Van Marwijk back in Asia, needing success after indifferent decade

Bert van Marwijk at UAE training Source: Getty Images

Former Australia boss Bert van Marwijk is back in Asia and on a mission not just to take the United Arab Emirates to the 2022 FIFA World Cup but also to show that the man who led the Netherlands to the final in 2010 is, in fact, a top-level coach.

Just a decade ago, the 68-year-old led the Netherlands to a narrow defeat against that star-studded Spanish team at Soccer City in Soweto in the biggest game of the world’s biggest event. It was vindication for the maligned tactician. 

Back in 2010, the Dutch team were geographically the closest to me in Johannesburg and trained at a nearby university.

Wandering down there in the initial stages, the country’s journalists were scathing of the man who led Feyenoord to the 2002 UEFA Cup, and his focus on running and physicality and his all-round pragmatism, a tag that he has never been able to shake.

Those attitudes softened as they approached the final, however.

A World Cup final would be at the top of most coaching resumes but Van Marwijk will surely be disappointed with what has happened, or not happened, since.

No points from the group stage at EURO 2012 meant an earlier than expected departure, and a disappointing spell with Hamburg meant he was free in 2015 to move to Saudi Arabia.

He took the Green Falcons to the 2018 World Cup, a first appearance since 2006 even if there was a little fortune
along the way.

Unable to agree a new contract in Riyadh, he then took over Australia for six months, just for the Russian tournament.

It was a no-lose situation for van Marwijk. He had little time to prepare and a tough group containing France, Denmark and Peru meaning that an early exit was always expected and would not be criticised too much if performances were decent.

And there were promising signs but the lack of a cutting edge meant that the Socceroos secured a single point.

It was a spell good enough to suggest that a longer relationship with Australia could have been fruitful but it was not to be.

He then moved on to the United Arab Emirates in March 2019 and won his first two 2022 qualifiers but that quick start came to a stop with successive defeats against Thailand and Vietnam.

A group stage exit at the Gulf Cup in November was enough for the boot after just eight months in charge, especially in a trigger-happy federation as the one who sits in Abu Dhabi.

Now van Marwijk is back, reappointed a year later.

Due to the global pandemic there have been nothing competitive since he left. Ivan Jovancovic and Jorge Luis Pinto have come and gone without having a meaningful match.

In many parts of the world, reappointing a coach who had been fired for poor results just a year earlier would be bizarre, but there is some method in the madness.

With time running out until qualification, hopefully, resumes in March, van Marwijk gets the nod because he knows the league, the players and the environment - and he knows what he has to do.

First he has to ensure that UAE are one of the 12 teams that go into the third round of qualification where they are split into two groups of six.

There is a decent chance that Australia will be waiting with Graham Arnold ready to cross swords with his Socceroos predecessor.

It is safe to assume that Australia, with Arnold getting four wins out of four so far, will make it. Van Marwijk managed two from four and has work to do.

That record with the UAE sums up the mixed bag that has been the Dutchman’s decade since South Africa.

Going back to Abu Dhabi does look to be a sideways step, at best, but it could lead to Qatar.

Despite the mediocre start to qualification, the Whites are still in with a good chance of advancing if they can return to winning ways soon.

Taking UAE to the World Cup for the first time since 1990, and second time ever, would not quite match reaching the final of the biggest sporting tournament in the world but would be a fine achievement especially as 2022 will be taking place just next door.

For Bert van Marwijk, it would help restore some of the lustre lost and if he can beat Australia along the way, then so much the better.

Source SBS The World Game