Open Dutch ace gets the best out of his play­ers

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

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.

Ex­celled

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’.

Rea­son

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WIN­NING SMILE? Mar­i­nus Di­jkhuizen is ea­ger for suc­cess in Eng­land

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