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Hotbed Of Coaches

The Netherlands is a relatively small country, with a population of just 16 million. However, when it comes to football, the monarchy is one of the giants. As well as churning out exceptional players, it is best known as a production line for successful coaches like Guus Hiddink, Leo Beenhakker, Dick Advocaat, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and many others.
Four different teams had Dutch coaches at their helm during the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany™: Marco van Basten took charge of his homeland, Guus Hiddink coached Australia, Leo Beenhakker won a host of admirers with Trinidad and Tobago, and Dick Advocaat led Korea Republic. Only Brazil had more coaches (five) on the benches at the world’s premier sporting event.
The Netherlands had the most coaches at the recent EURO 2008 in Austria and Switzerland. Van Basten coached the Oranje for one last time at the tournament (the former world-class striker moved to Ajax after the EURO), Hiddink is now in charge of Russia and led his young team to the semi-final, while the Polish team disappointed under Beenhakker’s leadership.
The last FIFA World Cup™ and the latest European Championship therefore provide firm evidence – Dutch coaches are in fashion, and have been for many years. The Dutch Professional Coaches Association (CBV) has 400 members, almost half of whom work abroad. Even CBV director Gerard Marsman is unsure of the exact numbers or where these coaching experts with Dutch passports and trainer badges philosophise about 4-4-2, 4-3-3, one-twos, offside traps and closing down opponents. “When Dutch coaches are employed by foreign clubs or associations, they are often represented by agents rather than our union. So we don’t have an exact record of who’s working where.”
The Netherlands is perhaps the most successful nation in world football relative to the size of its population (16 million). It lies second behind Germany (population: 82 million) in the all-time European Championship ranking, and ninth in its FIFA World Cup™ equivalent. The Oranje have appeared in two FIFA World Cup™ finals, in 1974 and 1978, and are currently fifth in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking. Clubs from Amsterdam, Eindhoven and Rotterdam have won the European Cup or UEFA Champions League six times, the European Cup Winners’ Cup once and the UEFA Cup four times. Only clubs from Spain (population: 45 million), England (51 million), Italy (59 million) and Germany have been more successful.
This sporting success is one of the reasons behind the popularity of Dutch coaches in the rest of Europe, Asia, Africa, North and Central America, the Caribbean and Oceania. However, it is above all the way the Dutch view the game and interpret it that has made their coaches so popular. The common belief that the footballing public only remembers winners does not apply to the Dutch, or at least only in part.
The Dutch still regard their 2-1 defeat to West Germany in the final of the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ as the mother of all defeats. It still hurts, even 34 years later. “It’s going to take us a long time to get over this defeat,” said then Netherlands captain and superstar Johan Cruyff the day after the defeat in Munich. Crucially, however, Cruyff, who went on to become a world-class coach, added: “Only later perhaps will we realise what an important achievement this has been. People forget results, but exceptional performances stay in mind. The world will remember us for decades to come.”
Cruyffs words were to prove prophetic. Football fans still look back fondly on the “orange machine” of that time. The Netherlands played football to fall in love with – spellbindingly fast, sophisticated, stylish and easy on the eye. It was a time when the Dutch also delighted crowds at club level, especially Ajax with their famous brand of “total football”, that unforgettable style of attacking play.
Dutch coaches have been preaching attacking, spectacular but also disciplined and tactically astute football for decades. Even the legendary Rinus Michels taught that the primary aim was to score a goal rather than prevent one. His many disciples included Cruyff the coach, who, much to the delight of fans, always played with three up front and enjoyed considerable success.
The coaching profession is a reflection of the Dutch mentality. The country lies on the North Sea, and centuries ago its inhabitants sailed all around the world in their ships, discovering and exploring different countries. As a result, the Dutch are an automatically open people, and adaptable like almost no other. This also explains why so many Dutch football coaches are employed all over the world – many of them with great success.
Hiddink is perhaps the prime example of Dutch coaches’ adaptability and success in different language regions and cultures. He led the Dutch team to the quarter-final of the 1998 FIFA World Cup™, before taking an unknown and inexperienced Korea Republic team to the semi-final of the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ and giving rise to an unparalleled level of football euphoria in the Asian country. He then moved on to PSV Eindhoven, before taking up the reins of Australia, leading the “Socceroos” to their first World Cup final competition since 1974 and performing admirably at the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ in Germany. At the recent EURO, Hiddink looked after a Russian team of whom little was expected beforehand. The team played fast, modern and efficient football and knocked out the Netherlands in a memorable quarter-final match before falling to eventual champions Spain in the semi-final.
In Russia, Hiddink works together with Igor Korneev and others. The Russian used to play for SC Heerenveen and Feyenoord, speaks fluent Dutch and helps Hiddink overcome the language barrier. Hiddink’s backroom team also includes the Dutchmen Raymond Verheijen – who looks after the Russian national players’ fitness – and Aleksandr Borodyuk, who shares his encyclopaedic knowledge of Russian football with the head coach. Hiddink also worked with a combination of Dutchmen and locals in Korea Republic and Australia. The same is true of Dick Advocaat, who won last season’s UEFA Cup with Zenit St Petersburg.
The successes of Cruyff, Hiddink, Beenhakker, Advocaat, Van Gaal and Rijkaard mean more and more clubs are seeking a Dutch coach. Indeed, fans call for their teams to be coached by experts from Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Enschede, The Hague, Groningen, Alkmaar, Kerkrade, Tilburg, Nijmegen, Doetinchem or Arnheim. Barcelona have won many titles and trophies under the leadership of Dutch coaches (including Michels, Cruyff, Van Gaal and Rijkaard), and football coaches from the monarchy are also much sought-after by the Netherlands’ arch rivals Germany. Hamburg now have their second Dutch coach in a row, with Martin Jol taking over from Huub Stevens, while German giants Schalke are hoping to win a much-coveted Bundesliga title with Fred Rutten at the helm.
Dutch football is an expression of vitality, courage, creativity and originality. “We Dutch are always on the lookout for adventure, and that’s reflected in our football,” says CBV director Marsman. “The Dutch game is attacking, attractive and artistic. Our coaches teach our brand of football all over the world and they have gained an outstanding reputation. Dutch football is incredibly popular, and that’s not going to be changed by one or two defeats.”
The Netherlands’ coaching specialists are also in demand in youth football. Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord are legendary for their ability to bring through young players and many top European clubs have put Dutchmen in charge of their youth set-ups. The Dutch are particularly sought-after in the English Premier League, which is generally regarded as the best league in the world at present. Rene Meulensteen, for example, polishes off the skills of Manchester United’s youngsters, Piet Hamberg nurtures Liverpool’s pool of talent, and Frank Arnesen heads Chelsea’s youth set-up.
The most renowned talent scout is also a Dutchman. Piet de Visser is regarded as being someone with a Midas touch within the industry. For many years, the former coach has been attending every major youth football tournament held around the world. It is almost a wonder that De Visser is still alive. He has undergone several bypasses and also had cancer, as a result of which his diet is very restricted. For some time now, De Visser has been acting as personal advisor to Roman Abramovich, Chelsea’s immensely wealthy owner. The club does not take on any young players without De Visser’s consent.