The Dutch National football team, 3rd in the 2014 World Cup and runners-up 4 years previously, are in grave danger of not qualifying for the 2016 European Champions Finals in France.
Currently in 4th place in their qualifying group they need to finish no lower than 3rd just to ensure a play-off game and few people in Holland has any confidence this can be achieved.
Already there is speculation as to who might succeed the beleaguered current coach Danny Blind who is expected to be relieved of his position should the Dutch fail to make it to France.
If a poll was taken to ask football fans as to who their choice to take over as the National team coach would be then it is highly likely that the amiable but highly respected 57 year old RON JANS would emerge as the strong favourite. However Mr. Jans would take a lot of persuading as he is adamant that right now he is not ready to take on this demanding position – but he would not rule out the possibility of this happening sometime in the years ahead, provided he was asked, of course.
‘I am primarily a hands-on coach who likes to be with my players on a daily basis and coach them on the training field and in the stadiums. Being a club coach allows me to do this but if I was the National team coach I would only see the players for a few days before the International games and this would not be to my liking’, he said.
But why is Jans the fans popular choice? His totally unexpected and amazing success with a small provincial club called PEC Zwolle has sent shock-waves through the heart of Dutch football. 5 years ago they were fighting for their very survival in the 1st division – the 2nd tier of Dutch football - and also had the expense of a new stadium to contend with.
However in 2014 PEC Zwolle found themselves in the final of the Dutch Cup and totally confounded the football fraternity by hammering the hot favourites Ajax of Amsterdam by an incredible 5-1 score-line.
They had never won the Cup previously having lost in the 1977 and 1928 finals.
It was a result that sent Holland’s principal city into mourning. Losing to Zwolle was bad enough but by a 5-1 result was nothing short of humiliating.
But typically Ron Jans refuses to accept the plaudits for this historic victory. ‘The team was already constructed and playing very well when I arrived here. I just supervised the final arrangements and nothing more’ he modestly insists.
To everyone’s amazement PEC Zwolle reached the Cup Final again last season but this time went down 2-0 to Groningen. But two Cup Finals in 2 years was beyond all expectations.
Jans had a fairly undistinguished career as a player but his 8 seasons with Zwolle, where he scored 60 goals in 220 appearances, made him a firm favourite with the fans. He then went on to play for Roda JC and Veendam before moving into coaching.
In the foreign fields of Groningen in the very north of Holland (they have their own dialect, flag and anthem) he brought stability to the club during an 8 years reign. He acquired celebrity status which is maintained to this day and he is welcomed back whenever he turns up in the city. He then moved to near neighbours and rivals Heerenveen where he enjoyed another successful 2 years as their coach.
After a short unproductive spell in Belgium with Standard Leige, Jans returned to PEC Zwolle where his playing career had started.
‘There is no hidden secrets to my success here’, he insists. ‘It is a result of using every energy available to create a team spirit that begins on the training field and is taken onto the pitch when the team plays. I want players to feel happy and to express themselves, but importantly give 100% effort’.
Does he shout and scream when players do not do as requested either in training or on the field of play? ‘No, it is not my way. I always ask players to undertake a specific task, I never order them or yell at them. I think you get a better response if you treat them with respect as they then respect you in return’, he said.
PEC Zwolle are considered one of the ‘smaller’ teams in Holland – their stadium has a capacity of just 12,500 – so would Ron Jans not relish the opportunity to coach one of the so-called ‘big 3’ in Holland, namely Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord? ‘They have not asked me but of course it is something that every coach thinks about at times, but I have a job to do at Zwolle and my heart and soul is in this club right now’.
Dutch journalists speak of Jans with extreme fondness and admiration. Hidde Velkamp said: ‘In addition to being approachable and polite, he’s a very knowledgeable and influential coach and passionate about the game’.
Last Saturday Jans knowledge, and ability to coach, was put severely to the test. At half-time his team was losing 1-0 to ADO Den Haag and were not playing particularly well. After the coach delivered some carefully chosen words in the interval, the players came out for the 2nd half with a revitalized determination and turned the game around. Sheraldo Becker, an impressive 20 year old striker on loan from Ajax, scored a spectacular goal from an acute angle, lifting the ball with expert precision over the goal-keepers head.
In the 78th minute the crowd erupted as Lars Veldwik, who had early missed a virtual open goal, wriggled his way through between defenders to slot the ball past ADO’S Danish keeper Martin Hansen.
The 3 points lifted PEC to the exalted position of 3rd in the EreDivisie table, just 2 points behind leaders Ajax but ahead of both PSV and Feyenoord.
Typically Ron Jans sat for nearly an hour after the game talking to journalists who fired a multitude of questions at him, while he also took time to speak with fans and have his photograph taken over and over again. His family were waiting for him but he still made sure that everyone’s needs were catered for. He is that type of person.
Should the dour Danny Blind, the current Dutch National team coach be required to ‘stand-down’ sooner than later – his future hangs on Holland’s next two tough games against the Czech Republic and Khazachstan – then the Dutch Football Association could do well to discard their policy of appointing high profile ex-players and turn to a man who has an unparalleled and distinguished coaching career. But it might take more than a little persuasion to have RON JANS change his mind and accept the challenging post.
Patrick J. Watts.