Football Features

Next Netherlands manager? Conte a dream De Boer replacement if Holland shun the old boy network

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:44, 2 July 2021

Here we go again. Following their disappointing exit from Euro 2020, the Netherlands are now manager-less with Frank de Boer having handed in his resignation letter.

It means the Dutch FA (KNVB) are seeking a sixth head coach since finishing third at World Cup 2014 under Louis van Gaal’s leadership.

Stepping down was a logical conclusion; for some it ended an unwanted reign, with De Boer failing to win skeptics over following his less-than popular appointment. He ultimately took charge of 15 matches, with 11 being competitive games, winning eight times while suffering three losses.

A 53.3% win-rate means he’s the third-least successful Netherlands team boss this century, and whomever replaces him needs to hit the ground running as Oranje resume qualification for next year’s World Cup in September.

But who should that be? We’ve come up with a dream option, a realistic choice and, as always, a wildcard.

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Dream: Go foreign

You can argue the best Dutch coaches are not available. Peter Bosz joined Lyon in May while Ajax boss Erik ten Hag signed a contract extension. That’s not to say the well is empty, but there’s a dearth in quality. That could all change though seemingly not anytime soon. In recent instances, the KNVB’s search for a new Oranje boss has seen the ‘f word’ has been discussed.

Ernst Happel (1977-78) was the last foreign-born Netherlands manager, and the 26th overall, but the Austrian tactician was no stranger to Dutch football having previously coached ADO Den Haag and Feyenoord at whom he lifted the European Cup. Even before tasking De Boer with continuing the good job started by Ronald Koeman, the name of Arsene Wenger was bandied about though nothing came to fruition and the likelihood is he will not be approached this time around. But that doesn’t mean the KNVB shouldn’t think about looking beyond their borders.

There are several outstanding coaches available, some with international football pedigree, an expensive option no doubt but worth it in the long run. KNVB have to look no further than Antonio Conte who is sitting by his phone after leaving Serie A champions Inter Milan this summer.

He previously coached Italy, winning 58.3% of 24 matches in charge, before moving onto Chelsea. Aside from money, another issue could be Conte’s own coaching philosophy; a back-three aficionado, De Boer’s decision to have Oranje play a 3-5-2 system at Euro 2020 caused passionate debate and the chances are Conte does the same if hired.

But Conte’s tendency to be successful can be a counter to any discerning voices. He’s not the only choice it seems, with former Germany head coach Joachim Löw also linked to the job, though it seems managing a national team is not in his immediate future.

Squawka Suggests: Antonio Conte

Realistic: Old boy network

It seems very unlikely the KNVB will escape their comfort zone. De Boer’s initial appointment summed up their current world view perfectly. He was a safe and familiar choice; there was no consideration put into recent performances — i.e. embarrassing brief spells at Inter Milan and Crystal Palace — which goes a long way to explain the discontent between the powers-that-be in Zeist and supporters.

He also became the fifth ex-Netherlands skipper to be given the top job since France ’98 after Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Danny Blind and the aforementioned Koeman. Being armed with this piece of information you wouldn’t put it past them from jumping back on this well-trodden path. Fortunately ,there are two former captains unemployed at the moment. And, like De Boer, both are Eredivisie-winning managers that left a lot to be desired when coaching overseas.

Phillip Cocu, a three-time league champion with PSV Eindhoven, enjoyed a cup of coffee at Fenerbahce before largely enduring an unsuccessful stint in Derby (33.8% win-rate) and has been a free agent since November. Before going out on his own, Cocu was Dutch national team boss Bert van Marwijk’s right-hand man and their last hurrah was the 2010 World Cup, where Giovanni van Bronckhorst played his final games as Oranje‘s leader on the pitch.

Van Bronckhorst is also unattached after briefly coaching Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F and the man who ended Feyenoord’s near two decade championship drought would be the more interesting appointment. However, both may feel they’ve still got a lot to give at club level, hence the growing cries for Van Gaal to be reappointed. It would mean the third coming of Louis which isn’t a new phenomenon as, since Happel stepped down following the 1978 World Cup final, no fewer than five men have enjoyed more than one spell in charge of Oranje.

Squawka Suggests: Giovanni van Bronckhorst

Wildcard: Kill two birds with one stone

For much of the last decade uncomfortable questions about Oranje’s future were being asked. There was a natural concern about talented players coming up the ranks and while those fears have been allayed, that doesn’t mean the current structure in place is perfect, with some pushing for reforms à la Germany after their 1998 World Cup finals humiliation.

It’s somewhat ironic the Netherlands’ illustrious neighbours studied their methods when it came to rebuilding, which ultimately led to the Özil-Müller generation. Now is a perfect time for the KNVB to look themselves in the mirror and reevaluate.

Bringing in an outside voice like Ralf Rangnick would be a brave call, as well as a long-term investment. His work under the Red Bull umbrella is well-documented. Rangnick’s methodology is akin to Dutch football in its purest form so, from a stylistic approach it’s not revolutionary, but having the Backnang-born tactician at the helm would be a statement.

He could even hypothetically be in charge up to and including the 2022 World Cup before stepping down and taking on a technical director role where he can work closely across the senior, U21 and other youth/development sides. His successor would naturally share the same vision and that will also be said for every Dutch international team. With everyone rowing in the same direction Oranje‘s future could be the brightest it’s been for a long time.

Squawka Suggests: Ralf Rangnick