Pragmatic van Marwijk adds steel to Dutch silk

Published May 15, 2012 09:16am

The Netherlands' manager Bert Van Marwijk gestures as he watches his team play England during their international soccer match at Wembley stadium in London. -- Photo by AP

THE HAGUE: Bert van Marwijk may have led the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup final but his methods were not to the taste of the man who embodies the country's lauded football culture.

“Spain, a replica of Barcelona, are the best advert for football,” wrote Johan Cruyff of Holland's opponents on the eve of the World Cup final in Johannesburg.

“Who am I supporting? I am Dutch but I support the football that Spain are playing.” Cruyff would congratulate van Marwijk for his achievements after Spain prevailed in the final but the damage had already been inflicted: the team had come close to glory -- but it had not been done the Dutch way.

In the days that followed the final, the Netherlands found themselves pilloried for the aggressive way they had attempted to shake the Spanish out of their stride.

Their approach was typified by a chest-high foul on Xabi Alonso by Nigel de Jong that escaped punishment by referee Howard Webb but which has come to resonate as an example of the steely pragmatism injected into the team by their coach.

The Netherlands have become a byword for underachievement in international football -- three World Cup final defeats, 24 years since their last major trophy -- and van Marwijk appears determined to end their reputation for style over substance.

“From day one, van Marwijk has said, 'I don't want that again. I want our team to win even on a bad day,'” said his biographer, Edwin Schoon, in an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

“So he put winning before attractive play, and he's hammered it home to his players, step by step, and incorporated it in his tactics by shoring up the defence.” The Dutch team that appeared at the World Cup may have been the antithesis of the side that capitivated the world with Total Football at the 1974 tournament. But two years on from South Africa, they are a far more crowd-pleasing prospect.

They scored more goals in qualifying for Euro 2012 (37) than any other side, and in Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Robin van Persie and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, possess some of the most talented forwards in the game.

For all his pragmatism as a coach, van Marwijk was a daring winger in his playing days, amassing 393 appearances in the Dutch Eredivisie with four different clubs.

Capped once by his country, in 1975, he worked his way through the Netherlands' lower leagues as a coach before joining Feyenoord in 2000.

He took the club to UEFA Cup glory in 2002, overseeing a 3-2 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the final at Feyenoord's own De Kuip stadium.

It remains his most notable success as a coach. A subsequent two-year stint at Dortmund failed to yield significant progress, although he did guide Feyenoord to the Dutch Cup in their 2008 centenary year after returning to the club in 2007.

As an international coach, however, his record is sensational.

Since replacing Marco van Basten after Euro 2008, he has seen Holland lose just four times in 45 matches, including a 100 percent record in qualifying for the last World Cup and a return of nine wins from 10 games in Euro 2012 qualifying.

His reward was a four-year contract extension last December, safeguarding his job until the next European Championship in 2016.

“The KNVB (Royal Dutch Football Federation) and myself agree that continuity and calm surrounding the Oranje is best,” he said.

“That is why we chose to extend for four more years. That way everyone knows what is going to happen.” The 59-year-old may not be a unanimously popular choice but the future of Dutch football rests firmly in his hands.


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