The caretaker feels that the uncertainty at the club has affected his players. ‘Thankfully it’s mostly settled down now, says Vlemmings. ‘Secondary matters have been discussed a lot in the squad these past weeks. That only distracted us. Now we can focus fully on football.’
The coach is helped by the fact that more and more players are becoming available again after injury layoffs. That certainly makes it easier to get some stability in the team. ‘It’s important not to want to cram the team with too much information. That only has the opposite effect,’ says Vlemmings. ‘We have to work step by step.’
Vlemmings is unsurprised that Mario Been has been given so much attention in the run-up to the game, but makes it clear that it isn’t something that his team needs to take into account. ‘We are simply approaching this game in a businesslike way,’ he explains. ‘We have to win points and it makes no difference that Mario is sitting on the bench. We are focused on football, not on secondary aspects. I haven’t mentioned it in the match preparation.’
Feyenoord have performed below par this season, languishing in twelfth place in the table. ‘So we have to get the points, because it’s the only way confidence will flow back,’ says Vlemmings. ‘Although calm has returned to the club, the pressure remains. Because we have to get away from the place we are now.’
After two years of success in Nijmegen, NEC coach Mario Been is set to leave the club at the end of the season for Feyenoord. He is the second high profile at the club to move on to what they hope will be bigger and better things: captain Peter Wisgerhof has made the switch to FC Twente.
NEC’s current success really started to come midway through last season. The club were doing poorly in the Eredivisie and the fans were grumbling. The response from the boardroom was to extend Been’s contract. That kick-started the club’s season and the effects are still being felt today.
NEC ultimately managed to secure a place in the Uefa Cup and this season have shown that they are not in the competition just to make up the numbers. Dinamo Bucharest, Spartak Moscow and Udinese have all been vanquished and Martin Jol’s Hamburger SV are the next opponents. The home leg is already a sell-out.
NEC are still in the KNVB Cup too; victory against Sparta Rotterdam earned the Nijmegen outfit a place in the quarter final.
The question is how the club will deal with the departure of two important personalities in the coach and the skipper. NEC’s strong suit over the past few years has been the team spirit at the club. It’s hoped that the experienced Patrick Pothuizen can replace Wisgerhof, while the versatile Milano Koenders has also come in on loan from AZ.
It’s not all roses in NEC’s garden however. An away win at Willem II is the only victory in six Eredivisie matches, so three points against Been’s past and future club Sunday would be very welcome.
NEC – Feyenoord
Sunday 1 February, 14:30 at De Goffert
NEC: Babos; Dani Fernández, Pothuizen, El-Akchaoui; Burgzorg, Kivuvu, Schöne, Davids; Rommedahl, Van Beukering and Bouaouzan.
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Lucius, Hofland, Bahia; El Ahmadi, Bruins, Van Bronckhorst; Wijnaldum, Makaay and Biseswar.
23/12/2007 NEC - Feyenoord 0-2
26/11/2006 NEC - Feyenoord 4-1
08/02/2006 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
08/05/2005 NEC - Feyenoord 2-0
28/01/2004 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
05/10/2008 Feyenoord - NEC 0-2
02/03/2008 Feyenoord - NEC 1-3
22/04/2007 Feyenoord - NEC 1-1
11/09/2005 Feyenoord - NEC 3-0
05/12/2004 Feyenoord - NEC 2-1