“December 1992, I was on top of the world. I was voted ‘World’s Best Player’ and won my third Ballon d’Or, equaling Johan Cruyff and Michel Platini. I won three. European Cup, scoring in two finals. I’m also the first to score four goals in a Champions League game.”
Marco Van Basten wrote the preface to his autobiography “Basta: My Life, My Truth” published in 2019. The player who won 3 Ballon d’Or at the age of 28 ended his career sadly. He is an almighty striker that probably has to be compared with Messi or Ronaldo later. Below is an excerpt from Van Basten’s book on the biggest cause of failure: the 1990 World Cup.
The team needs someone with personality like Cruyff
But that same month, I fell down. The injury in the match against Ancona on December 13, 1992 was too bad. Right ankle again. Right before Christmas, I lay under Dr. Marti’s surgical knife. I didn’t know that after that, I would never hit the ball the way I wanted, catch the ball perfectly, and run at full speed again. Never heard the crunch of the ball against the net, screaming with joy like a child after scoring.
For the next 3 years, I tried everything, seeing the best specialists for treating my ankles, but to no avail. All ends. In the end, I just wish I could walk to the bakery without feeling too much pain.
For days I just stared out the window, into the vast garden. Into nothingness. I can’t bear to face anyone. We were not far from Cannes, in the south of France, in a villa by the sea, where of course Liesbeth was also there and our daughter Rebecca.
I am so ashamed. We let ourselves down at the World Cup in Italy. That was my biggest failure. Until then, pretty much everything turned to gold through my feet, 1987, 1988, 1989 and 1990, one big trophy a year. But this World Cup, it’s a disgrace. The Netherlands are the defending Euro 1988 champions, and with our existing squad we are among the contenders for the world cup.
But things go wrong, on all fronts. Starting from the qualifying round, with Thijs Libregts as the national team coach. Ruud Gullit had a lukewarm relationship with him for many years, after he, as Feyenoord’s coach, remarked that Gullit was incompetent in 1984. So it’s not surprising that Gullit wasn’t pleased. with him. The majority of the group of players also do not think he is suitable for the World Cup. In February 1990, after a friendly against Italy, Gullit, as captain, on behalf of the players, delivered a clear message to the Dutch FA: We want Libregts to go.
The Football Association convened the players at the Schiphol Hilton hotel on March 25, just before the team departed for Kyiv to play a friendly match against the Soviet Union. A notable presence that evening was Rinus Michels, the coach who led us to Euro 1988. After that, Michels went to work for Bayer Leverkusen, but did not stay for a full season. In autumn 1989, he returned to the Dutch Football Federation as Technical Director.
Football Federation President Martin van Rooijen, who took office on November 1, 1989, has no football background. Michels and Van Rooijen on behalf of the Football Association listened to the opinions of the players. Michels clearly anticipated the removal of Libregts, and he immediately introduced us to three possible replacements. Aad de Mos, who was successful with KV Mechelen, is the coach of Anderlecht. Leo Beenhakker, a former Ajax coach, previously temporarily took over the position of national team coach. And Johan Cruyff, Barcelona coach.
After consulting the players, I said: “Johan is the best of these three, so I just want Johan Cruyff. It’s best that we all vote now.” At this point Michels and Van Rooijen left the room. The results are clear: 8 votes for Johan Cruyff, 3 for Beenhakker and 2 for De Mos. The message sent to the Football Association is clear. As Frank Rijkaard, Gullit and I did not go to Kyiv because of our commitments to AC Milan, Ronald Koeman was tasked with communicating the voting results to Michels on behalf of the team.
For me, going to the World Cup with Johan Cruyff as coach is a dream. It’s someone everyone respects and will listen to. A strong personality, technically and tactically superior to other candidates. We need someone like him. Michels began his business, perhaps starting with a conversation with Johan Cruyff. We do not think much about this, because we are still fighting on three fronts with Milan.
The team is no longer a unit
The bomb went off at the end of April. Michels called a meeting at the Van der Valk hotel in Sassenheim, with five players Ronald Koeman, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Hans van Breukelen and me. We were there when the FA delegation entered: Michels, Van Rooijen and, to our utter surprise, Leo Beenhakker.
We met with them last month and thought Johan Cruyff was obvious. Yet Michels appeared with Beenhakker as a “fait accompli”, depriving us of any chance to discuss. We were informed that Beenhakker would be introduced to the press a few days later.
We were surprised and angry. Why Beenhakker all of a sudden? Michels put us in a difficult position and seemed only interested in his own interests. That’s why I later said in the media that Michels was both using us to get rid of Libregts, going his own way and ignoring the wishes of the players. That was the beginning of the end for our World Cup.
I have a lot of doubts about Michels’ role, maybe he contacted Johan Cruyff, but Johan Cruyff is having trouble? Michels had a column in the newspaper AD, which allowed him to sow discord among the players. Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and I arrived at the training camp for the World Cup 7 days later than everyone else, because we had to play the Champions League final against Benfica. Yet the newspapers told us that we were gathered late and told us to act like a “diva”. Both De Telegraaf and AD continuously sowed discord in the team, dividing the team into two factions “stars” and “workers”.
The quality of the workout is pretty pathetic. We were all stressed, things were almost out of control, there were too many subgroups and we were no longer a single entity. Even Frank Rijkaard and I argued, even though we played together from Ajax to Milan. Ruud Gullit is troubled with a knee injury, but we are very pleased with Ruud Gullit as captain and contact point.
Before the World Cup, we camped in a castle in Yugoslavia. It was very dusty, I didn’t sleep well because of the dust in the bedroom. And it was very cold. Although then we will have to compete in the heat of Sicily and Sardinia.
Michels’ actions are rooted in jealousy
Next World Cup. In Palermo, it was difficult for us to draw 1-1 with Egypt. We played poorly and were inconsistent. The second match, a few days later in Cagliari, against England, ended 0-0. Fortunately, 2 of England’s goals were not recognized.
The third game, on June 21, is against Ireland in Palermo. Again we played badly. With a score of 1-1 with 15 minutes left, we closed the defense. Because 3 draws will be enough for us to advance to the round of 16 as the third place team in the group. So bad.
Then came the round of 16 match in Milan. At San Siro. The biggest rival was West Germany. It was hot, more than 35 degrees. In the second half, I had terrible cramps, partly from the stress, but after that it seemed like everything was out of our control. Frank Rijkaard and Rudi Völler are no longer on the field as both received red cards. They led 2-0, Koeman’s late penalty wasn’t enough. Too late.
Leo Beenhakker still talks about the gearbox 13, which he claims contains all the secrets of why the 1900 World Cup failed. But I think, box 13 is best empty. The story of Michels, who ignored our desire for Johan Cruyff, was the crux of the matter.
Years later, we discovered that Michels had never discussed the work with Johan Cruyff. Van Rooijen also doesn’t know who Michels has or hasn’t spoken to. The Football Federation leaves the selection of the national team coach completely in the hands of Michels. Turns out he only talked to one candidate, Beenhakker.
We will never know what Michels’ real reason was. But my feeling is that he is afraid that Johan Cruyff will surpass him by leading the Netherlands to world championship. That Johan Cruyff would erase the success of Euro 1988 by winning the world cup. Michels wants to prevent that from happening, I think. It comes from a basic human emotion: envy.
Chinh Phong | 09:10 March 21, 2023