Saturday 21 June ~
Today Russia's Guus Hiddink will get to experience something that has become quite commonplace for Dutch coaches when he sends out a team to face opponents from his native country, whom he coached himself for three years from 1995. Meanwhile Steve McClaren, who was 15 minutes away from completing a double over Hiddink's side in the Euro 2008 qualifiers, has agreed to take a job in Holland, with FC Twente. Which will make him just about the only English manager working at the top level in another European country next season.
Scores of managers from the UK are active abroad these days, notably in Asia, where FA licensed coaches are often sent to work with national sides, plus the US and Scandinavia. But it has been a long time since they had the sort of international credibility enjoyed by the Dutch. Yet Ajax had more British managers than Dutch from their inception in 1910 until Rinus Michels took over in 1965 and created the team that went on to become triple European champions. That was the start of a wave of Dutch success internationally, that led to the country coming to be seen as a major centre of technical and tactical innovation. Some star players from the Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV sides that won European trophies in the 1970s went on to become successful coaches. But so too did several journeymen with lesser teams such as Louis Van Gaal, Dick Advocaat, a UEFA Cup winner with Zenit St Peterburg this year, and Guus Hiddink who spent a majority of his playing career with moderate De Graafschap, where he also began as a coach in 1982.
Sir Bobby Robson, Hiddink's successor at PSV in 1990, was the last English manager to make any sort of impact in the Dutch league. Though he could hardly fail to win trophies there in view of the club's financial dominance, ensured by the backing from their owners, the Philips electronics corporation. Unlike Hiddink who won a European Cup with PSV in 1988 (albeit in one of the worst ever finals – a goalless draw with Benfica settled on penalties) Robson's side didn't make much impact in Europe and there won't be much expectation that McClaren's team will either. Twente qualified for the Champions League after winning a play-off with Ajax but they only have one player in the Dutch Euro 2008 squad, Orlando Engelaar, and he seems likely to move this summer.
It's unlikely that McClaren will see his move as a long-term one – he wasn't going to get a high profile club job in England until after the fuss over the Euro failure had died down, so Twente may provide a stepping stone for a return home. Which would be a pity in a way. Just as many English players would surely benefit from a spell abroad, so too would managers. There has been a lot of talk about improving the standards of grassroots coaching in the UK, but there are plenty of League club bosses who could learn a lot too.