Towards the end of a distinguished playing career he was pictured trying the shirt on for size – now, 20 years later, it seems Everton are the perfect fit for Ronald Koeman.
Even before his first official press conference as Everton manager, Dutchman Koeman had already spoken in glowing terms about the history and potential of his new club. But why has he traded his top-six Saints and Europa League football for a side that finished in the bottom half last season – and what convinced Everton to make him their number one target when other credible suitors were available?
Frank De Boer made his interest public early on, whilst Manuel Pellegrini, Unai Emery, Andre Villas Boas and even Joes Mourinho were big-name managers touted in the media. But from the moment Everton parted company with Roberto Martinez, it soon became apparent that there was only one name on their very short list. One man new owner Farhad Moshiri trusted to invest his millions wisely to make his newly-beloved Everton great again – even if it costed a reported £5m to prize him away from buoyant Southampton.
Just as playing ‘great’ Koeman was lured to Spain in the eighties to be part of legendary Dutchman Johan Cruyf’s Barcleona ‘Dream Team’ revolution, Everton fans will be hoping that their new manager’s reputation will attract a higher class of player to the club – as well as inspiring star names like John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku to give it at least one more year.
Koeman the player
Make no mistake, great is an appropriate description for Koeman the footballer. Whilst not receiving the acclaim of the top attacking players of his era, his power and accuracy from free kicks and penalties gave him a reputation as a goalscoring defender who was comfortable playing further upfield. Leighton Baines take note, such was his quality from dead ball situations, he still holds Barcelona’s record of 25 free-kick goals and 25 consecutive penalties scored in 192 games – Lionel Messi only just matching Koeman’s free-kick total in 348 games for the club.
In a 2004 UEFA poll to determine the top European footballers of the last 50 years, the Dutchman known for his passing, vision, leadership and strength ranked a creditable 26th in a list dominated by attacking talent. And in one glorious 1997-1988 season, Koeman achieved more than many so-called ‘successful’ players do in an entire career.
He won a Eredivisie league, KNVB cup and European Cup treble with PSV Eindhoven before going on to lift the European Championship trophy with the Dutch national team. For his part, Koeman was named in the team of the tournament and Dutch footballer of the year. He also scored a career-high 21 league goals, the opening penalty in PSV’s shootout European Cup final triumph and the equaliser in the Euro ’88 semi-final against hosts West Germany – stepping up ahead of illustrious teammates Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard to score from the spot with 15 minutes remaining.
But Koeman was no ‘one season wonder’. The Dutchman scored the winning goal for Barcelona against Sampdoria at Wembley in the 1992 European Cup final as well as Barcelona’s consolation goal in the 1991 Cup Winners Cup final loss to Manchester United. An impressive penalty conversion record of 71 from 72 spot kicks contributing to Koeman’s claim to being the top scoring defender in world football.
All told, Ronald Koeman scored 200 plus goals in a little over 600 games for club and country at better than a goal every three games – including 78 international appearances, captaining his country 34 times. Not to mention his less quantifiable defensive acumen evidenced by an impressive list of former clubs. He showed an ability to quickly adapt to his surroundings and react decisively, with a proven track record of moving to the clubs and taking up the positions that gave him the best chance of success – qualities Everton fans will hope he retains as a manager.
During a 17-year playing career his contributions were often key to winning nine league titles, four domestic cups and two European Cups. Koeman became one of an exclusive group of players to represent all of the “big three” in Holland. Defying the intense rivalry between the clubs and evidencing his uncompromising nature, he has subsequently become the only man to represent Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord as player and manager.
Of course, being a great player doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be a great manager, but whilst not yet as successful as during his playing days, Koeman the manager has already collected three Dutch titles as well as winning domestic cups in Spain and Holland in his 16-year career to date. Hanging up his boots aged 34, he was immediately in demand as a coach, taking up assistant positions with the Dutch national team and Barcelona before being taking his first step into management with Vitesse Arnhem in 2000.
Koeman the manager – player influence
Having mastered the art of ‘sweeping’, perhaps the toughest test of footballing intelligence and tactical awareness, it’s the Dutchman’s understanding of how and when to play out from the back that Everton will be hoping he has the opportunity to impart on rough diamond John Stones. The natural inclination and confidence that the talented young English defender has displayed in trying to take the game to opponents can’t be taught but if anyone can help him refine the art, it’s Koeman.
By appointing the Dutchman, Everton have surely given themselves the best chance of convincing Stones to stay, with Koeman’s influence offering continued development at Goodison Park. Ironically, it seems to be the very talents that set Stones apart from other English defenders that have so far been deemed too risky for England to deploy at this European Championship. Against Wales on Thursday, Stones’ willingness and ability to play out from the back against a side playing with 11 men behind the ball, could have spared us the nerves and last-minute drama.
Koeman will also be looking to make a positive impression on another talented Toffees starlet waiting on the England bench. Everton born and bred, Ross Barkley performances seemed to be affected more than anyone by the team’s disappointing second half of the season – but the Dutchman could be just the shot in the arm everyone at the club needs. Koeman has shown great confidence in his own ability as well as faith in talent already at Everton by jumping at the chance to rouse the sleeping Goodison giant.
Risking his south-coast legacy by jumping ship from Southampton, his “pride” at taking the reins of a “big club” with the “history of Everton” was clear for all to see in front of the media on Friday afternoon. Preferring to look forward in football as in life, he spoke of a shared ambition to “grow and win” and keep key players. No guarantees but a massive vote of confidence to encourage Everton players and supporters alike.
Koeman the manager – transfer targets and faith in youth
Naturally you’d expect to see an increased Dutch presence amongst the Everton playing staff in the coming months and years, along with one or two trusted faces from managerial stints in Holland, Portugal, Spain and England. Koeman has already been linked with compatriots and former players at Newcastle and Southampton. Notably Tim Krul has been mooted as a potential replacement for MLS-bound Tim Howard while Italian striker Graziano Pelle, who has already worked with the Dutchman at three previous clubs, could be an option should Romelu Lukaku decide he’s outgrown the Blues.
With firsthand experience of the prodigious youth system in Holland, Koeman will surely recognise the importance of affording opportunities to the highly-promising youngsters like Kieran Dowell and Tom Davies that continue to come through the Finch Farm ranks. Balancing the immediate need for results to improve with safeguarding the routes of what Koeman calls a “lovely” peoples club. And with his brother Erwin once again appointed as his assistant, the importance of family virtues at the club shouldn’t be lost on Ronald during his time in charge.
Encouragingly, Everton’s new manager has already eluded to the relative importance of getting more out of existing personnel at the club, rather than simply relying on Moshiri’s millions. As an attack-minded defender himself, he is well placed to help offensive-minded full backs Baines, Seamus Coleman, Bryan Ovideo and Brendan Galloway rediscover the right balance – curtailing their attacking instincts, remembering their primary role in the team is to defend.
Koeman the manager – tactics and future success?
Koeman’s tactical flexibility and experience in different leagues will probably have played a part in the decision to appoint him over Frank de Boer for example. De Boer, similar to Martinez, was perceived to stick too resolutely to plan A – at times an overly-slow, overly-patient, possession-orientated approach. Could 2016-17 see Everton under Koeman adopt a fluid 3-4-3 system utilising wing-backs and two attacking support players – reverting to more of a 4-3-3 when ‘spare man’ Stones brings the ball out from the back?
If, as the saying goes, you’re only as good as the last thing you’ve done, then the signs from last season are positive for Everton – Koeman overseeing Southampton’s highest Premier League points total. The Saints eclipsed the heralded seventh place of the previous season with a sixth-placed finish in 2015-16 – relative success for a team with a history of selling their best players and playing outside England’s top league. But what would constitute success in Koeman’s first season at Everton – fifth place, possibly Champions League qualification and a cup final appearance?
Along with chairman Bill Kenwright, Farhad Moshiri has given his full backing to Koeman to bring renewed steel and energy to the club – two assets the successful businessman knows a thing or two about having built a fortune on them over the years. Everton fans will be expecting European qualification as a minimum and hoping Koeman can add to his impressive collection of domestic cups – still realistically the Toffees best chance of silverware.
England’s major clubs of the Premier League era will be licking their wounds following disappointing seasons all-round, no doubt each vowing to come back stronger than ever next season. Add to that a possible levelling of the playing field with the new TV rights deal starting and the positivity over Koeman’s appointment could be relatively short-lived. The reality is that if the Dutchman is perceived to have failed, he’ll soon be out the door. Similarly, if he succeeds, he’ll find even bigger clubs hard to resist.
So, try to enjoy it while it lasts Everton fans and take encouragement from the well-suiting proven ‘winner’ that the board has spared no expense in signing up to give the club the best chance of success. To adapt a slogan from the mid-nineties back when Koeman first pulled on the shirt – the Everton future’s bright; the Everton future’s Oranje.
Richard Coleman, Pundit Arena