Advocaat: Everything is still in our hands

  • Dick Advocaat is in his third spell as coach of the Netherlands

  • The veteran coach, 69, took charge in May with the Dutch in dire straits 

  • He speaks to about restoring confidence and reviving World Cup hopes

Dick Advocaat should be on a beach or a golf course. The veteran coach will turn 70 next month, and vowed as recently as March that he would be retired by now.

One call was all it took to change his mind. It came, of course, from the Netherlands national team, a side he had coached twice before following earlier spells as assistant to the great Rinus Michels. And in truth, it was not so much a call as a distress signal.

Having failed to reach the 24-team UEFA European Championship, the Oranje – with just five FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers played – were already six points behind France and in real danger of missing out on a second successive major tournament. Fast forward a few months and that gap has been cut in half, with Advocaat having quietly and carefully set about rebuilding the team’s decimated collective confidence.

But the Netherlands’ position remains precarious, and coming up this week is a daunting double-header against the French and a Bulgaria side that beat them 2-0 in Sofia earlier in the campaign. Nonetheless, Advocaat is in positive, relaxed mood, and he found time amid the team’s preparations to discuss five key points with

Taking charge of the Oranje for a third time: familiar or fresh? “It feels very natural. Besides those times in charge of Holland, I have also coached a few other national teams. So I am well used to it now and I feel I know a little bit about what you need to do in this role. But this particular job, given the age I am and the fact it’s my home country, is undoubtedly special for me.”

Confidence trick: what has he done to restore morale? “We still have some experienced players in the squad, so I have been relying on them in some respects. They know the game, they know the players and that helps a lot. I always felt that if we got the team well organised, things would turn and we would make life difficult for anyone we play against. We have been winning games lately and that brings confidence. But now we go into matches against different teams with different qualities , so we must be ready.”

Decisive double-header: will those upcoming matches against France (a) and Bulgaria (h) determine whether the Netherlands finish in the top two? “They’re two hugely important games for us and also for our rivals in this group. It’s close again, with just three points between ourselves and France and Sweden, so there’s a lot of pressure on those two teams at the top. We just need to focus on ourselves and what we can do to improve our position. This is always a difficult period at the end of the transfer window, with players who are not fit, not playing or unsettled and want to leave their clubs. We need to see what our players can bring for us.”

Beating Les Bleus in France: mission possible? “We have every respect for France. With the talent they have, they could send out three different top quality teams. But we have to try to play our own game and make the most of the chances we have to score – and we will have chances. I saw France’s defeat in Sweden and the Swedes enjoyed a lot of good positions to create chances and score goals. If we’re well organised, we can do well.”

Happy returns: will the former Zenit and Russia coach be back in his old stamping ground for the World Cup? “I would love to go back to Russia with this team and, right now, everything is still in our hands. But we need to win all of our matches to keep it that way. That will not be easy. But one thing's for sure: we will do our very best.”