Ruud Gullit’s first competitive match in charge of Feyenoord finally arrives Sunday when De Graafschap come to De Kuip in the season’s Eredivisie opener. For the debuting coach, the game is his team’s first ‘Champions League match’ of the campaign. ‘That’s how we have to approach every game. It’s about playing with concentration and focusing on the next opponent every week,’ stresses Gullit. ‘That has to be the mindset at Feyenoord.’
There’s been talk of diamonds in the build-up, but Gullit is aware that systems and formations are not as valuable as concentration. ‘We have to be focused and take the chances we get. It’s that simple. It doesn’t matter whether Feyenoord play with three, four or five strikers. It’s all about the details. As long as they don’t get in each others’ way.’
The motto is simply this: it’s not the style, but the winning that counts. ‘The best example was Greece in the European Championships. You always need two teams to make a good game of it. It becomes interesting when one of them doesn’t want to know, like Greece. What do you do when they all get in front of the goal and guard the flanks? How do you handle it? That’s interesting. I don’t expect a lot of teams to play all-out attack at De Kuip. So it’s about concentration. And that’s why it cannot always be pretty, although my aspiration is for a fantastic match, of course. But the mindset is victory.’
That victory will have to come without the injured Christian Gyan, who pulled a muscle in his upper leg in preseason’s final warm-up game. The vacancy will be taken by Chong-Gug Song. The right back has just returned from injury himself. On the left Patrick Mtiliga is expected to start after shaking off a groin strain. The identity of Patrick Paauwe’s partner in the centre of defence is less certain. Glenn Loovens and Karim Saidi go head to head for a starting jersey. Gullit has been positive about his ‘good, dry and businesslike’ Tunisian defender. ‘Just what I need. He’s a lad with potential. Clearly, he didn’t become an African champion for nothing. And he’s having few problems fitting in,’ said Gullit Friday.
The coach must also choose between Romeo Castelen and Ebi Smolarek on the right of midfield. Castelen was recently called up to the Dutch national squad by Gullit’s old team-mate Marco van Basten. ‘It’s about who makes the best impression, admits Gullit. ‘They both have. Castelen’s selection for the Dutch team has no impact on my decision.’
One thing’s for sure, Gullit needn’t send out a weakened team in the quest for the first three points of the 2004/5 season. The only absentee is Shinji Ono, who’s currently in Athens with Japan.
Admittedly, he’s a big loss, but Gullit will be hoping that Pascal Bosschaart can do the job against De Graafschap. His challenger on the left wing is Sebastián Pardo, but the Chilean will not be pulling on the red and white shirt for a while after suffering a relapse of his ankle injury.
De Graafschap earned promotion to the Eredivisie via the playoff’s at the end of last season, but a series of injuries and some patchy performances in preseason against first division opposition point to it being a tough campaign for the newcomers and they’ll no doubt be targeting a fourth-bottom finish.
HOLLAND CASINO EREDIVISIE, SUNDAY 15 AUGUST
Kick-off: 2.30 pm
Venue: De Kuip
Referee: Van Hulten
Babos; Song, Saidi (Loovens), Paauwe, Mtiliga; Smolarek (Castelen), Ghaly, Bosschaart, Goor; Kuyt, Buffel.
Klak, Bot, Van der Kruis, Kalezic, Carillho; Berck Beelenkamp, Van Leerdam, De Graef; Loval, Van Beukering, Ax.