Few development programmes across the globe are as highly regarded as Ajax's academy. One of the Dutch club’s many famous products is former Netherlands winger and long-term national team assistant to Marco van Basten, John van’t Schip.
As a European championship winner with the famous’ Class of ’88, alongside the likes of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Van Basten and a silverware-laden domestic career, there is little that Van’t Schip failed to achieve as a player.
Now, after serving a lengthy apprenticeship as a youth and assistant first team coach at Ajax, Van’t Schip is finally carving his own pathway. With a career steeped in the traditions of Ajax, it is little wonder that fledgling A-League club Melbourne Heart, where the Dutchman has spent the last two years, are starting to reap rich rewards.
Australia has been awash with a Dutch coaching influence in recent years, the trend commencing with unimaginable success as Guus Hiddink led the Socceroos to Germany 2006, their first FIFA World Cup™ appearance in 32 years. Van’t Schip’s appointment may have been lower in profile than that of the former Real Madrid and Chelsea supremo, but his impact is similarly significant.
Not many would make the jump from caretaker coach of Ajax to a club yet to take the field in one of the world’s youngest professional leagues. That, however, is exactly what Van’t Schip decided to do when he signed on the dotted line for the brand new Melbourne club in 2009.
The fact that the Heart have, in just two years, developed into a club with a distinct family culture is, in part, attributable to the Dutchman’s methods and philosophy.
“I wanted to do something different and to help set up a new club was to me a good thing to do,” Van’t Schip told FIFA.com. “I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived here but I have no regrets about the move. The football is coming together now with what we had in mind. (We wanted) to bring on a lot of young players, develop players and give them an opportunity at a high level.”
However, a little over three weeks ago, Van't Schip announced that his time at Melbourne Heart was coming to an end, as he wishes to return to Europe for personal and professional reasons. His assistants Ante Milicic and John Aloisi are in the running to replace him.
Club chairman Peter Sidwell was full of praise for the Dutchman, saying: "To say we're grateful is a massive understatement. When you set up a team from nothing and are given very little to do so, it's a fantastic achievement that John has been able to put this club in this condition at this time."
Heart's mid-table position in both of his seasons in charge of the club suggests only modest success, but Van't Schip is a coach who is not purely motivated by results. “My way of working is to try and develop young players,” he said. “When I came here we pushed through a lot of young players and that is happening even more this season.”
Australia’s national youth teams have been the beneficiaries of Van't Schip's philosophy, with the U-23 squad list routinely containing numerous mentions of Melbourne Heart. Eli Babalj, Curtis Good, Mate Dugandzic, Aziz Behich, Craig Goodwin and Brendan Hamill are just some of the youngsters earning rave reviews as they continue to learn their trade.
The list of coaches that Van’t Schip has worked with reads like a who’s-who of Dutch coaching and includes Leo Beenhakker, Dick Advocaat and Hiddink. But when asked which coaches were the biggest influence on his career, he unhesitatingly names Johan Cruyff, though he also cites both Louis van Gaal and Rinus Michels as playing important roles.
“(Michels) was more like a father figure being a bit older, but he knew exactly what he wanted,” said Van’t Schip. “Cruyff was more into details on the game, very technical and he influenced me a lot. He was a great inspiration and I take a lot of his thinking into how I approach the game.”
Van’t Schip though is far less specific when it comes to detailing specific playing career highlights. “To be able to play for a decade with Ajax, and then in Italy (with Genoa) is all one highlight for me,” he said. “Of course winning major trophies is great but looking back my whole career was a highlight and a fantastic time.”