INTERVIEW: Dutch legend Ronald de Boer

Matt Jones 1/03/2017
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The midfielder won 67 caps for Holland.

As a player Ronald de Boer followed nearly an identical path to his twin brother Frank, but the Dutchman has no desire to pursue his sibling into management.

It can be a viper’s nest, as seen with the cruel sacking of Claudio Ranieri by Premier League champions Leicester City this week, barely nine months after he masterminded the greatest underdog success the beautiful game has ever seen.

It’s a relationship that has turned ugly this season in the face of reported dressing room unrest and the harsh reality that the fortune the Foxes found last season was a total fluke.

Ranieri’s fate is something De Boer can empathise with after brother Frank was sacked by Serie A giants Internazionale on November 1 – just 85 days after being appointed.

The maddening world of management is something the 46-year-old is quite happy to leave to his twin and instead talk about from the cushy confines of the television studio in his role as a football pundit.

“I started (in management) but then I was in the middle of a divorce and I thought ‘what the hell am I doing?’. My head was exploding,” De Boer told Sport360 of his short stint working with the Qatar Olympic team after bringing an end to his playing days in the Gulf nation in 2010/11.

“Then I went into the easier side of things with television, so I am now a pundit, which is very nice to do. You’re talking about the game and it’s not so stressful like my brother. You can do it until you’re 70 if you make sure you’re well informed and look OK.

“It’s what I enjoy and I can still do other things. If you’re a manager, forget about it. It’s 24/7. There’s a lot of stress. Of course when you’re successful it’s nice. Maybe it’s addictive when you get success, but it’s very, very tough.”

Tough is an understatement. Frank replaced former Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini at the Nerazzurri on August 9 last year having impressed at the helm of his former club Ajax, where he won four straight Eredivisie titles in five-and-a-half seasons as head coach.

He left for the San Siro after 262 games but lasted just 14 at Inter – his 60 per cent win percentage in Amsterdam nearly halved to 36 in Milan.

A disastrous Europa League campaign in which they finished bottom in a group containing Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Sparta Prague and Southampton was a particular low point.

Time is an ever-decreasing commodity in football, but De Boer believes the amount afforded to his brother left him with an impossible task.

“You’re the man who’s going to change the club, the philosophy. They wanted a different idea about football, to be more attractive,” said Ronald, reflecting on Frank’s appointment.

“But you can’t start here and go there without ups and downs. Of course if you’re used to different styles, it takes a while. Look at Guardiola at Man City. He’s had unbelievable success but still it’s not easy for him, and he’s got even better players than Frank at Inter.

“Inter is a good team but if you want to have a philosophy you have to have time. If the results aren’t there, they get impatient and there seemed to be too many captains on one ship.

“There was so much influence from outside and he had a group of 29 players which is way too much. You can imagine playing 11 v 11 in training and you still have to tell one player to warm up and he’s still on €2/3million, and he can’t even get in the second 11.

“He needed time to shape the system and implement his ideas so it was very hard for him, but I also think it was educational, he learned a lot. It wasn’t to be but 85 days was terrible.

“Look at Alex Ferguson at Man United, he struggled for four years. If you believe he is the guy you have to give him a chance and they never gave him a chance. You don’t have to feel sorry for him though. Life goes on and he’s paid well, so next job.”

Football has become an increasingly cut-throat environment in the last two decades, especially for managers.

Times have changed and no-one is more aware of that than De Boer, who played in one of the most talented Oranje squads ever.

For a nation that invented “total football”, that has produced some of the finest players to ever grace a field – Johan Cruyff, Johan Neeskens, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Clarence Seedorf, Dennis Bergkamp, Frank Rijkaard and Ronald Koeman – it borders on insanity the Flying Dutchmen have only captured one major honour, the 1988 European Championships.

And, despite Van Basten lighting that tournament up with one of football’s most iconic goals, in the final against the Soviet Union, the triumph is put into perspective by the fact only eight teams participated.

Squads containing Edwin van der Sar, Michael Reiziger, Jaap Stam, Wim Jonk, Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert, Seedorf, Phillip Cocu, Marc Overmars, Edgar Davids and the De Boers flattered to deceive at Euro 96 and the 1998 World Cup – despite Bergkamp scoring another of football’s most memorable goals against Argentina.

Rijkaard’s Dutch side squandered two spot kicks in normal time and missed three in a penalty shootout against an Italy team who had played for 56 minutes of their Euro 2000 semi-final with 10 men.

It was a fourth time in five major tournaments the Oranje had been beaten in a shootout as the Azzurri advanced to the final against France – a failure De Boer labeled ridiculous.

“It’s a shame that generation never won a big prize,” he said.

“We were so close and it was ridiculous we didn’t get to the final at Euro 2000 against Italy. We had the red card, hit the post two times, two missed penalties in normal time and then lost in the shootout. It was terrible. You can’t write a story like that.”

During that fallow period the national team were plagued by stories of in-fighting and their shortcomings were reportedly caused by a clash of egos.

De Boer admitted there were arguments, but claims using that as an excuse for failure would be wrong.

“There was not fighting. Of course there was arguing. When you are five or six years with each other there will be some bust ups, there were some big characters but it was over-exaggerated,” he said.

“We were the best team in the world and there were rows over contracts. Players were ranked A, B, C. Some boys were put in B when they thought they should be in A, and they thought we had some influence on that at national team level.

“Davids and some boys were really angry that they were in B, despite the fact they were two-three years younger. You have to earn it, but then I thought they had earned it because they won the Champions League (in 1995 with Ajax).

“But that was not the reason we weren’t successful. For me it was a little bit more about focus. Guus Hiddink wasn’t ready for the tournament in 1996. He thought he could go with the flow with the Ajax players and that didn’t work because there was some tension in the group, but perhaps we were also not so hungry.

“In 1998 it was strict, everybody knew the rules, he was prepared, he had the coaching staff around him and it was his way.”

Dutch teams certainly not as talented, but perhaps more cohesive, have finished runners-up and third at the last two World Cups in South Africa and Brazil, but failed to get out of the group at Euro 2012 and didn’t even qualify for Euro 2016 – despite the number of teams competing rising from 16 to 24.

De Boer feels the national team are simply in the midst of a generational cycle and believes there is enough young talent in the lowlands that will see the Dutch rise once again to become a global football force.

“Now we’re not one of the superpowers of world football,” said De Boer.

“When I was at Ajax I was turning 24 or 25, still young. It’s a good age but now the average age is 20. The guys don’t have the legs. They’re way too young. They’re talented but if you want to compete with the big guns, you need to have an average age of 25-28.

“You look at Christian Eriksen doing really well at Tottenham. He’s 23 when he leaves (Ajax). Daley Blind is the same. But if they play well (back home) they’re gone and that will happen again and again. You can’t really build a team and that’s a problem.

“It’s a generation thing. Generations comes and go. In the 80s we didn’t have a great generation and then all of a sudden Van Basten came along. There’s always gaps.

“Believe me, I’ve seen the talent. At Ajax, there’s some top, top talent. Of course it’s talent, you never know, but I think there’s a generation coming in five or six years, when they’re 25-26. I think they will be back up there again in the future.

“It’s a small country of 17 million people so there’s ups and downs and you have to accept that and work hard. Abdelhak Nouri, Frenkie de Jong, Kenny Tete. I’m sure they will make their mark.”

One of the brightest talents to wear the famous orange jersey in recent years is former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay, now at Ligue 1 side Lyon after an underwhelming 18 months at Old Trafford.

The problem with the flamboyant wideman during his time as a Red Devil was he was too colourful – more famous for his Instagram posts and garish wardrobe than his exploits on the field.

De Boer believes Depay had to be more intelligent away from the pitch, especially while not shining on it.

“He’s a great talent. It just didn’t work out,” said De Boer.

“He has his characteristics and perhaps he can be smarter at times. When people expect you to do things and you don’t, don’t do other things (to attract attention). Aubameyang, I saw him in a blue suit, an ugly one in which he looked like a clown, but it’s accepted because he’s scoring goals, so everyone laughs about it.

“But if you’re not scoring goals and playing bad, people will say he’s thinking more about his clothes or whatever. They have to be smart, you really have to work.

“The only thing I thought when I saw him playing was that you can’t stand on the ball and have time, in England they’re much stronger and faster, you have to adapt. He didn’t really do that. He’s got it but thought he could do it standing still, he didn’t do it while moving.

“You need a good start. When you have doubts and they don’t go away there’s more pressure and people expect. But he’s still young and he’s at Lyon which is a great team. I still think he can have an incredible turnaround. He has the quality.”

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