As we all know by now Barcelona has a new coach and after a long time onto the pitch of Camp Nou will once again step Ronald Koeman, one of Barça’s greatest ever players. The man who changed the history of two clubs and one nation will again try to turn perpetual losers into winners just like he did so many times before. We can only wish him good luck and remind ourselves of what makes Koeman a beloved icon in the world of football and an eternal Barça legend.
It runs in the family
Ronald Koeman was born on March 21st 1963 in Zaandam. His father Martin was a football player and spent most of his long career at Groningen amassing over 500 games for the club while playing against legendary Dutch players of that era. Following in their father’s footsteps both Ronald and his one year older brother Erwin became football players and they were both raised in Groningen’s youth system.
In 1980/81 season, Groningen returned to Eredivisie after 7 years and at the age of just 17 Koeman was promoted to Groningen’s first team and debuted against NEC Nijmegen in a 2:0 victory, becoming one of the youngest ever players for the club. He went on to play nearly every game for the three years of his stay at Groningen, scoring 35 goals in 98 games for the club, while being deployed as a midfielder or a defender due to his extreme versatility. During his stay at Groningen they went from lingering above relegation zone to qualifying for Europe in just a couple of seasons. His talent surely caught the eye of the big 3.
Learning from the great man himself
In 1983 Koeman was the hottest prospect in Eredivisie despite being mostly a defender. Ajax made sure to acquire his signature and he soon found himself in Amsterdam. It didn’t take long for Koeman to establish himself as an essential part of the starting XI and to form a strong partnership with Frank Rijkaard. The two would single handedly carry Ajax’s defense, but despite that the league title was anything but easy to win with eternal rivals Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord always trying to overcome each other. It would be Feyenoord’s impenetrable defense that won Eredivisie that year, with Ajax winning the 1984/85 edition on Marco van Basten’s wings and PSV establishing dominance in 1985/86, but despite losing the Eredivisie, a crucial thing in Koeman’s career happened that season with the arrival of Johan Cruijff as the coach of Ajax.
Immediately upon his arrival Johan started implementing his ideas and soon Ajax started playing with the now famous 3-4-3 diamond. Despite not looking like one on paper, this was a major change to, then typical, 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 diamond. Finally Koeman was not bound to either being a creative force from the midfield or a central defender, the new formation allowing him to play both roles at the same time as the playmaking sweeper while Rijkaard covered for him as a holding midfielder.
Ajax only managed to win the Cup that season and in the summer of 1986 Koeman made a very controversial move when he switched to PSV who were on the rise at that time, a decision that would prove to be perfect as Ajax soon sold off the rest of their star players and were severely weakened.
The unimaginable treble
When Koeman arrived at PSV they were already incredibly solid and were on a high after winning Eredivisie. The team contained a mix of experienced players like Willy van de Kerkhof the member of legendary 1974 squad, captain Eric Gerets, Søren Lerby, Frank Arnesen, Ivan Nielsen, Hans van Breukelen and Berry van Aerle combined with up and coming talents like Koeman, Ruud Gullit, Wim Kieft, Edward Linskens and Gerald Vanenburg. The key moment came in early 1987 when, after a series of bad results, assistant coach Guus Hiddink took over the squad. PSV were behind Ajax, but with Hiddink they swiftly rose up to win another league title.
Next season they achieved the unthinkable. They smashed the Eredivisie scoring 50 more goals than Ajax and won the KNVB Cup by barely beating Roda in the final after a late equalizer and an extra time winner. But, their biggest achievement came in Europe. They started off by easily dispatching Galatasaray and Rapid Wien. The real challenge came in the quarters against a strong Bordeaux team, but PSV’s defensive solidity and pragmatism meant that after a 1:1 in France they managed to keep the game goalless in Eindhoven and so they came face to face with Real Madrid in the semis. Déjà vu struck as they conceded an early penalty at Santiago Bernabeu only for Linskens to score the equalizer. Even without suspended Koeman PSV’s defense were impenetrable at home and so PSV again went through on away goals. The big final against the eternal losers Benfica was a dull affair with both teams playing it as safe as possible. The real excitement came in penalty shootouts, as player after player scored, including Koeman who was given the biggest responsibility of taking the first penalty, until finally Benfica’s right back missed meaning that PSV had just won a treble, only the third club to ever manage such a feat after Celtic and Ajax.
The following season saw PSV continue their successful period, although the goalscoring feats from the previous season were halved, despite the arrival of Romário. They narrowly won the double again, but crashed out of the European Cup in quarter finals, as Real Madrid got their revenge, barely beating them in extra time at Santiago Bernabeu to set the aggregate score at 3:2. Madrid’s win came at a cost as they got utterly crushed by Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan 6:1 in the semis, but still, PSV felt disappointed and Koeman started thinking about a new challenge.
Forming the “dream team”
In 1988 after the Hesperia mutiny Johan Cruijff came at the behest of president Núñez to save the club from total collapse. Despite criticism he received at Ajax for not being able to win the Eredivisie while having the best player in the world in van Basten, Cruijff was determined and knew what he wanted. The sad state of the club allowed him to achieve that full control he never truly had at Ajax, but with only a couple first team members not getting sacked he had to work wonders with subpar players. While the attack was somewhat salvaged by Julio Salinas and Robert Fernández, the defense was subpar, especially when it came to creativity which is what Johan wanted from his defenders. The only technically superior defensive player was captain Alexanko, already 33, so after one season Johan decided that he needed a reinforcement, a creative defender with impeccable technical ability and football IQ and, seeing as he coached one before, he knew where to look.
Koeman signed for Barça for 1.2 billion pesetas and Cruijff found the key players who could carry his team to the very top. That season Barça fell short in La Liga, but got their revenge in Copa del Rey where they beat Real Madrid 2:0. The game was tough and dirty with Hierro receiving a red card after nearly breaking Robert’s leg and Salinas getting booked for faking an injury after being punched in the stomach by Ruggeri. Thankfully after Koeman’s perfect shot from 30 meters the ball was deflected by Buyo and Amor opened the game up with Salinas setting the final score afterwards. Koeman already established himself as the heart of Barça’s backline while also scoring 19 goals that season.
In 1990/91 season he started strong once again, only to suffer a serious injury against Atlético Madrid in late October, an injury that would rule him out for nearly the rest of the season. Alexanko held things together until the end of the season, when Koeman returned as well and Barça finally celebrated the long awaited La Liga title. The season didn’t end on a high note as Barça lost the Cup Winners’ Cup final to Alex Ferguson’s United side with ex-Barça player Mark Hughes scoring twice. Koeman played the game as a midfielder and managed to score a wonderful long range free kick after Barça was 2:0 down, but Barça’s equalizer was ruled offside and Laudrup’s shot was cleared off the line. Despite the disappointing loss Barça were preparing themselves for the big one, the 1992 European Cup.
One goal to rule them all
The 1991/92 season didn’t start as well as everyone expected with Barça having horrible away form. That was a blessing in disguise as it forced Cruijff to change up his midfield in search of that perfect holding midfielder that he was still struggling to find at Barça. Thankfully one was already there, waiting for his chance and he would finally get it. Pep Guardiola became a starter almost immediately and developed a fantastic partnership with Koeman both on and off the pitch, which allowed Barça to shine. It was a tough season with Barça, Real and Atléti being separated by just a couple of points. In the end Real faltered on the final day to Tenerife and Barça defended their La Liga title. Koeman dominated that season with 16 goals, just one shy of Hristo Stoichkov, while also keeping his defense solid. He salvaged the league title by scoring in both Clasicos, both of which ended 1:1.
In Europe Barça had a tough schedule with both German champions, western ones Kaiserslautern proving to be a much tougher challenge than their eastern compatriots Hansa Rostock. Bakero’s last minute winner in Germany meant that Barça proceeded to the group stage and were drawn with Sparta Prague, Benfica and Dynamo Kyiv. Barça won that group thanks to their away win at Ukraine where other teams fell, in combination with usual victories at the Camp Nou. The final against Sampdoria was on. Barça had previously only competed in the European Cup four times, reaching the final twice. Losing both of them while being a superior team on the pitch, in combination with other relatively poor results in Europe, especially in the UEFA Cup, meant that Barça were considered a loser club. While the loss against Manchester United the year before didn’t provide much confidence, Barça’s victory over that same Sampdoria squad in 1989 Cup Winners’ Cup final did, especially when you consider that Barça massively improved over the three years that had passed.
The match was exciting with chances on both sides, Italians missing theirs, while Pagliuca saved most of Barça’s attempts. It was a tough, physical game and a tactical game of chess between the two coaches. It looked like Barça were on their way to another penalty shootout which definitely wasn’t what fans had hoped for after the trauma they suffered in 1986. But one man put an end to Barça being losers and started a new chapter for the club. It took that one shot, one magical shot. It was minute 112th, you could see the nervousness from Sampa’s players after they made a foul on Sacristán so close to the box. They knew who they were up against. Commentators were already discussing how Ronald should shoot from that position. Stoichkov made a small pass to Bakero who stopped the ball and a few moments later Koeman blasted it low to the goalkeepers side. It was a bullet that not even the best goalkeeper in the world Pagliuca could stop and just like that Barça were champions of Europe, after all those years of waiting. It was done.
A disappointing end
Barça finally carried the title of European champions, but there was no time for celebration as another season was about to start. La Liga was a two horse race with Real Madrid, which in the end finished the same as the last one, with Madrid losing the title against Tenerife on the last matchday. Fans who expected Barça to become a consistent powerhouse in Europe however were about to be brutally disappointed. Barça barely overcame Norwegian champions Viking just 1:0 on aggregate and crashed out in a catastrophic manner to Russian champions CSKA Moscow. After a great 1:1 score in a usually tricky away game in cold Russia and a 2:0 lead at Camp Nou, fans were already thinking about the next stage. However, Russians came back and mauled the dream team with 3 goals which left the fans at the stadium utterly shocked.
Redemption season in Europe had to happen next year and it started off great. Barça drew Dynamo Kyiv and lost 3:1 in Ukraine. People feared another loss to a eastern team. Barça were up 2:1 at Camp Nou when Koeman made an assist from a free kick, after which he scored from another free kick to turn the tie. Next knockout round was much smoother against Austria Wien. In group stages Barça was drawn with Monaco, Galatasaray and Spartak Moscow. Barça’s Camp Nou form returned and was again a decisive factor in the group stage, with a crucial win away in Monaco and typically bad results far away in Moscow and Istanbul. Barça would play in the semifinals against the second team from group B, which was Porto. Another easy 3:0 win at Camp Nou sealed the deal. Koeman propelled himself to the top of Champions League goalscoring charts with 8 goals, the only defender to ever manage such a feat. Barça would go to play the big final once again, but this time against an experienced Italian powerhouse Milan.
Milan was the strongest, most stacked team in the world and while people considered Barça to be the best due to a great system and gameplay, Milan had superstars in every position. However, Milan were rattled with injuries to Marco van Basten and Gianluigi Lentini and suspensions for Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta. The 3 foreign player rule seemed to hurt Milan more as they had a very international squad, while Barça had to discard just one player. Despite that Milan’s coach Fabio Capello made smart choices. Cruijff didn’t. Capello easily eliminated Romanian striker Răducioiu and Danish Brian Laudrup, but to everyone’s surprise also eliminated Jean-Pierre Papin, the Ballon D’or winner, in favor of Yugoslav Dejan Savićević (who would go on to be the man of the match), with his other two foreigners being Marcel Desailly and Zvonimir Boban as was expected. Cruijff seemingly had a much easier choice, he had to eliminate one person. Koeman was irreplaceable thus out of the question which left three choices - Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov or Romário. Perhaps foolishly underestimating injury ridden Milan defense, perhaps having other ideas, Johan eliminated Michael Laudrup who joined his brother in watching the game from the stands. Laudrup was the person who was usually the centerpiece of Barça’s play. Before the game Cruijff downplayed Milan’s squad numerous times despite their quality, which enraged them and gave them extra motivation. Johan also experimented a lot that season when it came to lineups, often ignoring his 3-4-3 diamond in order to play formations he often criticized like 4-4-2 diamond or even 4-3-3, which he also picked for the final. It was a poor choice as Barça got overrun from the first minute and soon Milan found themselves ahead. Barça started playing better football after the first 25 minutes, but Massaro added a second one in stoppage time. Second half saw Savićević score one of the best goals in European history to make it 3:0 and Marcel Desailly dealt the final blow. A 4:0 loss, a disaster to end what was a redemption season in Europe and a wonderful historic season for Koeman.
After a disaster like that there needed to be a rebuild. Laudrup was furious with Cruijff and left for Real Madrid immediately. Romário was also sacked mid season due to unprofessionalism and partying. Key players were getting older, including Koeman, and younger players, apart from Johan’s son Jordi, failed to deliver. Barça ended the 1994/95 La Liga season in third place, far away from Real Madrid. There were promising results in Europe including a 4:0 victory over Manchester United in group stages, but in the quarterfinals Barça bottled it yet again, crashing out to PSG by conceding two goals in the last 15 minutes in Paris. At the end of the season Koeman decided that the time was right for him to leave Barça, at the age of 32. He said his farewells and departed for Feyenoord, the only one of the big three Dutch clubs he never played for.
Retirement and learning the managerial trade
Koeman arrived at Feyenoord who have seen better days, being consistently behind either Ajax or PSV with some success in the KNVB Cup. During Koeman’s first season at the club they were still far behind Ajax and were eliminated after extra time in the Cup semifinals. His second season however almost gave him a glorious farewell. Ajax had a horror season after they controversially lost the Champions League final to Juventus. PSV was the only club who stood in Feyenoord’s way, but Rotterdam's finest just didn’t have the manpower to overcome their rivals and ended up second. Koeman decided that it was time to retire, at the age of 34.
He wasn’t the man to sit around and do nothing though. Immediately after he retired he got a job offer. Guus Hiddink was the coach of the Dutch national team and he wanted his old superstar to join his staff, along with other Dutch legends Frank Rijkaard and Johan Neeskens. Koeman accepted and helped guide Netherlands to the semifinal of 1998 World Cup which they unfortunately lost to Brazil on penalties. Hiddink resigned afterwards so Koeman found himself helping another Dutch coach in a job that would see him return to the club he loved, to Barça. Louis van Gaal was chosen as the next coach in hope that he could replicate what Cruijff did and turn Barça into a European powerhouse once again. Despite winning two La Liga titles and a Cup, van Gaal ultimately disappointed in the big stage and was, like many others before him, sacked by ever unsatisfied Núñez who finally stepped down as president just a few months later. His last decision however was to appoint Llorenç Serra Ferrer as the coach which disappointed Koeman who hoped that he might have a chance at his dream job of coaching Barça, despite not having much experience, especially since he had a major fallout with van Gaal over tactics. He left for Vitesse who offered him his first job as a coach.
National team career
After their glorious period of Total Football under Rinus Michels and later Ernst Happel, Netherlands fell into a giant slump, failing to qualify for the 1982 World Cup after a disastrous qualification group and also for the 1986 World Cup after losing the play-offs against rival Belgium. They also failed to qualify for the 1984 European Championship after having the exact same number of points and goal difference as their rivals Spain, but two fewer goals scored.
Rinus Michels who had previously returned in 1984 failed to produce results in his World Cup qualification group and was thus sacked one year later. After Netherlands continued to underperform he returned to try and qualify for the 1988 Euros. He succeeded and finally 10 years after they lost the World Cup final to Argentina, Netherlands were back on the big stage.
Koeman received his first cap for the national team in 1982. After that he became a regular member of the starting XI under many managers and in many tactical formations. Michels had used Koeman like he previously used Ruud Krol, as a creative sweeper in his 4-3-3. The 1988 Euros started poorly as Netherlands lost to USSR and everyone already wrote them off as failures due to their previous results. But they weren’t, they crushed England and squeezed a late winner against Ireland to qualify as second in their group which led them straight into their boogey team, Germany. Fourteen years had passed since Germany defeated Michels’s clockwork orange, also on home soil. It was time for Total Football to once again clash with German pragmatic mentality. After Lothar Matthäus scored the penalty it looked like history would repeat itself, but van Basten won a penalty of his own. Koeman was given the responsibility and he didn’t disappoint. With the scores leveled van Basten ended the German curse in the dying minutes and Netherlands went into the final. “This was the real final for us and we all know it”
, said Michels. Koeman infamously used the shirt he got from Germany’s Olaf Thon to wipe his ass in front of German fans, causing a controversy. After the USSR scrapped an unexpected victory against tournament favorites Italy, Netherlands were again facing the same opponent. But this time they would come out victorious. In a tough match between two all time great coaches Rinus Michels and Valeriy Lobanovskyi, it took a header from Gullit and one of the best volleys ever scored by van Basten to beat the Ukranian based soviet team. Van Breukelen gave away a penalty, but also saved it. Netherlands were finally champions, the curse was broken. Michels stepped down after finally achieving his life goal and remains the only coach to win a trophy with Netherlands to this day.
Koeman was named into the team of the tournament as the perfect centre back together with his partner Frank Rijkaard, over players like Franco Baresi and next to Paolo Maldini and Giuseppe Bergomi. He would continue leading Netherlands into the 1990 World Cup in Italy where they returned to their losing form against Germany in the round of 16. They lost 2:1 with Koeman scoring the only goal for Netherlands. In 1992 Euros they came with vengeance, taking out Germany 3:1 in the group stage and qualifying for the semis against the heavy underdogs Denmark who didn’t even qualify for the tournament, but were rather invited due to sanctions to Yugoslavia. Denmark continued their fairytale tournament though and beat Netherlands on penalties and then Germany in the final. Koeman’s last tournament was the 1992 World Cup in USA. One last hurrah from the great Dutch defender was ruined again by poor luck, this time when it came to draws as Netherlands faced perhaps the only team strong enough to challenge their monstrous attack - Brazil. In one of the best games in World Cup history Brazil came out victorious 3:2 and Netherlands were sent home in quarter finals. Perhaps not a bad game to end your national career after all.
Koeman as a player - tactical analysis
From a very young age Koeman was moulded to be a total footballer. Due to his qualities he was often deployed as a defensive midfielder, centre back or a sweeper. His versatility coupled with his quality, personality and quick understanding of tactics made him a dream player for every coach.
He played mostly as a midfielder for Groningen because he was actually one of the team's top goalscorers. When he came to Ajax he continued in his midfield role while also playing in a CB pair with Rijkaard. Once Cruijff came, everything changed. A defensive master like Rijkaard was perfect to be Cruijff’s holding midfielder and covered for Koeman as he ventured forward to create or shoot on goal. Ajax squad under Cruijff
A change came when Koeman transferred to PSV, Hiddink played the usual 4-4-2 or 5-3-2. Hiddink was a lot more pragmatic, he didn’t like possession and claimed that it was the most overrated part of the game. His main concern was tactical and defensive solidity, as well as absolute discipline. Attack quickly and with purpose, a couple of passes should get you in position to shoot on goal. Koeman would still venture forward as he was usually deployed as a sweeper in 5-3-2, but only when PSV had possession and were venturing forward. He, again, often played as a midfielder which gave him more freedom. Only the coming of Romário forced the formation to switch to 4-3-3. PSV squad under Hiddink
Coming to Barça meant a return to Cruijff’s famous 3-4-3 diamond. That formation was based around fluidity and technicality with a high risk offensive mentality. The main principle is what we know today as Juego de Posición or Positional Football, an evolution from Michels’s Totaal Voetbal or Total Football. The main 3 principles were the 3 P-s : possession, position and pressing. In his first season Koeman struggled to form a partnership with a defensive midfielder as Cruijff changed multiple players in that position. He often played both Alexanko and Koeman to gain as much creativity as possible while keeping the defense stable. The major change came in the 1991/92 season when Pep Guardiola broke through the ranks of Barça B and instantly became a starter. He was also Koeman’s roommate and friend off the pitch which helped solidify their partnership. Koeman played a more fluid role in the central area between the two defenders. WIth the ball, he would either push up when there was space available or play a diagonal ball to the wingers. He would also push up with 1-2 passes in order to release his cannon of a shot which could either be a goal or deflect to lurking attackers. He would often interchange roles with Pep and be a nuisance to the opposition. In defense he was flexible, either marking the key opponent or operating freely between the other two defenders. Later in his Barça career when he slowed down, Koeman was again relegated to being “just” a centre back together with Nadal. As he got older he remained mostly withdrawn, relying on set pieces to score, while still providing assists with his trademark long balls from defense. Barça squad in 1992 Barça squad in 1994
Ronald Koeman achieved what only a few players did. He became the champion of Europe for the first time with two different clubs and won his nation its first silverware. That is especially impressive considering that PSV, Barça and Netherlands were all labeled as losers up to that point. He was the Dutch Player of the Year in 1987 and 1988.
His main qualities include perfect technique, incredible passing range, precise and quick passing, quick thinking, solid defensive positioning which made up for what he lacked physically as he was neither fast nor tall. He was one of the greatest ever leaders on the pitch, very vocal, a great motivator and a big personality in the dressing room. He was also a big game player, as Guardiola noted: “I have never seen him play badly, in a big game, in Europe, against Madrid, never. He was always top class”
Koeman has one of the best and strongest long shots in the history of the game. He is also famous for his long diagonal balls that cut through defenses. He is also one of the best penalty takers in history with over 95% conversion rate. He holds the La Liga record for most converted penalties in a row. Next to penalties, he is one of the best free kick takers ever, if not for the number of free kicks scored (35), then for his versatility as he scored free kicks from 17 up to 35-40 meters and from both sides with very narrow angles.
Koeman is the highest goalscoring defender in history, one of the highest goalscorers in Barça’s history and the only defender to be the best goalscorer in a season of Champions League. He scored 35 goals in 98 games for Groningen, 30 in 114 for Ajax, 63 in 130 for PSV, 88 in 264 for Barça, 23 in 79 for Feyenoord and 14 in 78 for Netherlands, totaling 253 goals in 763 games
The successes and failures of Koeman as a manager
Koeman’s first season as a coach was spent at Vitesse who impressed during the previous campaign with a 4th place finish. Koeman and his assistant Jan Jongbloed (the 1974 goalkeeper for Netherlands) managed a 6th place finish which still meant Europe. He would quickly get a promotion.
Koeman was appointed the manager of Ajax in 2001 after the club had a disappointing season. Koeman got off to a successful start, winning a domestic double in 2001/02. He also nearly eliminated the eventual winners Milan in the quarterfinals of 2002/03 Champions League. After losing the 2002/03 league title by a single point to his old coach Hiddink and regaining the title in 2003/04, Ajax had fallen eight points behind rivals PSV in the Eredivisie in 2004/05 season. This situation, coupled with Ajax being knocked out of the UEFA Cup by underdogs Auxerre, 3:2 on aggregate, led Koeman to resign the following day on February 25th 2005. Some of the players that were given chances and improved under Koeman at Ajax are Zlatan Ibrahimović, Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, Steven Pienaar, Christian Chivu and Nigel de Jong.
Koeman came back from unemployment quickly, taking up the vacant position at Portuguese champions Benfica following the departure of legendary Italian Giovanni Trapattoni. In Benfica, against whom he won the 1988 European Cup Final as a player with PSV, Koeman only won the Portuguese Super Cup. The team finished the league in third place (behind eternal rivals Porto and Sporting CP) and was eliminated from the Taça de Portugal in the quarterfinals. This, along with an offer from PSV, meant that Koeman left Benfica before the end of his contract. Under Koeman Benfica did reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League however, eliminating Manchester United in the final game of the group stage and Liverpool in the first knockout stage, before coming back to Camp Nou to meet Barcelona and his old partner in crime Rijkaard, who eliminated him and ended up winning the trophy. Despite Koeman’s disappointing stint in Portugal, a lot of his players would go on to win the fourth place in the 2006 World Cup that summer.
In the 2006/07 season, Koeman served as head coach of PSV, symbolically as successor to Guus Hiddink. The squad contained a mix of international talent as well as veteran Barça legends Cocu, Reiziger and Kluivert. PSV dominated the first half of the season, keeping competitors AZ Alkmaar and Ajax at a reasonable distance. It looked like PSV were destined to become champions again. PSV, however, suffered in the second half of the season due to an injury crisis, with injuries to Jefferson Farfán, Alex and Ibrahim Afellay. AZ and Ajax could smell blood and were coming closer every week. The finish of that Eredivisie season was perhaps the most exciting in history with all three teams tied at 72 points before the last competition day. AZ played a relegation side Excelsior in their final match, but managed to lose 3:2. Ajax played Willem II and had more goals scored than PSV as well as slightly better goal difference, which was even better after they won 2:0. PSV needed a goal difference of at least 4 at home against Vitesse. In a crazy game they won 5:1 and thereby became Eredivisie champions, one goal ahead of Ajax. For the second consecutive season Koeman guided his team to the quarterfinals of the Champions League, this time defeating Arsenal in the first knockout stage, before failing to avenge Barça, also losing to Liverpool. He decided to leave on a high note.
Koeman soon decided to return to Spain, but was about to face the first major failure of his career. On October 31st 2007, Koeman agreed to be the new coach of Valencia after Quique Sánchez Flores got sacked. With Valencia, he won the 2007/08 Copa del Rey, their first since 1999. In La Liga however, his tenure at Valencia would prove disappointing. The team would fall down to 15th position, only two points above the relegation zone, as well as finishing bottom of their Champions League group. A 5:1 defeat to Athletic would prove the final straw for Koeman's time with Valencia. He was sacked afterwards for the first time in his career. Despite his poor results with Valencia, his Copa title would be the last silverware for the club until 2019.
Back to the Netherlands it was as Koeman took over van Gaal’s title winning AZ side in summer of 2009. After a horrific start however, losing 7 games out of 16 played, he was swiftly sacked and found himself no longer in demand after two failures in a row.
Koeman waited until 2011 when he finally took the job at Feyenoord. The club was in serious financial trouble and were close to bankruptcy. After being forced to sell Castaignos, Wijnaldum and Fer for peanuts, he was faced with an impossible task of rebuilding with no budget. Departing from his usual 4-3-3, Koeman’s 5-3-2 formation brought an immediate change in results. For the first time in over a decade, Feyenoord finished as runners-up, the goals of John Guidetti bringing Champions League football back to De Kuip. Next year Koeman again finished third in the league and then second again. Fans were thrilled despite the fact that Koeman failed to qualify for the Champions League group stage. He built his team around academy talents and cheap loanees like Jordy Clasie, Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Terence Kongolo, Daryl Janmaat, Ron Vlaar, most of whom would be the key members for van Gaal’s 2014 World Cup squad that finished third with van Gaal even implementing Koeman’s 5-3-2. After three years Koeman departed for another challenge, this time in England.
Koeman replaced Mauricio Pocchetino as the manager of Southampton. In Southampton, he used a 4-2-3-1 system flexing into 4-4-2 or 4-5-1. With players like Dušan Tadić, Sadio Mané, Nathaniel Clyne, Graziano Pellè and Virgil van Dijk he achieved fantastic results. Saints finished 7th in the 2014/15 season. In his first six Premier League games in charge of the club, Koeman managed four wins, a draw and a defeat which meant that Southampton moved to second place in the league standings and resulted in Koeman being named Premier League Manager of the Month for September. In January 2015, Southampton won all three of their matches, including a first win at Old Trafford since 1988, and Koeman was again named Manager of the Month. Next season Koeman won his third Premier League Manager of the Month for January 2016. Southampton finished the 2015/16 season in 6th place, their highest ever and also had the highest ever Premier League points total, 63. They also qualified for the group stage of the UEFA Europa League. Koeman would again depart after a major success in search of a new challenge. He would take on the big boys Everton.
On June 14th 2016, Koeman was confirmed as manager of Everton, signing a three-year contract. His brother Erwin was again hired as his assistant. In their first season, the Koemans led Everton to qualification for the Europa League as they finished 7th, an improvement over the 11th place from the previous season. Romelu Lukaku was unstoppable and Koeman built his team around him to utilize his exceptional form that season. Next season Everton sold Lukaku to Manchester United and Koeman was left with no striker and a ton of money. Everton gave him full freedom during the transfer window, hoping that he would replicate his masterclass from Feyenoord. Koeman made some questionable decisions however, opting against buying any strikers and going into next season with no real consistent source of goals. In Europa League group stages Everton was barely third, far from Lyon and Atalanta who crushed them in both games. In the Premier League, Everton were falling down towards the relegation zone with the least amount of goals scored out of any non-relegation level club. Koeman was sacked on October 23rd 2017. He later talked about his mistakes, admitting that he failed to obtain a new striker and partially blamed his failure on Everton’s inability to buy Giroud.
On February 6th 2018, Koeman was appointed manager of the Dutch national team on a four-and-half-year contract up to and including the 2022 World Cup. He replaced Dick Advocaat who resigned after failing to guide the Netherlands to the 2018 World Cup. Just like when he started his playing career, the Dutch national side looked hopeless after a great generation had moved on. Koeman had a lot of work to do. After promoting new and talented youth players and phasing out some veteran players, Koeman’s Netherlands looked like a completely different team. Together with his assistant Ruud Van Nistelrooy Koeman revitalized the squad and results came soon after. Netherlands managed to beat Germany twice, world champions France as well as the English. In June 2019, Netherlands finished runners-up in the 2018/19 UEFA Nations League after an undeserved 1:0 defeat against Portugal in the final.
It seemed that Koeman was on his way to replicate the likes of Michels, Happel and van Gaal by leading his nation to glory. But as we all know, that won’t happen. Whether due to personal reasons, Koeman reportedly suffereing a heart attack earlier this year pushing him to reach for his dreams, or due to his pure love for Barça which he expressed many times before, Koeman left the Dutch national team to wear the blaugrana colors again, now as a coach. Koeman admitted many times that coaching Barça is his dream job. It is, however, the dream of many. Whether Koeman will achieve what his great compatriots did or will he suffer another failure as a coach, is about to be seen. We can all wish him luck and show him support, if not for his previous great coaching results, then for what he did for Barça and for how he forever changed the future of this club.
Koeman as a coach - tactical analysis
In his early years as Manager , Koeman would use the famous 4-3-3 with fluctuating success in Ajax , Benfica, PSV and Valencia. The Dutch invented the 4-3-3 formation and over the years many small subtypes evolved. Koeman is known to not shy away from trying new tactics, with mixed but mostly positive results.
He adapted to the situation however and started using 5-3-2 with Feyenoord, showing extreme tactical flexibility when given a limited squad and nothing to work with.With Southampton he also started implementing 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 as well as 4-2-3-1. The peak of his versatility in a tactical sense came when he took over Netherlands. After 20 years of coaching he collected enough experience and knowledge to implement numerous tactical variations. In friendlies he started using 3-5-2 to capitalize on the strong Dutch centre backs. By the time the Nations League had rolled around they were playing the Dutch classic 4-2-3-1. Under Koeman, the most general shape they would use would be a 4-2-3-1 which translates as 3-5-2 in possession and 5-3-2 out of possession.
With de Ligt and van Dijk as two centre backs , Dailey Blind and Denzel Dumfries would start as wingbacks with Dumfries playing very high. In Midfield , Frenkie de Jong and Marten de Roon would start as the double pivots with Georginio Wijnaldum or Donnie van de Beek as the box to box advanced midfielder. Forward line would consist of inside forwards Memphis Depay and Quincy Promes with Ryan Babel appearing sporadically in the middle.
The front 3 would often fluctuate with Depay acting as a false 9 at times with Steven Bergwijn occasionally acting as an inside forward.
Usually Koeman would use Wijnaldum as the most advanced midfielder , the talented midfielder helps with the counter pressing from the front and being a vital resource in tight spaces between the lines.
Frenkie de Jong is the team's main playmaker. Playing deep but often running into spaces , creating passing lanes , receiving the ball from the centre backs van Dijk and de Ligt and starting the build up. Blind and Dumfries are tasked with providing width because of the team’s lack of natural wingers.
The general approach is a pragmatic one against better teams but, against similar or inferior teams, Koeman is happy to let his team dictate the ball. They usually play an aggressive man to man high pressing system trying to maintain a compact shape between the defense and the midfield line. With the ball, the Dutch usually take a possession based approach, the general shape varies from a 4-3-3 to 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. Please read other amazing Legend Threads from various users, you can find them here Huge thanks to u/FutbolIntellect for the tactical part of this Legends Thread.