Giovanni van Bronckhorst: "I never saw Ruud as managerial material' - Rangers boss outlines Van Nistelrooy relationship
PSV arrive at Ibrox in menacing form and having taken care of Monaco in the last round, they have already provided notice of their intentions under Van Nistelrooy, a striker whose prodigious goal output barely let up during his near twenty year-playing career.
His side have now scored 18 goals in their last five outings, including Saturday’s 5-2 win away at Go Ahead Eagles in the Eredivisie. Rangers, however, have posted three consecutive clean sheets and could well use a fourth before next week’s return trip to Eindhoven. Ideally, they would also like to take a couple of goals of their own with them.
A Champions League play-off tie is special even without the sub-plot of a long-standing relationship between the rival managers.
One of them will be left disappointed. Van Bronckhorst will hope experience prevails and Van Nistelrooy, just a matter of weeks into his managerial career, will be the one having to make do with the compensation of Europa league group stage football.
The pair meet this evening at Ibrox to resume a shared story that started as teammates in various Dutch youth sides. They became sworn enemies on the pitch during the years of extreme Arsenal-Manchester United enmity in the early 2000s and were on opposite sides again in Spain, where Van Bronckhorst played for Barcelona and Van Nistelrooy for Real Madrid.
Having captained his country in a World Cup final, it did not warrant too much surprise or comment when Van Bronckhorst embarked on a coaching career, even if he himself admits he harboured little desire to do so when he was a player.
Van Nistelrooy is another who made scant mention of wishing to become a manager during his playing days as a phenomenal if sometimes hot-headed striker. Indeed, he seemed in constant conflict with authority. He fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson after reportedly screaming “Scottish pig!” at him when he left him sitting on the bench for the entirety of the 2006 League Cup win over Wigan Athletic in 2006. He left for Real Madrid that summer after scoring 150 goals in just 219 games at Old Trafford.
Years later he contacted Ferguson to belatedly apologise for the outburst. “I don’t know if you remember me,” is how one of Manchester United’s most influential players of modern times began the text message to his former manager outlining his remorse. “But I need to call you.”
It’s not as if Van Nistelrooy has walked into a job on reputation alone. He has been working at the PSV academy since realising that coaching is something that interests him. He has acknowledged that the top job at PSV might still have come too soon but it was an opportunity he could ill afford to turn down when predecessor Roger Schmidt announced he was stepping down towards the end of last season.
“I never thought he would be a coach,” Van Bronckhorst admitted yesterday. “I never had the thought of being a coach either when I was playing. That started after. Ruud did his badges for a couple of years and made the decision to get his experience in the academy of PSV.
“He did well with the Under-19s and then last year the second team of PSV. He’s been given a chance to coach the first team now. PSV, of course, is a place where he is very familiar.
“I think the back-up and support he gets from the club is similar to what I had with Feyenoord. I’m looking forward to meeting him again and also seeing a player I played with making his steps as a manager.”
Of his Dutch peers, Van Nistelrooy always struck Van Bronckhorst as one of the least likely to make the move into management. “When you play in the Dutch team with people like Frank de Boer and Philip Cocu, those are players who were always talking about the shape and the focal points in the team,” he explained.
“They were like an extension of the coach, so you had more of that feeling with them. I also played with (current Lyon manager) Peter Bosz and he was already talking as a coach. I didn’t have that with Ruud and I’m sure people didn’t have it with me when I was playing.
“But, in the end, I think the most important thing is that once the jobs gets you and you get more experience and want to give all your every to develop yourself as a coach, that’s when you recognise when a player is becoming a manager after his career.”
The winners of this tie will view entry into the Champions League group stage as the equivalent of winning a major trophy. It is undoubtedly more financially valuable. It would represent perhaps the last checkpoint in Rangers’ recovery in the decade since their financial implosion.
“That is my goal and also our goal,” said Van Bronckhorst. “Last year was Europa League after the disappointment in not going through to the group stage and losing against Malmo.
“We changed that in a very positive year in Europe. But there is no doubt in my mind that every year when we are involved in European football we want to be part of the Champions League.
“That has to be our goal and that is why we work hard. It doesn’t mean we will play every year in the Champions League but the desire, and what we want to show everyone, is to be in that tournament.”
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