They have had tactical innovators like Louis van Gaal and Guus Hiddink. They have given the national team to footballers like Marco van Basten or Frank Rijkaard who displayed an aura, a presence. They all achieved something with Holland but they never took them to a World Cup final in the way that a man who seemed to possess none of these qualities has.
Bert van Marwijk was 22 when the phrase "Total Football" was born and he was on its fringes, playing for Go Ahead Eagles in the town of Deventer. But for injuries – he had five knee operations in three seasons – he would probably have gone with them to the World Cup in Argentina in 1978. Van Marwijk had the long hair, the desire to attack and the mouth that "Total Footballers" required.
It is the mouth, rather than the knees that restricted him to one international appearance, that is the most interesting part of Van Marwijk's anatomy. The Dutch are natural squabblers. Given the way he stamped on what appeared to be yet another row between Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder after the defeat of Slovakia – calling a team meeting and confronting each of them – it comes as a surprise to discover Van Marwijk, the player, liked an argument. His career at Alkmaar was essentially ended by a series of rows with his then manager, Hans Kraay.
As a manager, he is completely different to how he was as footballer. He talks and they – even Van Persie, who could not stand him when the two were at Feyenoord – listen. "I am not the guy to talk because we need to talk," is how he described himself before the tournament. "I am more a 'players should listen' kind of guy. I pay a lot of attention to non-verbal communication. I know that a little joke or a tap on the head can mean so much more than long conversations."
At home, the Dutch base themselves at Nordwijk where the breakers crash in from the North Sea. Van Marwijk says that if any Dutch footballer needs to talk, his door is "always open". Not many appear to knock.
The one question he has always been asked in South Africa is where is the "Total Football"? The reply is that Holland are here for no other reason than to win.
There is always the memory of the 1974 final with West Germany to spur him on. Having taken an early lead in Munich, Johan Cruyff decided the Germans should be tormented and so they were. But the second goal never came and the final slipped from their grasp.
"That game is precisely what I had in mind when I said that too often in the past, the team has started well and then become too complacent," Van Marwijk said. "The two things I have tried most to eradicate are complacency and over-confidence."
He was offered the job when Van Basten resigned after Euro 2008 when the Dutch had been eliminated by Russia in a quarter-final that saw the start of the split between Van Persie and Sneijder over something as trivial as who should take a free-kick.
Holland had been Van Basten's first job but his successor begun at the bottom, combining running a sports shop with a youth team in Meerssen outside Maastricht. His break came at Feyenoord, with whom he won the Uefa Cup in 2002, but when he was at Fortuna Sittard his daughter met and married Mark van Bommel. When Van Marwijk became national manager, Van Bommel was out of the Dutch side and he did not hesitate to bring the father of his grandchildren back into the fold; a move that met with considerable opposition inside the camp. He also decided to "knock the cockiness'' out of Van Bommel's midfield partner, Nigel de Jong. It was a move that could have exploded in Van Marwijk's face and exposed him to charges of nepotism. In terms of results, it has worked.
Van Marwijk is a results kind of guy. Deventer, where he grew up, is not far from the German border and Holland's journey to the final in Johannesburg has had an efficient Germanic feel to it. "The most important lesson the Germans have ever taught us is that individual quality is nice," he said. "But it is not essential."Reuse content