Brandts: Rwanda improving rapidly

Former FIFA World Cup™ finalist Ernie Brandts is now coaching in Rwanda, where he took Kigali-based APR FC to the league title last season and is now in the early stages of the new campaign. A Dutch international and star with PSV Eindhoven, he is the only player to score for both teams at the FIFA World Cup finals, scoring an own goal in the 18th minute and then the equaliser in the 50th minute in the Netherlands' second round match against Italy in 1978.

The Dutch went on to beat Italy and qualified for the Final, where Brandts played against hosts Argentina before embarking on a coaching career at the top level in his own country at NAC Breda. Since then, he has gone on to coach in Iran and now in central Africa. sat down to discuss his work in Rwanda, his ambitions and also his thoughts on the Dutch national team.

You have been in Rwanda for one year now, what has it been like and is it a rewarding place to work? And what drew you to the country?
Yes, it’s nice to work here, the weather is good, the conditions are good and I am coaching the biggest club in Rwanda. I came initially to have a look for five days. I was shown all the places around here in Kigali. I met many people interested in football, saw a lot of young players and they asked me to help them to develop football in the country. And that was for me a good reason to go there. It was not a difficult decision to make. They asked me to improve the football, so the first thing I did was to try and improve the individual skills of the players and the team organisation. Last year we won three trophies. For me, it was a very good year.

Does Rwanda have the potential to be a top side in Africa?
I think it can go far. In 1994 they had the genocide here and after that they decided to put all the energy into rebuilding the country, including football. If I look back on the 12 months that I have been here already, I can see a lot of improvements. The football is getting better, but you cannot say that in one or two years it is going to be at the top. That will take a lot longer. But that it will improve, I’m sure of.

Rwanda will, however, always be a small country in terms of population and therefore resources. Do you think countries like this can only reach a certain ceiling?
Yes it’s true there is a limited resource of players. But if you look at Holland, it has a population of some 16 million people, but it is number two in the FIFA rankings. The Dutch have proved you have to start with the youth and that’s what we are trying to do here now, to start with the kids when they are six, seven years old. In Rwanda we have to work on improving the skills of the players as young as possible, as soon as they start playing. Holland is a very good example of that.

In Rwanda we have to work on improving the skills of the players as young as possible, as soon as they start playing.
Ernie Brandts

APR FC will compete in the African Champions League next year. What are you looking to achieve in the competition in 2012?
We have many foreign players now, three from Brazil, some from Burundi. We will try to do better than we did in the Champions League last year. We start the campaign in February so before that we want to go out of Rwanda, maybe to Algeria or Morocco to play some friendly games. It will help us get used to a better standard of football. I think it's possible for us to make the last eight. But it’s the kind of competition that at the right place and at the right time you have to be playing at your best.

Would it be tough to go back to work in Dutch football where things are maybe a little tamer than working in the new world?
No, no, not particularly. As a football coach you never know. If you have success, you will get invitations to go almost everywhere. But if you have no success, you have to leave your club. That’s football. I don’t know my future or where I will go in years to come, but that’s no problem.

What was more painful for you: watching Rob Rensenbrink hit the post in the last minute of the 1978 FIFA World Cup Final, or Arjen Robben coming within a length of the goalkeeper’s leg of winning the 2010 FIFA World Cup?
I think 1978 because we were so close to winning and I was playing in the team. When you play in the team, you are in it with all your heart. I was 21 at the time and to come so close to being a world champion at the age of 21, you can understand how horrible that felt at that moment. I would have liked that Arjen Robben would have scored that chance, but I suppose that is football. There are more things than that in life.

Which is the best Dutch team ever, the generation of ’74, ’78 or the 2010 version?
Difficult to say. The 1974 team with Cruyff, Krol and Neeskens was a very good team but also the last side with Sneijder, Van Persie and Van der Vaart. It is difficult to compare because now the football is more physical, more technical, much faster, the spaces are very small. But when Cruyff played, I would have to say this was probably the best.

Four of the players in the Dutch line-up in the 1978 FIFA World Cup final have gone on to coach in Africa. Yourself, Arie Haan (Cameroon), Johan Neeskens (now in South Africa) and Ruud Krol (Egypt and South Africa). Do you see a reason for that?
That’s life! But we were never looking too far into the future, we didn’t think about that in 1978. We never spoke about Africa then. But what a wonderful continent and I’m really happy to be here now to try and help the football.