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Reinier Robbemond exclusive: Pride & frustration at Willem II; success with PSV; next Eredivisie kids to breakout

Reinier Robbemond feared he would never play football again when he suffered a crippling knee injury that ruled him out of action for over a year.

“That was my most difficult period and I was out for 14 months and had 3 surgeries on my knee," Robbemond explains. “I was 33 at that time and feared that I would never play football again. There was also a fear that I had to get an artificial knee, that's how bad it was."

At the time, Robbemond was at AZ Alkmaar and few expected him to make a return to the pitch. But the Dutchman, speaking exclusively to, was undeterred in his quest to get playing again.

“After those really hard 14 months, I recovered and came back. The injury ended my chances to play again at AZ Alkmaar but I still played until I was 37 and finished my career at De Graafschap."

In a career that spanned almost two decades, the midfielder played for FC Dordrecht, Utrecht, AZ and De Graafschap. How does he reflect on his career in Dutch football?

“I had the privilege to play for outstanding clubs in my career with unbelievable fans. At the start of my career, I went from a small team FC Dordrecht to FC Utrecht, a big club with fantastic fans, but they hadn't had a good period before."

However, after Robbemond joined the club, they enjoyed a particularly successful period. He explains: “We reached European football for the first time in many years — that was a great achievement. I played with great players like Dirk Kuyt, Mitchell van der Gaag, Harald Wapenaar and Alfons Groenendijk."

Following his period at Utrecht, Robbemond joined AZ and helped transform the side until his injury: “AZ is a great club with a lot of potential, and in that period the club started growing into the club it is now. We reached European football for the first time in 20 years — an incredible season. The year after that we had a great season also in Europe and reached the semi-final."

After hanging up his boots, Robbemond turned his focus to coaching and worked for a number of major clubs. However, taking the permanent role at Willem II brought the best moment of his career so far.

“I am privileged to have been a coach of some of the biggest clubs, so it is difficult to narrow my best moments to only one moment. But, my first game as a head coach at Willem II in the Eredivisie was against the three-time reigning champions, PSV. Not an easy game to start with," Robbemond remembers.

Despite the uphill battle they faced, Willem II pulled off one of the greatest shocks in Eredivisie history, “It became the game that people talked to me about the most and I will probably remember it for the rest of my life," Robbemond says fondly. “We were fighting against relegation and I had just taken over from the coach who got sacked. It was an incredible game and we stunningly won 5-0. We had defeated the champions and the team that went on to win the title again. It was a legendary game."

The highest of highs are also met by the lowest of lows in football. After saving Willem II from relegation in his first season in charge, he was shown the exit door in the next – unfairly and prematurely, according to Robbemond.

“The most difficult part of the job is of course when you get fired and think you still can have a great season. The hardest moment was when I got sacked at Willem II at the beginning of this season after 4 games. It was unbelievable because I got fired after losing just one game! I could not believe it when it happened."

Does the success of the previous season make the decision harder to take?

“When I took over the season before we had an unbelievable run with great results with a record average of 2.1 or 2.2 points per game. This was the highest total of any coaches Willem II have had in the last 30 years. It was hard for me after suffering just one loss. But, at the end of the day, it is sadly part of the job. As a coach, you can't control everything that is happening in a club or with the directors and the board."

Where does his future lie next?

“I hope to coach a good team again soon. I am focusing on next season to see if something interesting will appear. Then I will consider it. There has not been anything interesting enough after I left Willem II. But I am ready and eager to start again. It can be something in Holland but it can also be an interesting opportunity abroad. As long as it is an ambitious club with trustworthy people. I can't wait to start."

Robbemond has not shied away from exploring opportunities abroad in the past. He worked as the assistant to Patrick Van Leeuwen at Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“Patrick took over at Maccabi Tel Aviv and did well so they allowed him to bring in his staff. He asked me to be his assistant and Dennis Gentenaar as his goalkeeper coach." Robbemond explains.

“It was my first time abroad and away from my family and that was difficult. But it was a really big club and we performed fantastic. We won the cup and played in the Europa League. It was great to work with Patrick."

He also worked alongside Kevin Hofland as assistant at Willem II, his introduction to the club. What was it like working with Hofland?

“Hofland is a big name in Dutch football and played for PSV, Feyenoord, Wolfsburg and the national team. He asked me to help Willem II in the battle against relegation after assistant Denny Landzaat left. We worked together really well and he gave a lot of responsibility to me and, as an assistant coach, that is what you want. He worked hard and was serious but also, we had a lot of laughs at the right time."

Perhaps the most successful period as an assistant coach came alongside Mark van Bommel at PSV, “He was a great coach, great player and great guy. We had a fantastic time playing in the Champions League against Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Inter Milan. It was a fantastic period and experience."

What is the Dutch legend like to work with?

“It was great to work with him, he has great trust in his staff and gives a lot of responsibility. The discussions about football and how to improve the team were always on a high level, always thinking about how we could improve everything around the team, improving players, training sessions and tactical meetings. We always looked at our way of playing to see what we can still do better or differently to improve a little bit more every day."

Van Bommel now manages FC Antwerp in Belgium, where he led them to the Pro League title last season. Has Robbemond been impressed with the job he has done in Belgium?

“He is doing a fantastic job in Belgium now with his staff and players. Also, Marc Overmars as a director has done a fantastic job with Mark. They became champions and reached the Champions League for the first time in the history of FC Antwerp. They also won the cup last season and he won the best coach of the year award in Belgium last season. He is doing an incredible job in Belgium."

The current season sees the side he worked with Van Bommel at flying at the top of the table. PSV are unbeaten in the Eredivisie and are unlikely to be caught. How does Robbemond reflect on the past season?

"The current season in the Eredivisie is interesting. Feyenoord is having a great season again but PSV is having a fantastic season so far and was unbeaten in the league until recently, what a performance so far. Ajax is having its worst season in many years.

"PSV did a fantastic job with Marcel Brands and Earnie Steward. They took in Peter Bosz with his new staff, an amazing coach with an attractive way of playing. Brands and Steward made sure they invested in the right new players and brought in extra quality, together with the philosophy of Peter it developed fast into an almost unbeatable attractive team."

As for the rest of the league?

“So many things have happened in the last few years but especially this season. It has been proven once again that if it is not calm at the top [of a club] it is difficult to perform with your team. Nobody could predict this but after Overmars left a lot of things changed, which proves how important he was for the Success of Ajax the years before."

Despite Ajax's struggles, he is confident they will eventually return to the upper echelons of Dutch football. He is particularly impressed by one of their young players.

Robbemond says: “Jorrel Hato of Ajax has impressed me. He is just 18-years-old and already playing every game at Ajax. He will be monitored by big teams in Europe."

He believes Hato's rise to stardom has been aided because the Eredivisie is one of the best leagues for developing talent. He explains: “There are always great young players in the Dutch league. As a young player, it is a great league to develop yourself. [Tijjani] Reijnders is a good example of that. From a young player at AZ Alkmaar to playing well at one of the biggest clubs of the world, AC Milan. This season there are also some young players dining well and will be joining really big teams in the coming years. I think Johan Bakayoko and Isaac Babadi of PSV are really big talents."

Having worked at AZ and PSV, Robbemond has worked with some of the brightest Dutch talents. He explains:

“At the academy level I have coached players that reached great clubs and the national teams. At AZ's academy, I coached Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Calvin Stengs (Feyenoord), Wesley Hoedt (Watford), Derrick Luckassen (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Joris van Overeem (Maccabi Tel Aviv), Guus Til (PSV).

“At first team level, I coached at PSV, Luuk de Jong (PSV), Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Hirving Lozano (PSV), Cody Gakpo (Liverpool) and Donyell Malen (Borussia Dortmund). At Willem II, I coached Kostas Tsimikas (Liverpool).

“I am proud to have been able to work with so many fantastic players and to help them in their development so they can reach their goals and dreams."

Many of the mentioned players will line up for the Netherlands at this summer's European Championships. How does Robbemond feel the Dutch team will do?

“We have some amazing players. A lot of players play for the biggest teams in the world; Liverpool, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. The talent and potential are there.

“I don't think we are dominant enough to make sure we can beat some of the favourites. I think Spain and France have better teams than we do. In order to win everything, every player has to be at his best and the spirit in the team must be perfect. Only then will we have a chance. Every team can overperform and that is necessary to have a chance of becoming European champion. Hopefully, Ronald Koeman can repeat the 1988 finals."

- adapted by Jack McRae

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Xhulio Zeneli


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