The Best Coaches Are Dutch

It is true that Manchester United is not having the start of the season everybody would hope of a European Champion, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury has slowed Sir Alex Ferguson’s soccer machine.
It is true that Manchester United is not having the start of the season everybody would hope of a European Champion, and  Cristiano Ronaldo’s injury has slowed Sir Alex Ferguson’s soccer machine.

But regardless a fortnight ago, Zenit St. Petersburg added another chapter to their epic year. Without star Andrej Arsavin in the first half, the Russian club performed great at Monaco to defeat Manchester United, 2-1, in the championship game of the European Super Cup, the contest that kicks off the clubs season in the Old Continent.

Zenit’s success comes from an ownership group that has enough money to spend on international stars, such as Portuguese midfielder Dani. They are led by a sensational manager: Dutchman Dick Advocat. Since his arrival, Zenit is a different team, competing for European supremacy with powerhouses from England, Spain and Italy.

And Advocat is not the only Dutch manager riding on success outside The Netherlands.

Guss Hiddink has also done it with every National Team he has touched. The last one in fact was the Russian squad, transformed into a competitive team in the past Eurocup in which Hiddink’s group reached the semi-finals after shocking his country, Holland, 3-1, in overtime of a thriller in the quarterfinal round. Arsavin showed all his magic in that game, leading the Russian upset.

Hiddink was not the only Dutch manager who directed a National Team in the Eurocup. In fact, if we do a trivia question and ask people how many head coaches from The Netherlands managed a squad in the Eurocup, very few would come up with the right answer.

There was Hiddink, then Marco Van Basten who managed the Holland team. Of course The Netherlands National Squad was not going to be headed by a foreign coach. But there was also Leo Beenhakker, leading the Polish squad. He was hired to bring Poland back to soccer prominence. And despite not making it to the quarterfinals, Beenhakker did a good job, considering Poland had never qualified for a Eurocup tournament before.

Michels started the tradition

Everything started back in the mid-seventies with Rinus Michels. The Dutch manager, a true soccer genius, designed a very aggressive and modern system in which the defenders would move up all the time, leaving opposing forwards constantly offside.

He put it to work in the 1974 World Cup held in Germany with a sensational squad led by the World’s best player at the time: Johan Cruyff. The Dutch team rapidly won recognition being referred by many journalists as The Clockwork Orange.
The Netherlands was not able to win the title game against the home team. Germany won, 2-1, but Holland earned the World ‘s admiration; quite an accomplishment for a country that had not been in the World Cup since 1938.

Michels developed a new strategy and F.C. Barcelona made the decision of signing him to manage a team that already had Cruyff. The Dutch coach led Barça to conquer La Liga’s title, breaking a streak of 14 years without claiming Spain’s most prestigious championship.

Despite not having Cruyff, The Netherlands reached the championship game again in the following World Cup (1978), but again the team lost, this time in overtime, against the host country, Argentina. After that, Holland’s international soccer fell asleep for 10 long years.

In 1998, The Netherlands had a new sensational group of players. Most of them used to be Cruyff’s disciples at Ajax Amterdam, where he coached. Key players included Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. They had the opportunity to prove their high level at the Eurocup held in Germany. To make sure their participation was a success, the Dutch Federation signed Michels. And they made the right choice!
Holland performed marvellous soccer again, taking revenge on Germany in the semi-finals. This time the Dutch beat the Germans, 2-1, advancing to the championship contest. In the final, Van Basten scored a great goal that will be remembered forever. He took a cross from left to right, and with no angle kicked the ball before it bounced beating USSR’s Rinat Dasaev, one of the best goal keepers in the World at the time. The goal put the icing on the cake as Holland won 2-0, claiming its first and only European nations championship. Van Basten was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Success at Barcelona

Michels closed down his great coaching career winning the Eurocup. Cruyff started his on a high note. The Dutch genius that was once signed by F.C. Barcelona as a player became the coach. In his first season at the helm, Cruyff drew up a very aggressive playing system with only three defenders, three midfielders and four forwards. His idea quickly changed Barça’s style of playing and the team won the Champions Cup (a tournament that does not exist anymore), defeating Genoa’s Sampdoria, 2-0, in the great final.

Cruyff’s biggest success though arrived two years later. In 1991, Barcelona started a tenure winning four consecutive La Liga championships, becoming Spain’s number 1 team and relegating Real Madrid to the number 2 spot. With a squad that was known in Spain as the Dream Team, F.C. Barcelona went on to claim its first ever European Clubs title (today known as Champions League), defeating again Sampdoria, but this time 1-0 in overtime, in the 1992 final.

Success hit Barça when having a Dutch manager. In fact, the last eight league titles Barcelona has won, always a coach from The Netherlands was leading the team. Since 1985, Barça has never won a league title without a Dutch manager.
Several coaches took the team after Cruyff’s departure, but the next title came with another Dutchman: Louis Van Gal, who arrived at Barcelona after recording one of the biggest upsets in Champions League history. In 1995, Van Gal’s Ajax defeated in the championship game A.C. Milan, 1-0, with a goal scored by a very young Patrick Kluivert.
Van Gal guided Barça with the help of Brazilian forward Rivaldo to consecutive league titles in 1998 and 1999. But, like Roberto Mancini at Inter, he had no luck in Champions League.

This was overcome by the next Dutch coach to sit at Barça’s bench. Cruyff’s best disciple Rijkaard came and won two more league crowns in a row (2005 and 2006).  He managed to put together a team, led by another Brazilian forward, Ronaldinho, that claimed Barcelona’s second Champions League title, defeating Arsenal, 2-1, in the 2006 final.

Hiddink strikes gold wherever he goes:

Hiddink’s run is without a doubt the most impressive in international nations’ soccer. It is even better than Serbian Bora Milutinovic, who headed the US squad in the 1994 World Cup, because Hiddink has got better results with less material.

The Dutch manager started his international coaching run with Korea. Along with Japan, Korea was going to organize the first ever World Cup to be held outside the European and American continents. Of course, the Korean Federation wanted to have good results, so they decided to hire Hiddink. And they made the right choice!

Korea eliminated in the way to the semi-final European powerhouses Portugal (1-0) in the groups round, Italy (2-1 in overtime) in the eight-of-finals and Spain (0-0 and penalty kicks) in the quarterfinals. Germany (1-0) was too much in the semi-final, but Korea became the first team from outside Europe or South American to reach the final four of a World Cup.

Hiddink loves tough challenges and, with Australia, he faced a tougher one. The Aussies had not been in a World Cup since 1974, therefore they decided to sign the Dutch magician to end the negative streak. Things were very complicated. Australia not only needed to win its qualifying zone, but also had to defeat the fifth South American team to make it to the World Cup. Australia’s opponent was heavily favored Uruguay, but Hiddink’s men surprised the South Americans. Both teams won 1-0 at home, and the Aussies prevailed in penalty kicks to advance to the 2006 World Cup.

In Germany, they were also sensational. Australia advanced in the groups round, despite having to face Brazil, Japan and Croatia. Against Japan, the Aussies pulled a miracle win, coming back to score three goals in the last five minutes of the match to win 3-1. In the eight-of-finals they played Italy very tough, sending the game into overtime. A penalty kick converted by star Francesco Totti finally eliminated the Aussies. We can not forget that Italy went on to win the World Cup.
Last summer, Hiddink’s national team, this time Russia, was also eliminated by the country that finished winning the whole thing: Spain. The Russians got to the semi-finals, gaining again the respect of a European soccer community that had not seen them amongst the best in the last 20 years.

The Netherlands produces the most skillful players in Europe. The reason is simple: They have the best coaches.