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Have you seen this manager? Frank de Boer

Thursday 27th April 2017
Whether still chasing silverware, desperately seeking to avoid relegation, or sitting comfortably mid-table, clubs across Europe are beginning to plan for next season even as this one runs down. Some will be searching for a new manager. One or two are already available. Since Simon Pegg was allowed to make a three flavored Cornetto trilogy, I thought I'd start a milk carton series on managers who have been away from the public eye for a time but may be on a few clubs' radar as the off-season approaches. Laurent Blanc was featured first. Now, it's Frank de Boer's turn.
It's a bit odd both Blanc and De Boer have been on hiatus so long. Each has been a prolific winner as a manager. De Boer's tenure at Ajax was nearly as successful as Blanc's at Paris Saint-Germain. The club won the Eredivisie in his first four seasons then finished runners-up in the next two.

Philosophically, however, the two are diametrically opposed. Both were central defenders as players, albeit with starkly differing styles. Blanc was a prototypical center half. That defensive steel heavily influences his tactics. De Boer was a sweeper in Franz Beckenbauer's mold, orchestrating attacking movements for his sides like a midfielder. His playing style is also clearly reflected in his managerial stratagems. Blanc's most difficult moment as a manager came in his stint with Les Bleus. The French national team was filled with supremely gifted technical players, too many being individuals less interested in playing together with tactical discipline. De Boer's failure came at Inter, where he attempted to teach flair and creativity to players raised from the cradle to be tactically disciplined.

While they've reached the same career way station from opposite ends of the line, it's strange no club had a car waiting to snap up one or the other when they became available, but there it is.

De Boer's playing career began and was mostly spent at Ajax. After eleven seasons with the Dutch giants, he followed Johan Cruyff to Barcelona, where he spent another four campaigns. A single season at Galatasaray, when he was thirty-three, followed by a partial campaign at Rangers, and just under two with a pair of Qatari clubs, revealed a passion for the game that defiantly refused to fade with time as his physical ability had.

He last played in 2006. In 2007, he was named Ajax youth coach. His next stint, as Bert van Marwijk's assistant with l'Oranje, culminated at 2010's World Cup Final in Johannesburg. Nigel de Jong's flying drop kick to Xabi Alonso's chest will forever remain the first image recalled in every fans' mental google search for the Dutch performance in that tournament. Regardless, De Boer's contribution was noticed. It came as no surprise when he was installed as Ajax manager soon after.
His initial Eredivisie triumph was the club's first in seven years, the thirty-three time champions' longest drought since the post WWII era. It's also telling Ajax has yet to win again since De Boer left.

Like Laurent Blanc, the Dutchman will surely find another post. Oddly, he hasn't yet had to deny interest from former club Barcelona. The Frenchman has although his ties to the Blaugrana are not so close. Blanc did play twenty-eight matches in blue and red, compared to De Boer's previously mentioned four seasons. If there is a stronger force than Barca's pride in its history residing at Camp Nou, however, it's naked political ambition. The current controlling faction, led by Josep Maria Bartomeu, seems to be distancing itself from the club's Dutch influence. Tiki-taka's champions, Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain, and Ferran Soriano have reunited at Manchester City. Further, Luis Enrique has announced his intent to leave Barcelona at season's end. The name Frank De Boer may not be on Bartomeu's target list for a replacement.

Another possibility is Blanc and De Boer's careers continue to play six degrees of separation in France rather than Catalonia. The Frenchman's successor at PSG, Unai Emery, is not doing well. His three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla have not translated to the Champions League, Barcelona again playing villain. Unfortunately, Emery's traditional difficulty conquering league football has come to the fore. Les Parisiennes are struggling to keep pace with torrid Monaco in Ligue 1. De Boer's positive footballing philosophy and winning record could make him the ideal compromise between his two predecessors. On the other hand, there is an empty space on his managerial CV where cup wins should be. That doesn't align with PSG ownership's Champions League ambitions.

Another obvious option is the Premier League. Top foreign managers haven't been deterred by Brexit. They seem to be arriving in England like busloads of Japanese tourists.

De Boer was mooted for Everton's job before compatriot Ronald Koeman landed in Goodison Park. The Toffees are overachieving again under Koeman. The same can't yet be said for the club at Stanley Park's far end. Liverpool sit third in the table but have played two more matches than the two Manchester clubs immediately below them. The Reds could run the table against beatable opponents Watford, Southampton, West Ham, and Middlesbrough but still finish outside the top four. Should that occur, Anfield's American owners may decide to move on from Jurgen Klopp despite the German's popularity. Bringing in De Boer would limit any need for roster turnover. Core players such as Philippe Coutinho, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Divock Origi, Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana, Emre Can, and Nathaniel Clyne would all thrive in his system.
Further down the table, Slaven Bilic's job may be in jeopardy after West Ham's regression from their 2015-16 performance evoked an ugly January divorce from marquee player Dimitri Payet. The Hammers aren't built to De Boer's specifications, though. He would likely recommend a roster overhaul Davidian owners Gold and Sullivan might find prohibitively expensive.

Even further down-table is Swansea. The honeymoon period has disappeared like an elephant in David Copperfield's care for Paul Clement. After lifting the Swans from the danger zone, he's seen them slide right back. If the Englishman can't pull his new club back to safety, he may not be given the opportunity to earn immediate promotion next season in the Championship.

De Boer has a solid pedigree but not one which should allow him to turn his nose up at bossing a club in England's second tier. He's good but he's no Rafa Benitez. Yeah, I can't believe I wrote that sentence, either. Besides, he expressed interest in the Swansea job a few years back. The Welsh club's roster remains suited to his methods, although Gylfi Sigurdsson will almost certainly move on whether or not the Swans go down. Pushing Swansea up the English football pyramid will be heavier lifting than returning Ajax to the top in the Netherlands but technically not too different. The Liberty Stadium may be Frank de Boer's best option for a new home.

Of course, if no club comes calling this summer and l'Oranje continue to flounder, de Boer could take over for the interim manager who has replaced Danny Blind. But that would be a Grim situation indeed.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin authored the short story collection strange bOUnce. He appeared in several other blogs which no longer exist. Old, he likes to bring out defunct. If outdated sport and pop-cultural references intrude on his meanderings for It's Round and It's White, don't be alarmed. He's harmless.


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