In footballing terms, Ronald de Boer and Philip Cocu could be twins. Having made their names as classy and intelligent Eredivisie players, both joined the Dutch revolution in Barcelona. Following success in Catalonia, they ended their playing careers in the Middle East, before returning to the Netherlands to coach at the clubs where it all began. Philip Cocu took the PSV reins in 2013, and announced his coaching career with last seasons league championship. This term, his PSV team have become the first Dutch club in the Champions League knock-out stages for eight years. Don’t bet against Cocu being the next great Dutch coaching export.

  • By Glenn Billingham
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cocu psv pWith his endearingly disarming demeanor, Philip Cocu looks exactly what he is, a novice football coach. However, as PSV’s trophy cabinet can testify, the term novice refers solely to the number of years on the job, not the application. Last season, Cocu’s second full campaign on the job, he guided PSV to their twenty-second Eredivisie title. Furthermore, it was the club’s first championship in seven years, and it broke a four year cycle of Ajax domination.

Arguably, Cocu is already achieving where Frank de Boer has failed. Earlier this month Cocu and PSV cemented their place in the Champions League knock-out stages. In doing so, PSV became the first Dutch club in nine years to still be in the Champions League after Christmas. Their final three group games; a solid 2-0 victory over Wolfsburg, a credible 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, and the spirited comeback at home to CSKA Moscow suggest Atletico Madrid will have a game on their hands in the round of sixteen.

Following Fred Rutten’s departure from the PSV dugout, Cocu was initially appointed as a caretaker manager in March 2012. With the club having already lined up Dick Advocaat as a summer appointment, Cocu was free to step up from the ranks of youth coach, and enjoy his temporary taste at the top. Surpassing enjoyment with achievement, Cocu steered PSV to a KNVB Cup win, before retreating to serve under Advocaat. With Advocaat entering the autumn of his years, it was felt by many that PSV had a ready made club man in line for the throne.

As a player, Cocu enjoyed two spells with PSV. Having broke into the professional game as a youngster with AZ Alkmaar, Cocu earned a reputation as a skilful and versatile midfielder. Louis van Gaal, then Ajax manager tried to sign him in 1994, but wrangling over the fees hampered the move. A season later, both PSV and Feyenoord matched the fee, and Cocu chose the team of his city of birth, PSV Eindhoven. During this first stint with PSV, Cocu won an Eredivisie title, a KNVB Cup, and two Johan Cruyff Shields in three years. Upon the expiration of his contract, virtually every top club in Europe expressed an interest. However, the lure of Barcelona under a Dutch coach (Louis van Gaal), and with seven Dutch players in their squad, was too good to turn down.

Cocu played regularly for the Spanish giants, and featured in a mouth-watering midfield triangle including Pep Guardiola, and Luis Figo. A La Liga title winner in his first season, Cocu went on to play six full seasons at the Camp Nou. He registered nearly three hundred appearances, which was a Barcelona record for a foreign player. Incidentally, that record was only broken by a certain Lionel Messi in 2011.

Never one to break a contract, Cocu signed an extension, and moved back to PSV when that deal expired. His return to Eindhoven, under the stewardship of Guus Hiddink, coincided with a golden era. Cocu and PSV won back to back Eredivisie titles in 2005, 2006, and 2007, with Ronald Koeman in charge for the last.

Upon bowing out on a high, and leaving PSV for a second time, and as a swan song to Cocu’s playing career, he helped Abu-Dhabi’s Al Jazera Sports Club to a Gulf Club Championship in 2007.

As one might expect, from a career which entailed close to eight hundred professional matches, Philip Cocu has played under some great managers. He won over one hundred caps for Oranje under the tutelage of; Guus Hiddink, Frank Rijkaard, Louis van Gaal, Dick Advocaat, and Marco van Basten. While taking his KNVB coaching course, Cocu also worked with Bart van Maarwijk as assistant at the 2010 World Cup.

Those illustrious managers, and anyone else who has worked with Philip Cocu, will tell you he is the definitive student of the game. He reached the peak of his playing career with slow yet methodical steps, and has so far replicated that as a manager. Achieving all he has with a certain charm, and modesty, and leaving you with the impression that its all a stepping stone to the next big thing.

As a club, PSV are used to bigger European teams buying up the best of their talent pool, Memphis Depay being a recent example. Unfortunately for PSV, it can’t be too long before a bigger fish snaps up their talented young manager, too.

Glenn Billingham (6 Posts)