Marco van Basten has had his share of criticism over the years, particularly during his tenure with the national team of the Netherlands, but one thing must be applauded of the man; his foresight.

When van Basten took over the reigns of the Oranje from Dick Advocaat, more than a few eyebrows were raised. The then assistant coach of Ajax’s reserve team had been plucked out of obscurity to be the next Holland boss. Surely someone with a proven track record was needed?

The former Milan striker made an impact right from the off, dropping experienced legends Edgar Davids and Clarence Seedorf for the more youthful talents of then precocious Ajax man Wesley Sneijder, Chelsea winger Arjen Robben and AZ Alkmaar defender Joris Matijsen.

Many local pundits at the time thought van Basten had made a serious error by dropping so many proven campaigners, particularly those with still considerable talent, and relying on the youthful exuberance of Holland’s next wave. Retaining the likes of Philip Cocu, Edwin van der Sar and Giovanni van Brockhorst proved profitable enough though, as the mix of youth and a few older heads saw the Oranje undefeated in qualifying for the 2006 World Cup. The team gelled together well, to much surprise, even if they hadn’t truly been tested by the biggest teams.

After a relatively unimpressive exit in Germany at the Round of 16 stage, dubbed the ‘Battle of Nurnberg’, against Portugal, van Basten retained his post for the Euro 2008 campaign. Even by the coach’s own admission, the former AC Milan great was indeed already plotting ahead for the European Championships and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. With some players enjoying tremendous form in the lead up to the tournament, at both club and international level, hopes seemed to be high and after a master class against France and Italy in the group stages, the men in orange came unstuck to a more tactically aware, Guus Hiddink coached, Russia.

Now Bert van Marwijk, a much more experienced tactician, has taken control, and done very little to change the core personnel in the team. Van Marwijk must be grateful to van Basten, who effectively laid the ground work for a renewed assault in 2010. Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Joris Matijsen, Wesley Sneijder and even Andre Ooijer, were introduced to the squad by the former coach, and are still playing regularly under van Marwijk.

The chatter amongst Oranje fans is now whether or not the current crop of stars can at least top what Hiddink’s men did at France ’98, when the Dutch finished fourth. Van Marwijk certainly has vast experience like Hiddink, having managed in both Germany and Holland, has definitely proved himself a far worthier tactician than his predecessor, his style of management being seemingly more relaxed than the hard handed van Basten. The return of Mark van Bommel to the fold is one such instance, and the fact that no players have refused to play for van Marwijk thus far speaks volumes.

Despite having done much to further the next generation however, there is one area which van Basten left unattended: Holland still need to find a suitable back-up keeper for Edwin van der Sar.

24-year-old Maarten Stekelenberg was long touted as the eventual successor to the Manchester United keeper, but after falling behind in the pecking order with Ajax, ironically with van Basten at the helm, doubts were raised as to whether or not he could ever make the step up. Van Marwijk has since called up Vitesse shot-stopper Piet Velthuizen and FC Utrecht’s Michel Vorm to try and fill the void, but since Stekelenberg’s reinstatement this season, the Ajax man has found himself back in favour with the Oranje as well.

After an unsuccessful stint with former club Ajax Amsterdam, van Basten seems likely to be doomed to coaching obscurity unless he can swallow his pride and accept a step down the ladder. It seems odd that most of the world’s greatest coaches have started small, and perhaps this is the step the Milan legend needs to take in order to regain the respect in the dugout as a coach he enjoyed on the pitch as a player.

When history comes to judge van Basten’s Dutch tenure however, it may be kinder than first thought. The Euro ’88 top scorer had an eye on the future throughout his time in charge and if Holland can indeed win the World Cup in South Africa, or at least go close, a portion of the credit must be handed out to van Basten.


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