With Feyenoord’s season going from bad to worse, the club’s board were forced to undertake a swift u-turn in a bid to arrest the team’s decline.

By Klaas-Jan Droppert in The Hague

When Feyenoord’s directors held their first meeting of the year, on January 13, coach Gertjan Verbeek still had the board’s full support and general director Eric Gudde was insisting the club shouldn’t change tack. One day later, in the face of a growing players’ revolt, Verbeek was sacked.

His appointment during the summer, after a highly successful four-year spell at Heerenveen, along with new signings Denny Landzaat, Jon Dahl Tomasson and Karim El Ahmadi was supposed to mean that the Rotterdam club – who last clinched the championship 10 years ago – could be serious title contenders in their post-centennial year.

But Verbeek’s methods – based on gruelling training sessions and tough physical work in the gym – didn’t impress his new charges. Even before the season kicked off Feyenoord had 10 players unavailable through injury, and after a humiliating UEFA Cup campaign, in which they lost five of their six games, the team tumbled down the league.

When he clashed with medical staff and senior players who asked him to change his ways, the clock was ticking. Only the board’s support and a lack of money to pay him off had kept Verbeek in a job.

Just before the winter break, by which time the club having fallen to 12th in the Eredivisie, the newspaper Algemeen Dagblad revealed that a majority of the dressing room had voted in a secret poll against the coach’s continued presence. Only the youngsters Diego Biseswar, Dwight Tiendalli, Leroy Fer and Georginio Wijnaldum supported Verbeek.

“The will [of the players] was no longer there,” admitted Verbeek, who admitted that he noticed “a sudden change with some of his players not looking [him] in the face” at his last training session.

The break came when the club’s international defender Kevin Hofland contacted the club president, Dick Van Well, and told him: “It can’t go on like this.” When Van Well then informed general director Eric Gudde Gudde, who earlier had claimed that Verbeek would be in charge even at Christmas 2009, it was the end of a marriage that had never worked, despite the high expectations.

Days before the restart of the League was hardly the perfect timing for a revolution but, having found the money to pay him off, Verbeek – along with assistant coach Wim Jansen and technical director Peter Bosz – were dismissed and another assistant, Leon Vlemmings, took temporary charge.

However, the club’s misery didn’t end there. After a 3-1 defeat against Heerenveen in the League, Feyenoord lost 3-0 at home to the same opponents in the Cup to equal two previous club-record lows: the record number of losses in one season (16) and the record number of home defeats in a season (seven).

At the end of January the club announced Mario Been had signed a three-year contract as Verbeek’s full-time replacement, but the 45-year-old, who is presently coach at NEC, would not be taking over until the end of the season.

“I’m not a magician, but I want to build something beautiful in these three years,” said Been. “I’m proud to have been allowed to become Feyenoord coach and I want the players to show pride in the club. Everyone knows Feyenoord are my club and that I have always dreamed of returning to De Kuip as coach.”

Stevens quits
Verbeek isn’t the only coach to have departed. Huub Stevens, who arrived at champions PSV Eindhoven from Hamburg last summer, quit feeling there was no real rapport between he and the players, “despite huge effort and many attempts to improve matters”.

Assistant Dwight Lodewges, 51, has taken the reins on a temporary basis and must lift a side who are out of the Champions League and 15 points adrift of leaders AZ in the Eredivisie.

Vitesse gave Hans Westerhof his marching orders because of poor results. The former Ajax and PSV coach, only in charge since the summer, had also lost his players’ confidence. In a post-match press conference he complained to AZ coach Louis Van Gaal about his central defenders Civard Sprockel and Sebastien Sansoni, but didn’t realise that the microphone was still on. His replacement is Den Bosch coach Theo Bos.

Utrecht must find a solution for their new coach, Ton Du Chatinier, who did not have the required papers. Brought in as assistant after four assistants had been fired in October, Du Chatinier became head coach after the club decided to part company with Willem Van Hanegem in December. The latter had been fiercely critical of the board, claiming “that ‘submarine’ has got no brains for football but is taking all the decisions” in a reference to new owner Frans Van Seumeren, whose company Mammoet were responsible for the salvage of the Russian atomic sub Kursk.

Roda chairman Serve Kuijer resigned after his family had been intimidated by the club’s fans. They blame Kuijer for starting negotiations with neighbour club Fortuna Sittard for a possible merger.