Saturday, June 16, 2012
Oranje's Crippling Egotism : Can the Dutch Footballers Learn Teamwork? (Markus Feldenkirchen, 6/13/12, Der Spiegel)
Dutch football suffers greatly from the diva-like behavior of its protagonists. Holland, which plays the German national team in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on Wednesday, should have won many major championships by now. In no other country is the ratio of talented footballers to the total population as high. But the Dutch players have repeatedly failed because of their collective Achilles' heel -- their massive egos.
Sometimes at the last minute individual stars have decided to stay home in a huff because something or other didn't suit them. Players have also sometimes rebelled against their coaches, and they've often quarreled with one another. This year, too, trouble surfaced just in time for pre-championship preparations when Schalke striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar refused to accept that van Persie is the top striker and be satisfied with the bench, at least for now. Holland's key problem is that ego usually trumps unity.
Hardly any other football-playing nation is blessed with as much genius and grace as the Netherlands. But what it lacks is discipline and team spirit.
Sunday, June 10, 2012
Robin van Persie (Henk Spaan, 6/02/12, Financial Times)
Van Persie expresses that great ambition in the accent of the Dutch street, a mix of Moroccan, Dutch-Caribbean and authentic Rotterdam. He talks with a generosity and concentration that makes him a joy to interview; always conveying the immense ambition of the top-class athlete. He simply has to win. When I interviewed him for the Dutch magazine Hard Gras, he told me: “I have a table-tennis table at home. Everyone who comes to visit has to play a set against me. I’ve resolved never to lose one. I just smack them away.”
And because he absolutely has to win, that will be Arsenal’s problem: convincing Van Persie that his enormous ambition coincides with that of his club. Do Arsenal really want to win the league? Do they really want to win the Champions League? Van Persie wants to, and if he doesn’t recognise his own drive in the club, he will look elsewhere, however much he and his family enjoy life in village-like Hampstead; however much he enjoys a meal in one of the neighbourhood restaurants with his Arsenal buddy Thomas Vermaelen.
Arsenal’s recent signings have not convinced. Andrey Arshavin was expensive, inefficient and unpopular in the dressing room, Marouane Chamakh a mistake, Gervinho inadequate for the Premier League. And manager Arsène Wenger’s protection of the young midfielder Aaron Ramsey, with his deficient view of the game and meagre statistics (only two goals and four assists all season), doesn’t help much either.
On the positive side, Wenger did buy the playmaker Mikel Arteta, who within six months has become a true Arsenal player, the bedrock of their passing game. Incidentally, instead of Ramsey in midfield, Arsenal could have had Van Persie’s compatriot Rafael van der Vaart. “Would you like to come and play for us?” Van Persie had asked him. Van der Vaart, then out of favour at Real Madrid, had not believed his ears. With Van der Vaart on the left, Van Persie would know exactly when and where to expect the ball. Unfortunately, Wenger didn’t believe in Van der Vaart, even though he would have cost just £8m – peanuts when compared with Arshavin’s £15m. Van der Vaart joined Arsenal’s arch-rivals, Spurs, in 2010 and has since scored four goals against Arsenal. In one game at White Hart Lane, he put the ball through the legs of his opposite number at Arsenal, Jack Wilshere, twice in 10 seconds, then stuck out his tongue at him.
Van Persie has repeatedly expressed his admiration for teammates Arteta, Alex Song and Theo Walcott. But he still misses the team’s former playmaker, Cesc Fàbregas, who, since moving to Barcelona, has been unable to find his old form. Van Persie calls Fàbregas’s assists “art”. He speaks lyrically about the frequency with which Fàbregas could put a forward unmarked in front of the keeper. Usually that forward was Van Persie.
“Cesc is slow, you know,” he told me. “With us he was one of the slowest. And yet he was the fastest of us all. He always thinks two seconds ahead. I’d sometimes think, ‘Why doesn’t the opponent take the ball from him?’ Then, peep, he’d do a little feint. At training once I was running three, four metres behind him. I caught up and thought, ‘Now I’ll get you.’ But with the point of his boot he gives – peep! – a tiny little pass for a one-two. That gives him another metre and a half. I catch up with him again, but – peep! – he suddenly turns away with a body feint. So irritating! We strikers could always expect a deep ball from him. Most midfielders look sideways first, and then maybe forward. Cesc always looked forward first.”
Cesc is still missed. Arsenal fans cannot expect another season – such as this – of 30 goals without a playmaker to feed Van Persie. In March 2011, when I came to London to interview him again, for a Dutch TV documentary, he told me that a team’s playmaker has to form a two-in-one unit with the striker. And Arsenal realise that Van Persie believes this. Not for nothing did their scout Gilles Grimandi recently watch Montpellier’s Moroccan playmaker Younès Belhanda. Not for nothing are the names of playmakers Eden Hazard and Yoann Gourcuff so often linked with Arsenal. But can they fill the hole left by Fàbregas’ departure? The only way that Van Persie can find the playmaker he craves could be by following the little Spaniard to Barcelona.
...but it is the Fabregas's & Alonso's they have trouble replacing.