By J Hutcherson (Jun 29, 2021) US Soccer Players – In an announcement that wasn’t much of a surprise, Frank de Boer is leaving as the coach of the Dutch National Team. “Frank de Boer has announced that he does not want to continue, which is also in line with the contract between both parties, which required a place in the quarterfinals. That contract will not be renewed,” the KNVB statement read.
de Boer’s time in charge of the Netherlands showed what was already clear during his tenure with Atlanta United. Strategy and tactics wouldn’t yield to public pressure. In an era of celebrity coaches and embracing whatever works at the highest level, de Boer’s tendency towards defense stood out. He clearly had the backing of the KNVB, with the Dutch federation’s director of top football Nico-Jan Hoogma making that clear in the press release.
“Despite all of Frank’s efforts, the objective of at least reaching the quarterfinals has not been achieved,” Hoogma said. “If that had been achieved, we would evaluate, which could possibly have produced a different outcome. We had bet on a better European Championship, but that didn’t work out.”
It’s always an interesting situation when one game makes such a difference. The Netherlands lost 2-0 to the Czech Republic with both goals coming after the red card to Matthijs de Ligt in the 55th minute. While the Czech Republic’s path to the knockout stage may not have been overly impressive, this wasn’t a mismatch at full strength. The Dutch won its group taking all nine points, but questions over what many saw as a conservative approach resonated.
A 4-2 loss at Turkey during March World Cup qualifying still hung over the Netherlands en route to EURO 2020. The Dutch were down 3-0 in that game before scoring in the 75th and a minute later. The comeback stalled, with Turkey’s Buraz Yilmaz finishing off his hat-trick in the 81st minute. Turkey’s early exit at EURO 2020 didn’t reduce the pressure on de Boer’s side to show that they can control games.
It’s easy enough to criticize the setup after it failed to advance to the semifinals. It’s also worth pointing out what that would’ve meant to critics of the team. The Netherlands would’ve passed the mark set by the KNVB as a team on a four-game winning streak. At some point, de Boer’s tactical choices move from stubbornness to the right idea. If that had happened, the issues with star power not taking over games would lessen.
Since that didn’t happen, it’s easy enough to add to the complaints that tactical choices overwhelmed that star power. That’s not fair, taking too much off of the ability for talent to step up across the EURO 2020 field. We’ve seen some interesting soccer with clear disappointments from the game’s elite. As enjoyable as Monday’s knockout games were, both were clear examples of better teams fading.
While the temptation is to act as if there are no real favorites after a compacted club schedule, the pandemic constrictions, and a tournament delayed by a year, there are still teams with a clear talent difference. Several of them joined the Dutch with an early exit, potentially complicating coaching decisions across Europe.
The head of the France Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, told reporters that “the objective has not been reached, but there have been so many others reached…. You always have to put things in perspective.”
Leaving whether or not that means parting ways with Didier Deschamps and reworking one of the most talented squads in world soccer is, of course, the issue. It’s the same for any national team setup deciding to put enough weight on this tournament right now. That’s the broader question for all of soccer, figuring out how to correctly weigh missed opportunities.
Get it right, and as things continue to return to close to normal there might be an advantage. Get it wrong, and it looks like an overreaction in the face of specific situations that may never repeat. That’s as true for the club game as it is for national teams, not that it’s stopping decision-makers from taking immediate action.
The KNVB’s Hoogma made clear, “A successor must now be found by me, after good internal consultation. It is imperative to do so, because on September 1 we will be playing the important qualifier against Norway in Oslo.”
While there’s always another game, for international soccer there’s also normally a gap between the games that really count. That means time, which can work in either direction. The Dutch, the French, and Portugal with the potential for more will have to balance reasonable expectations with public pressure. That’s always the game at this level, but it carries a different resonance right now.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson:
- Is New England turning into the team to beat in MLS?
- Denmark’s Kasper Hjulmand: “You don’t necessarily find good leadership in the protocols”
- Concacaf’s choices for the Nations League and the Gold Cup
- What did we learn from the 2020-21 European soccer season?
Logo courtesy of the KNVB