Tag: Stengs

Introducing Henk Fraser: the Ghost

In a period within which Dutch clubs are making their massive come-back onto the European front! Sure, everybody knows Ajax and PSV has also had some recent smaller successes in Europe with Feyenoord lagging behind. But this time around, Vitesse and AZ have also found their way into the group stages of the various European cup competitions and that is great news for us! Well done.

Ajax is placed in the Champions League by virtue of their title, last season. And the Sons of Gods are lucky once again, this time with the draw. By all means doable, and with heaps of jealous glances from Paris, Manchester and Liverpool of course.

PSV had a real chance of getting there too, but after some impressive games vs Galatasaray and Midtjylland, Benfica appeared to tough to handle, despite a tremendous second half in Portugal and despite playing 10 men for 60 minutes or so. But the Philips team choked and their coach might not have made the proper chances when needed. Still, Europa League is their League and they will have a chance to go far.

Feyenoord impressed under coach Arne Slot with some impressive attacking play, and they sailed through the qualifications for the Conference League, with their easiest (but first) game vs FC Drita their toughest! Vitesse had some hurdles to overtake, in particular against Anderlecht, but they did it in the end. AZ Alkmaar wasn’t able to beat a mediocre Celtic for a spot in the Europa League but they will compete in the Conference League now, which is still a feat for a coach who had to say goodbye to a couple of mainstays (Stengs, Boadu, Midjo, Bizot).

Guus Til back in the squad too

We can prepare for a special season, both domestically and internationally.

Lets focus on the NT again, as the first matches under LVG III will commence sooner than you think.

Van Gaal presented the final squad selection and was happy to be able to welcome back Denzel Dumfries and Steven Bergwijn. The latter has had a good run in Spurs’ matches recently and impressed. Van Gaal really wants to have more options on the wings and with Bergwijn, he has a player who can play left and right wing.

We’ve spoken enough about Louis and his side-kick Danny Blind. Lets look at Henk Fraser. Who the H is Henk Fraser?

The older football fans will remember him as the tough-as-nails centre back of FC Utrecht, Roda JC and Feyenoord. He started out as a striker at Sparta Rotterdam, in the same time that Danny Blind and Louis van Gaal played there. Interestingly, Louis couldn’t remember it! The Sparta skipper was on his way out and Henkie was a shy sub who never got onto Louis’ radar. He never made it as a striker, was transferred as one to FC Utrecht, though, but his coach there immediately turned him into a very good centre back. You could compare him with Adri van Tiggelen (lanky, lean, mean, tough, fast) or with Portuguese defender Pepe. Fraser could also get red mist in front of his eyes. Mr Yellow was his nickname at FC Utrecht.

When at Roda JC, he got selected for Oranje in 1989 and made his debut vs Denmark, alongside Bryan Roy and Stanley Menzo. He played against Brian Laudrup and got the compliments from skipper Gullit after that game. Ajax, Real Sociedad and Borussia Dortmund wanted him but an injury and family circumstances put a stop to that.

A year later, Feyenoord would sign him, with a massive signing fee on top. Fraser would become Feyenoord’s most expensive signing at that moment.

He played 9 seasons for Feyenoord and in 1993 he won the title under coach Van Hanegem, with whom he’d build a strong relationship. His time at Feyenoord was successful but Fraser also suffered multiple injuries ( torn ankle ligaments, broken leg, and knee injuries). Officially he was also part of the 1999 squad that won the title, but he wouldn’t play that season. Not long after, he would retire from football. He won 4 National Cups, 2 titles, the first Johan Cruyff Shield and reached the semi finals of the Europa Cup II in 1991/92.

Fraser would end up playing 6 games in Oranje, as he was also part of the NT squad for the World Cup 1990. He would play 30 minutes in the last group match, subbing Richard Witschge. He would be called up way more, but never played any more in orange.

Coaching Sparta

His nickname Ghost came from Marco van Basten. During the 1990 World Cup, the three AC Milan stars and Ronald Koeman were the four dominant forces. Fraser, being new to the squad and one of the few Feyenoord players, stayed well in the background, shy as he used to be. He was so quiet, that Marco van Basten called him “The Ghost”. But at training, Fraser would play against Van Basten. Initially, Henk didn’t want to be too tough and Van Basten taunted him constantly with elbows and little knocks and nibbles. To the point where Fraser at some stage lost control and hacked Van Basten down. The AC Milan striker smiled and said “that is how you do it!”. But coach Beenhakker immediately stopped the session and scolded Fraser for endangering his top striker!

After the World Cup 1990, sometime in 1992, Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard were interviewed and were asked: who is the ideal defender in your eyes? They looked at each other and said in unison: “Henk Fraser is the perfect example of the most complete defender”. High praise indeed.

Fraser: “I think I haven’t gotten all out of my career, like many players… That emotional thing in me has not helped. I was not able to control myself. If I was ok, I would jump over a player who slid on the ground, but I was not my happy self and that opponent had kicked me or something, I would sneakily plant my studs on this thigh, you know? That sortathing. I learned all this later in life.”

About the World Cup 1990. “I never felt settled in Oranje. There was the Ajax – Feyenoord thing, of course. Back then, the rivalry was insane. Today, Ajax and Feyenoord players go on holidays together. In those days, unthinkable. I also didn’t have a click with the other players. I knew John van Loen, from Utrecht and Roda. Also Wouters and Winter were good guys, but the other players… they were happy with their own clique and never opened up to the lesser players. But that was how I thought back then. I might well have been very wrong, but I was a bit insecure and didn’t feel it. I was the room mate of Danny Blind, now my colleague at Oranje. We didn’t have anything together. Not that we didn’t like each other, or something. We simply didn’t have a relationship. It was probably as much me as him, or probably more me, even. I had the same issues later when playing for the Suriprofs (players born in Suriname), and I realised I was the problem. I need time to settle in, to find my comfort zone.”

Ruud Gullit mentioned Fraser recently, saying he never expected Henk to become a successful coach. Too quiet. “I had to learn to lead, learn to be vocal and speak my mind. Clarence Seedorf had it when he was 16 years old. With me, it came later.”

After his career, he became a successful youth coach at Feyenoord, hailed by the players but eventually needing to leave due to clashes with the club management. He went on to coach the PSV youth and worked extensively with Memphis. When he became assistant coach at ADO Den Haag, he got the chance to step up when Maurice Steijn – the head coach -was fired. He had to overcome his biggest fear: public speaking. “I had to learn to be comfortable and to have something to say. I learned a lot from my KNVB mentors, but Leo Beenhakker was also an inspiration. After his tactical talk, I was foaming at the mouth and ready to run onto the pitch, hahahaha.”

And after winning the first and only prize with Vitesse – the National Cup – everyone expected Feyenoord and Fraser to find each other again, but before Feyenoord could make a move, Sparta beat them to it. Last season’s play-off ticket was another calling card Fraser dropped and this time around, he did make it on the Van Gaal Radar.

It is funny: Louis didn’t remember having shared a dressing room with you?

“Hahaha, that was pretty confronting. But Louis is direct in his communication, eh? I was not a starter in those days. I did play in that infamous Europe Cup match vs HSV Hamburg, but probably not so good hehehe. But with a career like his, it’s impossible to remember all the youngsters you’ve met.”

One of the best Sparta squads, with Fraser, Van Gaal, Blind, Lengkeek, Olde Riekerink and Rene Eijer 

How was he as a player and colleague?

“You could recognise the coach in his playing style. He loves players with a good orientation and feel for the position and space. Louis was a highly intelligent player. Not the quickest with his legs, but fast with his brain. He was definitely the leader. And he’d only have to look at you at training and you knew: ok, I’m carrying the ball bag today… He was very social. We went on an international trip, to Spain one day. I was 17 years old and Louis took us under his wing. We went out and he gave me a Lumumba. A chocolate milk with rum cocktail. I have never been so drunk in my life.”

And then, 35 years later, he calls you up: do you want to be my assistant?

“He first messaged me: is it ok for me to call you? I thought I was being pranked, so I checked and double checked if this was indeed Louis’ mobile number. But it was him and he was very serious and to the point. I actually asked time to consider. A reflex I guess. I never take a decision just like that. I called my dad for advice and he’s like: mate! Be proud. Say yes. He was all emotional and that was the confirmation I needed.”

So how will you work week look now, in your double role as Sparta coach and NT assistant?

“Simple. I don’t have any days off anymore. My free day is now an NT day. I will not take any time away from Sparta of course.”

How will you divide the roles?

“I will focus on the Eredivisie players. And that is a bonus for Sparta too, as I’m constantly scouting and watching games, so Sparta will benefit from these insights too. We will do our meetings online, as Louis will work from his Portugal home. And he’s as impressive via Zoom as he is in face to face meetings, hahahaha.”

And were you offered the NT job after Louis leaves?

“I read that everywhere, but it’s not the case. I have not been informed, at least. Lets just focus on qualifying first and then we’ll see how things go. For all I know, Louis might not be happy with me after a couple of games, who knows?”

Van Gaal recognises the potential of this Oranje. Do you think the quarter finals goal for this past Euros was realistic?

“Yes, if Holland is in a good form, we can beat anyone. But it’s not an automatic thing. There are at least 10 great football nations on the planet. At least. And countries like the Czech Republic, or Mexico or Uruguay can also make life hard for any of those 10 nations. But yes, Louis sees potential but also because Louis knows that he can make the sum of the parts better.”

As assistant of Cor Pot at the Under 21s in 2011

Where are you in the playing system debate?

“I think realism is needed. There are still experts in Holland who think that 4-3-3 is the only way to play attacking football. That is baloney. We can play attacking football with any system. You can press high with a 3-5-2, why not? But hey, at the World Cup, all you want is win games, right? We are good but not that good, not so good that we can force our way onto any opponent. The coach will take into account our form, our strength and weaknesses but also the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents. And then you pick your best tactics.”

It seems you will be the assistant who will be closest to the players?

“Probably yes, that will be my role. I worked with Memphis, Wijnaldum and others before. I have worked with some of these players at the Euros Under 21 in Israel and I think I have a good contact with players, usually. It’s all about them, really. They need to feel good. I look forward to working with them again.”


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Young Oranje shocks France

There is always that outside chance whatever the balance of quality or euros, and Van de Looi knew his team could beat France. A top notch goalie, a solid defence, two talented holding mids and speed and guile upfront.

Despite losing some key players for this Euros (Koopmeiners, Gakpo, Lang, Brobbey), Van de Looi was able to inspire his team with courage, with grit and with efficiency. The much lauded France team with big name and big pay-check players didn’t play bad but didn’t have a solution for the Dutch organisation and the speed on the counter attack. Young Oranje proved yet again that a bag of dollars / euros can’t score goals.

Van de Looi went from the anonymity of a typical B team into the lime light back in March when the Euros started. He copped criticism on his playing style and system (4-2-2-2) and copped even more when he didn’t play a striker (Boadu, Brobbey) against Germany, but opted for midfielder diesel engine Dani de Wit.

Against France, the big favorite for the titel, the coach kept his faith in his system and simply replaced his missing key players. With a team that objectively had less quality than the team he could play in March he was able to beat the favorites for the title. Van de Looi stuck to his philosophy.

Heaps of strong performnances. Bijlow again demonstrated that he is Holland’s biggest keeper talent. Schuurs might have lost his starting spot at Ajax but he played his best game ever in an orange jersey. The Man of the Match though, was a name people didn’t expect to see: Tyrell Malacia, the 21 year old Feyenoord left back.

At Young Oranje he is known as the man with the eternal smile. At breakfast, at training, during the tactical talks, even on the team pic, when all other faces are stern, Ty shows his pearly whites. A true football fan who happens to be playing on the highest stage for him. Not a position that looked likely. “He had to wait a long time, although we did call him up earlier but then he got injured,” Van de Looi explains. “And I was clear to the players, a week ago. I told them, we need topnotch energy and intensity against France. We won’t have a chance if we’re not fit. So I will select the player who has the legs. And Tyrell trained like a beast. Sometimes, as a coach you can pick between good and not-so-good. Now I had to pick between very good and even better.”

Tyrell Malacia

Dani de Wit as controlling midfielder was a surprise too, as he has to fill in for Koopmeiners. The AZ midfielder may not have the fine qualities Koopmeiners possesses but he is a leader, a personality on the pitch and with his grit he did pull the team through difficult stages. Harroui dropped back into right back whenever the French pressed but after 54 minutes, the coach directed him to midfield to make use of the extra space there.

The only stain Oranje had to face was the French goal. Straight from a dead ball. It seems Stengs lost his man. Van de Looi will have to work on that for the semi finals against the Germans. Another issue, France was way stronger physically in the last 15 minutes of the game. Stengs, Boadu and in particular Kluivert stopped doing their defensive work. The latter even had cramp.

Van de Looi would have subbed these three if he had Brobbey and Lang at his disposal but he allowed them on the pitch and would have subbed them in the break before the additional time. But that threesome ended up being responsible for the winning goal.

In true form. Van de Looi immediately made a statement to the players: that same night the players were to report for a recovery training. When Boadu heard this he though the messenger was joking. But Van de Looi was in full tournament coach mode and already in the bus. “Listen, you saw the explosion after winning against France? Everyone is happy. But it’s not the end yet. We need to make sure now that we are top fit for the next game, and that means: telling the body it can’t relax yet. There is another game coming and hopefully another one still. Let’s do all we can to make it to that finals. Lets not throw it away now because we won one match. And I look back, when we started, you are so far away. You need to be play qualification games and after 8 years we are here again. And the group stage wasn’t our best series. But now, this win, it changes everything. We need to keep calm, keep focused and realise the dream is still alive.”

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Young Oranje’s puzzle

Coming Monday, Young Oranje plays their quarter finals vs France in the Euros under 21. Coach van de Looi will have to make due without his top performers Cody Gakpo, Noa Lang and Teun Koopmeiners.

If Van de Looi could pick any player that fit the prerequisite, he would be able to field a team wih Gakpo, Lang, Gravenberch, Koopmeiners, Timber, Wijndal, Geertruida, Mo Ihattaren, Zeefuik, Ludo Reis, Donyell Malen and Mathijs de Ligt. Van de Looi would be licking his lips. But this is the fate of a coach at the Young Oranje level. You’re not the priority.

Team manager De Boer and injuries are spanner in the works and the former Groningen coach will have to make do with what he has got. He will stick to his 4-2-2-2 system, with which he played against teams that appear as strong as us, or even stronger. This week he will be finalising his jigsaw for the France game, coming up.

In the group phase, Ajax goalie Scherpen was the number 1 between the sticks, although Paes and Bijlow were the choice goalies during the qualifications. Bijlow suffered some injuries but he will most likely take the #1 spot as he has been without mistakes at Feyenoord, while Paes is still the second goalie at Utrecht. Scherpen was one of the men of the match in the group stages but his outing in Ajax 1, in the EL, didn’t go as planned. Scherpen needs more playing time and with a move to Brighton, this might well be on the cards. Or not.

In defence, I don’t think Van de Looi will change much. Never change a winning team, although the coach has some good options. Jordan Teze at PSV had a top season and Doekhi was one of the key performers at Vitesse. Van de Looi likes to play with the two towering centre backs Schuurs and Botman. No one will complain about Botman, as he just won the title in France with Lille. But Schuurs seems to have dropped in the Ajax hierarchy recently. Still, they used to play together at Young Ajax and both have been goal scorers for Young Oranje as well, so I can understand Van de Looi’s choices.

Left wing was usually Mitchel Bakker’s spot but he’s been quite vulnerable lately and hasn’t impressed with PSG either. Tyrell Malacia is in great form all season and deserves a look in. On the right side, Zeefuik is usually the first choice, but he’s injured. Teze might be the man for the job, as he will most likely replace Dumfries at PSV, should the skipper get his transfer this summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the coach picks Devyne Rensch for the role. The 18 year old Ajax defender has been raising eyebrows in the past months, with his runs, his defending and his goals!

Van de Looi has been sticking to his firm squad, which also resulted in Jay Gorter (Go Ahead) and Pascal Struijk (Leeds United) not getting a spot, but he might now change his ways and allow for players in form to come into the team.

“We’re at the end of a tough season, and some lads have been playing a lot of games for the first time in their career. We need to see how everyone is, in terms of fitness and energy. Intensity will be key against an opponent like France.”

In the 4-2-2-2 the crucial roles are in that holding position. The engine room. In an ideal world, Erwin would play Gravenberch and Koopmeiners there. Now, the coach needs to pick his B options, although it’s not a fair label to push onto Abdou Harroui. The Sparta midfielder had his break out season and is on his way to a big transfer. He’s a light footed tackler, with lots of feeling in both feet. With Harroui, you get football and you get security.

Other options are Ekkelenkamp (Ajax), Matusiwa (ex Ajax, now Groningen) or Kadioglu. Dani de Wit can play there too but the coach expects to need him up front. Kadioglu is highly praised by Van de Looi and Ekkelenkamp is also a player who is able to squeeze good performances from the 4 forwards, thanks to his passing range.

Up front, there is two blocks of two. Two so-called half-10s and two strikers. Calvin Stengs is a cert for one of the half 10 roles. Noa Lang would probably be a shoe in for the other part. Up front, Justin Kluivert seems to be the firm choice with either Boadu or Dani de Wit next to him.

The former Groningen defender copped criticism for using De Wit as number 9. “He might not be a typical striker, but Dani has these penetrating runs, and you don’t see these enough. We missed that in our games vs Romania and Germany. Due to Noa Lang’s injury, the solution offers itself: Stengs and De Wit as half 10s and Boadu and Kluivert leading the line. Kadioglu and Dilrosun could also play in the half 10 role and if need be, Van de Looi also has Kaj Sierhuis at his disposal. This is a physically strong typical #9, which can work against a physical side that is France. The draw back is that the former Ajax striker hasn’t played much for Reims and when he did, he hardly scored.

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The Great FdB interview

We’re back! Oh Goodness Gracious Me, the site was down. Some weird error, and it took me some time to sort it. Also because support was hard to find in the Xmas/NYE days.

Not a lot of news re: Dutch Eredivisie or Oranje anyway, but the Premier League keeps on powering, just like Italy, Spain and Germany have started up again.

Traditionally, the national team manager gets the big interview at the start of the new year and Frank de Boer gladly agreed to do his part.

Louis van Gaal saw it first…

Fdb: “That I was going to be a good national team coach? Hahaha, yes we were doing a canal boat tour in the winter some time back. Ronald and his partner was there too. It was a gastronomical tour, very good fun. And Louis told me that he thought I would be the prefect for the job, but the KNVB picked Ronald Koeman, back then. I thought that was actually a fine choice. Anyone could see there were some amazing talents coming through.”

When Van Gaal resigned in 2002, he said he might have been too much of a club coach. How is this with you?

Fdb: “Well, yes but it was totally different, as we were all in our early 30s. We weren’t young talents anymore. We had won basically everything. I think in such a scenario, a Hiddink type coach would be better. It was important to manage the vibe in the group, but not to tell Ruud van Nistelrooy to button up his shirt! Or tell Van Hooijdonk to wear socks! Pierre never wore them. We all knew this. And then there was a new physio, Raymond Verheijen. He’s a good man, with expertise but he was years younger than us! And he presented himself as the clone of Louis. We had more than enough to do with one Louis hahaha. At the World Cup 1998, and this is not to be negative about Guus Hiddink, but we determined how we played. Not Guus. We never trained tactically. He just made sure everyone was feeling ok and was happy. And at certain times, he had to step in and be razor sharp and he was. But he knew exactly what he needed from this group. I think that is key for a national team manager.”

What does the current squad need?

“A mixture of approaches. We have a mix in ages too. They all know what they want, but… not everyone has been there. Gini and Virgil have had big successes with Liverpool, Daley and Gini and De Vrij and Memphis were at the World Cup. But other players haven’t. It’s all new. Dumfries, Frenkie, Malen, Van de Beek… They still need to learn what it means to play a tournament.”

Are you now more manager than trainer?

“Yes, it’s part of your development too, and it’s also because one can’t do it all alone. Management is an important part of the job but I think I actually prefer to be trainer.”

At Palace and Internazionale, there was criticism of how you lacked empathy.

“Managing a squad is a skill and being more social and show interest in someone else, yes, it is something that doesn’t come natural to me, I had to learn this. And that is why they say being a coach is an experience profession. And I started at Ajax, where I had played for 20 years or so and I knew everyone and everyone knew me. Supporters, sponsors, management, ex players, the works. And my vision was developed by Ajax basically, so the match was perfect. I had to learn to work in a non Ajax environment and that wasn’t so easy.”

What went wrong?

“Well, at Inter it was always my plan to take into account the Italian culture, the club culture, traditions etc. I also wanted to bring in my own ideas. And I noticed really early on, that the basis of my thinking, the basis of the Dutch way of playing is passing and receiving. That is something you have to be able to do. Look at Frenkie, at Koopmeiners, Bazoer, Propper, Blind… But the Italians didn’t like it at all. They fumbled, they became childish, they tried to screw the other players by playing hospital balls… They preferred to do sprints, with the stop watch or play tactical practices. They didn’t feel good with my approach, they felt they needed more intensity. They also didn’t do rest. If a player had a big couple of games, I would sometimes give them a day off. The medical staff went berserk. I was supposed to clean the situation up, like Koeman at Valencia, years ago. But there was resistance. And mind you, after they fired me, they used and fired two other coaches before they came to Conte and it started to click, with a completely new squad.”

Was it a mistake to go there?

“No I don’t look at it like that. I learned a lot. It was a good experience. In England, I did change my way a bit. Crystal Palace wanted to play continental but I analysed my squad and noticed I couldn’t do that, so I adapted to a 5-3-2. I think the tactical choices were fine, but I was a bit too harsh to certain player. Scott Dann had been skipper for many years and I was certain I wasn’t going to use him so I took his band. That was not smart, the way I did it. He has a lot of supporters in the club and I created my own resistance, in this way. We played four games, lost them all and we didn’t score one single goal. We needed some luck and we didn’t get it. We played away vs Burnley, my last game in charge. We played really well, we created chances and put them under pressure. But we didn’t score. We did have a short back pass to the goalie and Burnley took their chance and scored. That is also part of being a coach: you can’t do it yourself.”

The KNVB was looking for Koeman 2.0. They actually signed De Boer 2.0 it seems?

“I do think I changed as a coach, yes. I have more patience and more empathy, I think. The experiences at Inter, Palace and Atalanta were important. They wanted to go the Koeman route with me. I didn’t want to say too much about it, but I am not Koeman. I am different and I will have to do it my way. Even Koeman at one point said – from Barcelona – that he didn’t want the KNVB to look for Koeman 2.0 as it would only lead to failure. A national team coach needs to be autonomous and independent.”

Not a lot of people had you on the top of their list.

“I get that. I understand that names like Van Gaal or Ten Cate or Peter Bosz were mentioned. I was out of the picture for a spell. I did think it was tedious that I had to defend myself all the time, when I was signed up.”

It doesn’t happen often, signing a national team manager after two failed adventures.

“But I also won the title 4 times in a row with Ajax. And I won trophies with Atalanta. I mean, sure, I understand that some people focus on the negatives. It’s up to me to win them over.”

Four times the title with Ajax. It sounds as if it was an easy job.

“Well, it was a different Ajax back then. We had Tobias Sana, Danny Hoesen, Niklas Moisander, Lorenzo Ebecilio. Nothing against these lads, but no where near the level they have now. But still, we won against Barcelona and we beat Man City. But the only thing people seem to remember is the square passing, hahaha. But hey, you’re as good as your last match. You know what my biggest memory is from all these years as Ajax coach? That last game when we lost the title against De Graafschap. And not the title vs Twente, in May 2011 and won it for the first time in a long time. I can’t blame people to focus on the bad experiences, I do that too. We won the title 4 times in a time when Ajax did not have a lot of money and we had a lot of managerial problems back then as well. But what is the strongest memory of these days: me in the bus, having lost the title in Doetinchem.”

Ronald Koeman once said, that people in Holland enjoyed themselves if it didn’t go well with Ronald Koeman. Is that something that applies to you too?

“Probably yes. It’s not that people actually enjoy it when you fail, but they need to know that big name players can also fail, are human. All that glitters ain’t gold, that sortathing. It’s human nature, I think.”

You started with a loss vs Mexico and a draw in Bosnia Herzegovina. But it seems that you turned it around really quickly.

“That was maybe the lessons learned in Milan and with Palace. I came into a situation with an existing squad and a technical and medical staff that worked well together. I don’t think changing things around is handy, in that case. So I had some indepth talks with my staff, with the players. What do they want, how do they see the game. And after that, I was able to make some subtle changes. I also have to take into account who we play. I changed things for Italy, and changed it back for Poland. And sometimes, you have players who suddenly give you options. There was Owen Wijndal suddenly, well… I loved using him. And when you play Wijndal and Dumfries, you need to make some tactical changes, as you can’t have both of them stampeding forward all the time. Away against Poland, we were lucky when they broke for what could have been a 2-0. We did have enough players behind the ball by the way. It was the timing of the interference, or the planned interference. De Vrij was a step too slow, and a meter here or there makes the world of difference. And these defensive issues aren’t new, those were here under Koeman as well. We love to attack, but how do we organise ourselves defensively. I am working on this with Dwight Lodeweges now. We can improve there.”

Is this Dutch team world class without the ball?

“Maybe, when you look at the specific qualities we have. We have defenders who are world class, yes. But we want to dominate and we do have the players to do so. Frenkie, wants the ball. Daley wants the ball. Memphis wants the ball. We have a team that wants to take the initiative. We did ever so well under Koeman in the Nations League, but also in those matches, we were lucky at times.”

Still, our defenders are world class: Virgil is the best in the EPL and De Ligt the biggest defensive talent on the planet.

“And Frenkie de Jong? And Gini Wijnaldum? Memphis? It’s all a bit cyclical, I remember a time when we had mediocre defenders – according to the media – and world class strikers. But we have Donyell Malen, Cody Gakpo, Justin Kluivert… A couple of amazing attacking talents. And our new right full back?”


“No, Bergwijn! At Sputs, he is used as wing back and he does that. He tracks back, he challenges and hassles. He realises, when I want to play in the EPL I have to work my socks off. And he does. I can see him play up front, together with Memphis. Steven is fast, and he has a click with Memphis.”

You brought the classic #9 back into the team, with Luuk de Jong. Is this purely to play versus lesser opponents?

“Exactly. What we need, is movement. A lot of movement. It’s like in basketball, the 3 second rule in the circle. Move into the box, you don’t get the ball, move out again, keep circling, like sharks. Like Man City does it. What you need to have is good peripheral scanning ability. You saw this against Poland away and Bosnia at home. Memphis, Berghuis, Malen, Wijnaldum, continuously moving. And yes, you go 10 times but don’t get the ball, but the 11th time you do and it’s the break through. The most simple and hardest-to-defend ball is the pass over the defense in behind. You can’t defend against pace. We need to improve. But Mbappe, Messi in his top years, CRonaldo, Sterling, Mane, Salah, Malen, it’s all about pace and getting that yard. “

So where does Oranje stand now, 6 months before the Euros?

“We can beat any opponent. But we will need to be top to do so. Should we reach the semis, I think we’ve done a good job. Belgium, France and Spain are top favorites. I Think England, Italy and Germany are right behind them. And then it’s Portugal and us. Portugal won the Euros in 2016 but didn’t impress in any of their matches.”

And thus…

“We need to raise our consistency levels. Not now and then a great match. Every match a great match! I don’t want to be dependent on one or two players. The difference between us and France or Spain, is they have top notch players on every spot in the team. Double, even at times. We have some world class players and some who can become a world class player. Wijndal can become world class. Gravenberch, as well. It’s amazing what he does, but can he keep on it. It’s very hard to predict the career path of players. Look at El Ghazi, or Bazoer.”

You need experience, to guide them? In other players?

“Sure, this is why I think Babel is important. I get all these questions about Ryan. Same with Strootman. But you need some of these types: experienced, professional, never whining or being difficult and working their asses off. Their mentality is amazing. I called Strootman to explain why I wouldn’t be selecting him and he said he agreed! That is the sort of mentality we need. And some people tend to ridicule them or the fact us coaches say they’re important in the dressing room. People who haven’t played top football have no idea. They are key for the intensity of the training sessions. You usually need 16 players who could all be in the starting eleven, and then 6 players who simply accept their role and work their butt off to keep the rest sharp. Strootman and Babel are those types of players.”

Louis van Gaal spent as much time with the reserves in Brazil, as he did with the starting eleven…

“Yes and I get that. You need them. For a tournament, the training sessions are so important. Remember Ooijer in 2010? In South Africa? He didn’t expect to play a single minute. He was constantly teasing, and taunting. You know Andre? He has that Amsterdam style cynical humor. He was giving the physio a hard time all the time. And then suddenly, in the warming up for Brazil, Mathijsen couldn’t play. And Ooijer slotted in and played a top match. Why? Because he was super fit. He was sharp. It’s always the weakest link – not meaning Ooijer per se – who determines the strength of the chain.”

Koeman moved from Huis ter Duin in Noordwijk to a training centre in Zeist…

“Oh yes, at first I thought it was a step back! But when I look at it now, we have two fantastic pitches, we have that living room vibe in our hotel. That wasn’t there in Noordwijk. You wouldn’t see players in the communal space. Some were gaming in the room of player A, others were playing golf, the next little clique was walking the boulevard… Now, they’re all together, chatting or playing board games or watching a game together. Way better for the team building.”

What do you do when you don’t have a lot of time to practice?

“You can talk. You can discuss the organisation, the defensive positioning. If this happens, we do that. If this is the way they attack, we do this. Before the Italy game, we discussed our tactics. Do we play 4-3-3 or 5-3-2? We had a great session and then we went on the pitch and man, the sparks were flying, I was worried that we needed medivacs on the pitch, they were sharp, they tackled and challenged like how they play their match. It was very satisfying on the one hand, but I also thought “Goodness, I hope no one gets hurt!”. This immense pressure on the players, in their competitions. I mean, Van Dijk’s injury. Would that have happened if he was super fit and not having to have played so many big matches? Who knows? We see a lot of muscle injuries now, hamstrings etc. We need to manage this. For the Euros, I have only 2 weeks preparation, while Louis had 4 weeks for the World Cup in Brazil.”

Will Virgil van Dijk be ready in time?

“It will be a race against the clock, really? I do hope so, but it needs to be responsible. Liverpool won’t let him go if it’s not the right thing.”

What do you do now, in this period?

“Watching games. And there is a lot to watch. We do know about the usual suspects, the Wijnaldums, the Frenkies, we want to now focus on the category that is up and coming, such as Sven Botman at Lille or Jerdy Schouten at Bolonga or El Ghazi at Villa. This category player can be very interesting for us and we’re mapping that now. We do have some firm spots taken but from spot 17 to 23, it’s wide open, as far as I am concerned.”

How did Corona affect you in the US, at Atlanta United?

“It was typical for the US, very well organised. We we had 4 weeks of serious quarantine, than we opened up a bit more and I was allowed to fly to Holland to visit my mother-in-law who was in bad shape. After three weeks we could train in bigger groups and we entered The Bubble. We all went to Florida, we were all based in a couple of hotels and we tested and played, tested and played….”

And that was your final phase at the club?

“We both felt it was good as it was. We run our course. I can not say anything negative about the club, I had an amazing time. The facilities were top notch, we won two trophies and the lifestyle was great. But I also started to feel the impact of constantly on the road, flying, time zones, etc. Now, I realise how nice it is to not have to do that all the time.”

The good life as team manager…

“Yes, you know what a big difference is: you don’t need to focus on negative stuff. A player who is unhappy, or needs attention, or a medical staff member with opposing views, you always deal with that at club level. It’s constantly putting out fires. And the lads that work really well don’t get the attention they need. And now, it’s great. I play tennis, I go to Zeist twice a week for meetings and planning and I have dinner with my family. This is a big benefit of the team manager’s role. We do get stressed, but always a short time, hahahaha.”

Good to be home at Xmas!

“Well, in all honesty, I lost jobs before Xmas so I have had Xmas with the family, hahahaha.”

Source: VI Xmas edition

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Dutch Football: WTF!!

I took a short break from blogging. The usual reasons, Covid related busy-ness and pressure at work, and finding time inbetween all these matches to catch up.

But I have to get back into it now, as we have seemed to be going on a slippery slide! We really felt Dutch football was on the up and up after missing two major tournaments. Koeman reinstated pride, Memphis, Virgil and Frenkie became house hold (first) names and Ajax dazzled in the Champions League.

We saw De Ligt move to Juve, Frenkie to Barca, and with Wijnaldum and Virgil steady at Anfield, it seemed we were clawing our way back to the world top.

Fast forward to now, and we see a Dutch NT performing quite inconsistently (albeit with great promise still, under Frank de Boer), we see Koeman and Frenkie struggling in Spain, Virgil is sidelined for a while and the development of youngsters such as Ihattaren, Boadu and Stengs seems stifled for a bit.

At club level, things do look more dire, indeed. Ajax failed to perform in their CL group. Granted: not an easy group, but when you are on par twice with Liverpool but you lose both games, hmmm…well, something is off. When you also lead 0-2 in Bergamo but give the lead away, that is… ouch. And if you can only create two opportunities (Brobbey header and Klaassen miss) vs Atalanta at home and you end up losing, well, that means you are simply not good enough!

And the same can be said of Feyenoord. Yes, they were unlucky vs Wolversberger at home (3 fluke penalties against and a clear penalty for Feyenoord overlooked) , but the overall performances were poor and Feyenoord is out of Europe.

As is AZ, which had a dreadful season start. They did win vs Napoli in the EL and it seemed they were in the drivers seat but too many red cards, too many missed opportunities and on top of that: drama re: coach Arne Slot and AZ’s European campaign ended in tears as well (and some pushing, shoving and alpha male behaviour).

Lets talk Arne Slot for a bit. The so-called crown prince amongst Dutch coaches. He is clear, communicates well, is apparently a tactical wizard and very well liked by all and sundry: players speak highly of him and most people believe he was the main man, even as assistant to Van de Brom.

Slot decided not to extend his deal with AZ. He informed management a number of weeks ago. The board accepted and went on a first informal search for a replacement. Slot also said “several clubs have contacted my agent”. The AZ management ( general manager Robert Eenhoorn (once of the New York Yankees) himself flirted with a move to Feyenoord last season!) was ok with that.

But when they heard Slot was in talks with Feyenoord, the AZ managers Huiberts and Eenhoorn decided to fire Slot on the spot.


For starters: AZ mirrors themselves with Feyenoord. Not Ajax, yet. Too rich, too big. But Feyenoord. Why not. From top 4, AZ wants to climb to Top 3, and Feyenoord was to be their first scalp.

With Slot moving to Feyenoord, AZ feared that all the company secrets (contract info, scouting reports, innovative plans etc) would be potentially shared with Feyenoord. So there was no way they would allow this to happen and allow Slot to coach AZ till the end of the season.

Robert Eenhoorn and Max Huiberts

Max Huiberts was asked: “What if Bayern Munich wanted Slot?” And his answer was: “Yeah, we probably would have responded differently”.

Another key “Why” question, is: Why would Slot leave AZ and go to Feyenoord?? Feyenoord is not rich, their squad lacks the talents AZ has (Wijndal, Stengs, Boadu, Karlsson, and more) and there is a LOT of work to do in Rotterdam (particularly in the Academy) to even get Feyenoord to the level of AZ!

Well, the answers to this are intriguing. For starters, Slot’s agent is one Mino Raiola. Of Pogba, De Ligt and Zlatan fame. And guess who else have him as their agent?? Boadu, Stengs and Wijndal. Ok.

Secondly, Feyenoord already swooped up a youth Academy coach from AZ earlier in the season and it appears that Feyenoord is on the verge of signing an investment deal, for 130 million euros. Purely to rebuild their Academy and invest in a top team! This money is not meant for the stadium, but purely for the football department.

It’s quite likely that this message pushed Slot to put his signature to paper. It must be any coach’ wet dream to get a people’s club like Feyenoord, with that appeal and stadium AND 130 million euros :-).

Slot also made it clear that he didn’t feel supported at AZ. When he needed to fix some issues in his squad (when he lost midfielder Guus Til and defender Wuytinck) it took management too long (in his eyes) to come up with the replacements. He also let on that the next generation of talents is not that great and he wasn’t too keen on having to renovate the first team. It’s also common knowledge that Boadu, Wijndal and Stengs probably leave AZ at the end of the season (hint hint agent Mino Raiola).

Rumour has it that if Dick Advocaat keeps on dropping points, playing mediocre games and moaning in the media about lack of quality, it might well mean exit for Dick and early entry for Arne…

PSV is the other way around. Last season, it kicked Van Bommel out, and brought Roger Schmidt in for this season. A Dutchman out for a German. That is always a biggie. Then a guy who wants to implement a totally new and sacred system and on top of that pushes super talent Mo Ihattaren to the bench / stands, which infuriated many Dutch fans and pundits!

He even put him down, it seems, saying: “Yes, he is a talent but he’s also only 18 years old and too heavy. I need to get him match fit!”

Today however, Schmidt turned PSV around and finished top in their EL group, with Ihattaren playing from the start. Players like Dumfries, Rosario, Malen, Ihattaren and particularly Gakpo do really well for PSV. The presence of Gotze and Max also make PSV a highly watchable team!

Roger Schmidt of PSV, Mohamed Ihattaren of PSV

Is it all bad news then?

No, there are some good developments too!

De Ligt is back and he’s back with a vengeance! What a player.

Wijnaldum is on fire for Liverpool.

Ake is back and important for Man City.

Bergwijn plays all the tough matches for Spurs, as wing back.

Ryan Gravenberch is amazing.

Carel Eiting is nominated as player of the month in the Championship.

Mitchell Bakker is making more and more minutes in PSG.

Sinkgraven is on Cloud 9 with Leverkusen, who are performing really well.

Rick Karsdorp played 7 matches in a row for AS Roma and was named Man of the Match vs Sassuolo.

Our World Cup qualifying group also looks doable. Norway and Turkey being the two threats in the group (Norway has that man Haaland and Odegaard as well, Turkey is always tough for us…) but we should finish first I think.

Exciting times ahead. I hope we can shake the blues soon and get all teams back to their usual level.

Below Ten Hag talking about his Ajax team as children…!


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Strong Oranje forgets to score more

The media were all about “De Boer has dreadful record” and “no coach didn’t win one match in his first five” etc etc. I don’t think these stats are really meaningful. You play a lousy friendly in a time when players need rest. You lose one. You draw away vs Bosnia. Not great. You draw away vs Italy with different system and get compliments, but not the 3 points. Can happen. And then you play another friendly vs Spain (top class team) and you draw. That is fine, in my book. We need to judge Frank on his last games (finals? Euros? World Cup???). Not his first.

And now we have the win, vs Bosnia Herzegovina and we scored 3 goals and we played pretty good (with the ball) while there are still things to fix without the ball. And with the fact that Van Dijk and De Ligt were missing in the center of defence, I think it’s not strange that we allowed them to cut through our last line.

De Boer came into the mix when Koeman left unexpectedly. The Federation took its time to find a replacement, and when they did Frank had 1) limited time to find his way, 2) was told to “follow the Koeman line” and 3) wasn’t able to bring his own assistant in.

These last two clauses would normally be reasons for a guy like him (or Ten Cate or Van Gaal) to say: forget about it!

But Frank is not in a position to be selective, with jobs, so he went for it.

And he didn’t stick to the Koeman line for long, and he shouldn’t. Koeman left. Bye Koeman. And now it’s the De Boer line.

And he impressed me already and against Bosnia Herzegovina I think the players demonstrated that they like his approach.

Memphis “lost” his spot as leader of the forward line and the media gambled on a potential clash between the former star and the current star. But no! Memphis is happy to play anywhere. He is able to play from the left with Luuk de Jong as striker, as they did for a while together at PSV.

Against Bosnia, Memphis ruled the show. He was the Man of the Match and constantly threatening, capping it off with a good goal. Memphis is simply not a guy to use in a friendly.

Skipper Wijnaldum rose the occasion to with two goals and an almost hatttrick. Luuk de Jong should have had his goal too, if the linesman would have done his job, which would also have meant: 2 assists for Berghuis.

Dumfries played again and he got his assists too, and demonstrated again that 1) he’s not the best right back ever, but 2) he’s definitely better than Hateboer.

Frenkie de Jong enjoyed his game as well and Owen Wijndal again showed that we mist likely won’t have a lot of issues on the left full back spot. Van Aanholt has a couple of years in him still, Haps and Malacia at Feyenoord are knocking on the door and if need be Blind or Ake can play there as well.

Frank de Boer was relieved after the game and had high praise for his team. He also saw some elements that needed attention: “We played in a high pace and we moved a lot. They had issues with this. Usually, we start too slow and have to fight our way into the match. We were adamant, as staff, that the team started at full throttle. And we did. 20 to 25 minutes of sixth gear football, resulting in 2 goals.”

De Boer also stressed that playing opportunistic is not considered dirty. “We want to play neat football, with passes from behind, but at times, you need to play the long ball. We have speed up front in Memphis or Berghuis or even Wijndal and Dumfries! Use it, I said. I was happy to see this on the pitch. We do have to do better in certain areas though: I think we should have scored at least 3 more. We had the opportunities and were a tad too complacent at times. We also gave away space. At one point, Frenkie made a pirouette and was fouled. He started to talk to the ref, while the Bosnians sprinted away from him and Dumfries got into trouble. That can’t happen.”

A last word on Memphis: “There was some talk that he wouldn’t be happy playing from the left wing, well… you saw him play. I think he did ok. That little flick with the outside of his left, that shows you that Memphis is feeling good in this system. He is multi functional. Memphis can play anywhere, really.”

De Boer is right. Memphis starts as left winger on the team sheet, but has a free role. Luuk de Jong’s disallowed goal is a perfect example. Memphis is all the way on the right, allowing Berghuis to vacate his spot and make a dart in behind. Memphis pass is perfect and the Feyenoord winger only needs to square the ball to the Seville striker…

Steven Berghuis played another solid match, with one assist officially (and two for real). The Feyenoord winger had 8 shots on goal, the most, but hasn’t been able to register a goal in this 19 international games. For a player like him, club topscorer for the third season in a row, that is not much. “I was quite angry, actually. I had two major opportunities to score and didn’t. And I am not specifically looking to score but when I end up in the one on one with the goalie, it has to count. We do a lot of things well and I do get into the dangerous positions, all it takes now, is to pull the trigger and score!”

Expect an analysis on Berghuis, who seems to be competing for the right winger spot with Steven Berghuis and Frank de Boer’s son-in-law (yep, another one of those) Calvin Stengs.

So now, we are playing with two full backs who push up high, four creative players in attack and an offensive mid midfielder in Frenkie… This gives us a lot of creativity, but makes us also vulnerable as the photo below shows. Blind will never reach the ball. Dumfries will be too late. De Vrij is exposed and Wijndal is completely out of position… This will not end well when we play against a better opponent.

Ex Oranje legend Willem van Hanegem did have some sobering words to offer… Willem believes our team is doing ok against opponents like Bosnia who didn’t really come to make it hard on us. Once we play vs stronger opponents, the full backs need to be way more disciplined. Van Hanegem also felt that the praise for Wijndal (and Dumfries) is a bit presumptuous. Yes, Dumfries had two assists, but was vulnerable at the back, like Wijndal. On top of that, Wijndal’s crosses were poor. Vs Spain, he hit more opponents than team mates and vs Bosnia it wasn’t much better. Lastly, Willem agrees with me, that Luuk de Jong should be used as pinch hitter against the stronger clubs as he is too limited to play against the big boys. Like Willem, I too like to see more of Donyell Malen and Mo Ihattaren, who are two potential world class prospects. Luuk de Jong is not that. Neither is Babel or even Promes.

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Serious questions for Dutch football

In a world that has increasingly become more and more convoluted, with heated debates between Conspiracy theorist and Complicity theorists, democrats and republicans, blacks vs white, Jose vs Pep and as a result the world become harder to understand…

The same applies to our world: the world of football.

What is happening with Liverpool and Van Dijk? What is going on with Man United? Why doesn’t Van de Beek play?

Or in the Dutch competition. Why would Berghuis consider a move to the US? Why is Ajax bringing Klaassen back? At the expense of Noa Lang? Why did the KNVB pick Frank de Boer, not Ten Cate? How did AZ give another big lead away? 0-4 to 4-4 in a spectacular game vs Sparta. Why is Schmidt at PSV trying to break Ihattaren?

These last transfer days are always annoying, hectic and filled with opportunistic knee-jerk deals. Rekik to Seville? Interesting. Lang to Club Brugge? Might actually be good if he gets playing time. Wesley Hoedt back to Lazio? Good!! At the same time, I expected Danjuma to make a move and Tim Krul too for that matter.

No matter. The games can really start now.

Ronald Koeman is impressing at Barca (or is it the 17 year old Ansu Fati??), who had some critical words for Frenkie, after their last Liga match.

Excited to see Koopmeiners with Oranje, I think the 22 year old could be a strong contender for the pivot spot next to Frenkie de Jong. Marten de Roon gets flustered when he has to take the playmaker role, should Frenkie be marked, something Koopmeiners won’t be suffering. Davy Propper still being injured, I would love to see Teun play in the next friendly.

Also interested to see how Sean Klaiber will fair at Ajax. I do rate him, he’s a hardworking atacking right back with a nose for goals and assists. And a pleasant guy too.

There is some debate in Holland re: Ihattaren and his selection for Oranje. A player who doesn’t play usually isn’t invited, unless he had a strong position in the Oranje hierarchy and has earned that spot (Strootman?).

My opinion is that, it was wise to keep Mo engaged. He’s a young raw talent, who happens to be the victim of Roger Schmidt’s alpha male “I am the boss” approach. As if the German decided from the start to pick on the club’s talisman and hope for the future, just to make a point. As Willem van Hanegem said: “if you have a talent like Ihattaren, the last thing you want is to hire a coach who wants him to play in a straight-jacket”.

I’m off the same opinion, of course (Willem and I hardly ever disagree) and I believe the kid needs playing time, he needs coaching, he needs guidance. He doesn’t need public humiliations. And by keeping him with Oranje, De Boer might win his heart really quickly and give him the positive vibes he probably needs.

It does seem he might have slight injury, actually and it remains to be seen whether PSV will release him.

OK newsflash! Both Bergwijn and Ihattaren are out due to injuries. Calvin Stengs is called up as replacement.

Frank de Boer as a team manager for the NT might be a good thing. He has a number of plusses: he had a stellar career as a player, he was brought up with the Ajax DNA ( = Oranje DNA), he is Dutch, he can work with young talents. The negatives: his coaching career is a bit up and down. He did well in Holland, and he didn’t do well outside of Holland. This means he might actually fair well with Oranje and Dutch players, who share his direct mentality.

Another negative, is that like his master Louis van Gaal, De Boer might be tempted to get players in the squad with an Ajax background: Klaassen, Bakker, Al Ghazi (kidding), ….

At the same time: I wouldn’t put it past Frank to sacrifice Babel and Strootman which is probably needed. Both are past their prime and we do have better options today ( Malen, Gakpo, Berghuis, Danjuma for Babel and Joey Veerman, Koopmeiners, Gravenbergh, Rosario, Bazoer for Strootman).

Speaking of Bazoer. He played CB in the PSV youth. He didn’t want to and coveted a place in midfield, so he went to Ajax. Now at Vitesse, he is centre back again and he was amazing in the game last weekend, with two exquisite long passes for two amazing goals. Top performance by him.

The next couple of days, we will focus on the NT, with matches against Mexico( friendly), Bosnia Herzegovina and Italy on the roster.

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Oranje candidates – Part 1

Well, taking a break from blogging about football didn’t result in any good outcomes for the Dutch clubs in Europe! Oranje is still asleep – friendlies coming soon! – and despite Memphis posts positive messages on his return to fitness, we needed more than that to keep us happy. And AZ and Ajax weren’t able to deliver in Europe. Feyenoord’s incredible ressurrection is fun to watch, but at the same time just scraps to feed on…

Cillesen benched. Frenkie not used in the right way. Injuries for Danjuma, Malen and Memphis.

Still there is hope. Ajax might lose on an off-day vs Getafe. AZ might run out of steam. PSV might still be in slight trouble (they could beat Feyenoord this weekend and get back in the heat of things). But we still have some exciting prospects to look out for.

De Ligt for instance, is increasingly becoming important at Juve. Hateboer, De Roon and Gosens impress in Italy. Weghorst keeps on being a key player in the Bundesliga. Kluivert scored in Europe. Propper and Ake are revered in the EPL and youngsters Chong, Zirkzee, Ihattaren and others keep on knocking on the door.

Lets look at some potentials for Oranje…

Bobby Adekanye – Lazio Roma

The 20 year old globetrotting striker scored his first goal for Lazio some while back. He’s been playing two handful of games for the Romans and his coach Inzaghi is a fan: “Bobby is a true professional, he deserved his chance.” It’s not easy for young prospects in the Serie A. Bobby sits on the bench a lot, but he’s one of the youngest benchwarmers, which does say something. And by now, he’s got one goal and one assist. Bobby was born in Nigeria and moved to Holland as a kid. In 2007, Ajax signed him and he left Amsterdam for Barcelona as a D-junior. He excelled with Ajax at a youth tournament and the Catalonians couldn’t resist, something they’d regret a lot. Bobby was part of the bunch of players signed “illegally” resulting in a transfer ban for Barca and a playing ban for Bobby in Spain. Adekanye was loaned to PSV but when he returned to Spain he still couldn’t play for 2 more seasons. He left Spain and went for Liverpool. Another big club on his resume. Initially, Liverpool sees in him a potential first team player and presents him with a good plan. Four years later, it’s still but a plan and Bobby decides to leave England for Italy. Lots of his Oranje rep mates already started to play minutes in the first team. This prompted Bobby to find his fortune elsewhere. Arjen Robben is his big idol and he has that classic Robben move in his repertoire ( threatening to go outside, cutting inside and finishing in the top corner).

Oranje Potential?

Bobby is on the radar of the KNVB of course, but a ticket to the coming Euros seems far fetched. He can still play for Young Oranje for which he played one friendly. Competition is killing at the moment for him, with Bergwijn, Promes, Babel, Berghuis, Stengs, Kluivert, Danjuma and Dilrosun all battling for a spot. Should Oranje never need him, he still can select Nigeria as his country of choice and become an international there.

Daley Sinkgraven – Bayern Leverkusen

Daley – son of Harry Sinkgraven, former FC Groningen forward – started life as a skilled winger / forward for Heerenveen. He made his debut at 16 and was destined for great things. Ajax picked him up and cherished the young talent who struggled with many injuries as he wasn’t fully grown yet when he was playing senior football and his body protested regularly. Peter Bosz transformed the creative player to an all round full back in 2017 and it seemed he found his role in the successfully marauding team Bosz moulded. But another injury was the end of his career at Ajax, who decided to buy this young, aggressive Argentinian left back. It was time for Daley to move on. Bosz, in 2019: “I think he could grow out to become the best left back on the planet! He has everythng for that role. I would not go back to midfield, if I was him.” And Bosz got a hand in that by signing him from Ajax, where he was surplus. At Bayern Leverkusen, he plays as a wingback, or a real left full back or at times as a third centre back. Bosz: “What makes him special is his intelligence, his vision, passing range and his ball control.” Bosz didn’t pick up those skills in relation to the full back spot himself. Former Cruyff assistant and super scout Tonnie Bruins Slot saw Sinkgraven in his youth already and later told Bosz: “He is the ideal full back. Put him there.”

Oranje Potential?

Hell yes! As long as he stays fit (which he has been now). The left back position is not an easy one in Oranje (not as bad as the right back one). Daley Blind is the obvious choice, but Wijndal might not be ready yet, while Pat van Aanholt hasn’t been overly convincing in Oranje. The 24 year old Sinkgraven might well be the ideal stand in for Blind.

Jairo Riedewald- Crystal Palace

Some young players gel into the first team without a hitch… Sergio Dest, for instance. Or Kokcu at Feyenoord. Ihattaren at PSV. Riedewald is not one of them. His problem is his ability to play at so many different positions. His coach at Ajax, Frank de Boer, used him as a stop gap. His debut was like a rocket and reads like a teenage book. Ajax was trailing against Roda JC and needed goals. With only minutes to go, De Boer selected him to go and make war in the box of the opponent. Minutes later, Ajax wins 1-2 with two Riedewald goals! That was his debut. But he never got a firm starting spot. He never could settle in. He played as central defender, as midfielder and left full back and when he got injured, he’d never play for Ajax again. Bad luck followed him to England, where he signed to play for De Boer’s new club: Crystal Palace. But the management lost patience after only 4 games and axed Frank de Boer. Riedewald was his signing and initially new coach Hodgson ignored the Haarlem born player. In the first 15 games this season, Jairo doesn’t get a look in but when Van Aanholt gets injured, the former Ajax player is used as his stand in and gets plaudits and praise for is games. His stats tell the story. Riedewald is the fourth in passing accuracy as a back, just behind the Man City, Liverpool and Arsenal full backs. Not bad! Which has all to do with his education at Ajax. Riedewald never gets nervous on the ball, even under pressure.

Oranje Potential?

Well, he did play 3 caps in 2015, as left full back and he did ever so well. It’s going to be tough to get a look in for central defender or midfielder, but as said above as well, we don’t have too many good options for left back. Obviously, he will need to keep on making minutes and with Van Aanholt back at full fitness, that might be an issue.


Tim Krul – Norwich City

It’s 2015 when Cillesen gets injured and Tim Krul takes the #1 jersey for Oranje. The Newcastle goalie is knocking on the door for some time but his dream match in Kazachstan becomes a nightmare! His injury means the end of his Newcastle career and when Ajax gets him in as a loanie, his lack of fitness sends him to the bench, where he can watch the emergence of a new goalie, a certain Andre Onana. He would play half a season for AZ and would move back to England to be second goalie at Brighton & Hove Albion. The Canaries were able to sign Krul on a free and it’s with Norwich City where Krul finds his joy and successes again, winning the promotion back to the EPL. And even though Norwich is hard on it’s way back to the Championship, Krul made headlines with glorious saves and stopped penalties. Should Norwich indeed get relegated, it might well mean that Krul will return to the highest level.

Oranje Potential?

Of course! He used to be a mainstay in the squad and achieved hero status in the WC2014 when Van Gaal brought him on, just to stop some penalties and get us into the semi finals. Koeman is following him but up until now, Ken Vermeer and Jeroen Zoet were the ideal second goalie, with Bizot the young turk third in line. But with Cillesen benched, Vermeer in LA and Zoet at Utrecht, I believe Krul deserves a spot in the squad!

Davy Klaassen – Werder Bremen

Klaassen had his best season under Peter Bosz at Ajax, as a number 10. He has the technique to play out of difficult situations and the nose for space, the legs to get into that space and ice in his veins to be a goal scorer. Koeman signs him for Everton but he never settles there and leaves the club via the backdoor. At Werder Bremen, he reinvented himself as a leader and in a new role. Forget the number 10.

Werder Bremen moved mountains to lure Klaassen to the Bundesliga. They really courted him, sent him videos and pushed a strong delegation on the case. Finally, Klaassen caved and left Everton. He is immediately made part of the players’ council and is promised a starting spot. His role changed though. The attacking box-to-box player is no more, he is now more the holding mid and the leader on the pitch. But he still runs. He is the player just behind Joshua Kimmich with the most kilometers in the Bundesliga. Last season, many clubs from different competition enquired about Klaassen’s future, but he stayed loyal to Werder.

Oranje potential?

Yes, in principle yes. I believe as a holding mid, with the experience he has now, he could well be an Oranje player. Sadly for him, it’s crowded in midfield. Wijnaldum, Frenkie and Donny van de Beek will be certainties. Davy Propper and De Roon will be as well. It won’t be easy for Davy Klaassen to wiggle his way in between them and Strootman, Vilhena and Ihattaren… But who knows. There is also that possibility that Koeman and Klaassen had a bit of a falling out.

In Part 2, we will look at more potential candidates!

In the meantime, gimme your names in the comments below!Bookmark and Share

Oranje’s future…

What a year we had… With Ajax in last CL season and with Oranje… first in the Nations League and of course in our Euro qualification matches… We have seen Frenkie and Mathijs go to the big leagues, we saw Chong and Zirkzee making waves, the likes of Tete and El Ghazi making good on their promise and AZ impressing domestically and internationally… But we also saw Ajax being shafted by the VAR this last half year, Mathijs sidelined at Juve, we saw Daley Blind going to grass and Memphis and Malen with serious injuries…

Lets look at what this all means.

Memphis and Malen

I think we need to be realistic. We shouldn’t count on them for the Euros. Donyell Malen, maybe. He might be back in April or May and right in time to make a Marco-Van-Basten-style return… Memphis is probably sidelined until next season and it might be best for him – and therefore, for Oranje – when he focuses on 2022, in Qatar. The question is not: can they be fit in time, but: would it be wise for them to even try….

Memphis working hard

Donyell Malen in Florida

Daley Blind

It’s really vague what’s going on. Ajax doesn’t tell us a lot. “Insurance policy and privacy of the player”. Daley himself is optimistic on his Insta-feed but he didn’t travel to Qatar and we haven’t had any serious updates. His loss will be felt, should he not be able to get back to his old level, both at Ajax and at Oranje. His leadership, his passing, his sense of positioning… I don’t think we can find a player in the squad who can offer what he has to give. Let’s wait and see.

Mathijs de Ligt

I don’t think him not playing for a spell would be a serious problem. We’ve seen that his Turkish rival also got injured. It would sense if Sarri will sign another centre back in this transfer window but despite that: Mathijs will get his minutes. He is still highly regarded and he had a pretty amazing late block in the match vs Roma. He and his team mates cheered the interception as if he had scored. He’ll be fine.

So when we take into account the incredible development of the likes of Boadu, Stengs, Wijndal, Koopmeiners, Ihattaren, Gakpo and the fact that we have Ake, De Vrij, Vincent Janssen, Jetro Willems, Tete, Weghorst, Wijnaldum, De Roon, Propper, Van de Beek and many others in the wings, I don’t think we need to worry too much.

Willems staying longer at Newcastle

However… replacing Memphis, who was so important for us, will not be easy. His work rate, his showmanship, his leadership and personality, his free kicks, corners and crosses, his important goals (even when he plays like shite all day, he’ll score you the winner)… I can see several players doing what he can do, partially. Babel can work his arse off. Stengs can score goals and dribble. Promes or Berghuis can hit a free kick, Weghorst can hassle, but there is not one player who has it all. Like Memphis.

So what are the options for Ronald Koeman?

Like I said, he can opt to replace Memphis for another player. Some say Babel. Others want to see Weghorst. Another group yells Boadu. Promes also played centre striker at Spartak…they’re all good options. But I want to propose a different one. Also taking into account that we might miss Blind as well.

Memphis: “I’ll tell Koeman that you should replace me!”

I would opt for a 3-4-3.

Playing three at the back:

De Ligt – De Vrij – Van Dijk

With a four man midfield, with Blind on the left (when fit). Or alternatively, Van Aanholt or Wijndal.

On the right hand side, I really hope for Tete or Rick Karsdorp. But Hateboer or Dumfries are decent alternatives. Not great. But decent.

Frenkie on the left inside, with Van de Beek next to Frenkie.

Then three players up top. Promes with Wijnaldum as false striker and Bergwijn or Stengs on the right.

Obviously Cillesen or Krul as the goal keeper (depending on the rhythm of Cillesen, who lost his spot briefly).

With this tactics, I don’t think we’ll have to worry too much defensively. When the opponent plays with three forwards, Daley can drop back and help the back three. But most opponents will play with one striker or two strikers, these days. The centre backs are all good build up passers, and De Ligt can easily move into midfield when the opportunity is there.

Blind can act as a playmaking midfielder alongside Frenkie, allowing Frenkie to roam while static Blind keeps his position. When Frenkie stays put, Donny van de Beek can make penetrating runs, with De Ligt covering. Obviously, the communication between Van de Beek, Tete and De Ligt needs to be top.

Tete, Karsdorp or Dumfries can make marauding runs on the right, allowing for Bergwijn/Stengs to dart inside to support Wijnaldum or even take the #9 role when Gini drops off. This also allows Van de Beek to penetrate into the box as well, and like with Ajax, Oranje will become a Total Football team with players constantly moving in and out of position.

We’ll have length enough with set-pieces. Wijnaldum is a good header of the ball, as are De Ligt, De Vrij and Van Dijk.

We’ll have more than enough legs and penetration, with Donny, Gini, Bergwijn and Tete/Karsdorp/Dumfries.

We’ll have enough football guile and intelligence, with Frenkie, Blind, Promes and Wijnaldum.

And we have goals! Bergwijn, Promes, Wijnaldum, Van de Beek…all good goal scorers.

And should Daley- God Forbid- not make it, I think Wijndal or Willems will offer the footballing skills we need on the left, although Koeman could also opt for the legs and the opportunistic play of Van Aanholt… Even Tonnie Vilhena is an option for that role, should Wijndal or Willems not cut it, for whatever reason.

This would be my line up.

With Ihattaren as the first sub from the bench, being able to play playmaker (even in Frenkie’s role) or as false striker in the Wijnaldum role.

And Weghorst for if we need a pinch hitter.

Boadu would also be in my squad.

My 23

Cillesen – Krul – Bizot

Tete – Karsdorp – De Ligt – De Vrij – Van Dijk – Blind – Ake – Wijndal

Propper – Van de Beek – Frenkie de Jong – Wijnaldum – Ihattaren – Marten de Roon

Stengs – Boadu – Weghorst – Bergwijn – Promes – Babel

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Dreaming of an Orange Xmas…

All the most wonderful season’s greetings to all of you, loyal fans and followers of Oranje and this blog!! Whether you celebrate Christmas, or Hannukah, or the winter/summer solstice… I wish you a great time.

But I wish Memphis Depay, Donyell Malen and Daley Blind even more good wishes! In case you forgot who Memphis is, I put a top video with his skills below at the end of the post. Goosebumps. Boy, that kid can play!

Memphis Depay has been operated on, and at first glance, successfully in Rome. The optimistic noises are that he might be ready for action in 5 months. But that is when everything goes well. And that is not always the case with these knee ligament operations. Some players can easily be out for a year… Also, even if Memphis makes it in 5 months, he’ll have to work his ass off to be ready for a top match. And then I’m not even talking about the risk he will run for the rest of his career. He wouldn’t be the first to risk it all for one tournament. 25 year old Memphis might be best off to stay on the sideline for the Euros and come back with a real vengeance to win us the World Cup in 2022.

Memphis in hospital, in Rome

Doneyll Malen’s injury is not 100% clear, at least not the severity of it. First indications are that he might be out for 3 months, but again, it can easily make a turn for the worse… For him, the same consideration works… Working really hard to get back into fitness might derail his career further down the track.

And Daley’s injury (inflamed heart muscle) is the most vague one. He says he’s feeling really good. But he’s not training and playing. Some doctors became talking heads on tv and a number claims it’s really nothing, while another sub group of experts claim he might never play football ever again. Stressful days for the Blind family, as the uncertainty must be hard. At least Memphis and Donyell’s trajectory to fitness are clear. Tough, but clear.

Malen off the pitch with a bad knee injury

In the days of joy, gay times and Christmas cheer, most news sources will give you nice insights and stories about the past year or even decade (as we’re moving out of the ’10s).

This post will not do this. We’ll look forward, to the upcoming 2020 summer, the Euros. Holland did ever so well to qualify, and also in a way inwhich we get to play 3 home games in Amsterdam! How good is that.

The fact we might miss our attacking leader, our young talented mercurial goal scorer and our brains and visionary at the back puts a big cold, wet blanket over it all.

How will we replace these three (if we indeed need a replacement for Blind)…?

Start with Memphis. His contribution? Brilliance. Power. Leadership. Assists. Goals. His movement, his unpredictability means opponents need two players to guard him. For me, Bergwijn or Promes are the only players that could take that role. They both have experience, are strong physically and can do all Memphis can do, except maybe for the leadership part. For this, others will need to step up (Wijnaldum?).

This is leadership: taking the initiative to remove a negative banner from a Lyon (!) fan

As we now have Stengs making an impression for the right wing, we could well use Promes as central striker (as Spartak did for many a game) and move Bergwijn to the left.

Donyell Malen’s qualities? Goals. Assists. Speed. Runs. And lots and lots of runs. In behind. Dummy runs. Dirty yards, on and on.

I think Malen might not have been a starter in Koeman’s ideal XI, so for Malen we can pick an alternative that – like him – is still considered a youngster. A player with speed and the willingness to leave it all on the pitch. Dilrosun comes to mind. Danjuma comes to mind (even though he is struggling with injuries himself now, too), and as Willem van Hanegem commented: Joshua Zirkzee comes to mind too! Why not.

(Zirkzee is only 18 years old, but you know what you could expect, when Bayern Munich uses him as the super sub with 5 mins to go, to force something. And twice he did already. When you’re old and good enough to play for Bayern, surely you are good enough for Oranje…)

Young Zirkzee at Bayern

Myron Boadu would be a sure fire option of course. Yes, he’s a central striker but he can also play from the left. He’s good speed and good work ethics. His conversion stats need to go up, though.

Some outsiders for the position are Cody Gakpo and Noa Lang. Gakpo is a PSV gem. A player with the right foot of David Beckham, work ethics and speed too. He can score a goal, and assist a goal. Used as a left winger in PSV, he can also play from midfield. Noa Lang is a player Ajax has tremendous faith in. He’s also unpredictable, fast and can score and assist a goal but recently his strongheadedness came to the fore, and Erik ten Hag had a right and loud go at him during a national cup game. Also, Lang doesn’t make the runs he should be making, but instead wants ball to feet a lot.

Our hope for a good world class striker: Myron Boadu

Lastly, Daley Blind. Probably the hardest player to replace. Top passing. Vision. Build up skills. Leadership. Positioning. We simply do not have any other player like him. So replacing him at left back will result in Koeman having to rethink his shape. We do have some exciting options for the left back spot. I personally rate Owen Wijndal high, but I think Van Aanholt would be the first option to replace Blind. Feyenoord’s Haps could be an option too as is Robin Gosens of Atalanta.

Whichever player gets the spot, none will do what Daley does, so we’ll have to find another solution for his role in the build up. We will probably play with two typical full backs, players with lungs and legs more than brains and passing. So another Dumfries type on the other flank, meaning a midfielder (Frenkie) will have to drop back a tad more often, to allow for “3 at the back” and to allow the backs to push up. Which would work well with a player like Bergwijn on the left flank, as he can then move into the half space.

Daley on the turf, vs Valencia in CL. Really strange that Ten Hag didn’t take him of…

This might result in a role for a “playing” holding mid, like Davy Propper or Donny van de Beek next to Frenkie, as opposed to a more defensive blocker such as Marten de Roon or Kevin Strootman.

In the meantime, fingers and toe crossed for De Ligt and his position in Juventus. For Rick Karsdorp coming back to full fitness and form fast.

My squad, based on the knowledge of today and without Blind, Malen and Memphis…

Goalies: Jasper Cillesen, Tim Krul, Marco Bizot

RB: Karsdorp, Dumfries

CB: De Ligt, Ake, Van Dijk, De Vrij

LB: Van Aanholt, Wijndal

Midfield: Frenkie, Wijnaldum, Propper, Van de Beek, Ihattaren, De Roon

Forwards: Stengs, Promes, Bergwijn, Danjuma, Weghorst, Boadu

Obviously, all three players (Blind, Malen and Memphis) will be welcome in my squad when fit. I would take out Van Aanholt, Boadu and De Roon if these three end up being fit.

Robin Gosens of Atalanta… dark horse for LB?

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