ZEIST, Netherlands – Ronald Koeman took charge of the struggling Netherlands team on Tuesday, saying he wants to restore players’ pride in representing the three-time World Cup runner-up.
Koeman vowed to make the team competitive again, even though he does not have a wealth of world-class talent at his disposal. The Netherlands missed out on this summer’s World Cup in Russia, having also failed to qualify for the 2016 European Championship.
“It is time for us to be back at a tournament,” Koeman said.
Koeman was a key member of the team that won Euro 1988 and said the team’s recent decline shows today’s footballers need to learn from other about discipline, love for the game and pride in representing their country, he said.
“I’ve sometimes missed that in the Netherlands team and I think we can improve that a lot,” he said. “I sometimes get the feeling that players think, `we’ve left our club and it is nice and easy, we can relax.“’
The 54-year-old Koeman signed a contract until the 2022 World Cup and replaces Dick Advocaat, who was appointed as a stop-gap measure in June after Danny Blind was fired.
The target now for the former Everton and Southampton boss is to reach the same level, on and off the pitch, as the team that finished third at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil under Louis van Gaal after losing on penalties to Argentina in the semifinals. The Netherlands lost the 2010 World Cup final to Spain.
Koeman said he will work players harder on the training pitch.
“We can do more in training, we can train differently,” he said. “Tactically, we can do more.”
Koeman played 78 internationals for the Netherlands at a time when the Dutch team was famous for sticking to an attacking 4-3-3 system. But the former defender said he is prepared to switch up the way his team plays to get results.
“I’m a coach who likes to change systems,” he said. “I think the best is that players can handle different systems because we know we don’t have the best players but that don’t mean you cannot have the best team.”
Koeman has made no secret of his desire to coach the Netherlands, and was disappointed not to have been appointed when Van Gaal left after the 2014 World Cup.
In 2014, the Dutch Football Association opted for the experience of Guus Hiddink, a move that backfired as he failed to galvanize a squad Van Gaal helped to overachieve in Brazil.
Hiddink was fired in 2015 and replaced by Blind, who could not secure qualification for Euro 2016 and began the ultimately unsuccessful campaign to qualify for Russia before making way for Advocaat.
Koeman made a name for himself as a coach at teams including Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Valencia, and Feyenoord, earning a reputation as a leader who can get the best out of his players. He was fired by Everton in October, two months into his second season in charge. In his first season he led the team to seventh in the Premier League.
That has given him time to spend back home in the Netherlands, drawing hope from watching young players in the Eredivisie.
“I see a lot of talent,” he said.
He will need to tap into that young talent soon. Koeman takes over a Netherlands team that is nearing the end of an era with winger Arjen Robben having retired last year, playmaker Wesley Sneijder approaching the end of his career, and all-time top scorer Robin van Persie currently a substitute at Feyenoord.
Koeman’s first match in charge will be a friendly on March 23 against England in Amsterdam.
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