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A tale of two coaches

On reflection, it was another tumultuous year for the Dutch national team.

Howls of derision accompanied them until they stumbled into the semi-finals of Euro 2004 via a penalty shoot-out. Then Advocaat was placed on a pedestal, only to be knocked back off three days later when his players could not compete with Portugal and went out with a whimper.

The coach understandably quit. At the end of their tether, the Dutch FA asked Johan Cruyff for advice on Advocaat's successor and to everyone's amazement the name Van Basten came out of the hat. At the end of 2004 both coaches could look back on their differing plights.

Dick Advocaat refused to speak out about his traumatic Portuguese adventure until Christmas, having found a job in the meantime. His aim is to keep Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga.

In an interview in De Volkskrant he told how he decided to quit in the wake of the 3-2 defeat to the Czechs.

'At that time we still could have reached the final. I felt wrongly done by, which I could not swallow. I don't mind criticism, but it went too far.'

Admitting there were no threats of any kind to his health at that stage, he wonders what would have happened if the team had not made it into the second round. 'It has become a crazy world now.'

The pressure had been building since about a year before the tournament, when the coaching combination of Van Hanegem-Advocaat did not gel into a winning formula.

The team scraped through the qualifying stage and were lucky to meet Scotland in the play-offs. Several pundits were not impressed by the Dutch style and campaigns to undermine Advocaat's authority were started.

An interesting example returns in the interview. After a game in Austria, Marc Van Bommel and Edgar Davids had been fighting in the dressing-room, claimed Voetbal International editor Johan Derksen in a football talk show.

Van Nistelrooy: Disappointment as Holland crash out of Euro 2004.
Van Nistelrooy: Disappointment as Holland crash out of Euro 2004.

As the brawl had gone by unnoticed by both coaches, Advocaat called Derksen to convince him this simply had never happened. Derksen told him not to bother. Advocaat should not take it too seriously. And why should he? Derksen only appears twice a week on TV and is a well known ally of the Cruyff camp, which has made life of so many national coaches miserable in the past. Even having the beloved Van Hanegem as his sidekick was not enough to rescue Advocaat.

Obviously, the critics after the match against the Czech Republic also peaked as a result of the substitution of Arjen Robben, Holland's danger man up front. Advocaat still stands for his decision. 'We were overrun in midfield. Afterwards only three players said we should not act out of fear and should have gone on as we did. Some of the others agreed with me.'

He admitted Van der Meyde may have been a better choice to take off. However, an old adage in football tells us how 'a winning coach is always right'.

Consequently, the loser has to be wrong. Especially when he has made a substitution when being a goal up, then finished the game in reverse.

On the day, Advocaat was completely outsmarted by his counterpart Karel Brückner. At 2-0 down the Czech coach brought on Smicer to contain Robben. When Robben left the pitch at 2-1, Smicer was free to help in midfield, while Paul Bosvelt, who came on, saw his designated opponent in Tomas Galasek leave three minutes later for another striker.

Now the Czechs were in complete command and the Dutch were all over the place. Heijtinga's red card did not help either.

In the same interview Advocaat says he learned so much from Austrian coach Ernst Happel, who managed ADO Den Haag when Advocaat played there.

Advocaat, as well as so many other coaches, never dared to take over the bold tactics of 'Der Weltmeister', like putting an extra striker on when you are ahead in the closing stages.

This fearlessness never had many followers as few managers have the authority or the guts to pull it off. And when they would, their players probably would panic as most sporting minds in the present day are focused on defending a lead rather than increasing one. Supporters may have more attacking views, but it is not their income nor their job that is at stake.

If one person was to follow in Happel's audacious legacy we all thought it would be Marco van Basten. With his appointment a revival of 'Total Football' and exciting scorelines seemed inevitable. Until the first game that was. A draw in a friendly in Sweden was creditable, but a lacklustre performance against Liechtenstein made the fans sobre again.

Being a legend won't transform a mediocre squad into world-beaters overnight. Asked why he has taken up this job in an interview in Voetbal International, Van Basten said: 'I am an attacker. I don't mind that my status as a legend might crumble when I fail.'

Is Dick reflecting on that substitution after defeat to the Czech Republic?
Is Dick reflecting on that substitution after defeat to the Czech Republic?

This is about the only mention of attacking in the article, as Van Basten is much more worried about the defensive weaknesses in the Dutch team as well as in the league.

'I think we should take the art of defending more serious. Most of our top clubs employ foreigners at the back and this makes the typical Dutch style of building a decent attack from your own half very difficult. At the moment only Ooijer and Bouma are international material, who I can use in my team. Jaap Stam is sadly missed, but I don't think he will ever play for us again.'

The scarcity of talent at this moment is highlighted by the efforts of the Dutch FA in help Feyenoord striker Salomon Kalou become of Dutch nationality.

Another prospect is Ugur Yildirim of SC Heerenveen, still eligible for Turkey and Holland. Van Basten thinks very highly of him, his velvet crosses and free-kicks.

In the first round of the UEFA Cup he gave all five assists for Heerenveen against Maccabi Petach Tikva and recently won a free-kick tournament in Marbella, leaving Zinedine Zidane in his wake.

Such skill is badly needed with Holland hanging on to its first place in qualifying for the World Cup.

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