Dutchman Raymond Verheijen has earned a reputation as one of football’s most prominent and outspoken coaches.
The 43-year-old has gained extensive experience, from working under countrymen Louis van Gaal and Guus Hiddink to spending time with giants Barcelona and Manchester City.
He is a vocal proponent of the Dutch methodology, vocally criticising regimes such as David Moyes’ Manchester United which he sees as antithetical to those principles.
Verheijen shares his message across the globe, opening his World Football Academy six years ago. It was this organisation that brought him to the UAE last week, running a two-day clinic at Al Ain during the Hazza Bin Zayed International U-17 Tournament.
Professional football only began in the UAE in 2008. What are the biggest challenges that developing nations face?
First of all, in every country there are talents born. No matter what part of the world. Talent is only the starting point – it is no guarantee. You then need coaches to nurture the talent.
The most important step in developing countries is to develop the coaching structure to a high standard. Once you have coaches who know what they are doing in a structured way, then you can make talents become top players.
— Raymond Verheijen (@raymondverheije) March 31, 2015
A perfect example is Australia. They implemented the Dutch Football Association curriculum a decade ago, which has a proven methodology and is not arbitrary in nature.
In the Middle East, a lot of money is spent on football but few tangible structures are present. Do you see this as a major problem?
All too often you see with people who have a lot of money that they want quick results. If you have lots of money and want quick results, you are very vulnerable to the flavour of the month.
They move on to the next flavour of the month and the next, then after five years you are back where you started. It is like a dog chasing its own tail.
The UAE national team is on an upwards trajectory, finishing third in January’s Asian Cup. What needs to happen to continue this?
It is key whether you analyse whether this is structural success or just an incident. Maybe, you have an exceptional generation of six to eight players who came together but this does not automatically mean the same is happening in the generations below.
Secondly, they have this group of players who are above average but several of them have picked up serious injuries. That is a signal of over-training and over-playing – they are being squeezed like lemons.
Everybody is putting their hopes on this small group of players. When you are overplaying players, they accumulate fatigue and the risk of injury is increased.
What do you see as the biggest problem in football coaching?
For me, it is subjectivity. A surgeon is educated in a very strict way, and within that reference you can be subjective. That is the art of surgery.
In football however, there is no objective reference. That makes subjectivity a starting point. In everyday life, we call that chaos. The survival method for people within chaos is to blame external factors.
You have opened a Middle East branch of your World Football Academy. Would you ever be interested in working in the Middle East more frequently?
No. The reason I opened the World Football Academy is that I am not interested in working with clubs, I have done that for many years. Starting the WFA in 2009 was a step that I took, as working for clubs at that stage became too one-dimensional.
It is boring when people only think about winning on a Saturday. It is like you are living in a tunnel. I help countries at the Euros and World Cups, like Argentina last summer.
You have worked with some great coaches, such as Louis van Gaal, Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat. What have you learned from them?
What I have learned from Hiddink and Van Gaal, is that there are two types of coaches. You have the teacher and the manager.
Van Gaal is a teacher. With them, their method is the objective and players are like tools to execute the method. They are perfect for younger players, as they don’t have a structure yet. But with older players with experience in a structure, they don’t like working with teachers as they are squeezed into their structure.
Then there is the manager, like Hiddink. For them, their method isn’t the objective but the players are. His method is just a tool to improve the players – this is the opposite to the teacher.
What are the highlights of your career?
Former Wales forward Craig Bellamy is on the front of my book, I did that on purpose, as he symbolises our message.
He was the most injured player in the Premier League. Then in 2009 at Manchester City, we reduced his volume – which he didn’t like at first. His record was 15 consecutive games, then he played 43. He symbolises the principals that less is more, quality over quantity.
With Wales under Gary Speed, we really had something going on there. Despite the tragical ending [Speed committed suicide in 2011], it was so special.
Also, the World Cup with South Korea reaching the semi-finals in 2002 was one of the craziest things I have ever witnessed.
Is there a youth player you worked with who are you are especially proud of?
I worked in the Feyenoord academy in the Netherlands. You have midfielder Jordy Clasie, who is the current captain of Feyenoord and he also played in the 2014 World Cup semi-final against Argentina.
When he was 14, he was so small – just 150cm. Every year, it was 50/50 whether to keep him or let go. He was too good, playing a few age groups up. I said because he was thrown in at the deep end, he did not have the energy to grow.
I recommended reducing his training by 50 per cent, so by 2010 he had grown 20 cm. That is still not big, but he would have never reached 170cm. We saved his career. It is very nice.
A wonder strike from Lionel Messi sent Barcelona on their way to a comfortable 4-0 victory over relegation-threatened Almeria at the Nou Camp.
Messi’s beautifully placed curler came after 33 minutes and was followed by a second half brace from Luis Suarez and a header from defender Marc Bartra, giving Luis Enrique’s men their 10th consecutive victory in all competitions.
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Nevertheless, they were slightly flattered by the scale of the victory against weak opposition and will need to improve to pick up maximum points from Saturday’s much more testing trip to in-form Sevilla.
The fluidity of the team wasn’t helped by the fact that Enrique made several changes, giving rare starts to Bartra, Pedro and Sergi Roberto, and although that will help preserve energy for later challenges it also strengthened the suspicion that Barca have lost some rhythm following the international break.
The first goal attempt from the visitors – under the new management of former Barca player Sergi Barjuan – was far more dangerous, as ex-Espanyol striker Thievy Bifouma did brilliantly to wriggle into space and cut the ball back for Wellington Silva, whose low snap-shot was deflected wide.
The hosts then lost their way and failed to create any openings for a lengthy period, only looking remotely dangerous when Pedro and Suarez sent low drives flashing across the face of goal.
But the monotony was broken in spectacular style by Messi, who received a pass on the right wing and, with seemingly nowhere to go, cut inside to the right corner of the penalty box before whipping an outrageously precise shot beyond the dive of visiting keeper Julian and into the far corner.
Versatile defender Adriano – deputising for the injured Jordi Alba – had a long-range strike held by Julian early in the second half before Barca doubled their advantage as Suarez received a pass from Dani Alves before thumping a powerful left-footed strike into the top corner.
Although Almeria occasionally threatened with the pace and trickery of Bifouma on the break, the outcome was in doubt from that moment, and there were long periods of inactivity until a right wing corner from Xavi was met by the unmarked Bartra, who powered a firm header into the bottom left corner.
Following Jeremy Mathieu’s winner at Celta Vigo on Sunday, Bartra’s goal was the fifth consecutive league game in which Barca have scored from a set-piece – a major improvement to their game under Enrique.
Messi had a free-kick well saved and Thomas Partey was denied a spectacular overhead volley consolation by an offside flag, before the scoring was completed in injury time when Messi and Pedro combined for the latter to square for Suarez to easily tap in his second of the night into the empty net.
Manuel Pellegrini cannot remain in denial about his future as Manchester City manager any more.
He says he is “not concerned”, but he has to be as it becomes difficult to see him surviving a summer cull at the Etihad Stadium.
Playing an attractive style might satisfy the most patient of owners, but success matters most – just ask Arsenal fans after their fine football from 2005-2014 produced no major trophies.
And in a results-orientated business, Pellegrini is not delivering the right ones as City have dropped alarmingly to fourth place. He looks a broken man in charge of a team that needs breaking up.
Monday’s 2-1 loss at Crystal Palace was their seventh in 13 in all competitions since January 18, and they have just 18 league points in 2015. That is not good enough for the defending champions.
#cpfc fans serenading Manuel Pellegrini with “you’re getting sacked in the morning”
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) April 6, 2015
Nor are his excuses to justify their faltering form, or reasoning behind big-money signings who have failed to get into the side, let alone improve them. Yes they were unlucky at Palace.
But the hosts won because they were more direct and defiant, and arguably, showed greater heart and hunger to claim victory.
City had the possession and chances, but seemed to mirror the Arsenal of old in trying to walk the ball into the net with intricate passing routines that look pretty, but ultimately lead to nothing thanks to a disappointing final ball.
It was even more frustrating to witness that in the closing stages when, with time running out, international-class players seemed reluctant, perhaps scared, to shoot.
That clearly brings into question whether they can cope with the pressure to perform at this level, or they have peaked already.
Pellegrini’s predecessor Roberto Mancini, sacked after failing to retain the title in 2013, was criticised for airing his oft-damning opinions of individuals in public.
He hoped that it would produce a response, to galvanise the whole team to perform to the higher standards expected following their rise to the top.
It was a tough-love approach that was once part of the norm, but now managers are in the firing line, not players, and performances on the pitch speak volumes when it comes to backing the boss.
Like Pellegrini, his City side cannot hide behind unfortunate refereeing decisions, which would not have mattered if they had been ruthless in front of goal or tighter at the back.
The 169th Manchester derby is timely, giving them the opportunity to unite and launch a late winning run that was expected, but has yet to materialise. Or confirm this is the end for many who etched their name in City’s folklore with trophy triumphs.
With an average age of 29 years and 345 days, City fielded the second oldest starting XI on show in the Premier League at the weekend against Palace, and so change is inevitable with a need for youth. It is merely a question of who will stay, or who will have to go.
Sunday’s clash at Old Trafford will be a factor in the outcome.
With United buoyant after five straight league wins took them third and a point above City, it will provide Pellegrini and his men with the right challenge, at the right time.
It will not only be a test of his credentials and their quality and character, but career prospects. It will indicate who cares and who is committed to the club’s cause to shape a better future.