A Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) delegation, comprising President Michael van Praag and General Secretary Harry Been, visited the Home of FIFA in Zurich on Friday 7 November 2008 for a meeting with FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke.
Former referee Van Praag was chairman of Ajax from 1989 to 2003, during which time the Amsterdam giants won the UEFA Cup (1992) and the UEFA Champions League (1995). After the untimely death of Mathieu Sprengers, he was elected KNVB President on 27 August 2008.
Following his meeting with FIFA President Blatter, Van Praag took time out to speak to FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Michael van Praag, you have been President of the Dutch FA since August. What are your major goals for your time in office?
Michael Van Praag: I see two major areas as the focus of my work: at the domestic level, I would like to see a closer partnership between the amateur and professional leagues. We also need to protect youth football, and introduce a more professional approach. We’re only a small country, but we have a good reputation within the game. For it to stay that way, we have to fight our corner on the international stage. We have to support the development of young talent and protect our own youths. For this reason, the KNVB is extremely interested in furthering the “6+5” rule envisaged by FIFA, and that’s what I’ve discussed with President Blatter today. The European Union should recognise and respect the special nature of sport in general, and football in particular. You can’t treat sport and commerce the same way. Obviously it’s competitive, but sport and football aren’t businesses, so sport’s peculiarities and differences need to be recognised. Applicable labour law should be interpreted differently and appropriately. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to implement the "6+5" rule at the present time, so the task is to talk governments round, and find a solution as quickly as possible. This has our fullest support.
The Netherlands has been producing superb footballers for as long as anyone can remember, but the 1988 UEFA European championship is your only major trophy. Why do you think that is?
Our biggest problem is that most of our internationals play abroad and operate in a totally different environment. It’s extremely difficult to get all our players together for a training camp when they have league commitments in England, Spain or Italy. Our talented youngsters remain some of the best in the world, but our whole communication effort has become extremely difficult for the reasons I’ve outlined.
How satisfied are you with the development of your domestic league?
Overall, the general standard in the Eredivisie has become weaker. On the other hand, the league is a lot more interesting nowadays, as several clubs are in contention for the title. That’s reflected in increased attendances and season ticket sales. The clubs have even set up their own TV channel now. It all rates as a great success, but the gulf between ourselves and other countries is growing all the time. If we’re to close the gap to the biggest nations, we need an even stronger commitment to our own youth development programmes, and we should try and keep our talented youngsters in the country. We support the "6+5" rule because it could be a valuable aid in achieving our goals.
In qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the Netherlands have made a perfect start with three wins from three matches. How pleased are you with that?
Obviously, we’re delighted with the results, and the work of our new national coach Bert van Marwijk. You never quite know what might happen after a change at the top, but the new coach is successfully continuing along the path followed by his predecessor Marco van Basten. We’re very confident of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, but nothing’s certain in football.
Should you qualify, what will be your goals at the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
Naturally, every team goes there aiming to win the trophy. We were among the favourites for EURO 2008, but after our successes at the group stage, everyone suddenly started talking about the trophy. That shatters your concentration – and we all saw what happened next.