Dutch legend Marco van Basten looked set for a successful career as a coach when replacing Dick Advocaat as AZ boss in the summer, but it all ended far too soon due to significant health problems forcing the former AC Milan striker to step down.

  • By David Lee Wheatley
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vanbasteninApproaching his 50th birthday, Utrecht-born van Basten announced his decision to stand aside from the position of head coach at AZ Alkmaar following an enforced break which he took when suffering with a stress-related illness.

He allowed himself a short sabbatical with the blessing of the club at the end of August after experiencing heart palpitations whilst attempting to carry out his work, but he still felt unwell when it was time to resume his duties two weeks later.

Therefore, it was decided between all interested parties that van Basten should be handed a role as an assistant tasked mainly with developing young talent at the club instead; this was actually at the behest of the head coach himself, who felt he simply couldn’t struggle on in the top job while contending with the issues he’d faced.

He started out working as an assistant with the Ajax second team before being surprisingly handed the reins of the senior national side in 2004, a role which he fulfilled over the course of four years. During his tenure, he led Oranje to the last-16 of the 2006 World Cup and the Euro 2008 quarter-finals following a highly promising group stage that ultimately flattered to deceive.

A solitary season back in club football with the Ajax first-team seemed to have put him off coaching for life when he disappeared off the radar for three years following Ajax’s failed attempt to qualify for the Champions League under his tutelage.

However, he decided to give it another crack with Heerenveen in 2012 leading them to eighth in the first season and then doing even better with an impressive fifth-place finish in his second term in charge. With myriad suitors circling his best players, the former European Footballer of the Year chose to accept AZ’s offer to succeed veteran Dick Advocaat, who’d earlier taken up the Serbia national post.

Matters appeared to be on the up-and-up for the 49-year-old, but he was hit by the devastating loss of his father in July, which is widely considered an aggravating factor in relation to his condition.

The irony of the situation surely won’t be lost on van Basten, who had to retire as a professional footballer at the age of 30 after going through a two-year injury hell when he should have been in his absolute prime. How cruel it is that such a strikingly similar outcome befell him within the fledgling years of a burgeoning coaching career, too.

Though he made mistakes as manager of the Dutch national team, there’s no doubting that rather turbulent experience and the subsequent campaign spent at Ajax stood him in good stead. He brought all of that knowledge with him when joining Heerenveen and looked every inch a coach who possessed substantial enough potential to rise up to the very top, just as he did as a prolific goalscorer during his playing days.

Unfortunately, that now seems nothing but a pipe-dream, but we all certainly hope to witness a healthier and happier Marco van Basten emerging from his troubles in the not-too-distant future, whether he ever makes a managerial comeback or not.