He is the man who could be seen sitting next to Sir Alex Ferguson during Manchester United’s most decorated period in the modern era. During their time together, Rene Meulensteen and Sir Alex helped United to three English Premier League titles, three FA Community Shields, two League Cups, a UEFA Champions League title and one FIFA Club World Cup trophy. Since his time at Old Trafford, he has taken coaching jobs at Anzhi Makhachkala and Fulham, with both periods being short term. Last year, Meulensteen took up a consultancy position with Major League Soccer side Philadelphia Union. FIFA.com caught up with the man responsible for honing the skills and techniques of the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney to see where life has taken him in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era and to learn about his passion for coaching.
: The reason why I accepted it was I do think that America’s an interesting market, still an emerging market. Major League Soccer had made nice, little strides forward—and is still making strides in that respect—and I wanted to know more about it. The consultancy job was a great step to do it. Over the last half year, I’m consulting the Union and at the same time I’m learning a lot about American football academies and the college system. It’s helped me to understand everything a little better.
It’s always a learning process. You always want to go back to where you feel your biggest traits are, which is at the top level working with top players. Obviously that’s a very small market to some extent. A lot of coaches have got the wrong assistance and it’s not as easy. What happened to me with Anzhi and later at Fulham did not do me a lot of favours because people who made the decisions don’t know what actually happened or the reasons why, so people are a bit reluctant to give you another crack at it.
Both! I would definitely look at the national level because it’s a different approach. You have to identify the players, there’s nothing to do with money, you just have to identify talent and potential. You need to work with a group in a very short period of time to make them click and understand a style in winning ways. I like that. I would definitely look into a national opportunity even if it would be Olympic teams or teams trying to qualify for a U-20 World Cup or something like that.
It’s a different process. At the end of the day when you do get them together, the key is maximizing the limited time you have together. You have to find a formula for the players that suits them and to see how they’re going to win games.
I think there’s a few. You always need to have an open mind. The first and biggest influence for me was Wiel Coerver. I worked with the man himself for nearly four years, which has been a massive influence in my way of thinking of how to develop players and making sure that whatever you do is to try to do it in such a way that it’s going to make a difference. Secondly, working closely with Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United influenced me a lot. Among the new generation of coaches to like, I really can identify myself a lot with the ideas of Pep Guardiola. I’ve met him a few times. I met him years ago before he got into coaching and that’s probably the most interesting chat we had because he was asking me a lot of questions about developing players and young players and obviously how we want to bring it all together and play. I’m a big fan and advocate of Johan Cruyff as well.
When I was at United people said, “You must have the best job in the world!” I would say, “Yes, I do.” The excitement is to prepare the players and put sessions on they not only enjoy but they prepare them for the next performance and then to see in the performances that leads to results—that’s the most satisfying thing. You’re trying to paint them a picture: This is what we think is going to happen, this is where their strengths are, this is what we need to be careful about, this is how we can break it down. You prepare them in every possible way on and off the pitch. When it all comes together, it’s the most rewarding thing.
In the beginning it was a little bit on a smaller scale because I was working with players individually. I saw individual traits coming back; therefore it had a positive contribution on the game. When I started to be the first team coach, I was basically responsible for the whole. Players always respond to the environment you create and the ingredients on the parameters of that were very clear. I could still remember the manager calling me into his office to tell me I was going to be the first team coach. He had his flip chart over there and he wrote a few things just reiterate a few things of what he wanted to see in his team: From a defensive point of view I like our teams to be able to press when we have to and I like us to be really compact, drop down and hit them on the break. From an attacking point of view, yes we want to keep the ball with purpose but when we attack, I want to see these things: Speed, power, penetration and unpredictability.
He wanted me to instill those ingredients day-in day-out and these were my parameters. Everything we did, whether it was phase of play or conditioned play or possession, they were the same things. I think that’s basically at the moment why everyone is struggling because all of those ingredients are not there anymore and that’s why they keep saying, ‘No matter what people say or what opinions they have’ at the end of the day, it all comes down to the environment that is created day-in, day-out, because that’s what players respond to. Sir Alex always said one thing: “Always remember Rene, whatever you do on the training pitch will manifest itself in the game.”