Com­ing, Ready Or Not...

There’s nowhere to hide for Bert van Mar­wijk as he seeks World Cup re­demp­tion with the Soc­ceroos at Rus­sia 2018

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - Words Ben Somer­ford

new Soc­ceroos coach Bert van Mar­wijk’s jour­ney to be­ing a foot­ball coach started in the 1950s as just a young lad on the banks of the river IJs­sel in the small in­dus­trial Dutch city of Deven­ter, ap­prox­i­mately 100km east of Amsterdam. “As a boy I was only on the streets with my friends,” van Mar­wijk re­calls. “The boys from one street would play against a team from an­other. Some­times you would play three against eight, it all just de­pended on who was there.” Young Lam­ber­tus, born on 19 May 1952, was a bit dif­fer­ent to the oth­ers though. As a young­ster, he didn’t just play for fun, he thought deeply about the best way to win. “We would play in the street, a lit­tle square or on a bad pitch and you had to adapt in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion,” he says. “And it was all about win­ning! It made you think about the game, so as a young boy I thought about tac­tics. “When I look at foot­ball now, I think this is lack­ing. Young boys don’t play in the streets any­more. They join a club and a coach usu­ally tells them how to play.” Roughly 50 years later, that boy was the man in charge of his na­tion’s foot­ball team, lead­ing the Nether­lands to the 2010 World Cup fi­nal only to lose by the nar­row­est of mar­gins against Spain, go­ing down 1-0 in ex­tra-time. Eight years on, he’s got an­other chal­lenge, lead­ing a Soc­ceroos side he barely knows to the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia, hav­ing taken the job at the last minute fol­low­ing Ange Postecoglou’s 11th hour res­ig­na­tion. But the Dutch­man has been pre­par­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties like this his whole life. Van Mar­wijk may have grown up in lit­tle-known Deven­ter but it was an ideal ground­ing for his foot­ball de­vel­op­ment. As a teenager, he joined lo­cal club Go Ahead Ea­gles who in the late 1960s were reg­u­larly in the top five in the Dutch Ere­di­visie. “They were the first team in Hol­land where they had a train­ing cen­tre for young play­ers to live and train,” van Mar­wijk says. “A lot of good play­ers from all over Hol­land came to this place to be­come a pro­fes­sional foot­baller.” Van Mar­wijk de­buted for Go Ahead Ea­gles as a 17-year-old left winger. “In those days, your job was sim­ple: drib­ble past the right­back on the out­side and give the cross to the striker,” he says. “The cross had to be per­fect. To be able to do my job well, it was im­por­tant that my team had the ball of­ten and also that they would give me the ball at the right time and place. “It would make my job very hard if they gave me the ball when the full-back was close to me so he could in­ter­cept it. My team­mates would have to pass the ball if I made a sprint. When the other team was bet­ter it could hap­pen that I’d not re­ceive the ball for 20 min­utes. In those days you had to stay on the out­side, you weren’t re­ally al­lowed to go in­side and look for the ball. Dif­fer­ent times, dif­fer­ent kind of foot­ball. “But it also helped me de­velop my way of think­ing about the game. Be­cause of my po­si­tion, I learned to un­der­stand how im­por­tant it was to have pos­ses­sion and also how im­por­tant the de­tails were. They could make the dif­fer­ence in win­ning or los­ing.” And win­ning is ev­ery­thing for van Mar­wijk, who em­ploys a prag­matic style but stud­ies the game deeply, with a fo­cus on pos­ses­sion and tran­si­tion in the mod­ern game. Van Mar­wijk ma­tured in a foot­balling sense dur­ing a dom­i­nant era for Dutch foot­ball, with Feyeno­ord claim­ing the 1970 Euro­pean Cup, be­fore Jo­han Cruyff’s Ajax won an as­ton­ish­ing con­ti­nen­tal hat-trick of ti­tles from 1971 to 1973. The Nether­lands also reached the World Cup fi­nal for the first time in 1974. “Cruyff was a role model for me,” van Mar­wijk re­veals. “Dur­ing matches in which he played for the other team, I was just watch­ing him. How he would ask for the ball, what he would do with it, the way he was di­rect­ing the team like an orches­tra. He was so im­pres­sive.” Van Mar­wijk’s play­ing ca­reer never reached any re­mark­able heights, earn­ing one in­ter­na­tional cap while the 1978 Dutch Cup with AZ Alk­maar was his only ma­jor tro­phy. A nig­gling knee in­jury ul­ti­mately de­nied him the chance to ful­fil his po­ten­tial as a foot­baller, but that ex­pe­ri­ence set him up to be a coach. “In my last years as a player, I was al­ready think­ing like a coach,”

he says. “I started as a winger who was only con­cerned about when and how he got the ball, but later on I be­came a mid­fielder and late in my play­ing ca­reer, I was a libero. In that po­si­tion, I was coach­ing the whole team. That was nec­es­sary. My knee was ter­ri­ble at that time, so I was busy with or­gan­is­ing the team in a way that I would not get into trou­ble my­self.” Van Mar­wijk may have spent his en­tire play­ing ca­reer in Hol­land but he came close to mov­ing to Eng­land in the 1970s to join West Ham United. “In those younger days I had many of­fers,” he says. “I played a trial match and spent some days in Lon­don. I was there with my wife and I re­mem­ber it was rain­ing ev­ery day. When I got the of­fer, we looked at each other and de­cided not to do it! The things you do when you are young. If the weather would have been great, maybe we would have made an­other de­ci­sion but I have no re­grets.” While van Mar­wjik be­gan think­ing like a coach as a foot­baller, it wasn’t un­til his post-play­ing ca­reer that he fully com­mit­ted him­self to the pro­fes­sion, al­though he didn’t take the usual path. “I started at ama­teur level,” he states. “That’s some­thing I can rec­om­mend to any coach start­ing out. You see that many top play­ers af­ter their ca­reer start right away at the high­est level as a coach. That’s dif­fi­cult, be­cause coach­ing has a lot to do with ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s a learn­ing process. “At ama­teur level you had to think about ev­ery­thing. About your ma­te­ri­als, a bad pitch, a group that had some good play­ers but also some play­ers who were maybe not so good. How do you man­age that? How do you get the best out of those play­ers? How do you mo­ti­vate play­ers that have a 9am to 5pm job? How do you bring play­ers that only train three times a week to a higher level? If you have that ex­pe­ri­ence, it only gets eas­ier – it helps you pre­pare in a big way. “As a coach I un­der­stood and ex­pe­ri­enced it’s all about vi­sion. How do you get the best out your play­ers? As a coach you have to know ex­actly what you want, what kind of foot­ball you want to play, what kind of foot­ball will get the best out of the play­ers that you man­age. Those two things have to match. If you have that per­fect start­ing point then it is all about work­ing with your team.” Van Mar­wijk needs to draw upon that given the last-minute na­ture of his ap­point­ment with the Soc­ceroos, while the best style and ap­proach for the side has long been de­bated in light of Postecoglou’s am­bi­tious meth­ods. The Dutch­man, though, has plenty of ex­pe­ri­ence, hav­ing earned his first pro­fes­sional coach­ing gig in 1998 with plucky For­tuna Sit­tard, his fi­nal club as a player. For­tuna fin­ished sev­enth in the Ere­di­visie in his first full sea­son in charge and reached the Dutch Cup fi­nal 12 months later, show­cas­ing van Mar­wijk’s prom­ise. Fresh from win­ning the league ti­tle in 1999, Dutch heavy­weights Feyeno­ord nabbed van Mar­wi­jik with high ex­pec­ta­tions. In van Mar­wijk’s se­cond sea­son in charge at De Kuip, the Rot­ter­dammers won the UEFA Cup, top­pling Rangers, PSV Eind­hoven, In­ter and Borus­sia Dort­mund on their way to con­ti­nen­tal glory, with Soc­ceroo Brett Emer­ton and fu­ture West­ern Syd­ney Wan­der­ers mar­quee Shinji Ono in his team. Over four sea­sons, Van Mar­wijk nar­rowly missed out on lead­ing Feyeno­ord to Ere­di­visie glory, fin­ish­ing run­ners-up in 2001, be­fore three third-place fin­ishes be­hind Ajax and PSV. He even­tu­ally left for Ger­man gi­ants Borus­sia Dort­mund in 2004, who were look­ing to re­store their pow­er­house sta­tus af­ter just one Bun­desliga ti­tle in eight years. He only man­aged two sev­en­th­place fin­ishes be­fore ex­it­ing half­way through his third cam­paign. Six months later he re­turned to Feyeno­ord, who were still search­ing for their first Ere­di­visie crown since 1999. Af­ter just nine months in the job, the Dutch Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (KNVB) an­nounced van Mar­wijk would suc­ceed Marco van Bas­ten as na­tional team boss af­ter the 2008 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships. Dur­ing this pe­riod, van Mar­wijk ar­guably en­joyed his great­est suc­cess, guid­ing Oranje to 2010 World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion with a per­fect record, be­fore reach­ing the fi­nal in South Africa with six wins from six games, in­clud­ing knock­ing out Brazil in the quar­ter-fi­nals as the Dutch chased their first world cham­pi­ons crown. In the fi­nal at Soc­cer City in Jo­han­nes­burg, van Mar­wijk’s side came up against a dom­i­nant Span­ish out­fit, fresh from win­ning the 2008 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships with a won­der­ful tiki-taka style born out of the Barcelona mid­field trio An­dres Ini­esta, Ser­gio Bus­quets and Xavi. Spain, though, hadn’t been at their fluid best in South Africa, scrap­ing through all three knock­out fix­tures 1-0, and van Mar­wijk had a plan. “Spain dom­i­nated all their games in a big way with their tiki-taka style,” van Mar­wijk re­calls. “They were able to keep pos­ses­sion and let you run for 90 min­utes with­out touch­ing the ball. That was what made them strong. “We knew it was im­por­tant to get and keep the ball our­selves, to not give them the op­por­tu­nity to let them play the game they wanted and we suc­ceeded for many pe­ri­ods in the game. We could have won it. Ar­jen Robben had the chance to fin­ish the game but Iker Casil­las made an un­be­liev­able save.” The de­cider went to ex­tra-time, hav­ing fin­ished goal­less af­ter 90 min­utes. Dutch de­fender John Heitinga was sent off in the 109th minute but the con­test ap­peared des­tined to be set­tled by penal­ties un­til Ini­esta’s dev­as­tat­ing 116th minute win­ner. “At the time it didn’t re­ally sink in,” van Mar­wijk says. “Some months af­ter the fi­nal, I had to go to Spain for a com­mer­cial en­gage­ment and talked to [Spain coach] Vi­cente Del Bosque. He told me, ‘We were so afraid of Hol­land. You were the last team we wanted to play against in the fi­nal and even dur­ing the game we thought we couldn’t win’. That was re­ally the time it re­ally sunk in and I got emo­tional about it. We were so close!” Short on top class de­fend­ers, van Mar­wijk em­ployed a prag­matic, hard style through­out their World Cup cam­paign – con­trast­ing with Dutch tra­di­tion and sub­se­quently at­tract­ing some crit­i­cism - us­ing their plethora of at­tack­ing op­tions led by Wes­ley Snei­jder, Robin van Per­sie, Dirk Kuyt and Robben. One of the en­dur­ing mo­ments of the 2010 fi­nal was mid­field en­forcer Nigel de Jong’s bru­tal karate-style kick to Xabi Alonso’s chest


in the first half which, for many, summed up that ruth­less ap­proach. Van Mar­wijk swiftly changes the sub­ject when it’s brought up. “I know that ev­ery­one re­mem­bers the tackle and that is okay,” he says. “But no­body re­mem­bers any­more how we played that tour­na­ment. When any­body talks about that tour­na­ment and Hol­land, it’s all about that mo­ment. I have read com­ments that we played neg­a­tive and it was not the kind of foot­ball they ex­pected from Nether­lands. It’s just like ev­ery­body for­got how we got to the fi­nal. When we started the tour­na­ment, we weren’t a favourite. It was all about our de­fence that had no top play­ers, we would never be able to com­pete with the bet­ter teams ac­cord­ing to the spe­cial­ists. “We got to the fi­nal in a dom­i­nant style. Look at the statis­tics. We had the most pos­ses­sion, the most at­tacks, the most passes, only Spain did bet­ter! But af­ter that fi­nal, that seems to be for­got­ten.” Van Mar­wijk ex­tended his con­tract with the KNVB af­ter the World Cup un­til 2014 but he didn’t see out his ten­ure, re­sign­ing af­ter their dis­as­trous 2012 Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships cam­paign, where they failed to claim a point. He took some time away from the game, de­spite be­ing linked with sev­eral jobs in­clud­ing the Southamp­ton post, be­fore re­turn­ing with Ham­burg SV for an un­pro­duc­tive spell in Ger­many in 2013 where he only lasted 143 days in the job. Van Mar­wijk had gone from the heights of reach­ing a World Cup fi­nal to a chal­leng­ing pe­riod where he ul­ti­mately failed twice, at the 2012 Eu­ros and with Ham­burg. In this con­text, the Dutch­man took more time away from the game be­fore de­cid­ing on a fresh task, link­ing up with Saudi Ara­bia in 2015, as the Green Fal­cons chased a World Cup berth for the first time since 2006. He suc­ceeded, sub­se­quently deny­ing Aus­tralia au­to­matic qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the first time ever since the Soc­ceroos joined the Asian Foot­ball Con­fed­er­a­tion. Van Mar­wijk first came across the Soc­ceroos when they were pit­ted against Saudi Ara­bia in Group B of third round qual­i­fy­ing. On match­day three in Oc­to­ber 2016, the two sides drew 2-2 in Jed­dah, while Aus­tralia claimed an es­sen­tial three points later in the qual­i­fi­ca­tion phase in Ade­laide, tri­umph­ing 3-2. “We an­a­lysed them and could see they have a young tal­ented team,” he re­calls. “We couldn’t beat them but for Aus­tralia it went wrong in other games against Iraq and Thai­land. Saudi Ara­bia didn’t make mis­takes in those games but Aus­tralia showed great char­ac­ter by qual­i­fy­ing. The play-offs against Syria and Hon­duras were hard but I am sure it was also a road that made Aus­tralia a bet­ter team. “When you ask peo­ple in Europe about Aus­tralian foot­ball, nine out of 10 will say they’re strong, very ath­letic and they play a very phys­i­cal game,” van Mar­wijk says. “Most of them aren’t aware about the changes. They play a pass­ing game, they want to keep the ball and play pos­ses­sion foot­ball. That’s a good choice. If Aus­tralia can com­bine this kind of foot­ball with their great cul­ture, then they will have the best of both worlds.” Barely a week af­ter World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion though, van Mar­wijk fell out with Saudi’s foot­ball fed­er­a­tion and quit. “The main rea­son was that I was not able to go to the World Cup on my terms,” he says. “As a coach you need to be able to make your own pro­gramme, to de­cide who you need in the staff and to be able to se­lect the play­ers you want. That’s the way ev­ery coach works. And that was the way I worked for two years in Saudi Ara­bia and that was the way we man­aged to qual­ify. But af­ter the game against Ja­pan (a 1-0 win which se­cured qual­i­fi­ca­tion) they sacked the team man­ager and the Min­is­ter of Sport brought in a new su­per­vi­sor and team man­ager. This new su­per­vi­sor told the press they were go­ing to se­lect new play­ers be­cause the team that se­cured qual­i­fi­ca­tion wasn’t good enough. “As you can imag­ine the first thing I asked dur­ing the ne­go­ti­a­tions was, ‘Where is my team man­ager? I don’t want that new su­per­vi­sor.’ I didn’t get an an­swer, so the ne­go­ti­a­tions were over pretty fast. If I can’t work the way I want, then my de­ci­sion is sim­ple. Two months later the Fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent called again. They had changed the team com­pletely, lost some games and asked if I wanted to come

back. I told them I’d only come back on my terms. That meant the new man­age­ment out and my Saudi as­sis­tant coach, Saudi goal­keeper coach and team man­ager back in. It took three days for them to an­swer and in the end they told me they could not re­store the old sit­u­a­tion. So that was that un­til Aus­tralia called.” Foot­ball Fed­er­a­tion Aus­tralia swooped and got their man, an­nounc­ing his ap­point­ment in late Jan­uary on a short-term deal. With less than six months to pre­pare for the World Cup, time was of the essence for van Mar­wijk, and the Aus­tralian pub­lic can only guess what ap­proach he’ll take with the side. March’s friendlies against Nor­way and Colom­bia of­fered a brief in­sight, al­though for him, the games were more of an in­tro­duc­tion to his play­ers than an op­por­tu­nity to show­case his blue­print. He of­fers fur­ther in­sight when talk­ing mod­ern foot­ball. “I was raised with the idea that you can only in­flu­ence a game when you have the ball,” he ex­plains. “But it’s also pos­si­ble when you don’t have the ball. It’s a mat­ter of de­fend­ing the space and not the op­po­nent. Sounds easy, but it re­quires a lot of train­ing be­fore play­ers know what they have to do. It is vi­tal that the whole team knows what to do and how to re­act.” Sadly, time for that kind of train­ing is a lux­ury van Mar­wijk does not have with the Soc­ceroos. Van Mar­wijk took a key les­son from the 2013 UEFA Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal be­tween Bay­ern Mu­nich and Borus­sia Dort­mund. “Bay­ern played with Thomas Muller as a 10,” he says. “Dort­mund had a mid­field with two hold­ing mid­field­ers Ilkay Gun­do­gan and Lars Ben­der. Muller is a great num­ber 10 but he hardly got the ball that game. To my sur­prise Gun­do­gan and Ben­der hardly looked at Muller but were al­ways in front of him. They were so close to each other that the pass sim­ply couldn’t be given and the few times that Bay­ern man­aged to reach Muller, the cen­tral de­fend­ers from Dort­mund put pres­sure right away so Muller could do noth­ing. That was new to me. “With Saudi Ara­bia we started by teach­ing those hold­ing mid­field­ers to de­fend the space. The next move was to make the cen­tral de­fend­ers re­act in time when the num­ber 10 got the ball. ‘The space is too big’, they an­swered. Then you have to make the space smaller, play closer to the hold­ing mid­field­ers! Make sure you are in time! And it worked. The cen­tral de­fend­ers re­ally got fo­cused on de­fend­ing ag­gres­sively for­ward. Af­ter that, we ex­panded it so that the en­tire team played the same way. That is what you want. If you man­age that, it doesn’t mat­ter what sys­tem the other team plays. “And when you win the ball your­self, you have an in­cred­i­ble amount of space in tran­si­tion.” Van Mar­wijk points to the ex­am­ple of the Premier League cham­pi­ons, who dom­i­nate pos­ses­sion but score most of their goals in tran­si­tion. “It is all about a quick tran­si­tion,” he says. “Man­ches­ter City has found a great way to play the pos­ses­sion game and com­bine this with find­ing the right mo­ments to hurt the other team in tran­si­tion. I think that’s new.” He’s come a long way from those early days be­ing out­num­bered on dodgy pitches on the streets of Deven­ter, but van Mar­wijk has never mulled over foot­ball more in­tently than now. Aus­tralia and the Soc­ceroos will be hop­ing he’s got the an­swers.



Right CHAM­PI­ONS! BvM lifts the big Euro vase as Feyeno­ord boss in 2002

Be­low His legacy is still tainted by the 2010 World Cup fi­nal be­tween Nether­lands and Spain


Above The cel­e­bra­tions ended quickly in Saudi when BvM quit in a row over his coach­ing staff

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