‘He lives on a kind of Vesuvius’
Follows PSV on behalf of NOS Sport
Follows PSV on behalf of NOS Sport
In his first year as head coach, 46-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooij seems to be heading for a satisfactory end to the season with PSV. The Eindhovenites already captured the cup last week and are in pole position for that important second place in the league, which opens the way to the preliminary round of the Champions League.
The untimely departure of technical director John de Jong and later a number of star players on the pitch did not make it an easy moment for the native of Ossen to make the move from formerly youth and assistant coach to head coach.
Now four more “exams” will follow in the form of Sparta Rotterdam, AZ and sc Heerenveen, among others. Foppe de Haan, who once at Heerenveen turned the young attacking midfielder into an ample scoring striker, saw a difficult start for Van Nistelrooij.
“Currently he is living on a kind of Vesuvius, where he has to make sure that this volcano does not erupt. That is unprecedentedly exciting and you can see that in him.”
Now or never
De Haan had Van Nistelrooij under his wing in the 1997/98 season, before the eager footballer made the move to PSV and later Manchester United. “I had never rated Ruud as a trainer, although I had thought he would stay in soccer. He was always the first to reach out, though.”
Back then, the goal-scoring machine focused solely on scoring goals. The same drive De Haan sees in him along the sidelines. “He has always enjoyed playing soccer tremendously and he wants to convey that to his players. Development and performance are important, but having fun is perhaps the most important. He has always had that tremendously himself.”
After coaching several youth teams at PSV, with also two terms as assistant with the Dutch national team, Van Nistelrooij got the chance to become head coach. “He visited me once in Heerenveen at the time,” De Haan says. “Then he asked me about what it means to be a trainer, about the responsibility and how I looked at it.”
“In that sense, he was also a little doubtful, whether it wasn’t too early. I think he thought: if I don’t do it now, I’ll have to wait even longer. I told him then that it is an experience profession. Riemer van der Velde always said to me that I was better when I was sixty than when I was forty,” laughs the sc Heerenveen figurehead.
Keeping calm, keeping a good eye on the long term and working in a very focused way is what the trainers’ guild is all about, according to the 79-year-old Frisian. “You really have to learn that. If you don’t like it, you quickly have a tendency to jump from heel to heel very much.”
Back to that Vesuvius for a moment. It is a season in which Van Nistelrooij must deal with towering pressure. And that creates tension. “I can see that from how he sometimes behaves along the sidelines. He is very busy, runs along, almost never sits. He tries to influence his players from the sidelines and that’s not so easy. He can become even calmer in that,” De Haan believes.
“Ruud is a bit more extrovert than, for example, Philip Cocu. Mark van Bommel did it differently again. But take Arne Slot. He also stands a lot, but he radiates confirmation. That things are going the way they should.”
Also, although the league is nearing its end, the PSV coach is often still searching for his ideal starting lineup. For example, he has already beaten Ajax four times this season, but does not yet radiate a clear way of playing soccer. He has not yet been able to put that Van Nistelrooij stamp on his team.
“In the end, a player then wonders what the coach actually wants. What are my tasks then, what is my position? So doubt sets in. Joey Veerman, for example, I know. I know for sure that he doubted until he was given a permanent position. And then he started playing really good soccer.”
After the cup win, Van Nistelrooij jumped into the arms of goalkeeper Joël Drommel and threw his hips rhythmically loose in the locker room. That emotion, too, is typical Ruud, De Haan observes. “When he is happy, he is really happy. And when he’s sad, he’s really sad. He always shows his emotions.”
He also sees the humor in that. “I didn’t think he was hugely realistic after Ajax-PSV. They didn’t play very well, but he was mostly happy with the win.”
De Haan has confidence in his old pupil, but also refers to the importance of the role of an experienced assistant – now Fred Rutten – around Van Nistelrooij. “He needs, I think, someone who makes things discussable and in whom he has confidence. Ruud likes to share his opinion and at the same time is interested in someone else’s knowledge. He is always learning and that has always been his attitude.”
“Making a plan and setting goals, that’s what he learned from me as a soccer player,” he reflects. “Living your dream every day. In the short term, but also for the long term. And working on that consistently every day.”
Whether his career as a coach will be as impressive as his playing career, time will have to tell. His popularity in England and Spain, for example, will not be in doubt.
“First show over a period of five or six years whether it really suits you and whether you can set the tone. And if that succeeds, it might become inviting to take the next step. But he’s not ready for that for now,” De Haan concludes.