Their remaining time on the pitch is running out: some bewitched us and are embarking on a final lap of honour; others won’t be missed until they’re gone. It’s time to raise our hats to the players who won’t be around forever.
Okay, I admit it’s not all that easy to love Mark Van Bommel. For many he represents Dutch football’s descent from Total Football to the anti-football of the 2010 World Cup Final under his father-in-law Bert van Marwijk. That’s an absurd notion though: Total Football was a specific phenomenon rather than a universal one in The Netherlands; and anyway, Van Bommel was committed to a personal anti-football crusade rather than looking to lead a movement!
The image of Van Bommel which we cling onto now, snarling and clobbering his way around the midfields of Europe, is not a totally fair one. Throughout the peak of his career he was something more. Admittedly, that tough, ornary streak was always there, but don’t forget the talent that accompanied it.
Van Bommel was an excellent holding midfielder in an era when their value was multiplying swiftly. Sound in possession and strong in the tackle, his play also possessed an impressive dynamism and he was dangerous when he ventured forwards, his long range shooting and free kicks a genuine threat.
However, it’s the image of an angry old man which we cling to as he leaves the game, and he can hardly complain if that is how he’s remembered. He started this season, his first campaign back in Dutch football in record breaking fashion, by being booked in each of the first five matches! There’s something to admire in a man who’s sitting out the sixth match of the season due to accumulated yellow cards, isn’t there? (He currently stands on seven bookings from eleven league matches by the way!)
For me, his indignant anger when anyone so much as brushes past him is what I find most irksome; the supreme hypocrisy of the midfield destroyer, a man well-versed in the dark arts of breaking up play, griping when someone touches him is deeply annoying. But then that’s the whole point of van Bommel. Ironically for someone so rooted in Northern Europe, in some ways he has that cliched South American mentality: claw your way up from the streets and take every advantage you can.
But Van Bommel is still so much more than that. Evidence could be in found in one of PSV’s less happy recent experiences. Their home defeat to Vitesse Arnhem ensured that the Eredivisie title remained wide open and ended their superb run of form at the Philips Stadion, so it hardly seems an obvious place to look for positives. But Van Bommel was at his awkward, cussed best. dominating his contest with the precocious young midfield talent Marco Van Ginkel. It is hoped that Van Ginkel will develop into a midfield force for the Oranje, but he looked intmidated in this match as Van Bommel snapped and snarled at him.
So yes, he’ll be remembered for his aggressive presence in the centre of the pitch and a perceived awkwardness off it. First to be booked in the infamous Holland-Portugal “Battle of Nuremberg“, sent off on his Serie A debut for Milan, and maintaining his feud with Marco van Basten by refusing to play for his nation under him.
It’s a one-sided legacy, ignoring the fact that he was also one of the best midfielders of the early part of the Twenty-First Century. It’s not one van Bommel can deny either though.