The 2010 interview with Bert van Marwijk, pt 2.
Internationals can change – mentally – in two months. There’s Van der Vaart who suddenly is back on the radar in Madrid, but Huntelaar seems totally off it in Milan…
And that’s why I made those rules at the beginning of my tenure. This is an opportunistic world. I read 100 different opinions about who I should select every week! It’s my role to guard the players from that opportunistic behaviour. Take Huntelaar… He doesn’t play at Milan. So what to I do? Do I give him the opportunity to show himself or do I leave him at home?
You picked him and called him up.
I have to make that judgement call. If I pick him and allow him minutes, he could maybe pick up some confidence and score and go back to Milan a different player. At the end of the day, I want to win a prize in South Africa. A Huntelaar in form could make the difference. That’s how I look at it. So, if I don’t select Huntelaar, I could make matters worse for him. Milan fans will say: ah, the Dutch team doesn’t need him either, it’s over with him… Or his coach might say: hmmm…I’m not the only one doubting him… Or whatever, you know. This is also about loyalty and support.
Like Michels, who selected a player in 1988 who hadn’t played all season...
And Huntelaar is not Van Basten and I’m not Michels, but yes. If Michels was consistent, he would have left Marco at home. The choices you make should be about the result. I simply have to make my own decisions. That’s what the KNVB pays me for. I need to watch that players don’t think “ah, if I don’t play at my club, the team manager will select me anyway”. That’s not how it is. We do need that tension.
Is it important for a team manager to have lots of conversations with his players, since they don’t spend that much time together?
I’m not the guy to talk because we need to talk. I’m more a “players should listen” kinda guy. And I pay a lot of attention to non-verbal communication. I know that a little joke with a player or a tap on the head can mean much more than long conversations. But I do talk with them, of course. I have this huge suite in the Huis ter Duin hotel and I invite them in, one by one, whenever we’re together. I guess I do talk more than I did as a club coach.
But not constantly?
Well, it’s not about the frequency, but about what it is you do. More so, what you do than what you say. I read an interview with one of my players and he said: I feel the confidence of the coach. And I was happy with that. It is a feeling. You see, I can tell a player 10 times that I have confidence in him, but if he doesn’t start he’ll think I’m full of shit! It’s just words, to keep the player happy. It’s a mistake many coaches make. They want to keep the subs happy and tell them they have the coaches confidence. But what does that confidence bring the player? Nothing. So, I am more the guy to work with a player on specific tasks. I’ll invest energy in the player and time and he’ll know that I only do that because I feel he deserves that. I never tell my players I have confidence in them. That’s why I select them in the first place.
Is your way of working influenced by other coaches you worked with, or by your experiences as a player?
Sure. I was a hand full as a player. I was a bit skeptical and cynical and hard to reach. But I had coaches, I only had to look them in the eye to know that they understood me. I think everything I do is based on my experiences as a player…
So how do you look at coaches – like Mourinho – who never played football at a certain level?
Mourinho wasn’t even a player, he was a translator. That’s why he is so enormously good and I respect him immensely. I think coaches without a playing background need to compensate that, and the successful ones are really really good coaches. At this level, the devil is in the details. It’s weird. I remember when at Feyenoord, one of my players had a secret ritual. Like a superstition. But he didn’t want anyone to know. Anyway, he wants to be the last on the field. Always. And before this big European match, we’re ready to go to the pitch, one other player has to go to the toilet. That does happen, you know. So, he says, I’ll be out soon! And the rest walk to the pitch. My superstitious player starts to panic. He doesn’t want to go before the toilet-guy comes back. So he waits. And the whole team starts to have a go at him, while he’s to scared and to freaked out to explain his thing. I saw that and immediately responded. I told everyone to wait until Mr Toilet Man was back. We’d go to the pitch together in an orderly fashion. I winked at my superstitious player and when the toilet man was back, it all came good. I picked up on that, because I had it myself as a player. Always a little ritual. Not sure if someone without the dressing room experience would have picked that up. It’s just one little example, but in certain cases you need to rely on instincts and these are formed best on the pitch, with a ball at your feet.
Let’s look at our chances at the World Cup. Every winning team in the past had world class players. Does Oranje have world class players?
I’m sure we do! But it’s not easy to compare with other nations. I saw Spain, Italy and Brazil at the Confederations Cup and in all honesty, we don’t need to fear those teams. I think world class players are important, to bring that extra, but most winning teams are simply that: a team! Look at Greece in 2004. Or even Italy in 2006. The most important lesson the Germans have taught us over the years is that individual quality is nice, but not crucial. It’s how you perform mentally, tactically and in terms of discipline and hunger.
Still, Holland didn’t have one single player in the Top 25 players of the world?!?!?
But those are not real references though… Players like Sneijder and Van der Vaart and Van Persie do belong in that list, but they didn’t have easy seasons, in particular the Real Madrid lads. It depends on the success of their club teams too. And if you look at the defenders…. When you’re big and strong and fast and you play at a Champions League team, you’ll be picked. But were Terry and Rio Ferdinand and Lucio really that good? I’ve seen them make mistakes. While Joris Mathijsen – who didn’t win a real prize with HSV – probably had a much more impressive season, but those players are neglected.
Top defender Ferdinand made a colossal mistake against Oranje...
Exactly. Great example. In Holland, we always look at ourselves and analyse ourselves, but Ferdinand made that mistake, not because he’s bad defender, but because we pushed him to make the mistake. That’s the difference…
Is this team ambitious?
Very. And I think we’ve demonstrated that. I’ve only seen one international game in which it appeared we weren’t interested….
Japan, the 3-0 victory?
Exactly. In all international games our mentality and drive was tremendous. This group is fresh and hungry. The vibe is very good. It’s not a guarantee for success but it’s one of the main conditions if you want to be successful.
After we qualified for the WC against Iceland, we had to play Norway. How do you motivate the players to win that game?
Well, Guus Hiddink said it well recently. I was at a seminar where he spoke and he was asked… “How do you do it?” and Guus was speechless. He finally said: “I’m not sure, I just do what I do…”. And that’s what it is. There is no rule book. It’s about what you yourself radiate, it’s about details, about how you move within the group. After Iceland, the media spoke about the party-game against Norway. I confronted the group and said: If you want to win the World Cup, you need to be focused for 7 games. It sounds simple but it is hard. If you think you can do it, show me against Norway. And right before the game against Iceland, we heard that Norway had drawn against Macedonia. So we were sure of a spot in South Africa and still the team put in that performance.
I’m really pleased with that….
Coaches who give a lot of responsibility to the players sometimes can’t reign them in anymore. How’s the discipline with Oranje?
There’s a total vision and there are rules. Our vision is about trying to be the best in the world. Which comes with responsibilities. And certain rules of conduct. That’s what I use. I never yell or scream on the trainings pitch and I don’t act as if I’m angry. I try to be genuine. Remember the home game against Scotland and the media reporting how Sneijder had left the stadium because he was angry? Well, for starters, that wasn’t true but fair enough… We all had seen Wesley before he left, but whatever. On the radio, the morning before the Macedonia game, DJ Evers had this comedy thing on the radio with a impersonator of Ronald de Boer, who was the so-called speaker in the Stadium during our game against Macedonia. He said something like “at the end of the game against Macedonia there will be taxi waiting next to the pitch to take Wesley straight to Yolanthe” or something like that. We taped that bit and played it loud on the players’ bus when we drove to the game. The players loved it and Wesley was smiling from ear to ear. Since that prank, the whole thing wasn’t an issue anymore and Wes played a tremendous game. We won 4-0.
You presented your gameplay-strategy as off day 1?
Sure. And it’s become clearer and clearer. It’s important that everyone realises what we want to see. My first international was against Russia in Moscow. A tense game, what with our recent defeat at the EC. Russia has that tremendous full back, Zhirkov. He was the dangerman at the EC for them, against us at least. I had the opportunity to instill my tactical plan for Oranje. See, against Russia at the EC, the three attacking players played too deep. Zhirkov and his mates could easily outplay them with some combination play and create miles of space between for instance Van Persie and our holding midfielders. They had to choose: do I step in an push up but leave the defense exposed, or do we back up and soak up pressure. Both options are basically wrong! I told Robin and the others not to push up but fall back all together. By playing tight together and fall back to the mid-line, Zhirkov couldn’t steam up and the space was limited for them. Whenever we turned possession around, we had the space to explore. And that changed the game. Robin challenged me on that. Why do I have to trail back when they have the ball? When he realized it’s easier to defend with your back covered and space before you than running after his man, he picked it up immediately. That’s the good thing with our players. They adapt and learn quickly. The game at the EC was tough, the game in Moscow was almost an easy game. And the difference is in the details.
Against Brazil, you’ll be faced with wide and offensive full backs yet again…
Ah, Brazil. Maicon and Dani Alves… Brazil is tough whoever plays really. It always seems as if there’s no gameplan and they just do what they like, but their four defenders and two destroyers are always tall and strong guys. Good header and quick too! The four lads upfront improvise whatever they want, but they’re so good that they’ll always create something. And every player in their team can score a goal. Let alone those full backs… Brazil is quite something…. Hard to play against. But…they will find that with us as well.
Normally, at tournaments, you’ll see unexpected surprises. Arie Haan in 1974, Brandts in 1978, Van Basten in 1988… Isn’t football simply a game of coincidence?
Nah… It sometimes looks as if things appear from nowhere, but it’s all about being able to seize the moment and being creative. Anticipating on situations. Sometimes it’s about being daring in choices or it’s about this one player stepping up. Like Paolo Rossi in 1982. He never got that form back again. You base everything you do on strategy and preparation. Only then can you actually improvise.
Van Marwijk has always been a fan of Brandts…
Most tournament winners start the tournament badly. Spain at the last EC is an exception to the rule?
But that exception is our norm. We like Spain. You can’t decide to start a tournament sloppy and hope it will come good. But as a coach, you are dependent on specific situations suddenly gelling together. Like with Van Basten at the EC1988.
Which players in Oranje have developed significantly since you started?
The first player that comes to mind is Nigel de Jong. He has grown immensely. At Ajax, he was a cocky show-off. Still a good player, but focused on Nigel and not on Ajax. At HSV, he changed but if you see him now at Man City and at Oranje, in every aspect of the game, he’s a different player. Another name I’d like to mention is Eljero Elia. He’s the real deal, both on and off the pitch. Robin van Persie has developed sensationally as well, and is still growing. When I saw him first at Feyenoord in the youth system, I remember thinking: this lad will be world class player. Some older players hated his guts. He had some personality flaws at those days. I gave him confidence and he demonstrated his skill but at one stage – right before the Super Cup against Real Madrid – I sent him home. I told him: You need to understand what it takes to be a top player. And he was sloppy. He’d give 20 crosses in a game, 10 of which were crap. For someone with his technique, it’s not on. But seeing him now…pffff… I really admire that. He developed as a player but more so as a human being. He really deserves all the kudos.
When is the World Cup campaign a success?
I don’t think in terms of “if we get to semi finals stage, we’ve done it”. My job is to create the ideal circumstances for the team to get as far as possible. At this stage, I’d say: winning the title. If we don’t win it, I might be satisfied because we were beaten by a better team or I might be highly disappointed because we gave it away, you know what I mean? The interesting thing is: the friendlies against Italy and Paraguay were criticized by the Dutch media and fans. But internationally, we were complimented. Italy is Italy, the world champs, and Paraguay is the number 2 in South America. Both coaches said that there was no way for them to beat us. Defensively, we were rock solid. We dominated against them and still didn’t give anything away. I was pretty content with those games. I mean, look at France. They have trouble beating Ireland. And Russia coulnd’t get past Slovenia. My key element, the thing that I think is the most important, is the will to win. The absolute will to win. Everyone knows we can play football. Stekelenburg is a good goalie. Best of the world? Maybe not… but good still. Our defense…best of the world? Probably not, but look at the stats… Our creative players are among the best of the world, I’d say. But all in all, other teams on paper are as good as we are. So, we need to add more to the mix. In my belief, it’s the willpower, the focus, the mentality. We can’t beat all group opponents this time, only to be sent home in the knock out stages. I want this process to successfully end in this summer. With a prize.
Oranje is in the same group as Cameroon, Japan and Denmark. Surviving that will be easy.
Hang on… I don’t share that belief. Denmark survived Portugal, Sweden and Hungary. Japan is a tough opponent. Cameroon is physically strong and well organized. There’s numerous reasons why we can’t be complacent. It’s about the mental preparation. If the players think like you say, we have lost already. There are no easy games. I need my players to be 100% focused and prepared. Whether we play Cameroon, New Zealand or Brazil. We can not underestimate any opponent.
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