Frank de Boer begins his reign as Netherlands coach on Wednesday hoping to continue the revival of an exciting Dutch team following the departure of previous coach Ronald Koeman for Barcelona.
His team take on Mexico in a friendly before two UEFA Nations League clashes with Italy and Bosnia & Herzegovina provide the first of a number of challenges facing him in his daunting new job.
Koeman has laid the groundwork for De Boer, revitalising a moribund ‘Oranje’ team and giving them a flamboyant style of play that harks back to the golden days of Dutch football.
After missing out on Euro 2016 and the World Cup in Russia two years later the Netherlands are once again a team that count, largely thanks to new Barca boss Koeman and a talented team featuring the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Stefan De Vrij in defence, Ajax graduates Donny van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong, and swashbuckling Lyon forward Memphis Depay.
They were tipped to go deep at Euro 2020 before the tournament was postponed for a year following the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
However De Boer said that he is not simply going to replicate his predecessor’s work, saying “I’m not going to be a Koeman 2.0. I have my own approach”.
De Boer’s recent seasons in the dugout have been unconvincing to say the least. He was recently sacked by Major League Soccer team Atlanta United, the same fate he suffered at both Crystal Palace and Inter Milan.
He returns home in the hope of recovering the touch he had at boyhood club Ajax which allowed him to become the first manager to win four straight Eredivisie titles.
However his reputation took such a hit following his largely miserable spells abroad that, according to Dutch media, several leading players in the Netherlands squad wanted Louis van Gaal or even Henk ten Cate, who has spent the last five years managing in the Gulf.
“That’s not true,” said captain Van Dijk. “The federation obviously asked some of the players their opinion, but there was never any veto on De Boer.”
The Mexico friendly gives De Boer a dry run ahead of the League A, Group 1 matches with Bosnia and Italy in the Nations League, two tough tests that will offer an indication as to whether he is up to the job.
While De Boer said Wednesday’s friendly was “important” he admitted that the following games, which take place on Sunday and the following Wednesday, are “the matches that count”.
“These are the matches that we need to win in order to improve our FIFA rankings and put us in a better position for the draw for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers,” he said.
De Boer is ambitious and has stated that he wants to win the World Cup in Qatar in 2022, a year after the delayed Euros.
He was one of Bert van Marwijk’s assistants between 2008 and 2010, when a ‘golden generation’ of players that included Edwin Van der Sar, Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie reached the World Cup final in South Africa.
De Boer sees some similarities between that generation and the current crop of players.
“We need to be ambitious with that quality of player,” he said.
That ambition begins against the Mexicans.