Co Adriaanse and Ronald Koeman's paths have crossed before. In December 2001 Koeman replaced his compatriot as coach of AFC Ajax and soon found himself under a blinding spotlight as the Amsterdam side made light of a slow start to win the title for the first time in three years. The young coach was going places. Adriaanse's lustre appeared to be waning.
It hurt Adriaanse. He had created the team, introducing the likes of Andy van der Meyde, Tomáš Galásek and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The foundations were strong, but it was Koeman who would build on them. Last season the roles were reversed. Adriaanse inspired smalltown AZ Alkmaar to a brilliant assault on the Dutch championship and to within a whisker of a place in the UEFA Cup final, restoring his reputation in the process. Meanwhile, Ajax floundered.
Under Adriaanse, AZ played the sort of football normally associated with Ajax, attacking and easy on the eye. Koeman's Ajax never played with such panache and the pressure grew as AZ pushed PSV Eindhoven to the title last season. Koeman’s two Eredivisie crowns and a Dutch Cup counted for little when Ajax were bundled out of the UEFA Cup in February. Koeman resigned soon after.
Adriaanse and Koeman symbolise different coaching camps in the Netherlands. Grafters like Adriaanse and Louis van Gaal earned their reputations on the job. The coaching careers of Johan Cruyff and later Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Koeman grew from success on the field. Both were expected to pursue their careers abroad, but to see them fronting two of Portugal's biggest clubs surprised many in the Netherlands.
Back in business
Koeman's football exile ended in June when he accepted SL Benfica's invitation to replace Giovanni Trapattoni, who had just secured their first Portuguese title in eleven years. If the stakes were high at the Estádio da Luz, the challenge Adriaanse had taken on was no less daunting as FC Porto strove to put a difficult year behind them.
Ready to rumble
Shortly after arriving in Portugal, Koeman was asked to identify the biggest difference between himself and Adriaanse. His response was as devastating as one of his famous free-kicks. "The difference is I have won titles," he said. The pair share a common language and a working relationship, but are by no means close friends. Koeman's words soon came back to haunt him as Benfica suffered their worst start to a season.
Victory in the Portuguese Super Cup was swiftly forgotten as Benfica took just one point from their first three league games. Tactics were questioned and Benfica's stuttering attack bemoaned by fans and media alike. The arrival of Italian forward Fabrizio Miccoli and a sudden goal burst from Nuno Gomes turned the 42-year-old's fortunes around. Three wins in a row - including a dramatic late victory against LOSC Lille Métropole in the UEFA Champions League - put the smile back on Benfica fans' faces. Koeman's willingness to make changes, and an impressive performance at Manchester United FC, had won the supporters round.
Adriaanse's introduction to Portuguese football could not have been more different. As Benfica were dropping points Porto were winning their opening three league games, Adriaanse thrilling the fans with his attacking game in the process. Porto's annus horribilis seemed to have inspired Adriaanse, the fourth coach since José Mourinho's Champions League triumph in 2004. Under Adriaanse, Porto fans believe their club has turned the corner.
They like his frank, direct style and they like what he has to say. "I can make two promises," Adriaanse said on arriving at the Estádio do Dragão. "Firstly, we are going to be champions next season. Secondly, Porto will play skilful, attractive football." Porto are certainly doing that. Adriaanse’s attacking philosophy has taken Porto to the top of the Liga, but it has been punished in the Champions League. Adriaanse, who has criticized the "highly defensive attitude of Portuguese clubs", saw his team's European chances nosedive after defeats by Rangers FC and FC Artmedia Bratislava. In both cases the attacking style that had earned praise in Portugal proved Porto’s downfall in Europe.
Both coaches have much to gain, and much to lose, when they meet in the Clássico on Saturday when Porto welcome Benfica. On past history, Koeman holds the edge over the 58-year-old. He has won six of the eight previous head-to-head encounters, with the other two games ending in a draw. But in the Clássico form counts for little. It is an endless battle painted Red and Blue. Passions run high, tradition counts for little or nothing. It is anybody's game. Saturday is the real introduction for two Dutchmen to Portugal, and with expectations high, something has to give.
Additional reporting from Berend Scholten
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