During Ronald Koeman’s second presentation as national coach, the fault line with the period under Louis van Gaal was carefully drawn. Koeman also felt no need for a transfer of services. This has nothing to do with the difficult relationship between the two. In fact, Van Gaal already called Koeman his ideal successor well before the World Cup.
Koeman, who started on January 1 and presented in Zeist on Monday, prefers to go back to his first period as national coach. Koeman returns to the times of Koeman. He realizes that his second term will be more difficult than at the time, between 2018 and 2020, when he said goodbye as a fairly successful employee of the KNVB, to walk the route to his dream job, which was included in a clause: being a trainer of Barcelona.
There are currently no provisions included. If successful, he will remain national coach until the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico, with brother Erwin ‘in our perhaps last trip’, Sipke Hulshoff and Patrick Lodewijks as assistants, as well as Nigel de Jong as the new director of top football. Officially his boss, although Koeman made the debut of the very young midfielder Nigel as Ajax trainer at the beginning of this century.
Kissed to life
In 2018, Koeman kissed the apparently dead Dutch national team to life after two missed tournaments. He had the selection moved from Noordwijk to the woods of Zeist, where the players learned to interact in a family-like manner in private. Now the team has status again, just below the absolute top in the world. Louis van Gaal remained unbeaten for 20 matches, until the lost penalty shootout against the later champions Argentina in the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Qatar.
After the dismissal of Frank de Boer, Van Gaal first qualified for the World Cup and for the final of the Nations League final to be held in the Netherlands this summer. He gradually changed the game system from 4-3-3 to 5-3-2, although he preferred to talk about 3-4-3, which in practice led to boring football during the World Cup. That unattractive game was partly due to the formlessness of the attackers. The system was also introduced to build in more defensive security against really big opponents, but when Argentina was such an opponent, things immediately went wrong, although it was close. There was little to enjoy for the enthusiast: no real success, no beautiful football.
Koeman tries to combine both aspects, however difficult that is in current football. What really matters, by the way: ‘Intensity. That is the basis of success.’ He sees it reflected in Feyenoord’s game. Koeman also has experience with 5-3-2, as a club coach and as a national coach, but he regularly noted that he then ‘with that extra man in the back falls short of someone elsewhere’.
France’s first opponent
There is also something to be said for building on the World Cup system, with finalist France as the first opponent in the qualifying series for the 2024 European Championship in Germany, on Friday 24 March in Paris. Only: Koeman will not do that. Countries such as France and Argentina also played 4-3-3 at the World Cup. ‘We try to play attractive and offensive football.’
He has already spoken to a number of players, but it is too easy to say that they too would rather say goodbye to the way of playing under Van Gaal as soon as possible. Because everyone agreed with Van Gaal on his change in tactics, although, for example, captain Virgil van Dijk, accustomed to 4-3-3 at Liverpool, had to get used to it. Van Dijk was often a kind of keeper of the other two central defenders at the World Cup, instead of emphatically making his mark on the game himself. Players usually bend to the coach’s ideas in the end. One plays system A at his club, the other system B.
Koeman simply wants to continue on the path from then, and hopes that Memphis Depay will regain the form at Atlético Madrid that made him a sensational attacker in his first period. If Gini Wijnaldum gets fit again, he will certainly call him up. Like Van Gaal, he hopes for the breakthrough of attackers, because whatever system, the Orange is far from the world top in an offensive sense. Anyway, for Koeman ‘national coach is an honorary job. I am very happy and proud to be given this opportunity again.’
Koeman praises Berghuis
When Ronald Koeman arrived at De Kuip on Sunday for Feyenoord – Ajax, he did not have the feeling that he was involved in football. ‘All that ME, the nets around the field. Not being able to park at P2. It’s a social problem. There was so much hatred towards Ajax.’ After the interview of Steven Berghuis, who went from Feyenoord to Ajax a year and a half ago, Koeman sent a message to support him. Berghuis spoke openly about the influence of threatening messages from supporters on the mind of himself and family, and the magnification by some media. Koeman praised Berghuis: ‘You often keep your mouth shut. He felt that way. And I know from experience what it does to family.’