Next summer's FIFA World Cup will be a unique event for the Netherlands in more ways than one. Not only because the Oranje are back after missing the 2002 tournament or that Germany is the scene of their only international triumph, the UEFA European Championship in 1988. But also because this time Dutch coaches will head the challenge of no fewer than four competing nations.
Marco van Basten will lead the Netherlands after guiding them through the qualifying stages without losing a game. It will be Van Basten’s first experience of a major tournament as coach, but his compatriot Guus Hiddink is already on to his third, this time with Australia. Leo Beenhakker, with Trinidad and Tobago, and Dick Advocaat, the Korean Republic, complete the Dutch lineup. Both are heading to the World Cup for the second time as a coach.
Advocaat was appointed after the Korean Republic had qualified, but as Jan Reker proudly points out, "it was still a Dutchman who got them there - Jo Bonfrere." Reker has every reason to be proud. He is head of the Dutch professional coaches association, and with a Dutchman at the helm of one in eight teams at the World Cup, the rest of the world appears to have much to learn from his organisation.
'Tip of the iceberg'
"They are just the tip of the iceberg," Reker tells uefa.com. "In total there are 93 Dutch coaches working abroad worldwide, including youth coaches and assistants. As well as the World Cup coaches we have four other national team coaches, Jelle Goes, with Estonia, Henk Wisman, with Armenia, Azing Griever, at Aruba, and Jan Brouwer with Gambia; not to mention club coaches such as Martin Jol and Frank Rijkaard."
Not that Reker is claiming that the Dutch are in a league of their own. "Four coaches is not a record," he says. "In 1998 there were five French coaches and four Brazilian coaches. But we share second spot and that is very beautiful for a country like the Netherlands." According to Reker, it is a mixture of qualities that makes Dutch coaches so sought after. "As a sea-faring nation the Dutch have been exploring new worlds and cultures for a long time.
Dutchmen adjust easily in other cultures, speak their languages. They are not afraid of adventure and are inventive."
The Dutch began exporting their football expertise in the 1970s when their great club sides began to flourish. Demand soared after the Dutch thrilled the world at the 1974 FIFA World Cup. It was the late Rinus Michels who laid the foundations. Under him, the Netherlands developed their own footballing brand, Total Football, instantly recognizable for its attacking invention. "We then also developed our own style of training," Reker says. "Our training academy at the Dutch FA in Zeist is world famous."
The class of 2006 have followed different routes to the top. Few could match the heights Van Basten hit as a player, while Beenhakker did not play at the highest level at all. Advocaat and Hiddink played their football in the Eredivisie before stepping up to coaching. Reker won the Eredivisie as coach of PSV in 1986 with Hiddink as his assistant. He certainly knew what he was looking for in his right-hand man.
"Personality and knowledge are very important, but most important is that you are able to express your ideas to make the players understand you. That's why there are a lot of examples of really top players who don't succeed as coaches at the highest level. It's because they always played on intuition and expressed themselves with their feet. As a coach you have to convince other people of your ideas."
Dutch coaches have had to learn to be creative. Clubs in the Eredivisie cannot afford to rely on money alone to produce results. Close attention is paid to the nurturing of young players, but also to helping the next generation of trainers take their first steps on the coaching ladder. "The coaches are open towards each other, and give young coaches the possibility to work with them to get field experience," Reker says. "Top coaches also give demonstrations during classes."
'Like a god'
It helps too when you have a coach of Hiddink’s calibre setting the example. "Hiddink was the best ambassador with the Korean Republic [during the 2002 FIFA World Cup] that Holland could have wished for. He was like a god in a nation that had never done anything important before. To take them to the semi-finals at a World Cup competing with the best nations in the world… that increased the status of the Dutch coaches still further." With Van Basten leading the Dutch challenge in Germany, that stock is set to climb even higher.
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