When Marco van Basten (Utrecht, Netherlands, 56 years old) entered the operating room of the clinic of Dr. René Martí, in Sankt Moritz, on December 21, 1992, he was at the zenith of his career. He was 28 years old, had just won his third Ballon d'Or, and nothing made him suspect that this cleaning intervention would make him an invalid with immediate effect. Thirty years later, already converted into an archetype of elegance and resolution in the imaginary of the industry, he has published Basta , his memoirs, published in Catalan by Univers y Libros del Kultrum, and in Spanish by Córner. The interview is conducted via Zoom. The medium reinforces the introverted air of the man with white hair, a gray sweater and an almost imperturbable gesture .
asks. His book, more than a biography, seems like a confession. What was the hardest part for you to tell?
Answer. My life was playing soccer. And suddenly, after an operation that seemed simple, I had to retire. It was not only very difficult to accept that I would not play again. It was hard to get on with my life. Not only could I not play, my ankle didn't allow me to walk or do anything. They were very hard years. I was fortunate that a doctor came up with the idea of blocking my joint by welding my bones with nails. I could no longer flex my ankle, nor could I run again, but I was able to start a new life without pain. I have come to play golf and even squash, which makes me happy .
P. Throughout the book, the idea that what fans see has absolutely nothing to do with real football hovers
R. I continue thinking that soccer is a very beautiful environment in which you can express yourself and have fun. The public likes to talk about football and that's fine. I just had the misfortune that the doctors performed the wrong operations on me
Q. Many fans have believed that his ankles were broken by the kicks he received. Did it really all start in Groningen in December 1986 because of a tackle you made to a certain Edwin Olde Riekerink, when he was playing for Ajax?
A. It was a normal action when he was trying to get the ball back. I did something that is part of any party. My problem was the bad doctors, who instead of understanding the situation and improving it, made it worse. My worst enemy was never the kicks of the rival defenses.
Q. How was it possible that the doctors did not detect that I had torn the ligaments?
A. I do not know. We went to the hospital and they told me everything was ok. And I kept playing with pain. I would stop, I would play again, it would hurt again, I would stop… In the summer of '87 I signed for Milan and took advantage of the holidays to rest thinking that I would recover that way, but in September the pains returned. I demanded to be checked again and then, ten months after the first diagnosis, they told me: "It is likely that you have torn ligaments." I had played for ten months without ligaments, and the damage had affected my bones. They operated on me, my ligaments were welded, I played for five more years. As I was still having discomfort, the doctor told me: "We are going to clean the ankle of bone remains and so you can play another five years with greater freedom." It seemed like a great idea. But I couldn't play again anymore.
My problem was the bad doctors. My worst enemy was never the kicks of rival defenses
P. Cruyff, who was his coach at Ajax, and was his idol and friend, pushed him to play despite the pain. Wasn't he also responsible for the aggravation of your injury?
R. On the one hand, he wanted us to win titles. On the other, the doctors told him that if I played my ankle would not hurt. For Johan that was enough and he told me that I should play. That's where my responsibility begins: I also wanted to play. I thought that if the doctors said I could, I should insist. But the truth is that it hurt so much that I couldn't play or train well
Q. How did your game change?
R. I couldn't hit the ball as easily as I did, because my ankle was swollen and joint mobility was limited. But I think I managed to do enough to be an important player .
Q. Did you try to spread out more into space and receive fewer balls on the foot, so as not to expose yourself to being hit?
A. I did the best I could. I think limitations were a small fraction of my game. When I was in the field I managed to get close to normal because adrenaline makes you numb. The pain started when the games ended.
Q. Did the chronic injury contribute to making your movements more elegant?
A. Until I was 20 years old, I would bend more over myself to lower the center of gravity when driving the ball, like Cruyff or Pelé did. But since the ankle stopped flexing, I had to straighten up a bit more to adjust.
You see a lot of extraordinarily gifted footballers who play for fun. Winning or losing doesn't worry them too much. The desire to win is always the great quality of a top-level footballer and at the same time it is something that condemns him to a very difficult life. That character makes you suffer
Q. To say Van Basten in the football industry is to mention a quality brand. It happens in every country when a skilled striker emerges who runs upright and does oriented controls: then it is said that an heir of Van Basten has appeared. That, for example, they said in Spain when Fernando Torres appeared. What do you think was the characteristic that made him a brand and what is the technical quality that made him a great footballer? Are things different or do they coincide?
A. First of all, I loved to play soccer. I loved soccer. For me, becoming a professional was a dream come true. Once I was there I wanted to win everything. And to win it all you need technical, tactical, physical solutions, for yourself and for your teammates. You need to think hard about finding those advantages: sometimes you just need to be smarter than your opponent, other times you need to be faster or stronger. Each game presents you with completely new situations and challenges. The essential thing to become a great player is not a style but the mentality that pushes you to find solutions. It is character that fundamentally defines the best. You see a lot of extraordinarily gifted footballers who play for fun. Winning or losing doesn't worry them too much. The desire to win is always the great quality of a top-level footballer and at the same time it is something that condemns him to a very difficult life. That character makes you suffer. But that's what they instill in the big clubs: in Madrid, Barça, United … They repeat: "Here you have to win." You know that if you lose you will have a hard time. These kinds of environments foster these mindsets .
Q. Do you have to be a little crazy to do what you did?
A. Sometimes being a little crazy helps. Especially if you are a center forward. Midfielders do not need to score goals to be recognized. I always wanted to score as many goals as I could. And it's okay, so be it. All players want to show something special, something aesthetic, to the public. But the first thing is to win. The great example is Messi. He could do wonderful things, he could show off his ball skills much more but you never see him do anything that is not immediately useful to the team. Everything he does is the best you can do on a football field and yet you never see him show off .
Q. You were famous for your control, your driving, your trim, your completion. Wasn't everything he did before he got the ball more important?
A. You have to understand the game. Good players are the ones who think faster than the rest. There's the big difference. Everything you are capable of doing, physically and technically, is only possible if you have thought about it before. You have to create the situations in your mind to understand the exact moment when you should start the movement and how you should do it in relation to the ball and the players around you. The attacks start in your head: that's where you determine what is possible and what is not. Once you have imagined it, you can discover the opportunity.
P. He says that since he was a child he wrote down everything that happened to him at games in a diary. Did you develop a pattern of movements to fool defenders or did you instinctively deviate?
A. It all starts with intuition. The feeling. Then you can start to explain to yourself what you have done. Over the years, as you accumulate many instinctual actions, you can understand situations and learn to improve your instinct. It is a two-way road. Your brain registers many variations of similar plays, and suddenly in a game, in a moment, all that information fits and that is when you intuit the solution.
Everything unchecked begins with an intuition. Your brain registers many variations of similar plays, and suddenly in a game, in a moment, all that information fits and that is when you see the solution
Q. You have been the coach and coach of the Netherlands. How do you train a scorer?
A. You can give advice, you can show pictures. But these defining moments pass so quickly that you need to have innate good conditions to make a difference. We can talk a lot, we can watch many games, but between watching it and playing it there is a world of difference
P. One day he told Sacchi that everything they had won with Milan was not thanks to him but in spite of him, and later he regretted it. Do you still think that the organizational key of that Milan were the defenders, Tassotti, Costacurta, Baressi and Maldini, more than Sacchi?
R. Sacchi was a very kind person and a very good coach too. But he was always talking about the organization, especially in a defensive mode. I came from working with Cruyff at Ajax, where we approached games in a completely different way. You saw the same thing in Guardiola's Barça : the focus was on what you did when you had the ball, and by virtue of that idea you organized a way of behaving when you lost it. With Sacchi it was the opposite: first we thought of organizing ourselves to put pressure on the opponent who had the ball, and once we had it we went to another phase. I think that gave Italy very good results. We played fantastic games like that, but I came from another school
Q. Did Cruyff train more the complicity between midfield and attackers, so that the forwards received the ball with more space?
R. We also worked on attacking situations in Milan . But to attack you need technique and intuition, otherwise there is no surprise. You can give the attacking lines general coordinates, but the exploration of the last frontier is always individual. You can work on the construction, on how to evolve the plays from defense to attack, but once the ball is in the last quarter of the field, space and time are reduced so much that the training possibilities are also reduced.
As a coach it was difficult for me to be in control. I felt that this job did not give me pleasure. I must confess that I did not understand or understand how to be decisive from a bench
P. Sacchi transformed football because he gave the coach a relief that he had not had until then. Do you feel that you belonged to the last generation of players who controlled the game?
A. Exactly. When I played, we talked about footballers. The footballers made the difference. Now, we are basically talking about coaches, because those who are making the difference are the coaches. That's not good. Coaches have become too important. Players need to take on more responsibilities because they are the ones who have the most power to influence. Today if a team plays well or badly, we attribute it to the coach. And I really don't know what the coach's influence is. Little by little, we have forgotten the true role of the players. Liverpool is Klopp, Madrid is Zidane, City is Guardiola…
Q. Do you still think you don't have a gift for training?
R. I did what I could but couldn't make a difference as a coach. It was hard for me to be in control. In the end I felt that this was a job that did not give me pleasure. Being a coach is something really complicated and I must confess that I did not understand or understand how to be decisive from a bench. Does knowing a coach really have an impact on the game? If so, why are coaches typically less successful the more knowledge and experience they accumulate? This is supposed to be a trade that should improve you over time, however we see that most coaches are more successful in their 30s or 40s than in their 50s or 60s. That's strange .
Q. Did you write the book to free himself from his old identity as a player, like who closes a chapter?
R. No. I think that telling everything I experienced in my career can serve many young players who love football and want to be professionals. Take care of your body. Be careful with the doctors. Be careful what they do with your money. Hopefully they can learn and become better footballers and hopefully healthy until the end of their careers. Playing soccer is the most beautiful thing you can imagine. Training at 11:00 in the morning every day in the open air, eating well, being with your teammates, joking in the locker room, living in an environment where everything is organized for you. There is no better job in the world.
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