Foppe de Haan: it was a school trip
It was a tough year for Foppe. Football fans wanted the old master to take over from Van Basten pre the EC2008, but the former Heerenveen coach fell deep after the Olympic debacle. Even called a backstabber after he allegedly said he’d take over from Sollied at Heerenveen if the board would want him to…
In his office, the wall is plastered with pictures. His fave is the one where a football player in orange, with number eight, runs to a euphoric De Haan to celebrate. De Haan has his both arms spread out wide, and smiles broadly. “That’s my favorite pic, hands down,” he says.
“You can touch the joy, you see Rinus our physio smiling next to me and yelling…just like me. We are all so glad there, with the success and with that kid.”
That Kid is Royston Drenthe, the EC youth star of 2007. De Haan seems lost in thoughts… “What I’m thinking of…. It’s too bad how it all went since then… Too bad… The best way to put it, I guess.”
Last summer, it all went south between coach and player, who seemed to be joined at the hip before that. The two personalities lost each other in China. They clashed. A struggle of misunderstandings. The coach was annoyed with Drenthe’s attitude and the player didn’t get why the coach was always picking on him.
“Royston is a great lad, I still think that. But, he needs to learn to give the stuff that happens to him a place, you know. He had trouble with his role at the Olympics. In different ways… My criticism wasn’t aimed at breaking him down. I wanted him to come back from that and I showed him examples of players who did exactly that.”
The relationship issues with Drenthe can been seen as symbolic for De Haan’s 2008. De Haan wanted to grab gold in Bejing, but the jigsaw fell on the floor in shambles. “I am so sorry,” De Haan said after the lost quarter finals against Argentina.
De Haan’s reputation suffered. He seemed to be on the short list to replace Van Basten, now his future is open. The KNVB won’t renew his contract. “Maybe my wife and I will buy a camper van and just leave. If nothing comes up that fits me, tough luck. I don’t have to work…”
He can’t see himself as a club coach anymore… “That would be a big one… I have worked for one club (Heerenveen) practically all my life. I’m 65 years old, I can’t do a club for one season. That’s not me. I’m also working with my own foundation which takes up time (Foppe Foundation is focused on organizing sport wheelchairs for 100 disabled kids). I did talk to Roda JC but it didn’t fit…”
Going back to Heerenveen then? “That is 100% out of the question. No way. Never go back where you came from, there’s so many examples…it will never work. I read I was hoping to replace Sollied… Now that really pushed my buttons. I never said that. Never. That was mean. I never ever said anything like that to anyone. Period!”
When confronted with the criticism for his Olympic stint, he shrugs his shoulders… “A chef is as good as his last meal, right. But when the meal wasn’t any good, it doesn’t mean he is a bad chef. People now think that the whole thing was a big mess. Well, it wasn’t. They all showed up on time, they didn’t break things… It was more like it was a school trip. Tedious. Boring. The vibe and the drive were missing. It seemed like everyone was tired. It’s hard to explain.”
“It started with the physical aspect. We started our prep and too many lads were in bad condition. I really made them work those first weeks. Sometimes we trained three times a day! I may have been too harsh on them, I don’t know. But it was critical that we were in top shape in China.”
Why didn’t you send the ones that weren’t prepared back home?
“I thought I could get them back in shape. And you can in three weeks. But we needed an extra week. Against Argentina, we suddenly were capable of chasing a game. But, apart from that, our football wasn’t good enough either. Something was missing. Chemistry. The ability to self-correct. Self criticism…”
How did the older players handle this? Weren’t they the ones to lead.
“Makaay and Sibon tried. They were vocal, they spoke out, but it didn’t have any effect, so they thought: ok, you sort it out yourselves then… Jaliens did very well on the pitch, but he’s a bit of a silent type off the pitch. I wanted Rob Wielaert (Twente then, now Ajax) but he couldn’t make it due to Twente’s CL-qualification games… He does have those leadership skills.”
So, does this means the coach has failed? Isn’t it your job to manage the group processes.
(Silende). “Yes, that’s true. I talked to them one on one, in little groups, in the big group. I worked so hard on it… But it seemed like no one cared. I’m used to players taking that role over, supporting me in that. That’s what happened in the other tournaments. I spent so much time on it now, there was no interaction, they didn’t put any energy in it. It was all me, who did the talking. I saw myself as an old school teacher…”
And in terms of systems you didn’t know what to do either…
“Oh, I knew what I wanted, but it didn’t work. So you need to adapt. Or maybe we were drifting even… I needed to keep it simple. And I am sorry I didn’t select Amrabat. He has the drive, the will to win.”
Some lads disconnected very early in the process, like Sno and Drenthe. Were you to hard on them?
“I don’t think so. Hard is clear. When we where in China, they started to realize what stage they were at. Before that, we lacked the atmosphere, you know. It was a bit dead. But, then again, when you’re a top athlete, you shouldn’t worry about that. Motivation needs to come from within, right?
I did get on their nerves then, I could see that, I started to get really agitated. I do blame myself for that.”
How were you back at home, after the Games?
“I’m not a whiner. My wife and kids weren’t bothered by me. I started to work in the garden. That was my therapy.”
A few weeks later, Young Oranje was ousted in Switzerland for the next EC. A very abrupt ending.
“Which was the hardest. A team proces starts somewhere and then it gels into this beautiful journey. And now, it was suddenly over. At the moment I felt we were getting somewhere. Very frustrating. I needed one extra week. I think I have the confidence to state that, yeah…”
And then the blame game started.
“Well, I just decided to not select Drenthe and Sno for a while. I explained why. It’s sad that it ended, because Evander and Royston would have been back, I’m sure. I’m convinced it would have been like the old days. Our connection would be gone due to one bad experience. I will look him up some day in Madrid. Have a coffee together, you know. And talk about it. We’ll sort it out, I’m sure.”
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