Money may be tight but Feyenoord’s new coach is making his presence felt.
Actor Gerard Cox once said: “You aren’t a Feyenoord supporter for fun”, suggesting that disappointment, not joy, has long been the defining emotion for fans of the Rotterdam club.
The facts prove he is right. Feyenoord are still ranked among Holland’s big three, but compared to PSV (17) and Ajax (13) they have only celebrated four league titles in the last 35 years.
Last season the club hit rock bottom, with coach Gertjan Verbeek fired, European football out of reach and the coffers empty.
No wonder the 69-year-old Cox, after visiting Feyenoord’s home matches for 60 years, decided to tear up his season ticket. However, most fans – the most loyal in the country – have kept faith. Every year they pin their hopes on the new signings who arrive in a helicopter for the annual squad presentation on the De Kuip pitch. But this summer the most important man stepping out of the chopper was a coach, not a player. Mario Been, who played for Feyenoord between 1982 and 1988, is the great white hope. His image has even been printed on T-shirts in the style of the famous Che Guevara image.
Maybe the former enfant terrible, who wasted much of his talent as a player through rebellious behaviour, is just what Feyenoord need. Indeed, the first few weeks saw major changes on the banks of the river Maas.
Been, the former Excelsior and NEC coach, isn’t scared of taking drastic measures. His adage is “no guts, no glory”. His boldest move has been to send Roy Makaay, Tim De Cler and Kevin Hofland to the bench or, in the case of Denny Landzaat, to the stands. Only two years ago these players were heralded as the stars who would bring Feyenoord the title in their centennial year. Now their future at the club looks slim.
Instead, Been has put his trust in youngsters like Leroy Fer, Georginio Wijnaldum, Andwele Slory and Jonathan De Guzman.
“I never look at reputations, everybody has to deserve his place,” says Been. “If someone doesn’t perform well or doesn’t listen, he is sitting on the bench. Even if he earns a salary of E2million.”
So far, so good, but the downside for Feyenoord is that the dropped players, who are all on salaries of between £1.3m and £1.8m, have become a heavy burden on Feyenoord’s finances. They need to be sold to raise cash for new investments. However, there are no clubs willing to pay those sort of salaries for thirty-something players, so Feyenoord are trapped in a vicious circle.
The financial constraints presents a challenge for Been and technical adviser Leo Beenhakker, who now has more time following his departure as Poland’s national coach.
Beenhakker, back in his home town, should open doors to new investors, such as those who helped to pay for the summer signings of Spanish defender Dani Fernandez from Arsenal Kyiv and Ivory Coast striker Sekou Cisse from Roda.
Beenhakker will also play a more creative role in transfers. Serbia midfielder Stefan Babovic had been sidelines by Nantes and his national team coach Raddy Antic, keen to see him playing regularly, contacted his old friend Beenhakker and persuaded him to take the player on a free transfer. Babovic’s salary will paid by the player’s father.
Given Feyenoord’s ongoing financial problems, it is unlikely the club will challenge for the title this season. Their first big test came when PSV won 3-1 in Rotterdam. New PSV coach Fred Rutten made his mark by dropping skipper Timmy Simons to the bench, and promoting Danny Koevermans and Otman Bakkal. The Eindhoven club currently share the lead with Twente, who are continuing their progress under Steve McClaren.
Ajax, continue to veer between the hopeful and the disappointing, with much dependent on Luis Suarez. The Uruguay striker has already hit two hat-tricks, including all four goals in an away win at VVV Venlo. But Ajax are worried that he may leave during the winter break, as Klaas-Jan Huntelaar did last season.
However, coach Martin Jol is putting his faith in defenders from the club’s youth ranks. Between them, the likes of Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory Van der Wiel, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen and Urby Emanuelson have kept six clean sheets in the league already.