Dick Advocaat returns to keep AZ on the right track
After the sacking of Gertjan Verbeek at the end of September, AZ needed a new coach to guide them forward in this very important season for the Alkmaar team. Verbeek’s dismissal seemed very unfair to many outside the club. The night before he was handed his P45, his team had beaten Eredivisie giants PSV to go fourth in the league and just months prior they beat the Eindhoven powerhouse to lift the KNVB Beker. But it wasn’t the performances on the field which brought about his sacking, his man-management style seemed to create many problems within the squad and, after a lengthy review, AZ decided to part ways with the coach. In looking for a replacement, the board decided they didn’t need anyone who would revamp the style or the team, the team was balanced and playing very well, all that was needed was someone who would keep playing attractive football while instilling a positive mood in the camp. So, on Wednesday, the club confirmed that Dick Advocaat would take over as coach of AZ and the former Netherlands and PSV boss was unveiled later that day.
The 66-year-old returns to AZ, having coached the club for half of a season season in 2009-10 before departing to take charge of the Russia national team and being replaced by Gertjan Verbeek. Although very short, Advocaat’s previous spell in charge of the Alkmaar side was very successful. Upon taking charge of the team in December 2009, he lost three of his first four Eredivisie games and crashed out of the KNVB Beker in the round of the 16 at the hands of Feyenoord. However, things quickly began to change as Advocaat’s charges gained steam and began to rack up the points once again. Following the 1-0 defeat to Groningen in late-
January, their tenth of the season, AZ were never beaten again. They went on to win ten of their 14 remaining fixtures, beating the like of Twente, Utrecht, Heracles and Feyenoord before drawing 1-1 with PSV. Although finishing in fifth place and 24 points behind champions Twente was a massive disappointment for a team who had won the league the season before, it was a height which seemed inconceivable before Advocaat took over and turned the team around.
During that short stint at the helm of AZ, Advocaat averaged more points per game (2.06) with the club than Louis van Gaal (1.98), who had guided them to the league title the previous year, and Co Adriaanse (1.68). Admittedly, though, Advocaat spent only five months at the club, whereas Van Gaal was there for four years and Adriaanse for three.
Like his previous spell with the club and his most recent time in charge of a Dutch side (PSV), Advocaat’s new deal with AZ is only short-term. The club are understood to have offered the job to Shota Arveladze and Fred Rutten before approaching the former Netherlands and Rangers boss just a few days ago. It is understood that he will see out the remainder of the season with the intention of taking the Alkmaar team to the European spots before handing the reigns over to a long-term boss. For Advocaat himself it was a big surprise.
“I was actually looking for a national team and was not even planning to work in the Netherlands. Then suddenly AZ came along on Friday,” the coach told the media at his unveiling on Wednesday.
“I recently rejected four clubs, including a very, very large one. Normally I’m not easy to convince, but AZ is special. I wouldn’t have done this for any other club, but when they asked me, I immediately had the itch.
“I had a great time here… Those were five great months.”
He continued: “It is a very fresh and talented team with great potential. Moreover, the differences between teams in the Eredivisie are getting smaller. I’m curious as to where we can finish. I want AZ to play attacking and enjoyable football.
“Our goal? We’re going for European football.”
It’s fitting that Advocaat should look to continue the good work of his predecessor and ensure they play attractive and attacking football. After all, the squad are suited to it and neither they nor the style of play was the problem under Verbeek. His autocratic management style didn’t sit right with his charges and proved to be his downfall. That Advocaat’s management style is very different than Verbeek’s was absolutely critical in him being offered the job. He had a fantastic rapport with his players and his supporting staff when he was last at the AFAS Stadion. Interim coach Martin Haar insisted he is looking forward to working with Advocaat once again. He said “He’s a great coach and you can really laugh with him. He is loads of fun.”
AZ’s director of football, Earnet Stewart, summed up the club’s reasons for hiring the new boss at the press conference. “We wanted to bring in a great coach,” said Stewart. “I think Advocaat’s qualities will be a good mix with our squad. We want him to play dominant and attacking football. The people here like to see that.”
Advocaat can now pick up from where Verbeek left off, but with his more relaxed and friendly management style, he is better suited to getting the best out of this group of players. Almost always playing in a 4-3-3 formation four years ago with the club, it’s very likely that Advocaat will continue with that with this current team as it suits them perfectly. With a backline
consisting of Mattias Johansson, Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, Jan Wuytens and Nick Viergever, AZ are made to build from the back and attack as a team. With Markus Henriksen, Viktor Elm and Nemanja Gudelj, there is a lot of pace and skill in the midfield as they link up very well with Roy Beerens and Johann Berg Gudmundsson on the wings, while Aron Johannsson mixes very well with those around him to create chances and finish them off himself.
Although AZ finished tenth last season and, at times, lurked dangerously close to the relegation playoff spots and then lost star players Jozy Altidore and Adam Maher in the summer, they are in much better shape this season. There is more fluidity in the team and goals are more evenly spread throughout the team. They look a much sharper outfit and play more as a team, instead of the vast majority of things going through Altidore and Maher.
The sacking of Verbeek always seemed to be a preemptive decision. Taking action before the wheels fall off and the mood in the dressing room affects the performances and the issues get out of hand. If the team were playing so poorly despite the discord between coach and players, Advocaat will bring harmony back into the dressing room and make sure they maintain this level and build from here.
Advocaat turned AZ into a very strong team in his last period with the club and he guided PSV to second place and the KNVB Beker final last year. If he can replicate the record he achieved the last time he coached the team he will turn AZ into a title contender. However, maintaining the form they are in just now will keep them steady and ensure they finish the season very high up in the table before handing the reigns over to a more long-term replacement.