Football Features

What Barcelona’s Ronald Koeman appointment means for the Netherlands

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 10:44, 21 August 2020

Ronald Koeman’s move to coach Barcelona was unexpected but not surprising. It’s been a long-held dream of his and this moment represented the best opportunity to fulfil that desire.

His exit, though, leaves the Dutch national team in dire straits. Koeman has unquestionably been a success; by departing now, a successor — to ultimately lead Oranje at next summer’s European Championship — needs to be hired, and with that comes a degree of uncertainty.

Koeman should have been in the hot seat a long time ago — notably after Louis van Gaal’s departure following the 2014 World Cup — and since joining, he’s won 55% of his matches in charge. During his reign, the 57-year-old tactician forged an exciting core, with 12 players featuring in 10 or more games.

This club-like squad has seen the Dutch rack up impressive wins over the last two world champions, as well as returning them from the international wilderness, by reaching the first Uefa Nations League final and the aforementioned European Championships tournament.

There will be no shortage of candidates for his former job, but the powers that be (KNVB) can ill-afford another uninspiring choice, especially after the groundwork laid by Barça’s newest manager.

Who’s next?

Whoever is appointed will become Oranje’s fifth different manager since Van Gaal guided them to a third-place finish at the 2014 World Cup finals. The current pool of Dutch coaches isn’t as strong or extensive as in the 1990s, but there are two master tacticians who represent the dream option. However, tempting them away from their present roles will be tough.

Peter Bosz has enjoyed a respectable campaign at the helm of Bayer Leverkusen after guiding them to fifth in the Bundesliga, a DFB-Pokal final and the quarter-finals of the Europa League, in both games they fell short to much stronger opposition, but he’s proven to be a wily head on the sidelines. His present deal at the BayArena expires in June 2022, so this is not a cheap option, same goes for prizing away Erik ten Hag from Ajax.

No coach across Europe has seen their stock rise so fast in the last 18 months than Bayern Munich’s former reserve team manager, who kept in regular communication with then first-team boss Pep Guardiola during their period together at the Bavarian giants, and he shares certain traits with his former colleague. Since joining the Amsterdammers from FC Utrecht, he’s blossomed into a premier strategist and coach, this was evident during their incredible run to the 2019/20 Champions League semi-finals, a number of his players then now have huge importance in this current Dutch set-up.

Ten Hag, though, is unlikely to move into national team management given there’s plenty more for him to do at club level. His first championship-winning campaign at Ajax saw his side pushed all the way by Mark van Bommel, then managing PSV, and a disappointing following campaign saw the ex-Barça midfielder being shown the door. Currently unattached, he represents a realistic option.

Van Bommel is no stranger to the international game, having assisted father-in-law Bert van Marwijk when he was at the helm of Saudi Arabia and then Australia, but being thrust into this job represents a gamble. That being said, he’s not far removed from the game, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum are just two of his former teammates in Oranje’s present squad. This would naturally earn him immediate respect.

The same could be said for another out-of-work manager, Frank de Boer, who recently parted company with MLS side Atlanta United, as he’s one of eight Dutch players with 100+ caps and was part of Van Marwijk’s coaching staff as they contested the 2010 World Cup final. It feels like a lifetime ago, but De Boer remains Ajax’s most successful coach this century from a domestic perspective, winning four consecutive Eredivisie titles. However, that shine is no longer there and he wouldn’t — putting this kindly — be an exciting appointment. Part of this feeling — and something fans of Inter Milan, Crystal Palace and Atlanta United can all attest to — is due to his tendency for ‘sterile domination’.

A phrase coined by legendary Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who is an outside bet for the job, mainly because he’s distanced himself in following Koeman and the Dutch FA’s reluctance to sign a foreign-born coach. Of the 35 different managers to have guided Oranje, no fewer than 21 were born outside the Netherlands, but the last appointment came in 1977 when Ernst Happel — who had previously coached in the country — was entrusted for their forthcoming World Cup campaign. If he’s looking to get back into coaching then, given his age, managing a national team would be a sensible route.

He’d also be perfect for the job as we’ve seen Wenger is at his best when possessing dominant and influential defenders — Virgil van Dijk, Matthijs de Ligt, Daley Blind — to handle that side of the game, which leaves him to balancing the attack and ensuring they create plenty of chances, and he’d get that in abundance. If not the Professor then what about Van Gaal‘s third coming? It would be a stop-gap appointment as they zero in on his long-term successor. The recently turned 69-year-old has proven he can make an immediate impression, but going back to his well is not a good sign even if he’s capable of leading Oranje.

Winners and losers

One name unmentioned for the permanent job is Koeman’s former right-hand man, Dwight Lodeweges, who takes temporary charge of their upcoming Uefa Nations League matches against Poland and Italy, if he truly impresses then who knows what it can lead to. Lodeweges has already proven his tactical worth, most notably placing Van Dijk up-top in their 2-2 draw away to Germany that saw them secure a Nations League finals berth.

As for which players win or lose out, it all depends on who comes in next. But the feeling is certain squad players, not in the first team, who felt comfortable with Koeman around could be seeing whatever minutes they’ve accumulated being reduced. If his successor has a panache for giving youth a chance, the likes of Mohamed Ihattaren and Donyell Malen, both on PSV’s books, will be encouraged. The same goes for AZ trio Myron Boadu, Calvin Stengs, Teun Koopmeiners.

The timing also could play into the hands of Oranje’s rivals at next summer’s Euros. Ukraine and Austria are confirmed foes in Group C, but there’s enough time to gel, though it would be remiss to brush aside Koeman’s impact as national team boss. Whoever comes in has no guarantee of becoming equally successful.

How they could line up at Euro 2021

Oranje’s long wait to play in a major international tournament should have ended this past June, but for the ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic it’s been delayed for another year, although there’s a positive from this gloomy period in history.

Memphis Depay, by far their most important player, could have missed out after sustaining a serious knee injury. He’s back now and with another strong year under his belt could play a pivotal role in their chase for a second Euro title. That’s a point worth remembering, a lot can still happen, as of now their first choice team by and large picks itself.