He said he had been questioning whether he wanted to remain a coach for some time, even before becoming coach of FC ‘s-Gravenzande three years ago. At a number of clubs where he had coached in previous years, that question began to appear more and more. Although Richard Middelkoop (photo) had a great time at FC ‘s-Gravenzande, that doubt was not removed and he continued to walk around with those feelings.
Text: Jan Schoonen
After much deliberation, he decided to inform FC ‘s-Gravenzande’s management that he doubted whether he should remain as coach at that club. And then something happened that is quite unique in the football world. The club wanted him to stay. Middelkoop gave an explanation for this when we spoke to him at the end of last season before a match with his team, and already then an agreement was made to discuss this further at a later date. Now is the time. At home on his terrace in the garden, a comprehensive conversation with Richard Middelkoop. What was the reason for his doubt? How and when did he tell FC ‘s-Gravenzande? And especially what happened next. Middelkoop answers all the questions honestly.
A few months ago you told us that you want to fill a different role at FC ‘s-Gravenzande. What will your new role be?
“On paper, I will also be the coach of FC ‘s-Gravenzande next season, but I no longer want to be the man who decides everything. I want to do a lot more in the background. So no more deciding the line-up for every match, create the match discussion and control everything and everyone from the dug-out. I will be doing it all together with Mike Jonk, who has been my assistant in previous years, but will be in charge of the proceedings on a number of Saturdays this season. I will still be involved with the first team but more in the background and will also be very present at matches for the second team or U23. Mike will do the UEFA-A training in the KNVB this year and I will guide him in this way and give him the opportunity to develop further. This way of working is new to me, and of course I have yet to find out how I will like it, but I am very happy with it. Because that’s what I want too. I have long doubted whether I will still remain a coach.”
Tell me where that doubt came from.
,,I have been coaching the main divisions since I was 28. At the end of the month I will be 49, but now times have changed. In the past, football was almost everything. There were not many other alternatives to spend his free time. When I started as a coach, there were no computers. Was there still hierarchy? What you wanted as a coach was done by players without a murmur. In that respect, I am an old-fashioned trainer and would like to continue working like that, but it is no longer possible. As a coach, if you want something from your players, they ask why and you have to convince them. And then sometimes they do it their own way and not the way you want. It’s not just like this at FC ‘s-Gravenzande, I’ve experienced it everywhere. The hierarchy is no longer there. Since the last year I coached at Sportlust ’46, ten years ago, I started thinking about this. Is that what I want? Should I still remain a coach? I am a coach who demands the maximum from himself. I want to know everything. I want everything under control. I’m always on, so to speak. I have questions about everything. I never just do anything, there is always a thought behind it and I spend a lot of time preparing everything I do, every training, every match, every conversation I have. I don’t see myself as a head coach for the first team, but much more as a coach for the entire association and in that respect it is good to work at FC ‘s-Gravenzande. But it requires a lot of time and energy to function in that way and I would like to get energy from it myself and also joy. And it has become less over the years. It’s a process that has been going on for me for maybe ten years. It is no longer possible to be a coach in the way I have always worked. Players have changed. When I have prepared a practice down to the smallest detail, when all the cones and posts on the court are ready, I have sometimes noticed that players may prefer to play four-on-four matches. My way of working can also be ‘too much’ for players. Sometimes they just want to play nice football, without the underlying idea of getting better through my carefully prepared drills. Again, I noticed this not only at FC ‘s-Gravenzande, but also at other associations where I have worked for the last ten years. The bottom line is you have to convince players born in this millennium today why what I’m telling them is so important and what I want from them to get better. Because making players better is still the motivation for why I want to be a coach. I want the players to think about what I tell them so it sticks and they perform better on the field. But the way I was always used to doing it, it can’t be like that anymore, I began to realize more and more. Because players today have changed in the way they act and in their thinking, I will have to learn to deal with it. Not the players should change this. I will have to change. I will have to adapt as a coach. But do I want it? Do I like it? I began to wonder more and more. I began to doubt that more and more. The mirror I held up to myself taught me that maybe I am too demanding, too perfectionistic. I always have an opinion about everything and I make that opinion known. In that respect, I can be a professional football coach in the amateur football world. Last November I made all this known to FC ‘s-Gravenzande for the first time. In a conversation with the board member for technical affairs Dirk Valstar and Ron van Meerten, the technical director, I expressed my doubts as to whether I would like to remain as coach for the coming season.”
How was it reacted?
“I had time to think. Dirk and Ron didn’t just want to get rid of me. That would have been the easiest way. If a coach is in doubt, you can appoint another coach. However? But FC ‘s-Gravenzande does not think so. They were very satisfied with my way of working. It fit perfectly with the way they wanted to go as a football club. In the future, they will fit even more of their own players in, and they will try to keep the people they have in the house and with whom they are satisfied. And because the latter concerned me, they told me they wanted to continue with me longer’.
It must have pleasantly surprised you.
“Of course it surprised me. It doesn’t work that way in most clubs. The easiest way would have been to say goodbye to me after last season and appoint a new coach. There are thousands of coaches and there will probably be someone you can suffer. But Dirk and Ron didn’t want a new coach at all. They wanted to go a different way. With Mike Jonk, they have a promising coach in house, who is now an assistant and maybe in time will become a head coach. If Mike is admitted to UEFA- Oh, I can prepare him for that job, Dirk and Ron suggested in conversations we had. At one point, I took the plunge. If Mike is accepted into the course, I’ll stay on as head coach for another year, I promised. But later I started to doubt again. A few weeks later I picked up the phone and said I wanted to cancel it. At the club we had another conversation the same day where I got very emotional, especially when they asked me why I had changed my mind. I cried and couldn’t explain it properly’.
Also? Then what happened?
“Then the club showed its human face. They really wanted to keep me at FC ‘s-Gravenzande, but in a completely different role. I would no longer be just the head coach, but also the coach of Mike and also Roy Kappenburg, the coach of the second team and Richard de Koning, the coach of the Under 23, two men who also want to develop further as a coach. I think it’s really cool that they give me that role in FC ‘s-Gravenzande. I can now direct the qualities that Mike, Roy and Richard undeniably have, all with a view to improving not only them, but the players we all work with. And now we have to do it in a different way. We will clean things up.”
,,Yes, we want to remove the dividing walls between the first and second teams and between the U23s. All of these selections will soon train simultaneously on two courts, but players will not always do so for the same team. They will be regularly transferred to another group. The idea behind it is that in this way they make each other better, so that the young people are better equipped to be able to take the first step more easily later on. And because I, as a coach, am not only involved in the first team, but will also be involved in the second and under-23s, the coaches on those teams also learn better to stand on their own two feet. It gives them the opportunity to develop and it is great that the organization at FC ‘s-Gravenzande makes it possible. Learning by doing, learning from the mistakes you make; anything is possible here and the fact that I’m going to have some sort of overall role in it shows once again the human aspect of this football club.”
It is completely different from what you have been used to as a coach for more than twenty years.
“I am very happy that this has finally come to pass. But of course I have to experience whether this is really what I want. Now I think very positively about it and I will do everything I can to fulfill the supporting and guiding role in a good way, but all my doubts have not disappeared all at once. I will really have to experience how I will like this new role. Maybe you don’t like it. But of course that is the hope. And if that’s the case, I can just stay at FC ‘s-Gravenzande for another 25 years. It would be great because it’s a really good club. A club where performance is not in the first place, but people and interaction with each other. And there aren’t many clubs like that in the football world. Therefore, I consider myself lucky to work at FC ‘s-Gravenzande, and therefore I hope that my new role will be a success.”