In yesterday's Life After Arsene, we covered Bayern Munich's Pep Guardiola in search of determining who's the most likely candidate to take over at Arsenal when Arsene Wenger steps aside. Today we cover Ajax's Frank de Boer, winner of the past four Eredivisie titles.
Brief managerial background: Upon retirement as a player, de Boer was appointed head of Ajax's famous Youth Academy in 2007, helping lead and develop players such as Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, and Daley Blind during his time there. While with the Academy, de Boer also worked with the Netherlands' national team as an assistant, ending his association with the team after the 2010 World Cup. After Martin Jol resigned as Ajax's manager in December 2010, de Boer was tapped from the Academy to the club on a temporary basis.
But a funny thing happened. de Boer ended up leading Ajax to a title during his first, abbreviated season, which lead to his full-time appointment as manager that summer. And he's never stopped winning league titles in the process. de Boer and Ajax went on to win three more leagues in a row - duplicating PSV's run of league titles from 2005-2008 - which has thrust the manager into conversations for managerial roles in some of the biggest clubs in the world.
Is there an Arsenal connection? Yes, in a way. de Boer's top assistant is Arsenal legend Dennis Bergkamp. de Boer brought up Bergkamp from the Academy, where he managed a couple of their youth teams from the time of his return to the club in 2008, to the first team in 2011, and has been by his former national team member's side ever since.
Does he have a connection to Arsene Wenger? No.
Pros: Like most modern managers - however you want to define "modern" - de Boer's sides effectively press and squeeze possession from their opponents throughout the pitch. de Boer deploys a 4-3-3 that's been in place at the club since the introduction of Total Football, and it's within this setup that he instructs his players to largely move without constraints, interchangeably, in search of space while in possession of the ball. Within Arsenal's current roster and tactics, a transition to de Boer's style of play would be extremely seamless.
There's also the fact that he hasn't had a managerial season without winning the league, strength of the Eredivisie be dammed. Ajax currently sit a point off the top of the table with an additional match played compared to leaders PSV, but there's still a little less than half the season remaining for his side to secure a fifth-straight title. de Boer's had to compensate for bigger, more glamorous European clubs coming in each year to pick off his best players, and he's responded by continuing to accumulate league titles.
Cons: Call it the Andre Villas-Boas Effect, or whatever you'd like, Frank de Boer's success in Holland - at their most storied club, no less - will come with a caveat that he won those successive titles in a lower league at a club with vast more resources than their competition.
Many regarded Villas-Boas as Chelsea's Pep Guardiola when he arrived at Stamford Bridge from Porto, a club that had recently dominated another lower league, but his high-pressuring defense coupled with a back four pushed aggressively forward was quickly found out by the rest of the league. He moved on, and flamed out, at Tottenham in a very similar manner, attempting the same tactics and formations - tactics and formations, mind you, that mirror de Boer's. That's not to say that the two are the same person and end-results won't differ. The tactics, shape and positioning of each of their sides are ripe for countering against, however, and in the EPL that's like throwing chum to the sharks.
One needs to not look any further on how to break down a Frank de Boer side than this past August, when PSV marched into the Amsterdam ArenA and defeated the four-time reigning champions 3-1:
After going down a goal early, PSV - managed by de Boer's long time former national teammate, and fellow national team assistant manager in the 2010 World Cup, Phillip Cocu - countered aggressively and often against de Boer's high back four whenever they won possession, and scored two quick second half goals through such play. The third goal was also a result of a back four pushed forward, regardless of how poor the actual defending was.
de Boer's clearly demonstrated an ongoing ability to win, and I think he's more than earned the right to play whatever tactics he sees fit. But it's also not hard to see how, if he moves to Arsenal, his opponents will attack his side.
Overall assessment: de Boer's name has been recently floated as a replacement to Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool, if the Reds do indeed part ways thanks to an awful season of results, and it's clear why he's a wanted man. He has a track record of success with developing youth from the academy and turning them into regular first team players, while being able to replace players as they leave with relative ease. This sort of track record is also why de Boer's a popular pick to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.
de Boer would no doubt be given a larger budget to operate at Arsenal with than the one he currently works under at Ajax, but with the personnel Arsene Wenger's assembled there wouldn't need to be the type of vast overhaul required than other candidates we've profiled in this series. The assumption that he'd bring Bergkamp with (if that's the sort of career path the Non-Flying Dutchman desires, I should say) would further the acclimation for de Boer in a move to Arsenal, as well.
He plays the attractive style of soccer that Arsenal's grown accustomed to under Wenger, with each of his players holding similar traits to players Wenger desires and buys. While he's an outsider, in a sense, he'd be the easiest to transition in.
In tomorrow's penultimate Life After Arsene, we cover the manager we feel is the most likely to succeed Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.