Johan Cruijff, Louis van Gaal, Guus Hiddink, Dick Advocaat & Leo Beenhakker. The Dutch have exported their football coaches with considerable success. Invariably the ego’s of these ‘top dogs’ grew alongside their achievements. It has led to bold and amusing statements, and lots of animosity amongst them. Whenever one of these coaches leads a winning team, the country becomes infatuated with their success. Nobody dared to challenge Louis van Gaal anymore, the further the Dutch team progressed in the tournament this summer. Likewise losses of these coaches are extensively commented upon and applauded by those who would like to see them fail. In fact the football commenting TV shows have overtaken football itself. For those who don’t watch: this is grown up men talking about football while sitting in a living room as if it was there own.
Recently we have had remarkably different behavior of a football coach in the news. Marco van Basten, the only striker who once made the Dutch European Champions decided to step down as a head coach. He made several attempts as a head coach for different teams including Ajax and the Dutch national team. He had always struck me as more honest and down to earth than many of the others in the spotlight. He once arranged a press conference to explain that he was not the best-suited coach for Ajax.
Last week he did a press conference at his latest club since the summer. Many expected that he would comment on his return to work and his physical well being as he had been off sick for a while. Van Basten laughs, winks to a friend and starts a 3-minute explanation: about the pressure as a top coach, his struggle to deal with that and his decision to step down and become the assistant coach. He is open, clear, strong and vulnerable at the same time. The press is gob smacked. Stepping down in the world of big ego’s is unheard of. Showing up to explain that in a press conference is even more rare.
The responses to his decision have ranged widely from disbelief to clueless and admiration. I think it is an inspiring act of leadership. Van Basten took ownership for his well-being, talent and the club he works for, following his passion and skill. One final simple insight and quote: “I had to either go and do other work, or do the work I love differently. I chose the latter”. Enjoy it Marco!