Three years ago, Hampden Park became a sea of orange in honour of Dick Advocaat. He owned the place. When the little Dutchman returns on Saturday, however, he will be in hostile waters.
There is little room for sentiment when survival is involved. The Euro 2004 play-off will match Advocaat's gifted but underachieving Holland against a Scotland team riding a wave of public enthusiasm under Berti Vogts.
Two of Vogts' players owe their careers to Advocaat. Had the Dutchman not spent three years in Glasgow, life might have turned out very different for Barry Ferguson and Neil McCann. Instead, they will be on the very piece of turf where they and the rest of the Rangers team hoisted the chubby manager into the air as they celebrated the Scottish Cup final success over Aberdeen in 2000.
On the other side will be their former Ibrox team-mate Giovanni van Bronckhorst. The Arsenal midfielder, on loan at Barcelona, scored one of the goals that day as Rangers secured a domestic Treble. "It was amazing, because all the Rangers fans wore orange shirts as a tribute to the Dutch," said Van Bronckhorst last week.
"It was the only colour you could see. It meant a lot to myself and Arthur Numan. I am sure it will bring back memories for Dick Advocaat too, but it will not be like that this time. When Rangers went to Hampden, we had the big support. This time, we will be in the minority."
It is ironic that Van Bronckhorst, Ferguson and McCann are no longer at Rangers. They have all moved on, betraying the fact that for all Advocaat achieved at Rangers - two titles, five trophies and several memorable nights in Europe - it was his failure to deal with adversity that is his biggest legacy.
When Martin O'Neill came on to the scene, just a few months after the orange sea at Hampden, he blew Advocaat out of the water. A 6-2 thumping in their first Old Firm confrontation set the tone, with Celtic's new manager inspiring his side to a 21-point championship-winning margin from which Advocaat never recovered.
A similar gap was being constructed in 2001-02 when Advocaat quit halfway through. He stepped upstairs as director of football until his country called, though not before meeting Vogts. "We met at Rangers' training ground before I took the Scotland job," says Vogts. "I wanted to get a feel for what Scottish football was like and he was helpful. The biggest problem I have for the play-offs is that he knows my players so well, especially Ferguson and McCann."
Now fate has brought Advocaat back. Hampden, as Van Bronckhorst says, will not be a sea of orange this time. "We are the underdogs, the pressure is all on them," smiled Vogts on Friday inside the stadium he has helped make a hard place to visit again.
"We showed against Germany in the group what we can do against bigger teams. They were lucky to get a 1-1 draw here and we gave them a real fright in Dortmund. But there is even more pressure on Holland. They have not qualified, even with all their stars. They did not qualify for the World Cup finals in 2002 either - that makes the pressure from the Dutch people even more. I know the Dutch mentality, I was born just 20 miles from the border."
Vogts played for Germany when they defeated Holland's greatest team in the 1974 World Cup final. He gave away a penalty in the opening minute, but the trophy that had seemed destined for Johan Cruyff's gifted generation ended up in German hands. "All the Dutch players were better than the Germans," Vogts recalls, "but we were better as a team. The team function is important when you play against Holland."
Vogts knows only too well that that is the approach which served the Republic of Ireland when they eliminated the Dutch from the World Cup qualifiers two years ago. A simmering disenchantment has always accompanied Holland's top stars, from Vogts' play-days right down to the current generation.
Now, it is Ruud van Nistelrooy who is unhappy. The Manchester United player kicked a bottle in frustration after being substituted in the defeat by the Czech Republic which condemned Advocaat's team to taking the muddy route of the play-offs. Van Nistelrooy also swore at Advocaat - who prefers Patrick Kluivert - and was dropped. It was a scene replicated at Ibrox, where Advocaat lost the dressing room because of his preferential treatment for his Dutch players.
Vogts, on the other hand, has wooed players and fans alike. "It took an outsider to tell us we should be proud to be Scottish," said Scottish FA chief executive David Taylor. "Berti put the passion back into Hampden again."
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