To be named one of the players in Pele’s list of greatest living footballers is no mean achievement. Johan Neeskens, a key player in Rinus Michels's famous Dutch side of the 1970s, is proud of what he achieved in his distinguished career. The 70-year-old Neeskens, scorer of the fastest goal in a World Cup final, is now enjoying his role as a mentor and a coach's educator.
“I am proud of what I achieved as a player. I played in two World Cup finals and scored the fastest goal in a World Cup final. We were a bit unfortunate that we played against the home teams (Germany and Argentina) in both finals. The home team always had the advantage and support of the fans. But for a small nation like Holland, to play in two World Cup finals was huge. We played against some very good teams and earned their respect. I was very young then and did what the coaches told me. Of course, I had the skills too.”
“Looking back, I don’t have any regrets. I have been in coaching and teaching coaches for the last 10 years. I think coaching has some social aspects as well. The role of the coach doesn’t stop with coaching as he can play an important role in the holistic development of his ward,’’ he said.
The former Barcelona star refused to draw comparisons with different eras saying the total football that the Dutch side played in the 1970s was a revelation, but it has become outdated.
"In the '70s, when I played, there was a lot of space for us to roam freely as the teams didn’t think of putting pressure on the opposition by covering the spaces and attacking from smaller distances. But football has changed with technology and the advancement of sports medicine. Now a training session can be chalked out on the computer. The coaches are updated on different formats and have more tools to do their work better. The players have become fitter and stronger. There can be no comparison between football played in the ’70s and now,’’ he said.
Neeskens said it would be difficult to pick a favourite for this year's World Cup. He is unhappy that the key players from the Netherlands are not getting enough game time for their clubs.
"I think it will be an open World Cup. There are so many good teams. I don’t want to pick anyone as the favourite. What I want to see is good attacking football in the World Cup. The Netherlands certainly has a good side, but I am not happy that some the side's key players are spending more time on the bench for their clubs. They will find it difficult against players who have spent more time in the middle,'' he added.
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