Exclusive Interview: Frans Hoek

James Rowe for The Secret Footballer

JR  ‘'Hi Frans, thanks for talking to me at TSF today.  You may be the first goalkeeping coach we’ve chatted to, let’s start with your 12 seasons for FC Volendam shall we?

FH  ''Yes, you are well informed James. I am from a small city called Hoorn which is a little to the North of Volendam and my biggest passion as a child was judo.  In my family almost nobody played football, it was the fighting sports that were important because my father was a boxer, my eldest brother did judo and I was automatically brought up in such an environment too.  I say this because in my experience judo is a great base for everything that I have done afterwards and why if you do judo you are fighting the fight all by yourself, you are dependent of yourself and you learn to control yourself.  But you also learn literally to take the fight to your opponent and that's why you have to try to be as smart as possible with your own qualities.  

I also learned that I was not scared and I was full of courage, if I fell I never injured myself because I learned to break my fall. I played football as a child which was part of life and at the age of ten I became a member of a football club, because of judo I was attracted to becoming a goalkeeper because you could dive and challenge opponents.  I started out on the pitch and not in goal but in my second season I told the club that I would like to go in goal.  I was also playing indoor football and I also played volleyball.  These were all sports that I liked doing, At the same time I also felt that I wanted to become a PE teacher and that was the other side that played a role.  

At the age of 15 I played in the first team for an amateur club by accident and that became news and publicity because you did not have the scouting of teams that you have now. Football clubs came to watch me at the same moment I did the entry exams for sports training and they offered a fantastic education.  I was offered a place but I had a problem in that I nor my parents could pay the fees, so football came at the right moment and that is why I chose FC Volendam because they supported me in my studies, so I became a goalkeeper.  I was a Jan Jongbloed type of goalkeeper in that I was unorthodox and not a traditional goalkeeper who stayed on his line and who was big and strong, but I knew I could play football so I could do both.  

I debuted at a young age in the first team of FC Volendam and I was also selected for the Dutch youth teams, in total I played 12 seasons for the club and I never left even though I had the possibilities to go to other clubs.  My parents told me “you must keep studying and playing a semi-professional,” so I followed their advice and I studied physical education.  I became a PE teacher at a school in combination with playing for the club and if I look back when I played in the Dutch First division I experienced promotion and relegation, they are the things that happened in a sporting sense.  

But if I look back it was a really valuable period where I did not get the maximum out of my qualities and for example Hans van Breukelen was my reserve keeper in the national youth teams and he never played and that was a measurement of where Hans went on from Utrecht to have a wonderful playing career with PSV Eindhoven and also abroad.  He had a fantastic career with the Dutch national team and I believe that Hans got the maximum out of his career and I did not do that, although I did in an adventurous sense.  What I experience as a coach I never achieved as a player, so all in all a really valuable period but I look back more at the fact that it was valuable for the rest of my life. 

In terms of my playing career I was a player who did everything that he could and I worked and trained really hard and I lived for football in the fact that I was serious about playing football.  I do have good memories though, my bug highlights were the matches with the Dutch national youth teams at under 17 and UEFA youth.  Jong Oranje and I took part in some beautiful tournaments and experienced some beautiful trips and I learned an awful lot in that period of my career.’'

JR  ‘’You're certainly not alone in having those feelings about getting the maximum out of yourself as a player, I hear that a lot from players I interview.  Even so, you’ve gained huge experience and achieved a lot as a goalkeeping coach, what do you believe are the core skills and qualities needed by a goalkeeper in modern day football?''

FH  ''I have to tell you that I went on to work in a specialized manner when I stopped playing as a footballer and in my background, as you know, I have played out on the pitch as well as being a goalkeeper.  It was often viewed that the player who could not play football so well were the goalkeepers but that is now completely turned around, in my time I was a goalkeeper who could reasonably play and next to that I followed a specific training and education in SPOTS: The CIOS AND The Academie voor lichamelijke opvoeding.  There I experienced vast training and education, right up to obtaining a masters degree in physical education, I also obtained my manager diploma so I can manage every club in the world.  

My background is that I am a specialist but I always look at the entire game, I have always done that.  I look at the whole game and from there I got to the position of a goalkeeper and it appears that when I started to do this it did not exist, I was the first person to begin with being a specialist in goalkeeping in the 1980’s, and before then I did investigations for my studies in which you could almost not find anything.  I started at ground zero in that respect and I had to test out a lot of things which involved a lot of trial and error, but slowly but surely I arrived to where I am now.  

If I consciously say what a goalkeeper must have in the present day I always look at the style/way of playing, and how certain teams play in world football, and I always did that at the teams that I trained and coached.  I ask, “what is the playing style of the team,” and if you know what the playing style of the team is then you know what type of goalkeeper fits into that team or could fit into that team.  If you look at Manchester City they play a certain playing style and the goalkeeper Ederson fits into that system.  But Ederson is a totally different goalkeeper to, say, Jan Oblak at Atlético Madrid, and Atlético Madrid have a completely different way of playing to Manchester City. 

That means the same for the goalkeeper that other things will be asked of him.  To sum up it is essential at every team at whatever club you play at that you look at the style of play because if we look at the goalkeepers then you see that they have defensive tasks, stopping shots and one on one situations, crosses and high balls, and years ago that was all you did as a goalkeeper.  But in 1992 the laws of the game changed with the back pass rule and also the attacking part of the game, and that means that you get a ball played back to you in which you can be put under pressure by an opponent so as a goalkeeper you must find a solution.  

Being a goalkeeper became more and more a part of the team and that means that you must keep the qualities in balance with one another and you must look at what the teams need the most, you must be in a physical state to achieve that from the first minute to the last, to extra time and penalties if need be.  And to do this for a whole season and you must be mentality, unbelievably strong, because in such a position with a lot of responsibility in the sense that if you make a mistake it will often result in a goal.  You must be able to deal with that, so there are different areas that you have to deal with as players and goalkeepers whereby you must improve, train and coach, lead and guide and I want to make clear that goalkeeping is more complicated than many people think.”

JR  ‘'I like that progressive outlook in modern day coaches, I think it’s a hallmark of modern coaches and manages, somebody like, Louis van Gaal for example?

FH ‘'Ah yes!   I have had the luck that I have worked with the biggest names that have inspired Dutch football and they are Rinus Michels who I worked with at the KNVB (Dutch FA)  and also UEFA, and we did many things together.  Johan Cruyff who we all knew as a player and also what he went on to achieve as a manager, he brought me to Ajax as a goalkeeping coach and at Ajax I met as you say, Louis van Gaal.  I have had the privilege to get to know all three managers really well but also regarding their football background.  

What was nice was that Johan Cruyff was a God to me and we grew up together and I watched him play and of course I was a fan of him.  In my eyes he is one of the very best we have ever had and I was able to work with him for two years.  That was really interesting for me because I stopped playing due to injury and Johan Cruyff asked me to come, it became my entry to becoming a trainer and a goalkeeping coach in professional football.  I experienced a manager in Johan at Ajax who was unbelievable, but he did a lot on intuition, feeling and street wisdom, and it worked fantastic. 

After that came Louis van Gaal and Louis had a different background than Johan although both were Amsterdammers, and both had played for Ajax.  But Louis had not experienced the big football success as a player like Johan, but in my opinion Louis van Gaal has developed his whole life to becoming a world class coach and manager and interestingly Louis's background is the same as mine in terms of Academie voor lichamelijke opvoeding.  He always looks for answers and explains them in a clear way to his players.  

In the years that I have coached and trained I have met a lot of people who have a lot of qualities and I believe that Louis van Gaal is a real all rounder, he is a bit of a genius in reading the game and reading the players, and based on that he develops a way of playing.  I can only say that he is a lot better than most people think, I know him from his public speaking in press conferences and interviews but to work with Louis is a lot more than that.  I know you like depth in your answers James, there was a lot of depth to everything that Louis did.’'

JR  ‘'Speaking of depth I’m going to press you on Louis Van Gaal, because you worked together at Ajax, FC Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the Dutch national team.  As CV’s go that’s not too shabby Frans!

FH  ‘'Of course.  If you enjoy purely from a football point of view then I must say what we achieved at Ajax during that time together with the players that were there at the time was incredible.  I was at Ajax for 12 years and I saw players come from our own youth setup and go on to play in our first team.  Louis van Gaal took that over in 1992 and that began with the success of winning the UEFA Cup, and after that the team won the Champions League in 1995 and also the FIFA World Club Cup.  If you look you see a team that came mainly from the Ajax youth setup and if you compare that with the financial resources from all the top clubs in Europe, Ajax had minimal resources in terms of finances, and were still able to develop that winning, incredible playing team in the club with Louis van Gaal. 

I must say that it was an unbelievable achievement. 

And I went from there to FC Barcelona and that was our first foreign club.  There was a different language, climate and a completely different culture and I really enjoyed in particular the intensity, experience and the passion that people have in Spain for football.  The strength of La Liga is amazing and every game that I saw there I saw players of the opponents that were fantastic footballers and they could produce great football moments.  There was also a lot of enthusiasm in Barcelona and that was fantastic. 

I then arrived at Bayern Munich, and having grown up with the Bundesliga it had a magical sound that I experienced first hand.  What I felt at Bayern Munich is that in my opinion they are the best club in the world in terms of organization, structure and vision and to work there and to be a part of it was fantastic.  At all of the clubs I have worked it was there I noticed different things.  For example when I went to Manchester United what I loved was the strength of the Premier League but also if we played against a Championship team you never knew what the result was going to be.  Of course you win more than you lose but the level of the Premier League in it's totality is very impressive and there are many historical elements to the games that you play, that is beautiful and I always try at all the clubs I have been at to take the positive and bring that to the players and the squad. 

If you are a player then to play for the Dutch national team is the highest accolade, even in wearing the shirt.  I was involved three times with coaching the Dutch national team.  I started in 2000 and I enjoyed it because I wanted to experience the World Cup and European Championship, but the Netherlands did not qualify for the 2002 World Cup.  I then worked with Leo Beenhakker with Poland at the 2008 European Championships in Austria and Switzerland and I experienced the whole journey from qualification to playing the tournament. But it was with a different country and it gives a different feeling. 

I then returned to the Dutch national team setup between 2012- 2014 and I experienced all the qualification games as we qualified for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  That was a really special experience at a World Cup in the cradle of world football, I believe that Brazil must be World Champions every four years and I believe that Brazil can select ten national teams that are really good.  And of course we all know Pelé, Romário and Ronaldo.  Everybody thought that we would return home quickly but we finished third in the tournament and I believe that we could also have played the final and even won the tournament… but the whole period was a great sporting experience.” 

JR  ‘'Frans I could honestly talk to you all day but I know you’re a very busy man!  Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today.  Before I let you go, just take us back to Brazil and that 2014 World Cup…

FH. “If I look back, and you already mentioned it, I have not very often experienced that there was such a unit in both the players and the backroom staff in that they are in combination with each other.  Each game stands alone and you only know that you are in a group with Spain, Australia and Chile.  What I thought was the most beautiful thing was the unity that developed in Brazil, as far as I am aware all the players that were selected for the Dutch national team squad played, including Michel Vorm who was the third goalkeeper, he played against Brazil in the third place play-off game. 

That unit manifested itself in Brazil in a very special group.  Players and coaches who were involved were part of an oiled machine in terms of organization, flying and going to different hotels and being in a different climate, everything was correct, you could even have made a blueprint for a study course for the ideal travel trip.  I do not have one specific highlight but the low point was not reaching the final because I believe if it ever could have happened then it was 2014.  The game against Argentina was between two totally equal teams, I really wanted to play against Germany in the final because Louis van Gaal and I have worked at Bayern Munich and they knew us well and I think the Germans would not feel calm if they would have had to play the Netherlands.  Actually the whole tournament was one big highlight in particular, the unbelievable team building… that team represented the Netherlands at the World Cup in Brazil in 2014.  That’s it.” 


James Rowe is a Dutch Football expert based in the Netherlands, professional writer and translator for The Secret Footballer. He has featured on talkSPORT and regularly features on talkSPORT 2 and Love Sport Radio. You can follow him on Twitter here.