With eight league titles and a Champions League winner’s medal to his name across three countries, Mark van Bommel remains, undoubtedly, one of the finest and most intelligent midfielding generals to have come out of the Netherlands in recent years. With nicknames such as ‘The Punisher’ and ‘The Destroyer’ van Bommel’s legendary crunching tackles earn him a call up to Football Oranje’s hall of fame.

van bommel captain

  • By Adrian Bucher
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Bayern Munich. PSV Eindhoven. Barcelona. AC Milan. These are some of Europe’s most decorated clubs in history, all of whom have had Mark van Bommel on their roster at one time or another. However, it was at Fortuna Sittard where van Bommel’s professional story began.

van Bommel was signed from the (now defunct) amateur side RKVV Maasbracht for the 1992/93 season. In the end, Fortuna were relegated from the Eredivisie that season, with the then 16 year old van Bommel making his only appearance as a second half substitute against SC Cambuur in May of that year.

By the end of the 1994/95 season, van Bommel had established himself as a starter for the team, making no less than 31 appearances, earning the Sittard side promotion back to the Netherland’s top division. He would stay on with Fortuna until the  end of the 1998/99 season where Fortuna progressed to the KNVB Cup Final, but had to make do without his services as he was suspended for the final. Fortuna ultimately lost 2-0 to Ajax that day. During his time at Fortuna, van Bommel earned a call up to the Dutch Under-21 side, with the highlight of his time there being a fourth-placed finish at the 1998 UEFA European Under-21 Championship in Romania.

Notably, during van Bommel’s final year at Fortuna, the club was under the guidance of Bert van Marwijk – a coach that Mark would later collaborate with on the national team, whose daughter, Andra, van Bommel dated and eventually married.

PSV were able to obtain the services of van Bommel for a value of 2.7 million Euros ahead of the 1999/2000 season, and it was here where his rise to stardom was truly set in motion, and Europe really started to sit up and take notice. Mark’s arrival had also coincided with the arrival of Johann Vogel from Switzerland where they would form a solid midfield partnership behind an attacking line lead by Ruud van Nistelrooy. In his Eredivisie debut for the Eindhoven side, van Bommel scored one and assisted another in PSV’s 4-1 victory over MVV. At the end of that season, PSV stormed to their fifteenth Eredivisie title, winning by a margin of 16 points ahead of nearest-rivals Heerenveen. Mark’s second season at Eindhoven saw the Eredivisie title successfully defended in a similarly devastating fashion, and it was during his second season, at the young age of 23, that van Bommel inherited the captain’s armband, demonstrating that the development of his maturity and leadership qualities. At a European level, this season also saw van Bommel score twice against Manchester United in both fixtures during the group stages.

van bomm psvDuring his six years in Eindhoven, playing alongside the likes of Park Ji-Sung, Arjen Robben and Philip Cocu, at various points, and under the guidance of Guus Hiddink, van Bommel collected, in total, four Eredivisie titles and one KNVB Cup. This period in the Limburg-native’s career also saw him play an integral role in PSV’s remarkable run to the semi-finals of the 2004/05 UEFA Champions League where they were narrowly beaten by Italian side AC Milan on away goals.

At this point, van Bommel had firmly established himself on the footballing stage, making a reputation for himself as a commanding presence in the midfield – a role preformed so deftly earning him the Dutch Footballer Year award twice (in 2001 and 2005). During his time in Eindhoven, Mark mastered the art of the tactical foul, often breaking up play before key passes were made, as well as having a knack for provoking the opposition into committing fouls. This had earned van Bommel the reputation as an overly-hard tackler, accused of stretching the rules to their limits. Nevertheless, Mark was a proven ball-winner, often freeing other players from their defensive duties, and allowing more attack-minded players more room to create goal-scoring opportunities.

His superlative performances in the Eredivisie, as well as some impressive performances in the Champions League and UEFA Cup had attracted the interest of teams from across the continent, such as Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Eventually, van Bommel opted to sign for FC Barcelona – one of the many teams supported by Mark at a young age – on a free transfer. Upon his unveiling at the club, van Bommel famously asked for the journalists to direct questions at him in Spanish. Prior to his move to Spain, he had been learning Spanish in a convent.

With Dutch legend Frank Rijkaard at the helm, van Bommel was a regular on the first team, making 24 appearances in the league in Barcelona’s victorious La Liga campaign. This season had also given Mark the opportunity to make amends against AC Milan, as Barcelona took on the Italian giants in that season’s edition of the UEFA Champions League semi-final. Not to be undone once more at the same stage as the precious season, van Bommel and Barcelona overcame Milan over two legs, and, with the Dutchman in the starting XI, also oversaw Arsenal in the final in Paris.

Injury had kept van Bommel out of the Netherlands squad for the UEFA Euro 2004 in Portugal, and like many other great Dutch players during this time, van Bommel’s first major tournament for the Oranje arrived during the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany, having failed to qualify for the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan. Mark started in three of the four games that the Oranje took part in, including the infamous round-of-16 clash against Portugal, often dubbed ‘The Battle of Nuremburg’, due to the record sixteen yellow cards (one issued to van Bommel, and two as a result of challenges on him) and four red cards shown over the course of the 1-0 victory for the Portuguese.

van bomm bayern mBayern Munich were able to acquire van Bommel’s services for a fee of 6 million Euros, after just one season at the Catalan club. Reflecting on the move at a later point in life, van Bommel told reporters that the decision to leave Barcelona was due to his concerns that he would get limited playing time, due to the emergence of Lionel Messi and the arrival of Gianluca Zambrotta from Juventus. Bayern had, at the time, needed a replacement for Michael Ballack that had left to join English-side Chelsea on a free transfer. Van Bommel was thus able to fit seamlessly into the team. The tough tackling midfielder had successfully filled the void left behind by Ballack, and continued to flourish. The purchase of van Bommel immediately paid dividends with the former PSV captain putting in commanding performances and by the end of his debut season at Bayern, van Bommel had become a fan-favourite and was voted as their Player of the Year. Following Oliver Kahn’s retirement at the end of the 2007/08 season, van Bommel became the first (permanent) non-German captain of the club. Success followed Mark at Bayern, helping the team win two league-and-cup doubles during the 2007/08 and 2009/10 seasons. Sadly, van Bommel was not able to emulate the same success on the European stage as his time at Barcelona. As an integral part of Louis van Gaal’s Bayern that were aiming for the treble, alongside the likes of Frank Ribéry, Philip Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, whilst also being reunited with countryman Arjen Robben, the Bavarians reached the final of the 2009/10 Champions League, only to come undone by AC Milan’s cross-town rivals, FC Internazionale.

Like several other Dutch players at the time, van Bommel had refused to take part in the national team, as long as head coach Marco van Basten was at the helm. This resulted in Mark skipping the UEFA Euro 2008 in Switzerland and Austria. However, following the appointment of former manager, and father-in-law, Bert van Marwijk, van Bommel returned to the Oranje, and took part in the Netherland’s 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign. Teaming up once more with Robben, van Bommel joined Nigel de Jong, Dirk Kuyt and Wesley Sneijder in the Netherland’s march to the final, beating more fancied sides, such as Brazil along the way. Though putting in a string of commanding performances, many had criticised the hard tackling approach of the Dutch side, particularly during their extra-time defeat at the hands of Spain in the final – with van Bommel and De Jong being singled out as notable offenders.

van b sneijThough a fan favourite, Mark only stayed at Bayern until the end of 2010, citing van Gaal’s preference to play others instead of the captain as the reason for his departure. Consequently, van Bommel and Bayern terminated the Dutchman’s contract by mutual consent, and joined a club that Mark had many encounters with over the years – Italian side, AC Milan. In many ways, van Bommel’s move to Italy made a lot of sense, and some wondered what took so long for Mark to join the league known renowned for the tactical foul. At 33, there were doubts as to how much van Bommel could contribute to a Milan side that were sitting at the top of the table. As it turns out, van Bommel was seen by many plaudits as the key signing that steadied the ship in the, midst of an injury crisis, on course to Milan winning their 18th league title. van Bommel stayed on at Milan for another season (finishing second to Juventus in the league) before announcing his intention to return to PSV. During his final interview as a Milan player, van Bommel, upon watching a highlight reel of his time spent at Milan (including his strong performances against local rivals, Inter), the Dutchman famously broke out in tears that his time at Milan was coming to an end. “When I arrived here, everyone told me this club is like a family and it’s true, it is”. “At Milan, I was able to apply myself, I think, in terms of football but also as a human being, and I had a great time.”

Though van Bommel was finally selected as captain for the national team for the UEFA Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine, the Oranje’s campaign was largely forgettable, and the Dutch bowed out at the group stage. It was at this time that Mark called time on his international career, saying that “for now, it is time for the young players.”

Returning to the Philips Stadion, manager Dick Advocaat was quick to appoint van Bommel as the side’s captain. Though his final season as a player didn’t see him reach the same dizzying heights as his first spell at PSV, van Bommel still led and mentored a young PSV side to second place in the Eredivisie, and the KNVB Cup final.

Not one to stay out of the beautiful game for long, Mark is currently acts as an assistant coach to the Dutch Under-17 side – a position he has occupied since January 2014.

One of the most industrious and polarising players of recent years, Mark van Bommel’s playing career was marked with success wherever he went. His dedication to win the ball won the admiration of many, and was inspiring to many of his peers that often saw him as a role model for the rest of the team. When asked about van Bommel’s departure from Munich to Milan, compatriot, long-time teammate and close friend, Arjen Robben reflected: “He has been a very important player for us with special qualities. Not just in football, also as a human.” The man from Maasbracht will surely go down in history as another one of the Netherland’s finest footballing sons.

Adrian Bucher (39 Posts)