‘I feel best in the shade’
Eline de Zeeuw
reporter NOS Sports
Eline de Zeeuw
reporter NOS Sports
No, he and Ronald Koeman rarely really disagree. Indeed, says Erwin, “I think the last time we were really radically opposed was in a soccer match.”
For years the brothers mostly played soccer against each other; now they work with each other. Previously with Southampton and Everton, since this year with Oranje. One the coach, the other his assistant. He and Ronald are two different personalities, says Erwin Koeman, but maybe that’s why it works so well: they are complementary to each other.
“As an assistant you shouldn’t chase the head coach. I think it’s important for Ronald that he knows what he has with me. He trusts me, which is of course nicht in frage. We are two different characters, but because of that I think we are also a good fit as head coach and assistant.”
For example, Erwin Koeman is fine with being the force in the background. Although he was head coach and national coach himself for many years – including Feyenoord, RKC, Hungary and FC Utrecht – he never has to in the spotlight to be in the spotlight.
“I personally feel best in the shadows. If I can choose, let me be in the third or fourth row and be an assistant.”
Moreover, open-heart surgery in 2020 forced Koeman to slow down. “Some trainers say it’s not that bad, but I believe 99 percent of all head coaches in this profession experience great pressure. Everyone is watching, a lot is expected of you.”
“Take the KNVB: they have also propagated that the Dutch national team must win another tournament within a certain period of time. Then the pressure on the head coach is high, especially if you lose the first game to France 4-0 in an embarrassing way. So for me being an assistant is a conscious choice, also because of my health.”
Talking to players
With the Dutch national team, he and brother Ronald, second assistant Sipke Hulshoff and goalkeeper coach Patrick Lodewijks form “a team within a team.” They work from international period to international period and in between visit as many internationals’ matches as possible.
For example, Koeman just returned from Bergamo, where he visited an Atalanta match. Other weeks he flies to Manchester or Munich. Every Tuesday the staff meets in Zeist for discussions: they analyze images of the players and opponents, or grind on the program.
In the weeks they are then actually together with Oranje, Koeman sees an important task in talking to players in addition to supervising training sessions. “You hear trainers say it so often: the door is always open, but that is literally the case with me. I try to put boys at ease, even now with the Dutch national team where it is new or exciting for some.”
As long as it goes well with them. Maybe more than with myself.
He has had that role of bridge builder to his brother before. During their time in hierarchical England, for example: “There they really look up to you. Players were often afraid to go directly to Ronald, so they always came to me first. Then I said: I’ll solve it, or we went to Ronald together. Here it’s different though, in the Netherlands they are not so pale.”
It is clear that Koeman as a trainer clearly falls into the ‘people person’ category. Modest: “As long as it goes well with them. Maybe more than with myself, yes.”
Back to Orange for a moment, because there he is now in perhaps the best position an assistant coach can hold. “This is very nice yes. And it’s definitely special for our mother. Two children at the highest position in Dutch soccer, that must be unique.”
The brothers are trying to force qualification for the 2024 European Championship in Germany with the Dutch team in the coming months. If they succeed, that too will be unique. In 1988, the duo also competed there together, which resulted in the title then.
Koeman does not want to get ahead of himself. “We still have to fight really hard for it, you know. First see to get there, and then go for the highest. It would be something.”