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Ronald Koeman looks to bring
Watching Ronald Koeman’s press conference before the Netherlands’ friendly against England on Friday, it almost felt as though someone should have looped David Bowie’s “Ch-ch-ch-changes” in the background.
The late, great Bowie was a master of reinvention – a concept of urgent need in
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Dutch football at the moment as it tries to swim against the ebb of a football tide that seems to have surpassed the small country.
And the man handed this challenge is perhaps the one Dutch football would end up resembling were it to be condensed, warts and all, into human form. Ronald Koeman: pasty, blond-haired, talented
but stubborn and a mouthy player in his day. He is someone who played alongside Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard in the first Dutch side to win a major honour, the 1988 European Championships, and who coached alongside Louis van Gaal.
He was himself coached by Rinus Michels as well as Johan
Cruyff, in the famed Barcelona “Dream Team” and also Guus Hiddink in the legendary treble-winning PSV side. And if that is not enough, the 55-year-old
remains the only person to have not only played for but also managed the Dutch “Big Three” of Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord – and in that order.
On Friday, Koeman will add to
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by making his “second” debut for Oranje, 35 years after his first, this time as head coach.
In a way, the appointment was a long time coming. In 2014, the then-Feyenoord manager was considered and eventually passed on, as the KNVB – the Dutch FA – sought a successor to Van Gaal. Koeman’s own tactics were a factor in how the Dutch played in Brazil; in April that year, Van Gaal was in the Philips Stadion as Koeman’s Feyenoord side emerged 2-0 winners, having played a tight 3-5-2 and struck PSV on the counter.
Of course, the intervening four years have been nothing short of an unmitigated disaster, and the KNVB may hope Koeman’s eventual appointment has served as some atonement. In addition to the new head coach, there are changes behind the scenes: the former Feyenoord general director Eric Gudde and the former Heracles sporting director Nico-Jan Hoogma have taken up similar positions
at the Dutch FA.
Koeman’s managerial career has seen extremes, from despair at Valencia, where the winger Joaquín described the Dutchman’s 4-3-3 as “running around like headless chickens”, to tactical-nuance-powered over-achievements at Feyenoord and Southampton. Koeman, who has been managing for nearly two decades now, seems to oddly maximise output from teams which lack top resources,
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and struggle when given the luxury of talent. Considering the set-up of the current Dutch squad, some might say this is a good omen.
Speaking at the newly-renovated and swanky team hotel and training premises at the Zeist, Koeman highlighted the need to be realistic.
With the record caps holder Wesley Sneijder having recently retired, there were questions (including from Sneijder himself) about why he was not included in the squad for one last hurrah. But Koeman simply said that “with all due respect to Wesley”, there were more pressing objectives.
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