The blonde defender known affectionately as “Tintin” during his playing career was blessed with a right foot that could unlock the tightest of opposition defences and scare the life out of goalkeepers, who were unfortunately forced to face his bullet free-kicks.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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koeman bRonald Koeman hails from a footballing family; his father Martin played for Holland and older brother Erwin broke into the FC Groningen first-team two years before his younger sibling made a professional debut.

Able to play in central defence, midfield or as a sweeper, the versatile Dutchman began his career with Groningen a year after brother Erwin had left for PSV.

Then a teenager of just 17, Ronald marked himself out as a future star during 88 league appearances. Also, Koeman displayed a penchant for goals from a defensive position with 27 Eredivisie strikes during those three seasons in the northern Netherlands.

A big move to Ajax materialised in 1983 at the tender age of 20, where Koeman continued to blossom despite his relative inexperience. He was a regular throughout a three-year stay that yielded one league title and a KNVB Cup triumph for the club. Additionally, the impressive young man progressed quickly into the Dutch national side following his switch to Amsterdam.

Zaandam-born Koeman cut the unlikeliest of controversial figures when agreeing to join Ajax’s arch-rivals PSV in 1986, with Amsterdam fans in absolute uproar over the loss of their stylish ‘quarter-back’. Even then, Koeman showed a strong-willed determination to further his career in the midst of such commotion, thus belying his modest years.

It proved a masterstroke as PSV entered a golden period in their history, with Koeman an integral part of their unprecedented success.

PSV were in apparent disarray when star Ruud Gullit criticised manager Hans Kraay in a March 1987 interview, while also trailing Ajax in the race for the championship. Such was Kraay’s displeasure with Gullit and the club’s subsequent lenient reaction to his comments, he resigned allowing assistant Guus Hiddink to take the reins.

Hiddink overturned the 3-point deficit in the table, as the Eindhoven side swept to the top with a 6-point advantage in the end. That was only the beginning of a trophy-laden spell for PSV, with two successive domestic doubles following that comeback title victory. Most satisfying of all, though, was the European Cup triumph of 1988 over legendary Portuguese side Benfica that truly put PSV on the worldwide radar.

What makes 1988 even more extraordinary in the timeline of Koeman’s career was the fact he assisted the national team to glory at the European Championships that summer. At that point, the talented schemer stood out as European champion at both club and international level, while also holding total dominance domestically.

In 1989, Barcelona came calling for Koeman’s long-range passing skills and unerring finishing abilities. He duly left PSV with a bagful of winners’ medals and a glut of goals on his record. Remarkably, the Dutch maestro plundered over a half-century of strikes in three campaigns with the team.

His first season under Johan Cruyff only secured a Copa del Rey win, but the ‘Dream Team’ went on to run away with four consecutive La Liga crowns afterwards.

Undoubtedly, Koeman’s greatest moment arrived in 1992 when hitting one of the most important goals in the entire history of FC Barcelona, an occurrence that placed him among the most revered footballers to have featured for the Blaugrana.

Wembley Stadium provided the venue for the European Cup final between Barcelona and Italians Sampdoria, spearheaded by dangerous duo Roberto Mancini and Gianluca Vialli. It was an extremely tight affair, which resulted in extra-time after a goalless 90 minutes.

Approaching the end of the first-half in added-time, up stepped the Dutchman to unleash a right-footed rocket past a helpless Gianluca Pagliuca from a free-kick. Koeman and his team-mates, resplendent in Barca’s iconic orange away strip, rushed away in celebration of a clinical goal that transported them a massive step closer to their first-ever European Cup. 111 minutes of hard graft came down to one sprinkling of magic from the dead-ball specialist, which settled the tie in emphatic fashion.

Returning to Holland after a disappointing final season in Catalonia, Koeman featured for two seasons with Feyenoord as a swansong to a fabulous career. His leadership qualities were starkly evident throughout his time as a player and it appeared certain that a coaching career beckoned for the hugely successful former Netherlands international on retirement.

Starting out as an assistant with the senior national team and then Barcelona, he struck out on his own with the head coach position at Vitesse. Moving swiftly on to former club Ajax, he won the double in 2002, followed by another league triumph a year later.

An ill-fated stint with Benfica led Koeman back to Holland and another former side PSV, again claiming Eredivisie glory while in Eindhoven. The opportunity to manage in Spain with Valencia presented itself thereafter and Koeman saw the club lift the Copa del Rey by defeating Getafe. However, he vacated the position just five days after the final due to poor league form.

Back home, Koeman took over at AZ for a short period before a year-and-a-half out of the limelight. Another ex-club Feyenoord tempted him back into fold when enquiring about his interest in their head coaching role in 2011. Interestingly, Ronald Koeman became the first person to represent the traditional ‘big-three’ of Dutch football as both a player and coach when accepting the invitation to rejoin Feyenoord.

It’s an ongoing battle for the Rotterdam side to clamber back to the pinnacle of Dutch football, with Ajax firmly in control of the Eredivisie since Koeman’s return; Feyenoord coming second to their rivals in 2012 and third behind Ajax and PSV last time around.

Koeman certainly possesses the coaching pedigree in his homeland to suggest he can succeed and he’ll be utterly determined to deliver the league title to Feyenoord, having done so with Ajax and PSV previously.

A legend as a player, Koeman would cement his spot in Feyenoord folklore should he wrest the championship away from Amsterdam this season.