Continuing our series looking at the next generation of Dutch coaches, we review the career and early promise of a legendary ex-striker. Patrick Kluivert has long been a dependable number two. Now he’s fresh and unscathed from his first managerial challenge, and seemingly primed for a vacant technical area near you. 

  • By Glenn Billingham
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klui coaLouis van Gaal and Patrick Kluivert. Master and apprentice. The culmination of the 2014 World Cup gave both men a big choice to make. Van Gaal, the outgoing Netherlands boss, and Kluivert as his right hand man, had enjoyed a fruitful time together. Both men were influential in leading Oranje to third place in Brazil. By Dutch standards, the team were considered un-fancied and unfashionable, but the free-scoring and undefeated qualifying campaign, and the startling 5-1 defeat of Spain were noteworthy. The third place play-off defeat of hosts Brazil felt an equally significantly note to close the chapter. For van Gaal, the next chapter was to be Manchester United. The choice which affected both men, and arguably the trajectory of their careers was a simple one. Would Kluivert follow van Gaal to Manchester as his loyal number two, or was it time to strike out alone?

The two have enjoyed a close relationship since the early 1990’s. Kluivert was the ferocious young talent, spearheading the last great Ajax team. Van Gaal was himself an up-and-coming Dutch coach, riding a wave of domestic and European success in his first full managerial position. Between 1994 and 1997, the three years van Gaal and Kluivert overlapped in Amsterdam, Ajax won three consecutive Eredivisie titles, a UEFA Super Cup, and of course, the famous 1995 Champions League. Successful coach and trusted goalscorer were reunited at Barcelona in 1998. Having been appointed to succeed Bobby Robson in 1997, van Gaal made Kluivert one of his first major signings. Another UEFA Super Cup, a La Liga title, and a Copa del Rey were added to their shared trophy collection. In their two years together at Camp Nou, Kluivert netted thirty goals in sixty-one appearances, and Louis van Gaal laid all-important foundations for his successors, Rijkaard and Guardiola. Patrick Kluivert also enjoyed his most prolific run with the Dutch national team under van Gaal’s leadership. Between 2000 and 2002, Kluivert notched up twenty-nine caps in two years, with a return of nineteen goals. By far his most consistent and richest vein of form for Oranje.

How van Gaal’s current Manchester United team could use a finisher like Patrick Kluivert.

As the 2014/15 season took shape, van Gaal tore into his first Premier League project, moulding and reshaping a rather languid Manchester United squad. Patrick Kluivert was overlooked, perhaps logically, as van Gaal plumped for the local knowledge of Ryan Giggs as his right-hand man. Kluivert, possessing class, and awareness of the bigger picture, was quick to accept the culmination of their relationship. Van Gaal had explained it was time for Kluivert to strike out alone, and Kluivert took his time in seeking out the right option.

With his youthful appearance, and natural effervescence for life, its easily forgotten that Kluivert has been coaching for nearly a decade. As a thirty-two year-old, and just two months after hanging up his boots at Lille, Kluivert enrolled on a KNVB coaching course. He progressed through courses quickly and brightly, and as part of KNVB legislation, found a club where he could gain practical experience. AZ Alkmaar took Patrick Kluivert as part of their back room staff for the 2008/09 season. Their manager that season, and Kluivert’s coaching mentor, a certain Mr Louis van Gaal. With van Gaal already departed for Bayern Munich, Kluivert flew the nest to continue his coaching education in January 2010. Under the tutelage of Ande Postecoglou, Kluivert spent the remainder of 2009/10 as assistant manager for A-League champions, Brisbane Roar. The 2010/11 season saw another homecoming. This time as the assistant manager at N.E.C Nijmegen. Under the watchful eye of another Dutch coaching legend, Co Adriaanse, 2011/12 saw Kluivert strike out alone. He achieved immediate success as the Beloften Eredivisie championship winning coach of Jong FC Twente.

As Kluivert was savouring his first taste of managerial success, his mentor was out of work. Having been relieved of duties at Bayern Munich, van Gaal waited almost a year before accepting the Dutch national team job. When he did so, straight after Oranje‘s catastrophic Euro 2012 campaign, he again made Kluivert his first signing. The master and apprentice were joined in the dug out by Danny Blind. Himself an Ajax legend, and 1995 Champions League winner. The trio obviously combined well together. Oranje blitzed through their qualifying group, and landed in Brazil on the back of an impressive qualifying record. However, cracks were starting to appear. Criticised for a less attractive style of football, van Gaal and his team dug in their heels.

The 5-1 demolition of Spain in the first group match was simply astonishing. However, the debate over which factor had the most impact, Spain’s capitulation, or Oranje‘s domination, raged almost instantly. In fact, the entire World Cup campaign divided opinions. Having already confirmed his departure would be immediately after the World Cup, van Gaal and his coaching team were subject to debate. Were they miracle workers for getting a somewhat un-inspiring squad to within a whisker of the final? Or were they simply lucky? Were they tactical genius’ for taking Spain by surprise? Or were they naive in thinking such an approach could provide progress and stability? Either way, the bulk of the responsibility was van Gaal’s. Kluivert revelled in his supporting role, and gained valuable big tournament experience.

With CV enhanced, and freedom found, Kluivert wasn’t short of offers after summer 2014. He famously interviewed, and later declined, the Ghanian national team job, and was linked with a host of clubs across Europe. Sensitive to ‘feeling’ and finding the right project, Kluivert surprised many with his eventual choice.

Curaçao is more famous for its beaches and blue liqueur than its football. The national team having only ‘formed’ in 2010, after the disbandment of the Netherlands Antilles. Yet lured by a sense of loyalty, and a deep rooted family connection, Patrick Kluivert was named head coach in March 2015. A romantic and unconventional appointment, which captured the imagination of many. Many ‘Dutch’ Eredivisie players followed Kluivert, declaring family ties and previously un-announced ancestors. For the players, under FIFA legislation, the commitment was forever. For the new head coach, the contract was a somewhat informal one. lasting, in effect, as long as their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign.

On 27th March this year Curaçao lined up in the first qualifying round in Willemstad. Monsterrat provided the opposition, and Curaçao recorded a 2-1 victory. The return leg, a 2-2 draw, saw Curaçao through to the second qualifying round. With little under a full three years till the tournament itself, these matches may seem premature. However, in order to progress to the full tournament, Curaçao would have to play twenty-two games. Humble beginnings, but the second qualifying round was already a national record.

Cuba were despatched on away goals in round two, which came after a couple of impressive friendly victories. Curaçao ended their chances of a miracle with defeat in the third qualifying round. El Salvador progressed at their expense, and Kluivert ended his agreement on September 15th this year. He remains a close friend and advisor to the local football federation.

Once a relationship ends, it can be difficult to keep things amicable. Not if you’re Patrick Kluivert. His close ties with Louis van Gaal are well documented, though Kluivert the player was also carefully tutored by a trio of legendary Dutchmen; Hiddink, Advocaat, and Rijkaard. He also played for Valencia under a young Qico Flores, and finished his playing career under Ronald Koeman at PSV. If Patrick Kluivert can emulate either of those, he’ll be on to a good thing. If he wants to.

Glenn Billingham (6 Posts)