PEPIJN LIJNDERS: A MANAGER IN THE MAKING

‘It Has Always Been an Aim to Leave a Leave a Permanent Legacy of My Coaching’

Bold words, but how many coaches by the age of 32 had been employed by PSV, FC Porto and Liverpool? 34 year old Pepijn Lijnders quietly continues his already impressive foray in to the world of coaching. Recent praise from Jurgen Klopp, Lijnder’s superior, suggests management is certain. The following article looks at the development of Lijnders philosophy and footballing principles formed by his 16 year European journey. Why is the Dutchman so highly regarded? A short chat with Sao Paulo assistant manager and once colleague of Lijnders, Michael Beale, tells us just how Lijnders wound up on Merseyside.

‘The Next Liverpool Manager May Already be at the Club’ was sounded by fans upon Steven Gerrard’s Liverpool u18 appointment in April. The statement is true. The narrative is perfect; local hero and trophy-laden captain, returns to emulate his past success in management. Liverpool’s very own Zinedine Zidane. But, Steven can wait. A well travelled, football obsessed well-driven colleague is in the process of successful ascension up the Liverpool hierarchy. Jurgen Klopp’s contract ends in 2022, and if the Anfield bosses decided to promote from within, Pepijn Lijnders is certainly doing himself no harm as a contender.

A country that has underachieved on the national stage as of late, the Netherlands has produced some of the most innovative forward-thinking individuals in football, leading to radical changes both on and of the pitch. From ambassador of individual skill, Wiel Coerver to the brain power behind ‘Total Football’, 3x consecutive European cup winner, Rinus Michels. This is just a small part of extensive Dutch success. It was the God Father of Dutch Football, Johan Cruyff who said You play football with your head and your legs are there to help you’. Anticipation is key. You must always be one step ahead of your opponent. Be in control of not only the ball, but also the space. Dutch football is beautiful. This was what Pepijn Lijnders was brought up on.

‘Passion does not make any sense if there is no structure’ – Pepijn Linders

PSV

Absurd and impressive; Pepijn Linders is 16 years in to a career that is still in its infancy. Born in Venray, Lijnder’s playing career came to an end at the hands of a cruciate ligament injury at the tender age of 17.Lijnders decision to stay involved in the game only amplified his love for football. When many would have turned their back on the game, Lijnders simply got his notebook out. It’s a shame that the beautiful game can conjure up such a cruel set of circumstances. As one door closes, it would open several, in Holland, Portugal and England. Lijnder’s first step was one of massive responsibility, taking the role of chief of youth at amateur club SVEB. Lijnders persistence to succeed, exceptional response to responsibility at a young age and open-minded footballing attitude meant it was only a matter of time before a top Dutch club came calling.

Perhaps Lijnders most important coaching years were at PSV. Lijnders studied hard, watched endless footage of past sides, and read endless amounts footballing academia. Initially open minded, Lijnders first took inspiration from Wiel Coerver. Coerver is considered as a revolutionist in football, and was certainly a pioneer of the famous Totaal Veotbal. Coerver made football fun. Focus would be on individual skill in dribbling and attacking situations in 1v1 situations, manipulating the ball and space to beat a man. Coerver also emphasised attacking in groups. While a standard feature of today’s game, defence and organization was the norm of Coerver’s era. Wiel valued style and performance over results, although he had success with both. The skills we see every week such as the step-over and Cruyf turn where introduced regularly for the first time. This is the origin of footballs great entertainers such as Ronaldinho. Lijnder’s early quotes indicate Coervers influence. The Dutchman claimed that he preferred the 3-4-3 formation as it helped to put the opposition in ‘many 1v1 situations’ to ensure the opposition constantly have to ‘solve difficult situations’. The 3-4-3 system also requires hard work, in the midfield, which we see emphasised by Lijnders still today, with regular reiteration of determination and commitment. Lijnder’s tenure at PSV laid a solid foundation for his coaching career, showing promising signs that he can improve players technically and instil the correct attitudes. Lijnders also showed how can also adapt his skills to a player, working with players from the age of 6 up to 16, highlighting his versatility as a coach. Spending 5 years at the club, working with the likes of a young Memphis Depay, excelling in his role is an impressive feat as Dutch clubs rely on the likes Lijnders as they do not have the riches or England hence the focus on youth. If a coach shows any unsatisfactory signs, he’s gone. Lijnders commitment to the game meant that by the time he was 23 he had a clear philosophy, style and principles he wanted to imprint Hard work, individual skill and the aim of overloading the attack to create 1v1, 2v2 or 2v1 were the basic premise of the Dutchman’s preferred coaching brand by the time he had left PSV. The three notions work in tandem, individual skill would be used to create the desired attacking situations. We can always revisit the development of the mind. The right pass, the timing of press, the amount of space you leave open to the exact inch. Lijnder’s was also looking towards developing players with a view to them becoming tactically astute, thus one step ahead of the opposition.

FC Porto

From Netherlands to Norte, the home of FC Porto, the club that love to buy cheap equally as much as they love to sell big. Again, there was clear lineage that represents Lijnders progression, initially taking up a role in the u19’s, before progressing to FC Porto B and then the first team later. The official role at all three stages was ‘technique coach’. With the hunger and thirst to develop youth, there are a handful of quotes from Pepijn from his Porto days that give you a real insight to his ideas. Lijnders at this time was showing an exceptional understanding of the game.

“I try to make our players aware how Robben creates space for himself . . . he consciously positions himself, creating space to receive the ball and what he does with it, and how this effects team mates . . . whether it is holding, moving, dropping, accelerating . . . it is all about timing” – Pepijn Lijnders

Lijnder’s years at FC Porto were documented a lot more extensively than his previous. Ultimately this period was a continuation of personal development while becoming very assured in his methods. An extensive dossier was released in 2011 by Lijnders himself which encapsulates a plethora of ideas. One of the biggest debates in youth football is that academies not only take the fun out of the game for young players, but also may be guilty of training every player in the same way with the same methodology and ideas applied to every individual with the repetition and constant reinforcement of said idea essentially preventing a player using their natural instinct and reducing the ‘edge’ some players had. This is particularly the case with forwards. Lijnder’s agrees. With claims that the players can indeed see their development stemmed with their lack of freedom, Lijnders sought to recreate ‘street academies’ through introduction of similar situations. These situations included 2v2 foot volley, 6 aside tournaments and ‘challenge Thursday’. Matches would be organised between different age groups as Lijnders claimed that there is clear evidence that some players developed through playing against the older, more physically imposing players; Just as you would on the street or with a sibling. Lijnders pressed that players should become masters in their own position before trying to improve elsewhere. Other coaches argue against this, but Lijnders insists players should ALWAYS play in their natural position. Lijnders was always thorough in preparation, focused and would concentrate on positive feedback to ensure a healthy mental wellbeing.

Without quoting the entire dossier, Lijnders would split sessions up in to 4 areas.

  • Connecting Play – Exploiting space, through positional player and passing interchanges. Lijnders wants as few touches as possible.
  • Creating Individually – Arjen Robben is a player who Lijnders cites on more than one occasion. A focus on how to keep the ball while also aiming to create 1v1 situations, something we can find in Lijnders PSV days with the Coerver influence. Lijnders suggests Robben is the master of this, with his off the ball movement just as important as on it.
  • Scoring Capacity – Focus on keeping the striker in the game and how best to service him in any scenario. The assist is perfected here.
  • Condition – Sessions focused on the mobility of players and technical co-ordination, thus improving the individual.

This only scratched the surface, and it was only a matter of time before even bigger clubs would come calling and in Liverpool’s case that call came from Michael Beale.

Liverpool

I managed to get a few words from former Liverpool u23 coach, youth developer, current Sao Paulo assistant coach and a great coach in his own right, Michael Beale. Beale was Lijnders colleague for around a year.

“Me and Pepijn are great friends” says Beale. “I was moving up to become u21 coach[at Liverpool] and leaving my role as u16 coach so the club was looking to recruit a coach that would continue in the clubs philosophy developing individual players”

“I had known Pepijn from doing various conferences and people saying that we had similar ideas on football although we had never met” Beale was a factor in prising Pepijn away from Porto through a mutual friend – “I originally made contact with him via a friend at the Dutch coaches association and formally introduced him to Alex Inglethorpe in hope that we could bring him to Liverpool”

Lijnders would join 2 months later, in August 2014, just in time for the new campaign.

Spending 2 years with the Dutchman before adding to his own impressive resume in Brazil, Beale was impressed with what Lijnders had done in a relatively short time with the two still being close friends, as are their wives tells Beale.

“He is a very talented guy that speaks 4/5 languages and has an obsession for football and player development. I think he will be a top manager one day, who likes to develop young players”

Beale emphasises that it is important that Lijnders is not thrust in to the spotlight to early. “But for this moment, it is important not to rush and continue his fine work while learning from Jurgen and Zeiljko.

“I know they are very happy with his work, and that speaks volumes for his current level. I believe he has much more to come in the future”

Again, progress at Liverpool is evident. Mirroring his time at FC Porto, from the u16’s, to the 18’s and now ‘first team development’, Lijnders is heading to the top. It was always a telling sign that he was the only member of Rodgers coaching staff that didn’t get the chop upon Klopp’s arrival. After overseeing significant development in young players such as Ben Woodburn and Harry Wilson, players who are now on the periphery of the first team, Klopp had some kind words for his understudy suggesting he is “100%” a potential manager while commending his willingness to ply his trade and wait.

A quote that stands out for me personally is “Nobody knows what the future of football will look like; the only thing I’m sure of is that the defensive organisation of teams will be even better. They will protect the middle zone of the pitch better and defend their area better. We need to create players who can ruin this defensive organisation”. The following 2 years the league was won by an N’Golo Kante inspired midfield, one team playing 4-2-2-0 formation and the other a thoroughly drilled back 3.

Not only furthering his players, Lijnders has favoured himself, learning a lot from Klopp and Buvac. Some of Lijnders recent quotes sound like they have come straight from the German himself. For instance, Our style is to attack, with and without the ball. It doesn’t matter who we play against, we will press them high and aggressively and we will attack and attack them again” certainly fits in to the ever coveted gegenpressing style of player that Klopp uses.  Lijnders has shown he can improve player and the style he wishes to develop is clear, and aggressive pressing style that also stays organised via the control of space. Lijnders wants the ball to move as quickly as possible in attacking areas meaning as few touches as possible to capitalise on a situation. Recently rejecting the approach of Go Ahead Eagles and stating he is ‘always proud to represent Liverpool’ at a Wales FA conference, bodes well for the suggestion that the next Liverpool manager may already be at the club.

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