Saudi revenge driving van Marwijk ahead of Socceroos World Cup mission

Freshly-minted Australia coach Bert van Marwijk is on double-pronged mission at the World Cup: to conjure Socceroos success and reap revenge on his former Saudi Arabia bosses.

Bert van Marwijk

Socceroos coach Bert Van Marwijk Source: Getty Images

His close confidant and compatriot Han Berger, who juggles board membership at Sydney FC with his technical director’s role at the Dutch FA, has revealed van Marwijk’s motivation to excel in Russia is partially fueled by a simmering sense of injustice with the Saudi Football Federation and its president Adel bin Mohammad Ezzat.

The FFA’s technical director for five years, Berger, 67, played a significant role in helping van Marwijk secure the Socceroos job.

The  disclosed the depth of his dissatisfaction with his ex-paymasters, whose reward for winning automatic qualification to Russia for the Green Falcons was to make his situation untenable during contract extension talks which broke down in acrimony two months ago.


“Bert has this extra motivation because of his issue with the Saudis,” said Berger.

“He qualified with them but they didn’t renew the contract.

“He is really eager to prove a point to them.

“he was really frustrated with how things ended up.

“Once they had qualified, suddenly they came up with all sorts of extra demands and new things.

“A former player was installed as technical director, (without van Marwijk being briefed) and he wanted to have a say in everything.

“That’s something Bert will never except, he’s very much his own man.

“It was at that point he cut off the negotiations.”

The Saudis also demanded van Marwijk spent more time in the Kingdom, a move that further soured the relationship.

The friendship between Berger and van Marwijk traces back to 1986 when van Marwiyk was a player at Fortuna Sittard and Berger was the Dutch club’s young head coach.

Berger was impressed by his staunchness and acumen then, and he feels the FFA have made a shrewd move in appointing him on a short-term basis, with Graham Arnold set to take the reins after the World Cup.

“He’s a wise short-term choice, with the great wealth of experience he has to offer,” said Berger, who heads up Sydney FC’s technical department.

“He coached Holland to the 2010 World Cup final, and he knows a lot - if not everything - about the Socceroos and their players.

“He obviously coached twice against them during qualifying ... I spoke to him somewhere around those games and it struck me that he knew basically everything about the Socceroos and how they played.

“He knew all the players’ strengths and weaknesses, and that’s a big advantage for him.

“When somebody completely new comes in it’s very difficult to get a good insight in the short period of time available.”

Depicted as coach devoid of the adventure gene, Van Marwijk’s approach might be the antithesis of predecessor Ange Postecoglou.

But Berger has no problem with his innate pragmatism.

“He will look at the qualities available, and the strengths and weaknesses, and design a game plan that will provide the maximum chance of Australia being successful,” he said.

“This job is something he’s really going to relish, especially considering his recent history with the Saudis.”
Berger believes van Marwijk’s “laidback nature” will go down well in the Socceroos camp ahead of March’s friendlies against Norway and Colombia.

“He’s laidback and relaxed, and I think his character will suit the Australian mentality,” he added.

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Published 25 January 2018 at 4:01pm
By Dave Lewis