Open Dutch ace gets the best out of his players
BRENTFORD be warned – your new manager can be a real assh*le. And that’s according to the man himself. “People say I’m pretty quiet and that’s generally true,” says Marinus Dijkhuizen, the Dutch tactician tasked with bringing Brentford’s ‘Moneyball’ project to the boil.
“But I can really be an assh*le sometimes. Not often, but it is possible. And the times when I get angry, I think it makes a big impression.”
Dijkhuizen certainly knows how to make one of those. Two years ago, the 43-year-old was a novice coach grilled by “men in suits” as to why someone with no experience should be allowed to manage in the Dutch second division.
One promotion, many plaudits and – crucially – a raft of impressive statistics later, he is one step away from the Premier League.
So how did a striker who, by his own admission, wasn’t the greatest footballer end up in the dugout at Griffin Park?
A towering forward in his playing days, the closest the 6ft 6ins Dijkhuizen ever got to stardom was a three-year spell in the Eredivisie with FC Utrecht.
But over the course of a nomadic career taking in the lesser lights of Excelsior, SC Cambuur and even Dunfermline Athletic, he harvested a wealth of knowledge and formed a detailed vision of how to coax excellence from bang average players.
He revered the fanatical attention to detail of Alex Pastoor at Excelsior. “He told me that every per cent counts, that good preparation is essential,” said Dijkhuizen. He studied the “unique” technical coaching of Jan Wouters.
And he loved the firm but fair reign of former Dutch international Mario Been, a man whose harsh criticisms were offset by a democratic dressing room.
So when the chance arrived to put his education into practice, Dijkhuizen excelled. Taking over from Jon Dahl Tomasson at Excelsior in early 2014, he won promotion in his first season and then notched a 15th-place finish in the Eredivisie – the first time the ‘Kralingers’ had ever survived without recourse to a play-off.
“Marinus did a great job,” said Utrecht coach Robby Alflen. “Not to cause offence but Excelsior didn’t have the best 18 players in the Eredivisie. But they played to their strengths and got the most out of every player. If opponents didn’t do the same, they would be in trouble.”
Naturally, this ability to overperform on a shoestring budget appealed to Brentford, whose modus operandi is not to outspend but to out-think the opposition, relying on firmly-crunched numbers rather than emotion and intuition.
Indeed, when Dijkhuizen was summoned to interview at the headquarters of Bees chairman Matthew Benham, he was handed a graph.
It showed that since his appointment in January 2014, Excelsior had created more and better goal-scoring opportunities and ceded fewer chances to the opposition. They had also played more attacking football and scored more goals.
With the numbers out of the way, that just left the man himself. Would he abandon traditional beliefs – as Mark Warburton had refused to do – to accommodate Brentford’s devotion to statistics?
Again, he was the perfect fit for a club whose manifesto contains the line ‘No idea or argument shall be swept off the table’.
Though hardly a rebel, Dijkhuizen has long bemoaned football’s conservative attitudes and hated what he called the dressing room “hierarchy”.
“I try not to be a hierarchical trainer,” said Dijkhuizen in 2014. “Yes, I can be an assh* le, but I will never drop a player and not give them a reason. I want open communication and I want them to have fun because that was important to me. That’s why I loved working under Mario Been.”
And those sentiments are backed up by players at Excelsior.
“He knew when to get involved, when to stand back,” said midfielder Rick Kruys. “He asks you for ideas, invites openness. He builds a relationship with his players and that is very important.”
Sander Fischer, Dijkhuizen’s skipper, concurs. “Marinus is very direct and cutting in his communication,” he said. “But we believed in him totally.”
Critically, Dijkhuizen also believed in Brentford, giving an interview in his homeland that described his delight at having computer analysts at his disposal and being judged solely on longterm results.
“As soon as we met Marinus, we felt he was an innovative and open-minded person,” said Rasmus Ankersen, Brentford’s codirector of football. “He was a great character in terms of combining open- ness to new things with experience.”
Time will tell whether Dijkhuizen’s democratic management and Benham’s boffins are a match made in heaven. For now, the Dutchman is phlegmatic.
“My job is coaching and tactics,” he says. “If that goes well, it will emerge from the model. If it doesn’t, that will emerge too. But that is fair. I would rather be judged on results than on chance.”
WINNING SMILE? Marinus Dijkhuizen is eager for success in England