Mark van Bommel was a divisive figure during his playing days, the footballing equivalent of Marmite; one of those players you would love to have on your team but hate to play against.
A Champions League winner, a professional fouler, people’s opinions differ. This is conveyed rather funnily in the fact that his ‘best career highlights’ videos on YouTube are just a compilation of late challenges and verbal abuse towards players and officials, occasionally interspersed with the odd goal.
Whatever people say about van Bommel the player, though, he was a winner. Everywhere he played, he won. Holland, Spain, Germany, Italy, he won titles in them all, and now, he is seemingly continuing this trend into management.
Since replacing the highly successful Phillip Cocu, a tall order in itself (the man won three Eredivisie titles in five seasons), he has guided PSV Eindhoven to the top of the league with 12 wins from 12. His side scoring 43 goals in the process, which works out at nearly four per match. Known as the Destroyer in his playing days, van Bommel is certainly making light work of management, so far.
Since retiring from playing, the former Barcelona, Bayern Munich and AC Milan midfielder had been working towards becoming a number one in numerous backroom positions, mostly assisting his father-in-law, former Netherlands manager, Bert van Marwijk. That was until he took charge of the PSV youth team in 2017 and immediately guided them to the title in his one and only season at the helm. Then, when the main job was relinquished by Cocu, who has since moved to, and been sacked from, Fenerbahçe, van Bommel was the ideal candidate for the job.
Is PSV his dream job?
A fan favourite at the Philips Stadion, PSV is the perfect place for him to carve out his managerial ideology and build a platform for himself for the future. His more attacking brand of football, in comparison to his predecessor, has received plaudits from fans and pundits, and they look like they are in a good position as they seek their fourth title in five years.
This season, with all their recent domestic success, PSV fans would have been hoping their team would make more of a mark on the European stage. After overcoming Bate Borisov comprehensively in the play-off round, they were dealt a cruel group containing Barcelona, Internazionale and Tottenham Hotspur. Although there have been spirited performances, particularly in the home draw with Spurs, they look set to finish bottom, barring a couple of huge performances against Inter and Barca in their final two matches, and thus will not be playing in Europe after Christmas.
However, this is only his first foray as a manager into European football, and, with a better draw, they could have at least negotiated their way into the Europa League. How he must wish they were drawn into Group D with the likes of Porto, Schalke, Galatasaray and Lokomotiv.
Elimination from Europe a blessing in disguise?
This now means that his team will be able to concentrate on securing his first league title as a manager – their closest rivals Ajax will definitely be playing European football after Christmas, whether that is in the Champions League or Europa League is yet to have been decided. Thus, they will have somewhat of an advantage on the domestic front.
Having garnered nicknames such as the ‘destroyer’ and the ‘punisher’ during his playing career, it is easy to forget the vision and tactical nous he displayed on the pitch. He was a leader. Now it is being showcased as a manager, perhaps, given his reputation, surprisingly to some.