It is early summer 1974. Holland have just qualified for the world cup finals for the first time since 1938 and are among the favourites to win the tournament. The revolutionary “total football” that had brought about four European Cup wins for Dutch clubs in the last five seasons has taken the game by storm, with thrilling team play and outstanding individuals such as Cruyff, Neeskens, Rep and Rensenbrink.
Their attacking flair is undisputed but just before the tournament began, injuries to first choice centre backs Barry Hulshoff (Ajax) and Aad Mansfeld (Den Haag) plus the diminishing powers of Epi Drost (Twente) meant that a gaping hole had appeared in both the first choice eleven and their chances of success. What should they do? Most countries of the time would have called in a reliable club man (imagine if Des Walker was injured just prior to Italia 90 – maybe Steve Bruce would have got the call, you get the picture?) but the Dutch, as we know, are not like most countries.
Their solution was to call up two players for those positions, one who had never played for the national team before (Feyenoord’s Wim Rijsbergen) and the other, one of their best midfielders, Arie Haan of Ajax. I suppose a more modern comparison would be Manchester United’s occasional use of Michael Carrick as an interim centre half, to illustrate the Haan move. The combination was first tried during Holland’s pre-tournament friendly at home to Romania (0-0), played in Rotterdam, when Rijsbergen replaced his club team mate Wim Jansen at half time.
This brief audition was enough to seal the deal and the pair were to feature as Holland’s first choice centre back pairing for both the 1974 and 1978 tournaments, although Haan often reverted to his favoured midfield role for the latter competition as the Dutch were often seen to employ a three man defence at this stage.
Arie Haan made his debut for Ajax as a 21 year old in 1969 and was to spend six years there, featuring in all three European Cup wins for them in the early 1970s (a half time substitute in 71, starting the other two) but this wasn’t the end of his euro club glory as a player. After Ajax, he moved across the border to Anderlecht, to team up with Rob Rensenbrink to land two cup-winners cup titles (1976, 4-2 against West Ham United and 1978, 4-0, Austria Vienna). A further spell in Belgium with Standard Liege and a brief return to Holland with PSV were forerunners to his final games at club level with a handful of appearances in Hong Kong for Seiko, this bringing the curtain down on an illustrious playing career.
Most football fans of a certain age will remember Haan for his ludicrously spectacular goals at the 1978 tournament against West Germany (will we get through one of these features without mentioning the Oranje’s eternal bete noire?) and Italy. Whilst the goal against the Germans was an absolute beauty, the Italy strike was one of those rare and probably scientifically impossible goals where the speed of the ball seemed to be increasing the longer it travelled on its 35 plus metres towards goal. The beauty of that world cup was that many games kicked off around 11.00 pm GMT (the tournament was held in Argentina) so many of my memories of this campaign are of boozy nights watching the games with family and friends. As mentioned in my earlier piece on Ruud Krol, this (for reasons we won’t go into again) was one title the Dutch were never going to win, the hostile atmosphere, created and encouraged by the military dictatorship that was running the show doing everything within and beyond their power to ensure a home success but it didn’t spoil the enjoyment as we cheered on this less-gifted but somehow more resilient than ’74 Dutch side.
As with so many Dutch players, a career in coaching beckoned and Haan’s first job in this capacity was with Royal Antwerp in 1984 (I wonder if the Antwerp Snooker Club is still open? I went for a wee in there in 1986…) followed by successful stint with former club Anderlecht. This spell included two national championship triumphs and a semi-final appearance in the European Cup.
The next twenty five plus years have been spent as an itinerant coach-for-hire, with club jobs in Germany, Greece, Holland, China and Austria plus positions as national coach for Cameroon, China and Albania. An interesting by-product of his time in China was the publication of a book that offered advice to those considering employment there, both in the world of sport or commerce. The book was called Nee bestaat niet (No Does Not Exist). The title comes from the reluctance to use the word “no” in China and the way this crosses over into business as an admission that a task that cannot be carried out would be seen as a huge disappointment. Not bad for a converted centre half with a pretty good long range shot.