The Eredivisie season is only one month old but already Erwin Koeman has made his mark on Feyenoord. Three wins from his first three league matches has lifted spirits following Ruud Gullit's departure last season, and the former RKC Waalwijk coach cemented his place in Feyenoord fans' affections with a 2-1 victory against rivals AFC Ajax in Amsterdam a fortnight ago.
As a player Koeman enjoyed success for both club and country, notably winning the 1988 UEFA European Championship with the Netherlands and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with KV Mechelen that same year. Now he has his sights set on the UEFA Cup. With AFC Rapid Bucuresti coming to De Kuip on Thursday, Koeman tells uefa.com he is relishing his return to European football.
uefa.com: Have you missed European competition, having experienced it so often as a player?
Erwin Koeman: For me European [club] football has always been a very special experience. It's always something extra special during the season, and I value it highly. The matches are often very exciting and if you can reach something, like Feyenoord did a few years ago [when they won the UEFA Cup in 2002] on the European level, then that is fantastic. The [UEFA] Champions League might be the main tournament, but the UEFA Cup also contains a lot of high quality teams and it's important for everyone to get as far as possible. And I don't only mean the extra money involved, it also gives the club a name throughout Europe and for the players there is the chance to show their qualities on the European stage. That is a very special bonus you have to enjoy.
uefa.com: What do you think of the group stage which was played for the first time last year?
Koeman: If we survive the first round, we'll be assured of four matches, two at home and two abroad. Although these will be very busy weeks it is a very special experience and you can measure yourself with the other European clubs. So I think every individual player will learn and get better from it and for me as a coach it will also be very interesting to experience.
uefa.com: What is the main difference between coaching and playing?
Koeman: As a player you are just busy practising your hobby, taking care of yourself, while as a coach you have to take everything into account to the smallest detail. Most players don't have a clue about that. I cannot say I really ran into surprises after becoming head coach at Waalwijk because I'd already been coaching for five years in the background [as assistant and youth team coach] at PSV [Eindhoven]. But I still learned things during matches such as when to substitute a player or not. That is something you develop through experience.
uefa.com: What about away from the pitch?
Koeman: That's the big difference from a club like RKC. At Feyenoord there are always lots of people watching training. Feyenoord even has its own media - internet, TV and a newspaper. Feyenoord are supported nationwide and there’s always publicity surrounding this club; if it isn't positive, it’s negative, but there is always something going on. You have to deal with that as a coach.
uefa.com: Feyenoord's club motto is "Action speaks louder than words". Many people say you epitomise that. Would you agree?
Koeman: I can agree with that. I’m not a person for a lot of small talk. I always like to work hard and prefer to stay in the background, and make clear to the players what is expected from them. So I think I fit in very well here although in football, things can change very fast. But
I felt at ease here from day one, with a good staff surrounding me. After Feyenoord approached me, I called a few people for their advice, such as my brother Ronald and my father and two or three other people, people who I can trust. They all concluded that I had to grab this chance.
uefa.com: You must be happy to still have Dirk Kuijt in your squad?
Koeman: Absolutely! He is a real personality in this side and that's why I made him my captain. He is technically and physically very strong, he always keeps on going for the full 90 minutes, and once in a while he even scores a goal! Dirk is a great guy to have in your team. It is important that he and [Salomon] Kalou stay with Feyenoord as we'll need them this season, but also for themselves, because they will have the chance to show themselves to Europe on the international stage. Especially when we survive the first round, and have four beautiful matches in front of us. But first things first...
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