Feyenoord must choose Van Gastel to succeed Rutten

Now that the departure of Fred Rutten has been confirmed, yet another round of intense speculation will surround Feyenoord regarding who will succeed him as the club’s head coach – a repeat of last year following Ronald Koeman’s departure. Last term, the club struggled to find a new boss to replace the man who had made a great mark upon the club. This time, though, the ideal candidate for the position might already be working in De Kuip: Jean-Paul van Gastel. The top candidate for the job, according to many reports.

While it is true that Van Gastel lacks experience as a head coach, in the past four years he has been slowly developing himself and seems to be ready to take over. When Mario Been was outvoted by his players in the summer of 2011, and his assistant Leon Vlemmings followed him out the door, football director Martin van Geel quickly called upon U19 coach Van Gastel to coach the team for a friendly against Veendam. It was an intense atmosphere because of some protesting supporters, but it was a good introduction to first team football at Feyenoord as a manager for Van Gastel: never a dull moment and always surrounded by huge pressures and instability. But he stayed calm and said that he understood the supporters’ frustrations but wanted to focus on his job and the match.

When Ronald Koeman was appointed as the new head coach, Van Gastel was made his first assistant, while Giovanni van Bronckhorst was also given a position in the staff to find out if he liked coaching. He did, and when Koeman extended his contract with Feyenoord, so did Van Gastel and Gio. For three years, they formed a strong triangle, forming not only a tactical stronghold, but also a close friendship. The three had played together for Feyenoord in the 1990s, when Koeman was nearing retirement and the other two had emerged as talented youngsters.

In the third season, Koeman slowly developed himself into an English-style manager, perhaps preparing for what he hoped was coming. Van Gastel was put forward to lead the first team training sessions, with Gio assisting him and Koeman watching from a distance, intervening when necessary, controlling the discipline and big tactical lines.

Towards the end of the campaign, it was announced that Rutten would replace Koeman, with Van Gastel and Van Bronckhorst stying on as assistants to help maintain the philosophy of youth development in the first team as well as some continuity. Rutten also brought his own assistant, Patrick Greveraars, a field coach who, despite never playing professional football, has worked at clubs like PSV, FC Porto, Vitesse and Willem II.

While respected for his knowledge of tactics, Greveraars was never held in the same esteem by the players as Van Gastel and Gio were. Most first team players had worked under Van Gastel in the youth academy, where he coached the U15 and U19 teams.

The young players were trained by Van Gastel and had watched Giovanni van Bronckhorst make a historical return to Feyenoord from Barcelona in the summer of 2007. Three years later, they saw him captain the Dutch team to the World Cup Final. One month later, Van Bronckhorst ended his career with a special match in De Kuip. He left the field crying, saying “Now I’ll be with you guys on the stands, together. Hand in hand”.

Just like his coaching partner, Van Gastel is respected at all levels of the club. At the academy, he was the coach who led the U19 to three consecutive Eredivisie titles between 2008 and 2010, and prepared players like Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij, Luc Castaignos, Jerson Cabral, Ricky van Haaren and Jordy Clasie for the first team. It was Van Gastel who changed the perspective for Clasie. He made him the captain of his team in 2009, just shortly after Clasie had been given a last chance in the academy – some coaches doubted if a midfielder so small, lacking strength and pace, could make it in De Kuip. Later that season, captain Clasie lifted the U19 Eredivisie trophy and is now the star of the team.

Furthermore, Van Gastel has been advising the coach on talented youngsters ready for the step to the first team over the past four seasons. He is a fanatic visitor of games at Varkenoord and is an extension of the academy in the first team.

That is exactly one of the reasons why Van Geel is considering Van Gastel. According the De Telegraaf, Rutten did not see much perspective in continuing the club policy of raising first team players through the academy, but wanted to buy players from elsewhere – going directly against the philosophy. Van Gastel is respected at the academy, knows how it works and knows many talented players personally. It was Van Gastel who pushed Rutten to bring U19 players Kamil Miazek, Bart Nieuwkoop and Jari Schuurman to a training camp in Dubai in early January.

Together, Van Gastel and Van Bronckhorst played over 300 Eredivisie games for Feyenoord. They’ve been around for a long time and know what it means to play and coach at the club. They know the pressures that comes with the top job more than any other outside candidate. They know the players, are respected by them not only for their history, but also for their tactical vision and work ethic. They are reformers, using modern technology to improve Feyenoord’s playing not because everybody does so, but because they genuinely believe in it. They are the perfect continuation of the club’s policy to raise talent through the academy – not only players, but now also coaches.

More than outside candidates, Van Gastel won’t have to deal with problems every newcomer at Feyenoord (or PSV and Ajax) has: getting the respect from supporters, from media, from sponsors and invisible powers surrounding the club. It’s not hard to make a comparison to Frank de Boer’s situation when he got the job as coach of Ajax, or Philip Cocu at PSV: both worked at the club, knew the situation and were respected by many. More than any other coach, perhaps even more than Rutten, Van Gastel knows what is going on, what is possible and what isn’t.

This, together with the experience he gained from coaching at the academy, the core of the club, and as assistant, is what makes him the ideal candidate together with Gio to lead Feyenoord back to Eredivisie glory. Just like he did as captain in 1999 – the last time Feyenoord won the Eredivisie.

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