Advocaat can make juggling act a fine art

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The Independent Football

A sleek Jaguar with Dutch number plates sits in the car park of Rangers' training compound on the outskirts of Glasgow but Dick Advocaat is nowhere to be seen. He is elsewhere, attending to the other love of his life.

Advocaat is in Amsterdam, a city which makes a living out of quick romantic breaks. When morning breaks on St Valentine's Day, on Thursday, he and Holland will know if getting back together was a good idea, or not.

The Dutchman is not a hearts and flowers type, but on Wednesday night he desperately needs to win back the hearts of Holland's football fans by beating England in the Amsterdam ArenA. Failure to reach this summer's World Cup finals has hurt the Dutch badly and they desperately need some validation of their worth.

Dubbed the Little General, Advocaat does look like the man who would keep many awake at night. Yet, when Louis van Gaal quit last month, there was only one man worth wooing in the minds of the fans, players and football powers-that-be.

Advocaat made such an impression during his three seasons as Dutch coach, taking them to the 1994 World Cup quarter-finals, that the public demanded the KNVB (Dutch FA) bring him back from Scotland. That Advocaat had just stepped aside for Alex McLeish at Rangers, to become their director of football, merely heightened the clamour.

Even though those with glamorous playing CVs, such as Frank Rijkaard (coach at Euro 2000), Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten, were being touted, the nation had set its heart on Advocaat.

"We had to get down on our hands and knees and beg for Dick Advocaat because we knew that he was so much better than the others," said KNVB director Henk Kessler, who flew to Edinburgh three weeks ago to try to persuade David Murray, the Rangers chairman, to give up the man he lured from PSV Eindhoven in June 1998.

What Kessler got was half a loaf. Advocaat became one of the most prominent job-share employees in Europe. He kept his post at Rangers, who allowed him to go and work for the Dutch on a part-time basis and the KNVB are paying half of Advocaat's £1 million salary.

"We spoke with Rijkaard, Cruyff and Van Basten and told them we would do everything we could to get Dick," said Kessler. "We only have him for four days at international matches and next season he is allowed 20 hours per week for us." Is he worth it? Those who have known him longest, are fiercely loyal. Arthur Numan has over 50 caps for Holland and was Advocaat's captain at PSV, before being brought to Ibrox. "Dick has total respect in Holland," Numan said on Friday.

Ironically, Advocaat's loyalty to Numan was outweighed by the full-back's to his club. Numan turned down an invitation to be part of Advocaat's first squad because he has just returned from injury.

"I chose to turn it down," Numan said. "I only expected to play 15 minutes against Celtic in midweek and instead our League Cup semi-final went to extra time. I could not walk for two days and I spoke to Dick and he agreed it was better that I concentrated on getting fit for Rangers first."

Two of Numan's Ibrox colleagues, Ronald de Boer and Fernando Ricksen, will be in the Amsterdam ArenA on Wednesday. Rangers' other Dutch internationals, Bert Konterman and Michael Mols, will have to make do with watching on television, as will Pierre van Hooijdonk.

"Pierre is in fantastic form right now," said Numan. "He is a wonderful at free-kicks, even better than David Beckham, but you have to look at the quality of our strikers. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Denis Bergkamp, Patrick Kluivert and Rob Maakay – it's hard to give everyone a game." Advocaat has never been afraid to trample on reputations, famously dumping Ruud Gullit before the 1994 World Cup finals.

"Advocaat was very professional," insisted Ronald Koeman, who inherited the captaincy for those finals. "His best quality is that he is straight with players and he expects them to be straight with him. I respected his discipline, but it is important also to be flexible with players when the time is right to avoid disharmony." Keeping Holland's players sweet could be Advocaat's biggest conquest of all.