Flying Dutchmen aiming for Euro glory
At least one Dutch coach will be in the last four of the European Championships. If a great playing record is among the criteria it will be Marco van Basten; if it's a coaching pedigree that counts it will be Guus Hiddink.
Netherlands coach Van Basten is aiming to become the first person to win the European tournament as both player and coach after his goal-scoring prowess helped the Dutch clinch their one and only major title in 1988. Hiddink, in charge of Russia, stands in his way in a quarter-final clash in Basle on Saturday as he aims to reach a third major tournament semi-final with three different nations.
Hiddink, at 61, is one of the most renowned coaches in the international game. He has won six Dutch titles and coached four nations - the Netherlands, Russia, South Korea and Australia. Both South Korea and the Netherlands reached World Cup semis under the coach.
Van Basten, at 43, is a relative coaching newcomer, in charge of the Dutch national side in his first coaching post and with no experience yet of club management. He takes over at Ajax from July 1 in his maiden club appointment. In 1988, when Basten volleyed a brilliant goal past Soviet Union keeper Rinat Dasayev to seal a 2-0 victory in the Euro final in Munich, Hiddink had been making his own spectacular mark on the game by leading PSV Eindhoven to a domestic double and a European Cup victory against Benfica in Stuttgart.
Their two paths have rarely crossed. Van Basten was an Ajax player who went on to great things at AC Milan before injury cut short his playing career. Hiddink played in midfield for most of his career at De Graafschap, with a spell at PSV Eindoven and in the United States.
A much-travelled coaching career includes spells at Fenerbahce, Valencia, Real Madrid and Real Betis. However, there are similarities. Van Basten may well have noted Hiddink's management style during the latter's tenure of the Dutch national side a decade ago, between 1994 and 1998. Hiddink has never shied from confronting big-name players he feels are not fitting in with his scheme of things.
He demands only the best, and needed a firm grip when he took on a talented Dutch squad which was fraught with internal dissent. At Euro 1996 he sent midfielder Edgar Davids home after a dispute, and two years later took a side playing entertaining football to the semi-finals of the World Cup where they were beaten by Brazil on penalties.
Russian players also seem to have benefited from Hiddink's no-nonsense style. He is a father figure to the youngest squad in the tournament, but that did not prevent him reading the riot act after the team slid to a 4-1 defeat to Spain in their opening game of the tournament.
"I demand a response. I don't want to sound cocky, but if you want to play at international level then the demands I lay down means you can go one of two ways: either fly, or fight. That's the choice we offered. They chose to fight," he said after an impressive 2-0 victory over Sweden to book their quarter-final place. He added: "You cannot guarantee that they will play every game that well, but you can guarantee that players know the principles, what the values are of being in the national team. That's what we've emphasised in our team meetings." Van Basten has shown similar rigour since taking over the Dutch four years ago.
He had no hesitation in dropping mainstays like Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Davids and Roy Makaay. Seedorf was later recalled but then before the tournament said he no longer wanted to play under van Basten, while Bayern Munich midfielder Mark van Bommel has also fallen out with the coach and appears to be no longer in his planning. Ruud van Nistelrooy is another player who has seen the tough side of van Basten after he was benched at the 2006 World Cup.
The Real Madrid striker quit the international team after the tournament, but is now back in the fold in a Dutch side which impressively defeated world champions Italy 3-0 and France 4-1. The coach was heavily criticised before the tournament by many back home including playing great Johan Cruyff for pragmatic tactics which shun the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 system. But he stuck to his principles.
He has so far been proven right. Both Dutch coaches are flying at Euro 2008 after splendid football from their sides. But on Saturday there will be a hard landing for one of them.
By Barry Whelan
[Copyright DPA 2008]