Paid tha Cost to Be da Bosz: Peter’s journey from student to scholar
“If anyone professes the Cruijff philosophy, it’s Peter Bosz,” former AGOVV technical director Huib Rouwenhorst said. “He’d rather win 5-4 than 1-0. He’s as stubborn as well.”
It is a common description of the Apeldoorn-born coach and the evidence adds up in support of the statement. “Philosophy” is one of the most overused and often misused terms in football today, but it is unavoidable when describing the style of Peter Bosz – an obvious and devoted disciple of Pythagoras in Boots.
The influence of a figure like Cruijff has spread far and wide across the footballing world and it remains ever-present and strong in Netherlands. So obsessed and faithful to the playing style are the Dutch that if the sport is described as religion, they are surely the Amish of football. It is an ideology within these borders – and a religious one at that. In sport, that is destructive, not helpful, given that critical thinking is antithetic to dogma.
The basis of Cruijff’s philosophy, though, is progressive and intelligent – words which can no longer be used to describe Dutch football in a general sense. The nation’s latest and more proficient purveyors of the former coach and player’s message have forgotten that crucial aspect, among many others.
The most common and strongest traits of the Ajax and Barcelona icon tend to be evident in those who have studied under him directly, Frank de Boer being one. But while the former national team captain made history with Ajax as a follower of El Salvador, he has shown to have lacked the necessary individuality and vision required to apply it correctly – or he has at least lost it for now.
For over a year, Ajax have needed a change of coach (and also quite clearly in management structure). De Boer brought the club back to its roots in embracing and reintroducing some aspects of the Cruijff philosophy in his playing style, but things grew stale after a while and stagnation very quickly turned into regression – a theme of Dutch football over the last few decades. So when the four-time title winning trainer brought an end to his time in the capital following an embarrassing last-day draw to give PSV a second consecutive Eredivisie crown, it presented the club with an opportunity to move forward.
With a strict profile for their preferred coaches, it was difficult to draw up a good list of possible options for Ajax. With the club’s strict demands when it comes to their unique playing style, candidates were going to be found few and far between. There was one immediate standout candidate, however, in Peter Bosz.
Devoted to attacking football and intelligent in the way he sets his teams up, Bosz always seemed an attractive candidate for the Amsterdam outfit. He fits the philosophy of the club, but within that philosophy he has his own identity.
While Ajax are the club most heavily related to Cruijff and De Boer is certainly a follower in some way, it is Bosz who flew the flag in the Eredivisie in recent years with teams adherent to the style and philosophy of the forefather of modern football despite never having worked closely with him.
However, after leaving Vitesse in January to take over Israeli giants Maccabi Tel Aviv – to work with Johan Cruijff’s son Jordi – it seemed Ajax had missed the boat and let De Boer’s ideal successor pass them by. But as the news emerged on Tuesday that a deal had been completed and the former Heracles man signed a three-year deal, it turns out Ajax had some luck thanks to their new boss’s wise forward thinking: “I’ve never made a secret that I dearly wanted to work at the top of Dutch football,” he said. “For that reason, I had a provision in my contract with Maccabi which allows me to take this step. It’s honourable that Ajax approached me for this position.”
Starting his coaching career at amateur side (and now bankrupt) AGOVV in 1999, Bosz has had to wait to achieve his dream of reaching the top of Dutch football – it is the kind of journey Drake would write a rap song about. The move is just reward for a hard-working and ambitious coach who has restored a once poisonous reputation.
As a player, Bosz’s most prosperous period was at archrivals Feyenoord, where he won an Eredivisie title and three KNVB Bekers across five years. A decade after he left De Kuip as an accomplished midfielder, he returned after sparking a bright career as a coach, having won the Eerste Divisie with Heracles and kept them in the top flight without any issues. But it was back in Rotterdam where Bosz would take a battering.
— AFC Ajax (English) (@AFCAjax_EN) May 25, 2016
Hired as a technical director, he would oversee a dark period for Feyenoord, one from which they are arguably still recovering.
Over his two and a half years at The Pride of the South, lavish and ineffective spending saw Feyenoord finish seventh and then sixth in the league. They were 12th when he departed in January 2009, walking out in solidarity with sacked coach Gertjan Verbeek.
Bosz’s name is still treated with disdain by Feyenoord followers and, because of his past with the club, it has been so among Ajax fans too.
It took over a year for Bosz to return to football. In order to restore his reputation, he returned to the very place he had made it.
Just as he succeeded Verbeek at Heracles in his first spell and followed close behind in leaving Feyenoord, he ended up replacing the Magician from Jubbega at the Polman Stadion once again.
With no budget, Bosz kept the Almelo side stable in the Eredivisie – a term not really applicable to their style on the field. So devoted to attacking were Heracles under him that their defence was not so much thin and lightweight as it was a complete illusion.
In 102 Eredivisie games under the coach, they scored 175 goals and conceded 189. They made the Europa League playoffs in the first season, but finished 12th in the next two years. That is quite the drop from coming in sixth the season before he arrived, but Bosz had made a difference in Overijssel despite a constantly downgrading team and had caught the attention of Vitesse, who were looking for a more adventurous successor to Fred Rutten.
The Arnhem side lured him to the GelreDome and he quickly implemented his preferred style, despite having to deal with the loss of Wilfried Bony and Marco van Ginkel. Controlling possession with a patient, passing based system, Vitesse’s attacks found a new focus – constructing through the middle more than the wings – and were much more adventurous going forward, although wasteful.
Defensively, their pressing was very impressive and reactive. Bosz is one to implement the ‘five second rule’, insisting that his players retrieve the ball immediately after losing it – advancing in a specific way to increase their chances of winning back possession.
Bosz’s Vitesse may not have reached the heights or progressed in the way they had been hoping for in terms of results, but his influence on the team was immediate and effective. Upon his departure to Maccabi in January, the Arnhemmers began to struggle immensely under Rob Maas. The attacks were aimless and the defence terrible – over a few months they were unrecognisable as they dropped from fifth to ninth, missing out on a what initially looked like a surefire Europa League playoff place.
Meanwhile, in Israel, Bosz thrived. He dropped just four points in the league with Maccabi, but despite picking up the most points in the second half of the season, he could not make up enough ground on Hapoel Beer Sheva, finishing three points behind the eventual champions.
The stock of Peter Bosz has been rising for some time. An independent deep thinker of football with the ambition and desire to improve as a coach and see his players develop, he will add a lot to Ajax.
That’s not to say Bosz will solve all of Ajax’ problems. The transfer and youth policies are unclear and misguided. The success they achieved over De Boer’s first four seasons made things too comfortable and just as the coach stopped progressing, so did the club.
The Amsterdam side have been lacking ideas over the last two years. The 2015-16 campaign was a big test for De Boer, who was in his first senior coaching role, as he needed to rejuvenate his strategy and inject excitement into his team once again. He failed to do so and Ajax suffered as a result. Bosz, though, has his own ideas and has had to work immensely hard to get the chance to shine at the pinnacle of the domestic game and is determined to keep improving.
As a player at Vitesse, he bought a season ticket at Ajax in order to watch Cruijff in the capital upon his return to Netherlands.
“Every fortnight I drove my brother to Amsterdam to see him play, “Bosz told De Telegraaf.
“That was special. Cruijff helped me in the way I started thinking about football. In my active career I have learned a lot from Johan.”
Now, the man who adheres strictly to the legendary player and coach’s belief takes the hotseat at the club he made iconic the world over. Now, Bosz sets out move Ajax forward again to make the late great Johan Cruijff proud.