The Oranje boom

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Some things in life don’t change.

Eric Morecambe will always be funny. Arsene Wenger is never going to wear a kipper tie. And Dutch coaches will always be in fashion. Not the height of fashion. Not the new black. But always in demand, while the market in French, Spanish or Brazilian coaches ebbs and flows.

Rupert Lowe, the bloke who – media caricatures suggest – has done for Southampton football club roughly what Saddam Hussein did for Kuwait might have been very shrewd, hiring Jan Poortvliet – 1978 World Cup finalist with Holland – to coach the Saints.

In 2006, four World Cup finalists were coached by Dutchmen. Guus Hiddink, Leo Beenhakker and Marco van Basten will soon start their campaigns to win Euro 2008 and Dick Advocaat has just steered Zenit St Petersburg to their first European triumph, the UEFA Cup.

As Hiddink steered Russia to the Euro 2008 finals, some Russian fans began celebrating not with shots of vodka but Italian cappuccino, Hiddink’s favourite tipple.

Rinus Michels started the trend. After The General revolutionised Dutch football in the 1970s, he sought a new challenge in Barcelona. Cruyff followed, starting one of the strangest multinational love affairs in football – between the Catalan socios and the Dutch – a romance that has cooled since Rijkaard’s exit but, with Cruyff still Barça’s football conscience, not ended.

Many Dutch coaches have followed Michels and Cruyff abroad. Advocaat, who assisted Michels as Dutch national coach (a stint which, along with his Napoleonic physical stature, earned him the nickname Little General), has prospered at PSV, Rangers and Zenit St Petersburg though not at South Korea, the United Arab Emirates or Borussia Mönchengladbach.

His old friend Hiddink has succeeded consistently at PSV (twice), Real Madrid, South Korea, Australia, back at PSV and now in Russia.

Louis Van Gaal endured heaven and hell in two spells at Camp Nou.

Leo Beenhakker, aka The White Tulip, won three titles at Real Madrid, steered Trinidad and Tobago to the 2006 World Cup finals and has Poland more optimistic about its football than at any time since the 1970s.

Even though he beat Celtic in the 1970 European Cup final with Feyenoord, Wim Jansen is still recalled fondly in the green and white half of Glasgow for winning the 1998 Scottish title, stopping Rangers clinching 10 in a row.

Huub Stevens has just returned to PSV after 12 years in the Bundesliga where he won the UEFA Cup with Schalke in 1997. And Schalke’s new coach Fred Rutten has steered Twente into the Champions League qualifiers for the first time ever.

These are just the most famous ones. There are now around 100 Dutch managers plying their trade abroad. What makes them so employable?

Character. Dutch footballers, as books Brilliant Orange, Football Against The Enemy and Jaap Stam’s autobiography testify, are even more opinionated than they are talented. The cliché about Dutch footballers – that when they socialise they actually talk about football – has more than a grain of truth.

This experience shapes coaches even if – as it did at Italia 90 when Gullit, Rijkaard and van Basten bickered – it makes their life harder. The upside is that if you can handle a Dutch dressing room, you fear no dressing room.

Ambition. Dutch football’s three peaks are Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV. If a talented Dutch coach sees no prospect of managing any of those soon, why shouldn’t they go abroad? Co Adriaanse did, after Beenhakker replaced him at Ajax, and it almost worked at Porto. As the chances of a Dutch side winning a serious European trophy have receded since the mid-1990s, an ambitious Dutch coach is likely to gaze longingly at Germany or Spain.

Roughly 80% of the Dutch population speaks English, more than any other country in mainland Europe. If you’re going to be a ‘have UEFA coaching badge, will travel’ kind of coach, it pays to be a cunning linguist.

Outlook. Michels, Cruyff, Advocaat, Hiddink and Beenhakker have trotted the globe, as English managers did until the 1950s. Until the 1960s, more Englishmen had coached the Dutch national team than Dutchmen. But since the 1980s – when Terry Venables and Bobby Robson led a mini-invasion of mainland Europe, establishing a beachhead at Barcelona – English coaches have largely stayed home, only venturing abroad, like Roy Hodgson, in extremis. Joe Royle suggests that English managers are too insular. If Steve McClaren succeeds at Twente maybe that will change.

Success. Four Englishmen and three Scots have won the European Cup as coaches. Five Dutchmen have: Michels, Cruyff, Hiddink, Van Gaal and Rijkaard. Advocaat, Wiel Corver, Kees Rijvers, Stevens, Van Gaal and Bert Van Marwijk have all won the UEFA Cup (which only four English coaches have done). Only in the Cup-Winners Cup – six English wins to four Dutch – does England have the edge. Which considering there are only 16 million Dutch is remarkable.

Tactics. Although everytime a Dutch coach changes formation journalists reach for that part of their dictionary of football clichés devoted to Total Football, managers like Hiddink, Advocaat and Beenhakker are tactically much more diverse. They have favourite formations and shapes but happily switch. Hiddink is one of the best touchline thinkers in football.

His knack for the right substitution or a switch makes Jose Mourinho’s antics look terminally average. There is a common thread as Jan Reker, director of the Dutch coaches federation says here which is all about position, the importance of the team and players being able to do more than one task.

Training. Philip Cocu and Dennis Bergkamp are both studying to coach. Even the Dutch find their culture of rules and diplomas wearisome but, from their track record in trophies and nurturing young stars, this structured, laborious approach works.

Southampton’s experiment is partly motivated by money. Poortvliet and his countryman Mark Wotte, who heads the academy, are cheaper than an English coach might have been. But if the board has the nerve to back them, they might do the club – and English football – a power of good.