajax would have signed him for 30+ million euros, if the Board of Directors hadn’t intervened. They forced Ajax to take him on a loan basis. And less than 6 months later, the winger was sent back to Spain as he was never able to convince anyone in Amsterdam.

Ocampos failure

But it went further downhill, as Schreuder lost the dressing room due to several bad decisions. His treatment of Daley Blind (who left after the World Cup), his decision to protect Tadic and never sub him, his decision to not use newcomer Wijndal but try Blind, Bassey and Rensch on that spot, the list goes on.

Daley Blind’s exit had another consequence for the club: highly rated Danny Blind – sounding board for coaches and technical management – could not continue his director’s role what with Daley being pushed out unceremoniously. And again, it appeared that Van der Sar and the Board did not have a shadow list waiting in the drawer.

They didn’t have one for Overmars. Not for Danny Blind and when stalwarts like Michael Reiziger and Academy director Said Ouaali announced their exits too, it was quite clear things are a bit fishy in Amsterdam.

John Heitinga was pushed forward when Schreuder was sacked. Much like his old team mate Van Nistelrooy at PSV, Heitinga planned to build up his career with care and consideration. The former Everton defender managed Ajax 2 and was about to start as Schreuder’s assistant but was propelled into the hot seat immediately.

So now, Ajax is re-building. They were able to get former midfielder Jan van Halst in as new football director in the board of directors. They installed Heitinga for this season, with Dwight Lodeweges as he new assistant and they finally signed a technical director – Sven Mislintat –  to replace Overmars, who seems to be enjoying his time at FC Antwerp, with Mark van Bommel. I personally believe Mislintat could well be the right choice, as he has quite a strong resume and clearly adores Ajax.

So, in conclusion, I think its fair to say that after the mismatch of Bosz-Bergkamp-Overmars-Van der Sar, the combination of Ten Hag-Overmars (without Sar) worked amazingly well. There is no need for me to list the achievements of Ten Hag at Ajax.

But when Overmars had to take his leave, Van der Sar needed more than 12 months (!) to replace him. Imagine that, your key guy in the organisation. And it’s not like Van der Sar was ambushed by the dick-pics, he knew about it. So his lack of taking action resulted in a head coach (Schreuder) who was drowning from day 1. And in hindsight, Schreuder also didn’t do himself many favours with his headstrong attitude within the club.

Heitinga with new technical director Sven Mislintat

The combi Ten Hag – Overmars was replaced by Schreuder-Huntelaar-Hamstra and that combination had no chance!

Ajax’ terrible season – in my view – is another nudge of the keepers gloves of Van der Sar. His list of failings is becoming very long.

And if things turn really sour for Ajax this coming weekend – away versus in form Twente – they might end up playing conference league football next season.

The only bonus: last year, when Van der Sar was asked about having to play in the conference league potentially in the future, his answer was: I will not be with the club when that happens. And the fans will now clutch that claim to their chest. The only silver lining in case Ajax finishes 4th this season.

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The Arne Slot Miracle

Feyenoord won it’s 16th title, only 6 years after a complete different team (under Van Bronckhorst) won it. And they won it about 19 years later after the trophy in 1999.

The gaps between titles becomes smaller and if Arne Slot has any say on it, the next gap will be even smaller…

At the start of the season (when Gakpo was still at PSV), many pundits and analysts were convinced that PSV and Ajax would be slugging it out for the title and Feyenoord and AZ would battle for 3rd place.

Yes, PSV had to sell their two most prolific attackers in the winter, but Ajax had a complete meltdown while Slot’s Feyenoord transformed into a winning machine. Where Feyenoord won the title in 2017 with 1 point difference on Ajax, today Feyenoord is 13 points adrift from the Sons of Gods after 32 matches. Two more to go.

A very unlikely title, in other words but thoroughly deserved.

When Idrissi scored the 1-0 in the championship match versus the Eagles, the whole city erupted, but Arne Slot was stoic on the sidelines, hands in pockets. When Gimenez scored the second goals, the coach showed some emotion. Understandably, as the second goal was a training ground goal: Feyenoord played in towards the right wing, luring the Eagles’ players to that side. A quick combination brought the ball back into the centre of the pitch, where Eagles now were short handed. Mats Wieffer accelerated the play when he say Paixao popping up in the axis and the Brazilian was able to lob the ball in the path of the explosive Mexican: 2-0.

The 3-0 came when Feyenoord lost the ball close to the Eagles’ box. Three Feyenoord players, led by Polish international Szymanski, immediately put pressure on the defenders. The ball was blindly played out, Wieffer picked the ball up and he got his assist by finding the shrewd Paixao who came in between the lines: 3-0.

Slot has been able to mould this Feyenoord based on four particular pillars.

The Turnaround when possession is lost

In interviews Slot usually says: “What is attacking football? For me, it means hunting for the ball if you don’t have it.” His players can now dream the wise cracks of the coach. Time again he asks his players: can you deliver? Do you have the intensity to play like this? For Slot, how a players reacts when losing the ball is key. When he started at AZ, he showed his players footage of lacklustre players jogging back after losing possession. He clearly hates it. Spicy detail: Slot him self was a bit of a lazy #10 who played elegant and skilled football but wasn’t known for his running and tackling.

In Rotterdam, Slot started with the attackers. They were ones who had to suddenly work their socks off as first defenders. “If you can up the pace of the game and if you can play at a higher pace than the opponent, you will force them into mistakes and you can win the game. Simple.” The opponents were driving to complete breakdown, broken by the energy of the Feyenoord players.

Playing at Ajax in the Cruyff Arena, all these components came together in one particular moment. See the images. The match is only 4 minutes old or Alvarez intercepts a pass to Gimenez. But there is no mourning phase or disappointment. It’s Symanski who runs like a maniac onto Alvarez and got his foot on the ball. Berwijn got the ball but was circled by 5 opponents. Kokcu got possession and and a couple of seconds later it’s 0-1 Feyenoord, goal Gimenez. This goal was made by seven (!) Feyenoord players who immediately went into 5th gear when the opportunity arose. This intensity seemed to much for most opponents, this season.

Alvarez intercepts pass and wants to dribble forward

Szymanski is immediately on Alvarez’ toes and makes it hard for Ajax to play out

Bergwijn collects and is harassed with 5 opponents around him

Feyenoord wins the ball and plays the forward pass. Via Idrissi, Hartman can cross to Gimenez

The Ajax defense is complete overrun

And Gimenez has a tap in, basically….

Defending

Slot: “We need to create a man more situation everywhere on the pitch!”

When Slot was signed by Arnesen, two years ago, many people doubted that the high octane game Slot likes to play would work in Rotterdam. He laughed it off: “I don’t believe it. This can work, because we have 6 non-defenders who need to chip in and help.” He used the World Cup break to work on his team, 6 days a week. And what he did was basically getting into the players’ heads and convince them of his vision. And he did. By repeating the positives and positive examples. He used books and documentaries, such as the Michael Jordan Doco and the book Intensity by Liverpool assistant Pepijn Lijnders to make his case. The core message: make sure we always have more players around the ball when defending. Dick Advocaat used man marking, Slot went to zonal marking. He wants the team to collectively move with the ball, ensuring there is always players close to the ball.

Four attackers all involved in the initial press

The former Sparta playmaker appeared quite flexible in his execution of his ideas. He started last season with his high press of two forwards: the striker and the 10. He started this season with three attackers pressing, the left and right winger and the striker. In the World Cup break, he worked with the team to place a fourth pressure point in the mix: playmaker Kokcu was going to be the 4th presser, behind the striker. But when Gimenez got the role at the expense of Danilo, Slot changed it back. Gimenez feels best with a 10 next to him, so Slot adepted again. And the striker paid Slot back with important goals.

Turnaround when winning the ball

Slot: “If you are well organised in your press, then opponents make mistakes. And their mistakes will immediately provide opportunities for us.”

Gimenez is Feyenoord’s top scorer this season with 15 goals. The high press helped him tremendously, as 12 goals came straight from a turn around high up the pitch. Under Advocaat, in his last season, this only happened 4 times. Only Celtic in Europe scored more often than Feyenoord from a position of high press.

Always a man more around the ball

These statistics were already in Slot’s thinking when he was an assistant at Cambuur. There, he said: “We can be more lethal when the opponent has the ball on their half, as opposed to us having the ball on our half.” And it worked for Feyenoord, as the Rotterdam club was at their most lethal when opponents decided to build up from the back.

Attacking

Slot: “When you have the ball, you need to create a man-more situation immediately and use it.”

His principles aren’t much different in the attacking sense of the game. He was able to increase the % possession from 54% to 60% and when the Feyenoord attackers were totally trained up during the World Cup break, he was able to execute his preferred playing style.

Slowly suffocating the opponent

Slot: “I don’t have the illusion I can make players play better. But I can make the team play in a way that makes the individual seem to be better. So they can play in their strength.”

It’s also good to see that Slot doesn’t force his players into a style of play. He does look at the skill set he has available to him. Good example: the right back position. Geertruida is a very intelligent player, who can play the inverted right back/midfielder role (like Trent Alexander Arnold, John Stones and Joshua Kimmich can play). In that case, the right winger takes the right wing. Pedersen however, doesn’t feel comfortable playing in that role, so whenever he plays, Slot uses him as a wingback marauding down the line and the right winger will come more inside to fill in the extra midfielder role.

And always keeping track of the distances between players

Arne Slot sticks to his guns, but is always looking to finetune his vision to allow the players to play to their strength. This resulted in the miraculous title for Feyenoord.

His next mission: keep as many players on board as possible and try to make a name in the Champions League.

Thanks to Pieter Zwart VI

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Epic win Oranje

This is not a long post, people. I am still reeling behind my computer, not capable of creating a well balanced review, as the adrenaline is racing through my body. We needed a win, in this Group of Death we’re in.

Beaten 4-0 versus France was tough earlier on and having to play heavyweights Gibraltar after only 4 days of rest and recuperation is tough.

When you do win the Gibraltar game, with the vintage 3-0 scoreline, it’s cause for celebrations!

3-0 is that heroic end result we all know and remember from our game versus Peru in 1972 or Poland in 1975. People still talk about that 3-0 versus Iran in 1978 or the 0-3 versus Greece in 1987. Oh, and who doesn’t remember the 3-0 versus Canada in 1994.

The Football Gods must have interfered.

The stress in the Dutch camp was high, of course, having to face up against defending behemoths Gibraltar. Luckily, Holland had the home advantage.

We saw the team fight, battle, dazzle and being unlucky too. With Weghorst pushing the ball past the wrong side of the post, as we see him do so often for Man United. We saw Wijnaldum playing the ball back mostly and Berghuis zipping balls blindly into the box, to no one in particular.

Veteran Mats Wieffer was the best man on the pitch, as per usual and a big header by Memphis got us on the score sheet in the first half, finally beating Man of the Match [name of Gibraltar goal keeper].

But it took until Daley Blind finally came on to the pitch to make a difference that Holland put it’s stamp on the match with some brilliant individual performances. Blind and Klaassen led the Dutch to an epic history, which will no doubt result in mad parties in the street and fire works till dawn.

If you can keep France at 4-0 AND beat Gibraltar at home 3-0, it’s clear that a new generation of football geniuses is prepping to win maybe another friendly game later this year as well.

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Ronald Koeman interview

As per our customs, we like to present a new team manager via a “Big Interview”. In this case, the manager isn’t new. The interview is still big.

Ronald Koeman, the new team manager for Oranje. Welcome…

Koeman: “I am so blessed, happy and priviliged to be the….

Yes, you can stop the cliches and the asskissing Ronald, we know your drill by now, ladidadida I am so proud, yadda yadda… is there another clause in your agreement? Will you forsake Oranje again?? Maybe when Spurs come calling?

“Oops, no. I get what you’re saying. No clause this time.”

Yes, because you were so keen to coach Oranje but you left at a key time and you left us with Frank de Boer and Louis van Gaal. Two major tournaments wasted opportunities. What do you have to say for yourself?

“Like I said, there is no clause now and I am happy and blessed and….”

Enough! What can we expect?

“Well, like I said before. I am a 4-3-3 man. I will not proceed with the LVG style of 5 at the back, whatever Louis called it. We’re going back to the system with which I had success, before I …”

Yes, shut up. How did you enjoy the World Cup?

“I think it was an exciting World Cup. The Qatar location wasn’t a success, neither was the winter time, for me at least, but we saw some exciting games. The Dutch could and should have done better, I feel, but I think everyone feels this way.”

What was the reason? Van Gaal?

“It’s tempting to say yes to that. But in all fairness, our top forwards were not in good shape. Gakpo did ok, but Memphis and Bergwijn were the go-to guys for Louis and I think he betted on the wrong horses. Overall, we didn’t have the quality we needed to have.”

How do you think you can overcome this?

“I hope I will make better decisions. But I won’t go back into the World Cup or stuff that happened before me. It’s not fair on Louis and not fair on the lads. I wasn’t there. I want to focus on the games ahead and the tournaments where I can have an impact. I do believe 4-3-3 will be a better option for us. Playing three at the back because you have top defenders is not good enough for me. I mean, we won’t play 5 strikers when we have 5 top goal scorers, would we?”

You came up with the definitive squad for these two Euro Qualification matches. It seemed the goalies and the strikers were a problem but now that is overshadowed by the loss of Frenkie de Jong. Can we cope without him?

“Of course! We will field 11 players, don’t worry. And we do not have a “second Frenkie” in the sense that Frenkie is quite unique. But even with Koopmeiners injured we have alternatives. They will play their part in a different way, but they can definitely play in that role. Wijnaldum played there, De Roon did, Berghuis even, Taylor plays in his role at Ajax and Blind played there a couple of games as well. And I have Wieffer and also Joey Veerman in the squad. Geertruida can play there even!”

Daley Blind? People will wonder why he is even in the squad?

“Really? He played 99 matches for Oranje! A player like him will always get his exit through the front door! He has been a good and loyal soldier of orange and although I did tell him that he shouldn’t count on a starting spot at LB, he can still be very important for us. He can play on 3 different spots and he brings a lot of know how and experience in the dressing room. I want to be able to give him his 100st international game, he deserves it. But whether I will keep on selecting him will hinge on his game time, moving forward.”

Ok, so no LB role for him anymore?

“No, listen when we play 4 at the back, Nathan Ake and Malacia are two excellent candidates and we have the likes of Bakker and Hartman coming through too. Daley is vulnerable defensively, that is no secret, but he can definitely play in the central midfield role, when we play with two pivots.”

Exactly what Van Basten and Gullit said in the Rondo talkshow.

“Yes but I don’t need them to tell me. Everyone knows this. But I have options. I can play De Roon if I want to build in more defensive strength. Or Berghuis, Taylor or even Wieffer if I want to play more offensive.”

Would you risk it with Wieffer in his debut match? Against France?

“Sure, why not? When you’re part of the squad, you’re part of the squad. He will have to show me, of course, during practice here, but I saw him play against Ajax, and Shaktar and those are games at a high level and he was great. I also added Veerman to the mix, we’re not in bad shape at all and Frenkie is a player who – like any player – can get injured or suspended so we need to find ways to cope.”

How bad was the news for you, that Luuk de Jong and Vincent Janssen withdrew from international football?

“Bad bad…. it was a surprise. I would never expect a player to say thanks to Oranje but hey, times change. I mean, Luuk is getting on and his body might need the rest at times. I respect that. He’s 32 and started his pro life at 17 or so? 15 years of knocks and pushes and battles. It’s a shame because he is definitely one of the best headers in the game in Europe, but like Janssen, he wouldn’t be a starter. Vincent has a young family and I think the pace of today’s game forces him to slow down. I think we demand too much of our players. All these matches, it’s nuts.”

Do we now have a strikers problem?

“Nah. I don’t think so. Gakpo plays striker for Liverpool. Memphis at Atleti. We have Danjuma who will hope that Kane moves on, we have Brobbey, Dallinga, Malen, Lang and even Simons can play there. Oh and Weghorst. I think we will manage.”

And the goalies?

“I understand there was a highly scientific approach re: the goalies. I’m a simple man and the father of a goalkeeper and I think a goalie needs to stop balls from going into the net. With Cillesen, Flekken, Bijlow and now also Verbruggen we have good goalies. Cillesen has years in him still, and the others obviously too. Noppert is top as well, but injured now and I can see more good goalies in the Eredivisie, like Olij and Vaessen. We – again – should be ok.”

There was some surprise re: Frimpong versus Geertruida and Tete?

“I can understand this, but I have a simple answer. Geertruida can play RB in a 4-3-3, he can also play central defender really well, and he can play also in the defensive mid role in midfield. Frimpong for me is more a wingback or even a right winger! He is excellent in Van Gaal’s system, so to speak. I think Geertruida is a better defender, Frimpong excellent in attack. But defenders need to be able to defend.”

Dumfries is suspended of course, for the France game. Tete was quite annoyed with the snub, he made some public comments about it. It felt like you were playing with his balls?

“I didn’t hear him say it, and he might have used this as a metaphor. I’m not impressed but I will call him after these matches and suss him out. I don’t think he has anything to complain. I got him into the squad again and I have gotten him into this prelim squad. I think Geertruida has been impressing way longer than Tete, who is only back at full form since this season. But I will call him up and see how he is.”

So Geertruida versus Mbappe? 

“Yes why not. Or Timber.”

How do you see this qualifications group?

“I think we’ll need to be at our best versus all opponents. The onus is onus is on us and France. Two nations qualify and that should be us. But you can easily get into trouble against one of the others. Maybe not Gibraltar but even that match will not be an easy one. They never are. But if we don’t qualify, I will have failed.”

Are you positive about our future? Talent development?

“I am very positive. Look at the level of the Dutch clubs these days. Sure, Feyenoord is top, Ajax is always top, PSV will be there, but now AZ and FC Twente are joining in, Sparta, NEC and RKC are performing ever so well, our overall level is going up. And there is excellent talent, all over the place. Xavi Simons, Summerville at Leeds, Struijk at Leeds, Huissen at Juventus, we have Wieffer now, I still believe in Rensch and Teze, I can see talent at Ajax and Feyenoord, like Hartman. And it’s great to see a player like Malen getting back into shape, Lang and Danjuma are still young. We develop some great central defenders too, there is Botman, Struijk, Schuurs and Micky van de Ven, Bjorn Meijer, I mean truly… The future is bright.”

And you also seem to be keen to bring Wijnaldum back?

“For me, Wijnaldum always needs to be part of Oranje, as long as he’s fit. He always delivered under me. I am not saying it was Van Gaal’s problem, as Gini could indeed have a lesser period, it happens, but I can only refer to his many goals, his partnership with Memphis, his work ethics, I mean… Gini is top class. It’s not for nothing that the Liverpool midfield struggled without him.”

How do you rate Xavi Simons?

“He is a tremendous talent. From a footballing perspective, he’s a top class and his mentality is even better. He is not here to do tricks or to make pannas, he wants to win matches. Whenever he plays, something happens. That is really good to see.”

What do you expect from France?

“I think they will play their usual compact game. They want to create space for MBappe and they won’t press high. The pitch will be small when we have the ball and we need to be neat in possession and create options for triangles. And our rest defence needs to be top notch. We will need some training sessions for this, still.”

My eleven for the France game:

Cillesen

Geertruida  –  Timber – Van Dijk – Ake

Marten de Roon – Daley Blind – Wijnaldum

Xavi Simons – Weghorst – Memphis

Result: 2-2 (goals Memphis and Wijnaldum and two own goals by Daley)

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King Kenny finds his balance

Kenneth Tete came into Ajax 1 at a young age. What is good, comes quick they say in Holland. And Ajax has the tendency of using their talented players from a young age (Cruyff, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Van der Vaart). But for any of those, there are also Riedenwalds, Bazoers and El Ghazis, who take a longer road to success (if any).

He made a name for himself as a young and un-Ajax like player: no frills, no circus skills but dogged defensive work. I remember a typical game of Tete (at Olympique Lyonnais) against Neymar of PSG. “Keep looking at the ball and take it from him.” He didn’t display the attacking prowess of his rivals (Karsdorp, Veltman, Janmaat) and was considered a top defender but lacking in the attacking department.

This season, at Fulham, he made his way back to the EPL with a debut match vs Liverpool. An assist on his striker Mitrovic displayed a Kenny Tete who had developed into a rebel rousing wingback.

And it didn’t stop there. The 27 year old had assists versus Spurs, Nottingham Forest and Southampton and is one of the first on the Fulham team sheet.

“i want to be a modern full back. I worked hard to get there. I was always the only real defender at Ajax and it gave me a status, if you like. They didn’t have many players like me, until Tagliafico came along. At Lyon, under Bosz, I was forced to add more to the attack as Bosz wants his teams to defend and attack as a unit. My move to Fulham made that even more important. In England, the game is also way more physical so I had to work even harder, both on my physical strength and on my football skills. I could have had more than four assists. I mean, you’re depending on the guy who gets the ball to score. If they would have scored, I would have had more assists.”

In this heat map, you can see how Tete indeed covers the whole flank, but also assists his central defenders where needed.

More and more forwards realise they’ll have a tough day in the office, versus Tete. He played new Chelsea signing Mudryk from the pitch. “I tell you, I never heard of this guy before. But I did hear he cost Chelsea 100 million euros. So then I thought, hmmm, he’s probably pretty good and that motivates me even more!” Mudryk didn’t get any thing going against King Kenny and remained in the dressing room at half time.

“My first big encounter against a super star was my game against Neymar. I was super nervous, but I decided: just do what you normally do but stay 100% focused and don’t start to think “oh my , I am facing Neymar”. And ever since that match, I feel secure and confident. And yes, when a guy like Mudryk gets hooked, it feels good but at the same time: at Chelsea they’ll put another top player opposite you and you have to go again. You know, Sterling or Mount or Havertz, they’re all top players.”

Tete ended the match vs Chelsea with the Man of the Match trophy.

Football players are never “safe”. Coaches want at least two players for any spot so Tete got competition from a new signing, Swiss international Mbabu. The talented defender hasn’t had a peak, so far. Tete: “I used to overthink things, you know. What if this, what if that. And I made myself anxious and lost confidence, by not controlling my mind. I’m different now. I take things step by step. I am not thinking about the matches in April, or next season, or the new signing. I am working hard on training and go from match to match. It serves me.”

“When I was at Ajax, playing in the first team at 19 years old, there were rumours of Real Madrid having an interest. And that screws with your mind a bit. You start with fantasies and with dreams and you play with the idea in your head that the next game might get you that transfer. I mean, many players made big moves in those days, and I too wanted to reach high. I ended up with Fulham and got relegated! But I stayed, I love this club and now we’re number 7 in the league! I am focusing fully on Fulham as I love it here, I love living in London and my family loves it here too. If I have to finish my playing career here, I wouldn’t not mind a single bit.”

Marco Silva’s team has found the way up and has the best season since a long time. “We didn’t lose too many players and were able to bring in some good new lads and it just clicks now. We are playing with flair, with passion, with joy and it works. And we played Arsenal twice, the number 1 in the league, and we lost to them by goals in the last minute. This does mean we are not 100% there yet, but it also means we’re getting close.”

In the past years, the Dutch National Team was a no fly zone for King Kenny, but it might well be that a mainstay in the Premier League gets another call up. Dumfries doesn’t play a lot at Inter. Rensch doesn’t convince. Karsdorp only just started playing again, Geertruida plays as a central defender… Any thoughts? “Well, I was on the prelim list of De Boer’s squad, but I wasn’t a part of the squad for a long time. I missed the Euros, missed the World Cup so I’m not a go to guy at the moment. And I will not claim I should be. But sure, playing well in the EPL does mean you’re reaching a good level, so if the invite comes, I will be ready.”

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