While Barcelona’s appointment of Ronald Koeman might have raised some eyebrows in the football fraternity – especially after their horrible 2019-20 season – the Catalan club’s past trysts with Dutch managers are mostly counted amongst footballing folklore. What started with Rinus Michels in 1971 was continued by the legendary Johan Cruyff in 1988, Louis van Gaal in 2002 and Frank Rijkaard in 2003, before the Oranje connection was rejuvenated again in 2020 through Ronald Koeman.
None of the Dutch managers, however, came close to Pep Guardiola’s all-winning Barcelona side barring former Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff – which makes this task even bigger for Ronald Koeman. Koeman has joined an elite club of Barcelona managers who have represented the Spanish giants as a player as well. But, to read his name amongst the club’s greatest few, the Zaandam-born has to punch way above his weight.
Koeman’s Managerial Journey
Starting his coaching stint as a Barcelona assistant manager to compatriot Louis van Gaal during the 1998-99 season, Ronald Koeman has worked his way up rapidly over the past two decades. A brief stint with Dutch club Vitesse was followed with a four-year managerial role in Ajax, where he won three Eredivisie titles. After Ronald Koeman hovered between Portuguese (Benfica), Spanish (Valencia) and Dutch (Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven) clubs, he got a true project in Premier League side Southampton at the turn of the decade.
However, after an impressive display with the Saints landed Koeman a lucrative job in Merseyside club Everton, the ambitious project couldn’t last more than a year. Ronald Koeman’s last club management ended with the gaffer averaging a paltry 1.48 points a game, which is the second-lowest in his career since Valencia in the 2007-08 La Liga season.
What Koeman Brings To Barcelona
Hence, Barcelona’s decision to appoint Ronald Koeman at the helm has been questioned by many, especially given the serious struggles the club is going through at the moment. One look at Ronald Koeman’s coaching stint with the Netherlands national team, however, hints at a method to this madness by the Catalonia club.
Koeman had to oversee an in-transition Dutch national side when he took over the reins in March 2018. The team has since won 11 of the 20 matches they have played, losing only four. The victories were not narrow either with the Netherlands scoring a whopping 43 goals and conceding 18 in the process. The emergence of some of the best modern footballers being Dutchmen isn’t an accident either.
Barcelona Under Koeman
While the departures of players like Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Nelson Semedo, Arthur and others might have irked Barcelona fans, a Dutch core is quintessential to Ronald Koeman’s football. Playing a 4-3-3 defensive setup, Ronald Koeman prefers ball-playing workhorses at the back. Not only the two centre-halves, but the holding midfielders are also seen playing deep in the defensive third to win balls and spray wide passes.
In Frankie de Jong, Ronald Koeman already has his first-choice Dutch national team midfielder in Barcelona. Former Juventus veteran Miralem Pjanic is expected to fulfil Koeman’s midfield set up well. Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum has been a key to Ronald Koeman’s setup with the Netherlands and growing rumours about the midfielder leaving the defending Premier League champions aren’t surprising.
However, in the versatile Antoine Griezmann, Koeman has a prime player who has played the number 10 role well for France. While Lionel Messi and Ousmane Dembele remain irreplaceable on the wings, the departure of Luis Suarez makes Memphis Depay’s arrival even more probable.
While players might take time to gel well under Ronald Koeman’s set-up, Netherlands’ recent 2-0 and 4-2 victories over Germany, 3-1 win over England or their 2-0 drubbing of France – all hint towards the fact that an organized Barcelona side is one their way up now.
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