‘Surprised that they picked it up very quickly after all’
National coach Louis van Gaal did it with Dirk Kuijt, drafting a striker as Orange’s attacking defender. And now, as women’s national coach, Andries Jonker is planning to do it, converting outside players Esmee Brugts and Victoria Pelova into additional assets in his new system.
“I played everywhere up front. All over the midfield. But not at the back yet,” Brugts says. “Especially conditionally, it takes some getting used to.”
In a closed (and won) practice match with a boys team of De Volewijckers, Brugts was able to get used to her new role. She even took one of the two hits, immediately demonstrating the added value of the new tactic. “You are challenged in a different way.”
Credit for the successful experiment can also go to Janneke Bijl, Jonker’s assistant. She was brought forward to give the crash course during the training weeks with the Orange.
“I tried to help them,” Bijl said. “By watching footage, with individual training sessions…”
“As attackers, they know exactly what to do. The defensive aspect is slightly different,” Bijl continued. “Surprised is a big word, but I might be surprised that they pick it up very quickly anyway.”
They are also still young and eager to learn, Bijl notes. Pelova is 24, Brugts has yet to even turn 20 next month.
Brugts looks forward to her new role with confidence, also because Jonker’s intended system includes an extra central defender. “If someone plays past me, there are three others behind me,” she said.
Bijl emphasizes that Pelova and Brugts are not the only options on the wings. While she needs to brush up on these two attackers defensively, there are defenders in the selection that she hopes to teach offensive skills. In the coming weeks we will have to see who passes the tests best.
“I did stand there for past periods,” Brugts looks back on the training weeks. “Now we will also play against better opponents.”
Brugts and Bijl practiced together on the emerging wing defender’s new duties:
Rush course in defense for attacker Brugts: ‘Bit of help I do need’
For Brugts personally, her versatility might generate some additional interest from Europe’s top leagues. The attacker left PSV this summer, but says she is not yet settled with a new club.
She does not aspire to be a new Stefanie van der Gragt or Dominique Janssen, but Brugts does consult the experienced top defenders for advice. “Often I ask: can you constantly keep talking to me, because I really need that,” she said.
The trade can also be mastered quite quickly with good coaching, as past experience shows.
With the versatile Kuijt as an emerging left back, the Netherlands eventually finished third at the World Cup in 2014. During his last tenure as national coach, Van Gaal saw attacking wingers Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind shine in his system at times, especially against the United States at the World Cup.
“Actually, I’m just an extra attacker,” Brugts realizes ruefully. “Offensively, I also have to keep doing my thing.”