Monday, July 15, 2024

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England in the Eredivisie

Bobby Robson & Steve McClaren (via Planet Football)

As the dust settled on what will most likely be regarded as a flop Nations League campaign for the Three Lions, Gareth Southgate could be forgiven for questioning whether it’s worth staying on at St George's Park beyond the World Cup. Instead, should he take the admittedly left- field step of leaving it all behind, and might he do as at least two of his predecessors have and seek career rehabilitation, of a sort, in Holland?



Ruud Van Nistelrooy has taken over at PSV Eindhoven (having scored 62 goals in 67 league games for the club between 1998 and 2001) in time for the coming Eredivisie season, following spells coaching their under 19 and Jong PSV (reserve) teams. Meanwhile, the man with perhaps a more tenuous grip on the England reins than he might have expected after having generated so much goodwill for a run to the Euro 2020 final, could be forgiven for casting his mind back to Bobby Robson's own turn in pitching up at the Philips Stadion...


Just prior to the 1990 World Cup, Robson had been told by the FA that his contract wasn't to be renewed and so he decided to indulge his “sense of adventure" and head for pastures new. Although the tabloids, including Today magazine, weren't exactly quick to wave him a fond goodbye, going so far as to question his patriotism and dub him a traitor! Add to that the not inconsiderable challenge of replacing Guus Hiddink in the PSV dugout and we might consider it well placed to dub this the hardest challenge of what had even then seemed a long- lived managerial career.


Yet there was still room to be surprised, as he conceded to Voetbal International!


"An English pro accepts the manager's decision. After every match here, the substitutes come and visit me."


Perhaps his most regular visitor was Romario, the Brazilian striker by turns enthralling and enraging the gaffer with sublime talent and questionable life choices, a common theme running throughout his time in Europe.


But in dealing with its twists and turns, a lesson was learnt, as Bobby would tell the Northern Echo upon his return to home turf with Newcastle…


“Romario was a great player but he wasn’t a great player to work with. In fact, he was a pain in the arse. He didn’t respond to coaching or discipline or anything. He was just sheer talent. He didn’t think you needed anything else. In his case, he was right. I’d tell him to do things and he’d just stick two fingers up at me. But Romario taught me a lesson. You can’t change leopards so don’t try. Get the best out of him by loving him, not fighting him.”


Wisdom Southgate would appear to have taken on board going by the many glowing reports coming out of training camps during the early years of his own England reign. A feeling we may well surmise has lapsed a little since the heady days of the Euros and the 2018 World Cup in Russia, going by the recent comparatively limp performances from those under his charge.


And indeed, those firmly pro- Gareth will most likely hope the FA backs its man rather than jilting him immediately pre-Qatar. At which juncture it’s worth considering the circumstances which led to Steve, or should that be Shteve McClaren, in a sense following in Bobby's footsteps, when in 2008 he pitched up at FC Twente following the end of his own time in England's hottest seat outside that of Prime Minister.


Failure to qualify for Euro 2008 had seen him dubbed the wally with the brolly by the very same tabloid press which had so hounded Robson before he decamped to Dutch soil- by May the same year he was in the stands at De Grolsch Veste Enschede watching the team he'd eventually take charge of qualify for the Champions League. A deal was reached the following month and a second place league finish were the fruits of his first season, his second seeing them go one better and win the league- making Shteve the first Englishman to win a European league title since 1997. And who served as the architect of that particular success?


You guessed it- Bobby Robson! Though by then he was at Porto, with a young José Mourinho along as translator in keeping with the sort of decision-making which had seen him name Frank Arnesen as his assistant at PSV, a club legend and local boy given the nod over any potential candidates closer to home.


The first two of his titles on foreign shores were Eredivisie crowns, 1990-91 and 91-92 ending in domestic success and rightly remembered as the high points of his time in Holland. Goal difference alone separated PSV and Ajax at the death in the first instance, whilst a four point gap between the two settled matters at the second before what was seen as a lack of progress in European competitions meant no new deal and a move to Sporting Lisbon.


He would return to PSV in time for the start of the 1998-99 season, though only on a short term basis, securing third place in the league and Champions League qualification, plus some manner of domestic success achieved with a Johan Cruyff Shield win. In a nice bit of circularity, among his players for that campaign was no less than Van Nistelrooy, given the unenviable task of helping his boss almost completely rebuild a team depleted by departures, including Jaap Stam - who'd made the move Ruud himself would later emulate in swapping the Phillips Stadion for Old Trafford.


“Stam has gone, Cocu has gone, and Zenden. How they expect me to win the league I do not know.” as he huffed to Jack Carroll of the Sunday Telegraph that pre-season!


And again like Bobby, Shteve would eventually find himself returning to Twente following a move across to Germany with Wolfsburg and a stint back home with Nottingham Forest. Although his 2012-13 season would end in the rather damp squib of a sixth place finish and a departure by mutual consent after he and the club's board agreed “the club is bigger than any one individual and Twente is too big in my heart to stand in the way of its progress.", the statement mercifully not delivered in his infamous “comedy” Dutch accent!


Plenty to chew on for the latest of his successors, nonetheless?

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